Paul Jarvis

Does anyone remember laughter?

I get a lot of flack for my humour. Not for how bad it is, but because I use it at all. I’m supposed to be a professional!

One time Buzzfeed featured my site’s pop-up message because it was so “passive aggressive”. Which I thought was the coolest thing ever and went on to feature their quote about me on my own website—because Buzzfeed talked about me, and it had nothing to do with pizza rat!

Every week, there are folks who unsubscribe from my newsletter who think my advice and message are inappropriate because I use words like fart or unicorn in funny ways. Just last week someone told me, “Your advice is too silly and I’m looking for a leader.”

I get ALL CAPS emails from people who sign up for my mailing list for business tactics and are upset when they get my welcome message about robotic carrier pigeons and tattoos.

And I get it—humour can be easily misconstrued or misunderstood, especially when it’s dry or sarcastic. There are even language barriers that require more than just a little colloquial comprehension of the nuances of English to completely understand (just imagine how much I wouldn’t get a joke in Russian or Spanish). Even English-to-English doesn’t always translate right, look at Brits telling jokes about lorries or lifts to Americans.

But here’s the thing—dry, sarcastic humour is what makes me, me. In real life I joke around a lot more. And since I am my brand, my brand involves a bit of silliness. I would have to work harder and filter more to not include jokes in my writing and un-seriousness in my designs. So humour becomes both a differentiator for my brand and a line by which others can judge if they’re a fit to be part of my tribe.

When money’s involved we tend to think we have to be super professional and serious all the time. It seems like the safer bet. And sometimes it can be. But what I’ve found is that if you’re honestly yourself, even if money’s involved, and your honest self is silly, then it won’t hurt your business or sales.

I don’t want to take myself seriously all the time. The reason I work for myself and not someone else who could make rules is that I love the work I do. And I love it because I can be my weird and silly self and still be thought of as someone who knows what they’re doing/talking about.

That’s the paradox: the more we worry about seeming professional, the less professional we often seem. We can be professional and be silly. We can be professional and swear occasionally. We can be professional and be ourselves.

My friend Meg uses a topless ghost on the homepage of her agency website, and massive companies hire her design firm. She’s also one of the most awesome designers I know, which definitely helps.

When I asked her if she was worried about what potential clients would think of her ghost with boobs mascot, she told me her target audience is “happy companies” (meaning any company that is fighting to make the world a fun, friendlier, happier, healthier place). Meg realized early on that if she wanted to work with that type of company, that she had to put her own company out there in the same happy, friendly, fun way. Her agency isn’t interested in working with folks who’d be offended by something as fun as a topless ghost.

At the end of the day, there are a lot of similarities between what we do and what our competition does. Our products, sales tactics and ideas can be easily copied. But what can’t be simply swiped from a website are our personalities and our purpose behind doing what we do.

The long and short of it is that we can be professional and still be true to who we are and what we stand for. That doesn’t mean we should be 100% unfiltered, crazy-pants, wild in our businesses, but we can be smart about how we let our personalities shine through.

That’s really what makes us stand out. That’s what draws the right people towards us and sends the not right people screaming in the other direction.

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