I received a phone call the other day from a local woman who’d heard of me and wanted to work with me. Because I offer a free initial consultation to anyone who’d like to talk about online marketing possibilities, this is a normal occurrence.
The call started at 1:22pm, and ended at 2:51pm. During that time, I was allowed to say about 30 to 40 words in total (and this is not a literary exaggeration).
During that time, she told me what she wanted, what she didn’t want, why she was an expert and others weren’t, what she knew others must think of her, what she wanted them to think about her, and a long list of the interpersonal injustices she’d suffered. She moved on eventually to how awful clients could be, what technology had ruined for her, what had disappointed her about working with “people like me” in the past, and a lengthy treatise on her High Expectations of both people she hired and people she served. I’m sure she took time to inhale in there somewhere.
This is not a normal occurrence.
Did I mention she was a small business consultant hoping to work with women?
Most of my 30 to 40 words were interjected in an attempt to ask questions, but none were allowed to get past the “sentence fragment” stage before being interrupted. I wrote down notes, other questions I’d never get the chance to ask. At some point in the conversation, I muted my phone for a moment so she wouldn’t hear the sound of the ibuprofen bottle rattling.
She asked me exactly one question, at the very end – did I feel I was up to the challenge of supporting her vision?
In a world of short-answer quizzes, my response would’ve been the second-shortest one possible.
Oh, how glad I am to come back to you, my community.
In the book I’m writing, Tell Me a Story: The Power of Storytelling in Building a Small Business That Matters, I encourage people to cultivate the art of story. It’s the single most powerful way to create relationships with new clients, new colleagues, new employees . . . with anyone, really. Story connects more powerfully and more deeply than all the facts and figures you can come up with. What this woman had told me was, basically, a long and rambling version of her story. But there’s one big caveat:
You have to listen, not just speak.
Even the best storytellers are watching, listening, paying attention. You can’t just endlessly tell your story to clients/partners/the public and expect that people will want to be a part of it. You have to exchange stories with them. That’s the only way to find the common ground where you’ll see how the stories complement one another, and can talk about how you might—together—create a new story that improves both of your lives.
The world doesn’t need any more consultants who only want to talk about their own worldview, and prescribe one-size-fits-all marketing guru advice (at the highest price the market will bear).
The world needs people who want to make a genuine connection. Who genuinely give a damn. Who genuinely want to put their shoulder against the whole bundle of energy that comprises the world, and nudge it up the meter toward Better in some way every day.
This is not hard to do. When was the last time you reached out to the people you serve in the world, and asked them what their current story is? This can take the form of choosing three at random and making a phone date, sending a personal email, or even mailing a handwritten note. (Note: Make it clear you’re not selling anything; you just like making sure you don’t lose touch with a relationship that’s important to you.)
Ask them how things are going for them.
Ask what’s changed since beginning to work with you.
Ask what is working for them right now—what’s feeling right on target.
Ask what their biggest frustration is right now—what’s still out there to be solved.
Ask them to describe a better situation, what improvement(s) look like in their mind’s eye.
Don’t ask what you can do to help just yet.
Don’t try to sell them on anything.
For now, just ask. Just listen. (and take notes)
If you get a response and get the gift of connecting with them, schedule some time to ponder the story they tell you. Is it what you expected? Did you learn anything?
Do this at regular intervals in your work life, and the benefits will be many, including:
- You will become a clear and compassionate presence in the lives of your clients.
- You will get a sense of the kinds of products, programs, and offerings they need the most, and can shape your business accordingly.
- You will feel even more connected to your work, why you do it, and how it adds purpose and beauty to your time here on Earth.
All from just stepping off the to-do list treadmill and taking time to listen intently and purposefully.
If you’d like to know the kinds of things I ask my people, drop me a note any time.
Thanks for stopping by!
If you have a heart-based business and this message resonated with you, I’d love to have you keep in touch (in times like these, having a community of people who ‘get’ us can make all the difference between a great day and “I’m just going back to bed”). Here are some ways:
- I send out a monthly email missive with stuff of interest to people like us – from non-geeky tech tips, to new resources for small businesses and freelancers, to feelgood stories of what’s working out there. Give it a try and see if it’s of interest to you.
- I’m also on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood and we have some great conversations there. It’s also a great place to see new writings of all kinds.
- Think about a free 30-minute consultation with me to tell me what you’re up to, talk through new ideas or directions, or talk about how to better tell your story online.
Let me know if I can be of help.