For years, I’ve been asking my clients the same questions as we begin to work together:
What do you do? What are you offering?
Why do you do it? What’s the story that brought you to this spot?
Who do you help by doing it? What’s the story you want to change for the better for that person?
So many people have been through this exercise with me that I’ve long since lost count. But the other day, someone turned the tables on me by leaning forward and asking, “What about you? What’s your story?” (Well played, madam.)
Picture a cutaway dollhouse view of an average suburban home in the United States. In the kitchen there’s a plate of food on the counter, untouched and cooling. In the living room, you see a computer case, some size 7 heels, and a navy J. Crew blazer on the floor, just shy of the sofa. In the dim hallway light, you see a woman curled up in the fetal position, eyes and fists squeezed tightly shut.
I was that woman on a crisp autumn night in 1998, suffering from acute pancreatitis. As it happens I’d lay there for another hour, unable to uncurl my body. Eventually, I was able to crawl to the phone and ask my neighbor if she could drive me to the urgent care clinic. Please.
That moment in time was the unlikely genesis of Websites for Good.
Long hours, chronic stress, deep unhappiness with my advertising job, persistent migraines and the over-the-counter medications to deal with them . . . all had conspired to create a perfect storm of pain that night, after weeks of ignoring the warning signs. The young doctor on duty did his due diligence with a battery of tests and a barrage of questions about my health history. He put down his pen, laced his fingers together on the desk and said, “You have to find ways to dial back the stress in your life, or the next time this happens you’ll be seeing me as a diabetic. It’s your choice, really. But I hope you’re willing to do that.”
The next morning, I dropped heavily into my chair, looked around my office and saw it with new eyes. The people I served with my labor barely knew me, let alone my story. The glamorous aspirations I’d followed in order to be in that job couldn’t make up for the fact that it was shortening my life. I didn’t belong there. Life had never intended that for me, at least not for long. So I typed up a letter of resignation, and while I waited for the printer to spit it out, I started concocting a way to make a living that would heal me.
In the two decades since then, I’ve talked with hundreds of people—the majority of them women—with the same story. They’ve exited the once-promising but now soul-corroding escalator of corporate life to build a business closer to their hearts. Something that allows life balance. Something that matters. I’ve helped them to shape their businesses, taught them about online marketing tools, and created websites to get the word out about what they offer the world. Mostly though, I’ve taught them how to tell their story, and how to gather the stories of the people they serve.
What’s your story? Being able to articulate why we do what we do is a powerful tool to build a bigger and more engaged audience. Through story—sharing yours, asking for theirs, and creating a new one together—we can begin a long-lasting conversation with people whose values are resonant with ours. They become the ones who follow you and support you . . . who listen to what you have to say, and tell their friends about you.
Because they know your story, and you help articulate theirs, the roots of your connection sink far deeper than any charts & graphs, search engine tactics, or fancy lead generation pages.
Stay tuned in the days and weeks ahead as I explore how you might use story in your online marketing. Most of us are just barely tapping its power, and I’m on a mission to change that.
By the way…
If you’d like to talk about how story might be helpful in growing your business, including some easy retrofits for existing websites, I offer a free 30-minute non-geeky, no-icky-sales-pitch-whatsoever consultation. Request yours through my contact page.