"Whoever tells the best story wins." - Annette Simmons
“How did you get started doing this kind of work?”
I hear this simple question more often than almost any other from prospective clients . I can usually sense when it's coming, too. There’s a look in their eye, a curiosity in their voice, that begs for something more human than a sales pitch. It’s the same kind of look a five-year-old gets when asking for just one more bedtime story.
Yes, that's right. Prospective clients and five-year-olds have something (very good!) in common. Regardless of age, life experience or ethnicity, everyone intuitively wants one thing—and one thing only—while they’re considering their purchase.
Your customers want a really good story.
Be human first, specialist second
Let's be clear: a story is not your litany of expertise, nor is it a CV of your accomplishments—although both expertise and accomplishments will shine through a well-told story. But only when they're wrapped inside the journey of a human being, who has a very relatable goal, and fights against all odds to accomplish it.
I’m so used to the question by now that my business story flows pretty easily. Telling the story of the lead-up to my big "ah ha" moment, along with the surprising (and sometimes painful) journey that led me to actually start my business, is one of the most compelling ways I sell myself. Especially if a prospect doesn’t quite understand what "branding" really is.
Your business has a story, too. Maybe you woke up one morning with the brilliant idea to commit your life to this particular work. Maybe it was more of a steady urge that grew within you over a lifetime. Maybe like me you kept hitting "brick walls" in your industry until one day you understood that your weird perspective was actually a strength.
Whatever the details, your story can reach out and grab your audience like nothing else.
Committing with courage
Perhaps this feels intimidating—too personal or emotional. Messy, even. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs whose journey from big idea to working business is clever and funny. I’ve also worked with entrepreneurs for whom telling their story meant uncovering and sharing some of the most painful experiences of their lives.
No matter how it unfolds, telling your story is always an act of courage. Which is actually why so many business owners shy away from sharing the human, personal elements of how they came to do their work. It just feels to vulnerable. While for others it feels too “touchy-feely,” “woo-woo” or “off-topic.”
If you're in this latter group, I’d encourage you to reconsider. Especially if you’re finding it difficult to get anyone to care about what you have to offer, let alone buy it.
Your story could be the powerful marketing tool you're missing from your business arsenal.
Here are five reasons why you need to tell it.
1) You are your own most powerful marketing tool.
I know this may feel scary—especially if you find writing or speaking a challenge—but you are the best advertisement for your products and services. Most entrepreneurs get into their business because of a deeply impactful life experience, whether positive or negative.
Tabloid papers and gossip websites are founded on the fact that humans are inherently curious about other humans; why not channel this natural curiosity into a more productive vein? Satisfy your audience’s curiosity about who you are, how you got into this work, and why you are uniquely equipped to do it—and you’ll more easily earn their respect. People want to buy into you before they buy from you. So give them the most intimate piece of yourself you can: your personal story.
2) Our brains are wired to seek out and remember narratives.
Much research has been done on the human urge for storytelling. Studies have found that humans naturally remember information that is structured in story form. People might not remember all the features and benefits of your product, but they’ll remember that you struggled with their same challenge—and overcame it—before creating your product. They’ll remember what you sacrificed to follow your dream, or that everyone around you laughed at your idea for years before you proved them wrong.
For example: my wonderful business coach Cat LeBlanc sold her car and had to do without some things she really needed in order to start her first business. Now she's extremely successful. But that anecdote from her early days impacts people so much that often, they cite her story as a key reason they decided to work with her!
3) Audiences instinctively respect the courage of authenticity.
Everyone knows that putting yourself “out there” for the world to see is hard. It’s scary and even potentially painful. When someone is willing to share a deep part of their life that's related to their business, we sit up and take notice. Anyone can write sales copy that drones on and on about the products.
It takes a truly courageous and authentic person to say, “Here’s what happened to me personally that made such an impact, that I committed my life to helping you through it.” Respect is a key aspect of the trust you need to ultimately make your next sale. Earn that respect through vulnerability whenever possible.
4) The right customer can “see” his or her life mirrored in your story.
Did you know that your story is actually a key way that you can filter out the right versus the not-so-right types of customer? Whereas a product- or service-only message could attract a wide audience, a well-crafted story speaks to a specific niche.
When you know who you’re trying to attract, you can emphasize the specific details of your story that are going to attract this audience. For my coach, she wants to attract people who are so committed to starting their business that they’ll do whatever it takes. By sharing some of her early hardships (in a positive way), she subtly helps weed out clients who are in love with the dream of owning a business but not committed to those sacrifices.
5) The results you’ve experienced from your product or service help sell its effectiveness.
People understandably want to know that something works before they buy it for themselves. As the business owner, they’re looking to you to provide proof that it really works. Your story can help you prove the effectiveness of your approach. As you show how your life changed or improved because of your approach (wellness method, coaching style, etc.) you are essentially saying to your customer, “See? This worked for me, and here's living proof that it’s not just another really nice sales pitch.”
If you haven’t been personally transformed or changed in some way by what you're selling or doing for a living—if you can’t honestly say you have a story to tell about how your product or service (or the big idea behind it) impacted your life—you might need to reconsider your business altogether.
Telling your personal story is one of the aspects of a compelling message that many entrepreneurs overlook. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. In our rush to share how fantastic our offerings are, we may overlook this powerful tool.
We often forget that customers are hungry for a relationship with a real person."
As you pitch your business in person and share you work online, ponder your personal story and what details you can share with your audience.
They’re gathered around. They’re waiting to hear something memorable. Tell them a story they’ll never forget.
Until next time, speak freely.
What's your story? How are you sharing that with your clients and potential collaborators? Share below!
Ready to expand your brand and your audience by crafting a more powerful message? Schedule your FREE 1:1 consultation here.