Let’s talk about business…like humans

We’re human. And we work in business.

But for some crazy reason, when we enter a board-room, a client meeting, or some other suit-and-tie affair, we feel like we have to start speaking a strange new language.

Imagine a web marketing consultant reviewed your website, came to you and said:

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“The convergence of customer loyalty and new visitor conversion demonstrates the immediate need to increase lead generation capabilities on the landing page.”


What are you trying to say?

Just say it like a human.

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“You already have a great following of loyal customers and people must like what you’re saying because they’re subscribing. I think you should try tweaking your subscribe form to get even more people to subscribe.”

The fact of the matter is, freelancers and entrepreneurs who make the extra effort to be human in their interactions will outshine their competition any day. At least with the customers that count.

Keep reading and I’ll share with you (1)Why human business-people rise above the competition and (2)how to sound more human and less douche-like.

Why humans rise above the competition

1. Clients can relate to you more personally.

If you’re a small shop or even a one-person operation, the ability to relate to your client is vital. A wise person once explained to me that success in business is about 50% talent, skill, and ability to get the job done right and 50% popularity.

It sounds bad, but think about the people you work with. Think about the people who climb whatever ladder they’ve devoted their lives to. The climb because people like them. People help them. People want them around.

If a client can relate to you more personally, they’re more likely to keep you around which is great news for your business.

2. You don’t seem stuffy, untouchable or hoity-toity.

Have you ever talked to someone that is just so full of themselves they almost sound like they’re in a competition to use the biggest word in the conversation every time they open their mouth?

They’re so far off in their own self-consumed world, they’re untouchable.

No one wants to jump on a spaceship and fly out to planet you where all the things you say make you look good (in your eyes).

People want you here on earth. Speaking human language. Relating to them.

3. Your advice is more actionable and produces better results.

Speaking of rockets, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that, in order to keep your clients around for a long time, you have you produce real results.

You’re only as valuable as the positive impact you make on your clients’ business. (tweetable)

And the easier it is for your client to act on the advice you give them (think “let’s add a subscribe box” instead of “let’s boost lead generation and capture rates”), the more likely they are to see success.

4. You don’t sound like a douche.

Last, but definitely not least, talking like a human saves you from being a douche.

When you speak a language that your client can’t understand, they may assume you’re trying to swindle them. If it seems like all you care about is money, business, ROI, and all the jazz, you’ll never come across as genuine.

Instead talk like a human would about your clients’ business.

Care about their mission. Care about their goals. And talk about how your design, copywriting, etc. will help them be the company they want to be.

How to sound more human and less douche-like

By now, I hope it’s obvious why you need to start talking like a human being instead of some business robot.

But what’s the best way to tackle it?

Here are a few ideas. Add yours in the comments.

1. Type, Skype, or text like you talk.

Don’t use words in your email or text message that you wouldn’t use in real life.

One time I had a coworker read an email message to me after which I made fun of their word choice.

His response to me? “That was your email.”

Oops. I was so different when typing I didn’t even recognize my own voice when someone read it back to me.

2. Don’t use big words just for the sake of big words.

You can pack a real punch with your words when you keep them small.

The use of big words won’t make you sound smart if you don’t use them in your day-to-day speech. And if you don’t sound smart, you sound like a fool.

Have you been in a board room where they start to use words you don’t hear when you’re not in the board room? That’s not real language.

Did you note, too, that each word in this point was no more than one syllable? (Except for “syllable”, of course.)

3. Stop trying to be so formal.

Are there moments when you need to be a little more professional than others?


But don’t try to be so formal all the time. Once your client is working with you, let down your guard a little and show them you can be human. They’ll end up trusting you and feeling like they can open up to you about their business’ worries and needs.

4. Make your conversations about more than strictly business

One last tip is to make your speech reflect real human concerns. Don’t just about business; take a minute to ask about your client’s family, hobbies, etc. This will allow you to connect on a more human level and will lead to even more human conversations in the future.

What do you think?

In the past, I might have said “Let’s toss the mic to you” or “Over to you” or something.

The truth is, I would never say that in real life.

So I’m not going to say it today.

But what do you think? Am I completely crazy or could we all use a little extra dose of human conversation when we’re talking about business?

Comments here.


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  1. Using comfortable language allows your reader to feel comfortable as well.
    Always aim to sound humane and relatable when expressing yourself online.
    In fact, this is my intelligent and structured language.
    Thanks for that little bump of self-realisation and hypocrisy on my part.

    Some clients appreciate the professionalism. There are times when I’ve portrayed too much casualness! The client hasn’t caught on and is still sounding stiff on the other end of the phone. Maybe the chemisty isn’t right. Who knows.
    It’s difficult to tell with so many variables.

    In any case.
    This article makes a great point.
    If you’ve read it, put it into practise.
    The amount of people using non-relatable and industry jargon is ridicule.

  2. “How to sound more human and less douche-like.” LOL! What a beautiful and elegant way to put it Preston. Personally I always tell people to “stop talking in jargon.”

    In my industry (web and graphic design) I think a lot of my competitors (and in the past myself) are guilty of trying to sound important and intelligent by talking gibberish / technical jargon. I’ve learnt now that all you do is confuse your clients at best, or earn their disdain at worse.

    I find by talking in clear, easy to follow English, I get more business and happier clients. Who would of thought!?

    Great article.

  3. Totally, totally, totally, TOTALLY agree! People want to get to know the ‘person behind the pixels’, so give them an insight into who you are. Great post. 🙂

  4. Hi, How are you,
    I am a regular follower of your blog, and love reading all your posts.
    I now have a client who I am in the middle of making a website for, and she wants to be able to email her client her blog and have it on her website (like you do) how do I go about doing that? can you help me out?

  5. Just wanted to say, I’m a student designer and I’ve been reading your blog for the past year. Really great stuff, and I’m glad you do what you do! I especially liked the post about the barber (I can’t remember if you or one of the other bloggers posted that).

    I totally agree. I think that when we connect at a human level with our clients as friends and not only as business partners, we earn trust from them that will encourage them to recommend us to others in the future. And yes, I would say that sentence in real life.

  6. I also wanted to comment that I had a huge problem with many print shop sales people only using fancy industry terminology for paper weights and not explaining things clearly so I know what the client feels like on the other end of it. I finally found a printer that could explain things well in laymans terms and gave me actual sample books to keep of the paper weights and am a devout customer to them.

  7. Great article! It’s nice to have that reminder that people are simply human. We don’t need to “fake” our speech in the business realm all the time.

    I had a client who needed a site built around their engineering-bio project. It’s safe to say we couldn’t speak each other’s language (science talk vs. design talk), but we found a way and it helped us understand each other’s goals with the website. It was challenging but when the formalities were taken away, we talked as if we were peer students at university so it become a learning opportunity on both parties.

  8. Amen, Amen and AMEN!

    Preston- Thank-you for sharing such a key element to working effectively with people in the business/corporate world.

    As someone who never saw myself in this industry, I find that I seem to shrink a little inside when telling someone what I do.

    The name or title of Designer comes with a stigma all it’s own. I want to be the “new face” of design. I live and work and breath in the real world and I want to know that I can relate to my customers no matter what scale the project. I think if you respect and listen to all related items within the project, it makes the process much better, especially when it comes to the “bumpy” times of the project.

    There is a balance that we all must wade thru with our customers. Not too be fake ‘buddy buddy, but friendly, flexible as long as the project doesn’t suffer in the end. Honesty and integrity is a staple we should also embrace.

    We have the responsibility to keep the End Result in view, all the while working side by side. It makes for a better Team effort, if you are so lucky to have clients that work with that conviction as well.

    Thanks for saying this! I loved it!

  9. I like it, I like it. Apple is an excellent example of a company that uses simple, down to earth marketing everyone can understand without dumbing it down. I often forget my clients have no idea what I’m talking about half the time when I’m using industry terminology. I had a client recently tell me they needed a “Face Page”, referencing to a landing page or home page of a website not a facebook page.

  10. AWESOME post, Preston. Perfect advice – be a person, be likable, and be friendly. Those three things will get you a foot in the door so you can prove that you are the freelancer they want.

  11. An addition to your “Type, Skype, or Text like you talk” tip: I always read my important emails out loud to (even to myself) before I send. Especially the long ones (or ones addressing a problem or issue with a client). That helps me to be sure they are clear, succinct, and not pretentious!

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