How My Strong Eastern European Accent Turned Out to Be My Biggest Business Asset
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
One of the things that I share with people I meet and seems to always surprise them is this: For the longest time, I postponed going after my dream of starting my online business because I was too self-conscious speaking English with my Eastern European accent.
I studied English at school for 13 years and worked 12 years for big multinational corporations, where English was the working language. Yet, every time I was thinking about starting my own online business (meaning I would have to compete with lots of native English speakers), I was paralyzed.
The issue was clear in my mind: My foreign accent was a potential liability.
It took me more than a year to finally get myself out there, to start making sales calls and run live trainings. Since getting myself to take these steps, I have built a steady base of clients from four continents, had several sold-out launches for my digital programs and exceeded my corporate salary while working a lot less.
And I attribute all my success to one thing: my non-native English speaking accent. Let me explain.
During my corporate years, I came across multiple articles and research that repeatedly talked about how entrepreneurs with a strong accent had less chance of getting the funding they needed. Or how getting a promotion was easier for people without an accent. So, no wonder that when I was just starting my business, I couldn't imagine myself competing with those who were native English speakers.
This made me very anxious about implementing all the strategies that were well-known for their business boosting abilities, like running live training and presentations, making sales calls, applying to be interviewed on a podcast or being an expert guest to an online summit.
But, I also knew that these tactics were the only way I could become visible, reach a broader audience, start building my business and living my dream. So, these were the solutions I came up with:
1. I practiced, practiced and then practiced some more.
For one month before a summit presentation, I would wake up early every morning and rehearse my presentation. That is 30 times of going over the same set of slides. The reason I did this was only to make sure my audience would understand me.
But, what also happened was that, because all of the rehearsing, I refined a lot of my initial speaking points. My message became crystal clear and I also became a lot more confident in my ideas. This resulted in doing a great live presentation and getting new followers who then became paying clients. When you practice, you build up your confidence muscles, and this is the key to a successful presentation.
2. I read a lot about the principles of persuasion and applying them to get more sales.
I thought that, since my accent might distract people from the ideas I shared with them, I should have a secret card up my sleeve that I could use every time I was about to lose their interest. So, I became a master at this.
Funnily enough, one of my persuasion mentors is a woman from Pakistan, a non-native English speaker who lives in Saudi Arabia and teaches Americans how to use the right words to get more clients (and has built a multimillion-dollar empire out of this).
3. I became good at copywriting.
Copywriting is a skill all entrepreneurs should master, even if they are not writing their own copy. I invested in a good copywriting training program not because I wanted to offer copywriting services to my clients, but because I wanted to learn how I could use my words to influence people. So, even if copywriting training is primarily aimed at enhancing your business writing skills (like crafting the perfect sales page for a launch), it also helped me boost my creativity and my speaking confidence.
4. I got obsessed with my audience.
I started researching and observing everything about my ideal clients, because I wanted to make sure I was only talking about those things that were their biggest challenges. I thought that this was the only way I could make them stop and pay attention to me, despite my accent.
By doing this I discovered a lot about my audience that I would have never discovered otherwise. I became crystal clear on the things that kept them awake at night and addressing those needs quickly filled up my live trainings. I hoped that if my content was perceived as a true life-changing experience, my accent would be ignored. And that's exactly what happened.
And then, after doing all this for a few months, there was a day which I'll never forget, when one of my clients told me that my charming accent was the thing that drew her to me in the first place!
This was my "a-ha!" moment. By doing the things I listed above, I had become so self-confident and so clear in expressing my ideas that I became unignorable. And suddenly, my foreign accent was charming and became part of my brand, not an impediment. That day, my strong accent became an asset, not a liability.
Looking back, I now acknowledge that speaking a foreign language with an accent is part of my cultural heritage and it makes me unique. I realize that as long as I speak clearly and don't completely mess up the grammar, the native speakers will probably enjoy hearing English spoken with an accent like mine.
I happily embrace my accent now, because it helped me get to where I am today and because it taught me one of the best lessons ever. And I want to share this lesson with you today: You are unique and if you embrace this instead of fighting it, it will be your strongest business asset.
Persuasion doesn't come from our accent, but from our ability to show our passion while expressing our ideas clearly. So, strive to become an expert in the needs of your audience and focus on being understood. All the other things will become secondary.