Hey guys, Holly here. This is a guest post from the Lovely Caitlin Shannon of Ember & Co. She’s a Designer & Brand Advocate based in Castle Rock, CO.
It’s likely no secret to you that personality typing frameworks are all the rage these days.
Your friends are posting their Myers-Briggs results on Facebook, sharing Enneagram memes on Instagram, and your boss just had you do Strength-Finders as a team. Maybe you’re like me, and you totally nerd out about all of these assessments. Or maybe you’re more like my husband — skeptical, to say the least. Is it all just fun and games? Is there anything truly valuable to be gained from the personality framework craze?
As a brand strategist and website designer for small businesses and non-profits, I’m often working with business owners who are utterly overwhelmed by the prospect of differentiating themselves from the myriad of competitors in their space. It’s easy to feel like your business is a commodity that has to compete on price alone.
More often than not, we look to others that embody our idea of success — our former boss, our parents, or that business guru that’s always marketing to us on Facebook.
We adopt their approach — and quickly find ourselves exhausted and stuck.
I found myself in that place when I launched my own business in 2017.
I was doing what I had been told to do, and it was sort of working…but I was burning out, bad. I was attracting clients that stressed me out and zapped my energy. The projects I was getting weren’t paying well or lighting me up, and making my clients happy often meant sacrificing my own boundaries and preferences.
At the end of my first year, I decided that something had to give. Something felt wildly out of alignment, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I was doing everything I was told to do. Why didn’t I feel good about where it had led me?
Around this time, my sister asked me if I knew my Enneagram number.
I had always been into personality frameworks, so I jumped on the opportunity to distract myself with another quick online assessment. However, when I got my Enneagram results (Type 9), it felt different. I felt exposed. It hit on some of my deepest motivations and fears and put words to my experience in a way nothing else ever had.
With this newfound clarity, my experience over the last year started making a whole lot of sense.
Many small business owners preach the need to “hustle” and “work while others are sleeping,” — but it turns out, I’m someone who deeply needs rest and balance in order to do my best work. I was told to maintain professional (corporate-esque) communications, but the clients I connected with the best loved my down-to-earth approachability and my emoji-filled emails.
Instead of marketing myself as I “thought” I needed to portray myself, I started relaxing into being unapologetically me.
I used the results I got from various personality frameworks — from the Enneagram to Myers Briggs to DISC to Strength-Finders — to compile a list of keywords that described my personality/approach and peppered that into my website copy. It got me out of my own head, and I started to feel a much greater sense of clarity and ownership around who I was and how I best showed up in the world. These changes enabled me to attract clients who absolutely loved to work with me, and maintaining work I loved and personal boundaries that made me feel good became so much easier.
Personality frameworks certainly can’t provide an all-encompassing summary of who you are as a unique, ever-evolving, creative, breathing human being — but they can be a great launching pad for self-discovery and brand building.
Without further ado, here are five ways I leveraged personality frameworks to build the business of my dreams — and you can, too!
No. 1: Build self-awareness around your effortless superpowers and potential blindspots.
When we copy others that we’ve deemed successful, we ignore the fact that their lives likely look very different than ours. They have different backgrounds, different strengths, and different aptitudes.
I spent my first year trying to emulate “typical” online business owner influencers that were incredibly high-energy, competitively-motivated, and extroverted. I deeply admired their drive, but when I tried to follow in their footsteps — I burned out bad. As it turns out, 9’s are considered the lowest-energy type and are motivated by harmony, not competition. No wonder. When I gave myself stronger work/life boundaries and more time for rest, my work improved drastically. I was actually more productive than before.
I also realized that I had innate “superpowers” that I grossly underestimated, simply because they came so naturally to me.
My calming, down-to-earth ability to empathize with my clients, support them without ego, bring order to their thoughts, and gently provide a different perspective were traits I took for granted in myself, but that my clients valued deeply. It’s what set me apart from my competitors.
No. 2: Pull valuable keywords that describe what it’s like to work with you
The results I got from personality assessments (paired with feedback from clients) actually provided me with a great list of keywords, phrases, and perspectives that described what it’s like to work with me.
When I started working them into my marketing and client communications, not only did I attract clients who were actively seeking someone like me to work with, but I got consistent feedback from clients that I delivered a wonderfully consistent client experience. Who I described myself as was exactly who I was, which was an immense comfort to them.
It’s scary to trust your business and hard-earned money with someone on the internet. It’s much less scary when what you see is truly what you get.
No. 3: Attract ideal clients who LOVE you for your natural strengths/perspectives
I asked my favorite clients why they loved working with me, and they said I had a wonderfully calming and down-to-earth approach to my work. I made them feel heard and supported. At first, I thought to myself, “well, of course” — but these all happen to be hallmark traits of my unique personality type, and it doesn’t always come as naturally to others.
In addition, clients who are naturally attracted to who I am are, naturally, clients that I love to work with. Our communication flows easily. We often follow similar work schedules and have similar desires for our businesses. Trust is built quicker. Instead of exhausting myself by “playing a part,” I am able to bring my whole self to my work.
My best clients obviously appreciate the quality of my work, but they stay with me because of who I am. This makes the working relationship so much more life-giving, for both parties.
And if a potential client is put-off by how I naturally show up? Well, that’s a wonderfully clear sign that we’re probably not an ideal fit for each other. The work is so much more frustrating (and draining) when personalities are out of alignment. I’ve learned to embrace the opportunity to recognize this early in the relationship and part ways gracefully if necessary.
No. 4: Find a daily routine that works for you, not against you.
Some business owners love to start their day at 4:00 am. Others love their late-night work sessions, uninterrupted by emails and phone calls. Some love the energy of an in-person networking event, and others would work from a cave in the woods if they could.
It can be tempting to follow the latest productivity hack or optimized work schedule we see promoted by our favorite guru — and sometimes those suggestions will work for us. Sometimes, they won’t.
Over time, I’ve realized that I need more time off, more family time, and more “deep work” time than other business owners. I hate unplanned phone calls that disrupt my focus and I don’t like the idea of following up with prospective clients until they ask me to stop. I don’t have six-figure income goals, or the desire to build an empire.
I love my business and my clients, but truthfully, I’m not as “success-driven” as most business owners I know. And I used to feel a lot of shame about that.
Now, I realize this gives me the opportunity to build a business that truly works for me. And what does that look like? For me, it looks like a small, thoughtful business. It means that I take time off to spend with family and don’t even consider bringing my laptop with me. I shut down work by 5:30pm almost every night. I ignore unscheduled phone calls and commit to calling them back later (or better yet, encourage them to use my call scheduling software in the future). I like slow mornings, so I wake up a little early to give myself an hour or two to read and drink my coffee, or get a workout in.
These days, I maintain exceptional boundaries and get better work done because of it, so the shame has faded. Some of my business friends follow a very different routine, but it works for them — so I cheer them on! That’s the beauty of knowing we all have a unique “personality cocktail” that we’re pulling from.
No. 5: Stop doing what doesn’t work for you
On that note, It should go without saying that a daily routine that doesn’t suit you will only drain and frustrate you — but we spend so much time trying to force “good” habits/routines to work for us that we often fail to assess if they even make sense for us.
One popular concept that many business professionals float around is to “eat the frog” — AKA, to get your biggest/scariest/worst task out of the way first. I really like that idea and tried to follow it for many, many months.
The problem? Knowing I have a big, scary task next on my list often paralyzed me. I’d procrastinate and procrastinate and procrastinate — and before I knew it, I’d put it off all day, it’s now 3:00pm, and I still haven’t conquered a single thing on my to-do list because I couldn’t get past that big, scary task at the top.
However, I found that if I started with an easier, more enjoyable task first, I’d end up building momentum and by the afternoon all I have left is the scary task — and now I wanted to tackle it because it’s the only thing left before I can call it a day!
As it turns out, Enneagram 9’s are known for their inertia (“an object in motion stays in motion; an object at rest stays at rest”).
Now that I understand that about myself, I purposely schedule my day to start with “momentum-building” activities first and watch my productivity soar.
Eating frogs first thing in the morning never sounded that great to me, anyway 😉
These days, there is more flexibility than ever when it comes to building a business that works for you, and thrives in the process.
Knowing your unique “personality cocktail” brings clarity, validation, and awareness to your daily routines, relationships, and responsibilities.
Maybe it will provide permission to slow down and move more mindfully because the world doesn’t need your hustle, it needs your calm. Or perhaps it provides validation that you should be chasing those crazy-big dreams because you were built to be a wild visionary.
Either way, it’ll be a powerful reminder that committing to showing up authentically will maximize your productivity, your purpose, and your joy. And who couldn’t use more of that in their lives?