Come as you are.

Can’t say I was ever much of a Nirvana fan. I wouldn’t say I disliked them either, but that is beside the point. One of Kurt Cobain’s legacies is a message that is both profoundly simple and simply profound.

Come as you are.

Early 90’s grunge music is not my typical inspiration for business advice, but this one works particularly well. Businesses must be mindful of who they are and what they do. It is one thing to aspire for your business to be something more or different. It is another thing to project a misleading identity.

I can definitively say I am a Warren Buffet fan. The Oracle of Omaha clearly understands the aforementioned principle.

I recently stumbled across a remarkable bit of wizardry from Buffet in the midst of some “web surfing” that I have the occupational hazard of referring to as “research.” The Berkshire Hathaway website may be one of the best pieces of branding on the internet. It’s perfect in every way. It epitomizes “Come as you are” in a way that is also both profoundly simple and simply profound.

The entire homepage consists of 250 words. It probably could have been created by an entry-level computer science student on the first day of class. You could literally copy and paste the entire thing into a word document and it would appear exactly the same. In fact, I just did so below. There are no pictures. There is no logo. It is basically blue and black ink on white paper. It even declares itself as the “Official Home Page.”

But, that is Warren Buffet.

Berkshire HathawayThe website is simple. The website is direct. The website is complete. It features a message from Buffet himself. It includes the news updates that have been deemed newsworthy. It provides informative instructions on how to contact the organization. It accounts for all matters of compliance required of an organization of its stature. I could not pry myself away from this website. I checked every hyperlink. I admired every word.

But, that is Warren Buffet.

Warren Buffet can capitalize the word “WEB” as if it was an acronym because after all, he owns the original acronym itself in ACME. Warren Buffet can include an antiquated advertisement for GEICO car insurance on his homepage because he owns that too. In fact, Warren Buffet doesn’t even need a gecko or a caveman to do so. You know why? Because he’s Warren Buffet.

I’m not great with numbers, but odds are that if you are reading this, you are not Warren Buffet. Odds are that if you have a website, you are counting on it to help with the development of your business.

Mr. Buffet is not.

Mr. Buffet could probably make billions of dollars from the use of to promote information about his enterprises. However, this is a gentleman who earns almost $2 million a day simply from owning stock in AIG that they were begging people to buy several years ago and now can’t pay enough to get it back from him.

People may disagree, but I trust that the Berkshire Hathaway website is the type of calculated decision that made Buffet the wealthiest man in the world. The site serves its purpose without creating the type of liability that could constitute compliance issues and liabilities that may cost an organization of Berkshire Hathaway’s stature unfathomable amounts of money. It also serves as a lesson to many other businesses.

Come as you are.

Clients occasionally squabble with me over the context of websites. People have exclaimed concern that a website may make the business appear too small, or too limited in ability. I have frequently been asked to embellish, and outright lie, for the sake of appearance. It is not good business to fool people.

Prefacing the name of a law firm with “The Law Offices of” does not work when there is only one office. Neither does listing every crevice of every type of work you could potentially do. No one is going to take issue with learning you are capable of doing more work than your website may literally imply. People will take issue with learning that you don’t actually do any work in areas that you suggest you can. Stock photos are a great way to spruce up a site in particular circumstances. Using stock photos of high-rise buildings and expensive corporate offices is not the most effective use of pictures for a professional who works from home.

This concept goes far beyond the web. The image you portray should be consistent with your actual identity. Otherwise, it may have unintended consequences.

Expensive cars, suits, and office space is a good example of this. People with a book of clients that is capable or interested in spending the type of money that warrants luxuries may be able to afford this appearance. However, people who are cost conscious may gain the impression that they may be either unable to afford services you could provide, or otherwise assume you to be more expensive than similar service providers who don’t have the overhead of such items.

I once knew a general contractor who arrived to a meeting in a very nice new Range Rover. I took notice of the vehicle immediately, and my first impression was that this will probably be a high-end proposal for the work. The proposal came in as the highest as expected. However, the client was interested in a more luxurious build out. So, it worked.

That is, until the general contractor arrived to commence work in the same Range Rover with a single additional working hand and materials stuffed into the back and popping through windows.

The job ended up being a mess. One of the main reasons is because false expectations were created out of false appearances. The impression probably led the client to assume the builder would be supervising a number of workers who would have shown up with work trucks and supply vans. Instead, he paid a premium for a professional to drive a fancy car that he probably should not have been using to transport materials. He paid a premium for a job that probably would have been completed at a far lesser price by someone driving an old beat up pick-up truck.

Establishing an identity that works for you as well as the service you provide is crucial to growing business in a healthy way.

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