Lone founder: Should I use “we” or "I" when communicating with my customers?

Have you ever feared customers won’t buy your product or pay for your service if they found out that they are backed by a team of just 1?

I am scared to use “I” in my website’s copy. I want to be open about the fact that I am running my business as a one-man operation, but I’m not sure how customers will react to this.

Felt the same way?

You may be scared, but you don’t have to.

People who sell have all gone trough this.

And what is the most common way people deal with this issue? Hint: you can find it in the copy of almost every freelancer’s homepage.

Let me spare you the guesswork: most budding solopreneurs new to customer communication use “we”(when clearly they mean “I”). They hope that, being perceived as a team, will make them seem trustworthy and professional.

But erecting the wall of “we” between you and your customer only limits the power of your communication. So, how can you fix this?

Stop hiding

Back in 2011 when I launched my first product I was scared, too. Putting myself on the line was challenging. To bear the responsibility for the experience customers have with my product was new(and scary) to me. It was both liberating—I was in control of the experience—and soul-crushing—“Your product broke my website”.

I never got to the point to present myself as more than one person, because I felt that being the developer who is “100% in” was in my favour. On the contrary, when observing my competitors at the time, I noticed their tendency to “peacock”.

Peacocking(trying to look bigger than you are) when communicating with customers adds no real value to your product. Worse—it creates false expectations for them.

I came to the conclusion that people try to hide behind the mask of “we, the team” out of insecurity. When you are out on your own in the scary world of entrepreneurship there are many things to be afraid from. One of them is not being able to deliver what you have promised… and the worse part—there is no one to save your ass when you screw up.

Feeling vulnerable you instinctively reach for the secure shell of the “team”, albeit only as a mask.

“More people on the team prove that we are in this business for real, right?”

Not even close. This can be easily faked. Thousands of people are afraid to come up as “one man operations”. Instead they choose to hide behind a bouquet of different titles and email accounts at the same domain. Eventually all of these accounts are being forwarded to one inbox…

Mimicking a corporate structure when you are alone won’t make you big, but it will definitely make you feel hollow. It creates unneeded distance between you and your customer.

Come closer, I’ve got something to show you

As one man operation you are responsible for everything in your project—design, development, marketing, customer support. This gives you the ability to have direct contact with your users and prospective customers if they happen to have an issue with any part of your product.

This natural proximity that you have with your customers(but may try to escape hiding behind the “we”) is one of your biggest advantages as a solopreneur.

  1. You can deliver high-quality service directly to your customers.
  2. Your work gets a ”handmade” and “tailor-made” qualities attached to it when people get personal treatment by you, the founder.

People tend to care when others care about them. Something so rare in the world of mass production, big corporations and outsourced overseas customer support.

Sincerity lets you bond faster with your customers

You buy from people you can trust, right? So do your customers.

When you present yourself as a person, express feelings and opinions, help and teach them, you build trust.

Your customers see that despite you being hundreds or thousand miles away you are still a living being. Just like them. You too have a pulse.

As human beings we can’t bond with things that are not alive. To bond we need to share memories and experiences. Presenting yourself as a company dehumanises you, strips you off the blood and flesh you have. And then people start to expect mechanical responses. Things they are used to feel bad about, or even ignore.

Yet if they perceive you as a human, they trust you to understand them. And because of this trust not only will they listen to you, but they will show understanding, too. And once you got their understanding you can acknowledge your limitations.

Sincerity manages your customer’s expectations

What is your definition of a good customer? For me—I have to get along with them easily. The people I get along with are the ones that understand me. Because they know what to expect of me.

“As a team of 1 I can’t provide 24/7 support, but I will respond to every request within 24 hours(weekends take a bit longer).”

“I work on project XYZ full-time the quality of the product is my top priority.”

“I have limited resources, so feature suggestions will be prioritized if they improve the product for all present and future customers”

You can get by with the above lines if you have their understanding.

Being frank in your copy lets you appeal to your ideal customers—those with higher expectations won’t even try to bother you since they see you don’t fit them.

Yes, this may seem like you are losing money on the short-term, but you are actually buying peace of mind for the future. This “peace of mind” will help you serve your existing users better.

And when you come of sincerely, prospective customers that feel fine with what you have to offer will like you. They will understand. You have already managed their expectations.

Don’t be afraid to be direct and sincere

The way you think is reflected in the way you write.

Acknowledging your limitations frees your mind to be creative. Your constraints, when embraced, turn into advantages that you can use to pre-select customers and guide your focus.

Let me leave you with this quote from the famous US architect Frank Lloyd Wright:

‘Man built most nobly when limitations were at their greatest.’

— Frank Lloyd Wright