Why Authenticity Is Your Greatest Competitive Advantage

As entrepreneurs and influencers, we live in a world where the way to outdo our competition seems to be through racking up more accomplishments than the next guy.

We strive to be featured in prestigious media outlets, ranked high in “top” lists, adored by thousands of followers, and known for our record-breaking revenue.

The trouble is, these shiny accessories don’t actually set us apart. The modern consumer is no longer swayed by how many trophies we have.

Today, what wins over consumers is authenticity. 9 out of 10 consumers say they are willing to take action to reward a brand for its authenticity, 52% of which would recommend the brand to a friend and 49% who would pledge loyalty to the brand.

If you want to stand out, you’ll need to strip back the accessories and dare to be transparent.

The skeletons in your closet may actually be your best asset.

Take it from a wildly successful founder who leads with his criminal past. Matt Aitchison, the founder of the popular podcast Millionaire Mindcast, was once a troubled teen facing felony charges who isn’t afraid to admit it. He’s also the founder of 6 Figure Flipper, an online course teaching the investment strategy that helped him flip 100 houses by age 25 and earn a spot amongst the top 1,000 national real estate teams recognized by The Wall Street Journal.

Aitchison says his openness about his past is what has set him apart from the competition by allowing clients to find resonance and trust with him. This week on Unconventional Life, Aitchison shares how you can make authenticity a part of your brand to sharpen your competitive edge.

Growing up in downtown Sacramento, Aitchison says he got involved with the wrong kind of crowd at an early age. During his senior year of high school, he was arrested and eventually expelled for initiating a fight. In college, Aitchison was jailed again for a repeat offense. But this time, the consequence was more severe, and he was charged with a felony that was later dropped.

Aitchison found himself at a fork in the road. He used his one phone call to speak with his father, who said, “We all make mistakes. How you respond to this mistake is going to tell me what your character’s about and how your future will look. Your past doesn’t have to equal your future,” Aitchison recalls.

Thereon, Aitchison decided to turn his life around. He earned a real estate license and began flipping houses with no capital or experience—just a relentless determination to redefine his story.

Within five years, Aitchison became an expert in real estate investment and passive income. In May 2016, he decided to launch Millionaire Mindcast to share his knowledge with the world.

Though Aitchison is a credible expert in his field, what has set him apart from other influencers isn’t his achievements—it’s his transparency.

“I learned to share those turbulent times because all of us face challenges in life. Everyone has some sort of valley, some sort of dark time and those times have been the greatest teachers for me,” Aitchison says.

91% of customers value honesty in the companies from which they buy their products and services. If you want to shine among competitors, your best asset is your honesty.

Below, Aitchison shares how you can align your brand with authenticity to earn the trust and loyalty of your audience.

1. Change your environment. Edit your peer group and surround yourself with the kind of people you want to become. Aitchison recommends to have conversations with the friends in your life who aren’t in alignment with your authentic expression. “You don’t need to eliminate them but tell them where you’re going. Honor the relationship, tell them you won’t be doing this or that with them anymore but you still love and respect them.”

2. Seek out mentors. Find mentors who are leading the kind of life you desire and possess characteristics you admire. Reach out to them and invite them to lunch. If you can find a way to add value to their lives, they will likely agree to mentor you. Aitchison was able to secure several mentorships by doing tasks for his mentors that gave them back valuable time in their day. “I’m not the fastest, smartest, sharpest tool in the shed but I’m very good at modeling the people who have the life I want,” Aitchison says.

3. Have nothing to hide. Be honest and open about your story. Instead of trying to conceal parts of your past, own your journey and share how it has molded you into the person you are today. Your customers will appreciate your transparency and feel a personal connection to your brand that inspires a longstanding relationship.

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This article originally appeared on Forbes.com