The secret benefits of being a dorky business owner

Apr 25, 2014

I used to think that in order to appear more successful, I had to be cool. I had to be suave like an expert negotiator on Mad Men, or serious and calmly insightful like a social researcher giving a TED talk.

The trouble is, I’m not like that at all.

When I get into something, I tend to go on about it and wriggle with excitement in my chair and make wild hand gesticulations. I overuse already-overused phrases (“That is AWESOME”) and try to tell my family how great this thing that I just learned/did/saw was and how they must also learn/do/see that thing ASAP. And I like board games.

I am a dork about what I love (writing, making). And over time, I’ve come to realize that dorkiness is actually a benefit in my career -- and in the careers of many freelancers I know. Here’s why:

People like enthusiastic people

Urban Dictionary defines a dork as “Someone who has odd interests, and is often silly at times. A dork is also someone who can be themselves and not care what anyone thinks.”

While I think this may be a slightly glamorous (and possibly ego-inflating) definition of dorkiness, I think the core characteristics are true: a dork has a level of interest that is deep enough to lead to overflowing, genuine enthusiasm, and a dork has a certain willingness to show others this silliness.

Enthusiasm is attractive -- but it’s also seen as smart. Research now proves smiling and laughing are perceived by others as a sign of intelligence. Also, a study by Harvard Business School found that instructors wearing “unique” clothing or clothes that demonstrated their personality (rather than a blue oxford shirt and slacks) were actually seen as more competent. So don’t let anyone tell you that you need to put on your serious face and serious tie to go into a client meeting ever again.

Clients especially love it when you love their business. If you’re pitching a typography idea to a client and you get this big grin on your face and start gushing about how much you like vintage linotype machines, or if you’re a copywriter who tells them how you just love that adorable dog bed in their product catalog, you’re not going to be perceived of as unprofessional and silly.

A willingness to show the real you -- even the silly bits -- helps you develop good relationships, makes the client trust you to carry through their brand value, and also makes your job more fun.

Dorks love sharing what they love

Because dorks are enthusiastic, they’re often more willing to share what they love with others. For instance, I’m a bookbinder, and when I learned that people used to make books on human skin, I told everyone I knew (gross, sorry).

So why is sharing good for freelancers?

  • It’s no secret that a thriving social media account is beneficial to your business. And social media accounts that rely on on sharing -- not just your business, but all of your interests. And it’s also no secret that the best people on Twitter are all dorks about what they do.
  • Share gigs and contacts -- they come back to you. (We like to call it the Love Bank.)
  • When you’re enthusiastic about what you’re writing, your writing skills improve ten-fold. There’s no jazzier copy trick that your genuine dorkiness. Write blog posts or start a podcast to talk about what you love and what you’re learning. This is going to increase your business reach in your niche.
  • Dorks admire other dorks and create fun, supportive communities. Any friendship, group, or community is built on sharing enthusiasm for a mutual interest. These groups are also natural, unstuffy networking opportunities.

Dorks want to grow

When you care about what you’re working on, you want to get better. And when you want to get better, you pay attention to the details and learn all you can about that particular aspect of your job. And when you pay attention to details, clients love you, and you get better. It’s a happy growing skills → growing business cycle!

Dorks are the first to learn the new thing about their field. They’re the ones chomping at the bit to get the latest news or the latest gadget. They’re the early adopters, and they don’t think of what they’re doing as “learning” or “keeping up to date with my field” -- they want to know.

Because dorks are also less self-conscious about showing their passions, they may also be more willing to teach others (this gets back to the sharing point, above). And as we all know, nothing makes you grow and learn more than teaching. Even if they don’t teach in an official capacity, their willingness to interact with other people in their field means that they both teach and learn from other people in their fields naturally -- over Twitter, in blog posts, at Meetups, etc.

Are you a dork about your business?