Keeping your website from getting lost in the crowd, Chapter 2

Yesterday I wrote about the folks in my tribe who claim they don’t have a story to tell, and thus miss out on a key way to stand out in the minds of the people they most want to reach.

Because I know that 99.9% of you are the type who can better visualize things by seeing examples, I wanted to offer you this jumpstart, which takes you to some unfamiliar and unorthodox places to look for your story. I don’t expect they will all be appropriate for everyone; my hope is that they will warm up the Play-Doh of your mind, make it malleable and flexible, so other stories will come to you more easily.

I also offer a bite-sized coaching session on storytelling for your existing website if you think you’d like a sherpa to help you get started. No pressure though—you’ve got this!

Pick any one of the following, and tell us that story. Be open to others that pop into your mind; I call these “opportunistic stories,” the ones that bubble to the surface when you’re working with memories.

The spark of your work: When I was a kid, I had a pattern that played out repeatedly. I wanted to be good at something, and wanted to be needed for it. So I ended up helping my friends with their math, or helping them train their dog, or showing them how to grow plants. I was shy about it, and they usually had to ask more than once, but it was always there. From those memories, I can see the spark that eventually lit the flame of my work. I wanted to help, and be respected for helping. Can you see any sparks from your earlier years that might have given you a clue about the work you’d one day do?

The first person you can remember helping: A friend tells a story about her 20’s, when she’d somehow found the right things to say, and in the right ways, to a girlfriend in trouble. The words took root and gave this girl the courage to leave an abusive relationship and steer into a life in which she navigated solely by her inner voice. I find that most people in helping professions or heart-based businesses have such a story if they find some quiet and look for it. What might yours be?

The first person who helped you (or the one who’s helped you the most) and how. These kinds of stories can be so energizing and powerful. They don’t have to be a coach or mentor or even a teacher. In one of my favorite books, Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, she shares a story told to her by an acquaintance. When this woman was a child, her father had taken her to his office one day. His secretary had come out and crouched down to her level to speak to her, looking straight into her eyes. The woman said that no one in her dysfunctional family had ever done this. She felt as though she was being seen for the very first time; she felt as though she mattered, and it changed her right then and there. Who played a role in helping you become the person you are today, or helping you do the work you do today?

How did you learn what you know? Pick one skillset or mindset tool you’re proud of, or pleased to have. Follow the thread back in time to where you learned it. Tell us how you walked—or fell—into it. Tell us why it felt important to do, and how it serves you (and the people you help) now.

The “future me, future them” story: With your work, you’re taking two existing stories—yours and your client’s—and twining them together to create something better. For example, it might be a story from a coaching client who’s always carried guilt or fear, but you’re helping them into a new story where those things no longer block the way. It might be a story about finding ways to create your art as a living, right where it meets someone whose day is lit up by hearing or seeing what you’re creating. Their story is better and so is yours.

What stood in your way? All self-employed people or business owners have had obstacles, ranging from inhibiting fears we’ve had to overcome, all the way up to ugly events that made us want to drink warm vodka right out of a shoe at the end of the day. Perseverance stories show your readers/clients what’s important to you, and by association imply that you will also persevere for them.

The magic-wand skill: What’s something that, if your fairy godmother popped you on the head with a sequined star and granted you a wish, you’d love to know or to be? So many of us think that we have to portray ourselves as completely bulletproof and all-knowing in our business communications. But really, you can be human, and it makes you far more memorable. The first time I admitted publicly that I wished I could write a book but didn’t know how, I was surrounded by people offering support, skills, and encouragement—many of them perfect strangers. What’s a skill or shift in perception you would love to have, and which would make you more of an ally to the people you want to serve?

Are you sure your story’s true? (I thank Byron Katie for this one.) Tell us about a story you tell yourself. This one can be a story you’ve lugged around for a long time, but that—on examination—you can’t be sure is 100% true. Example: For many years I avoided teaching because I just knew I was too shy, and that I’d stumble and stammer and make a complete fool of myself. What I found instead was that, while I am an introvert, I am not shy, especially when it comes to teaching people something I’m passionate about. What do you “know” about yourself that might not be so?

A Big Shift story: When it comes to our work with people, over time we start to get a feel for how interactions are going to go, how people will react to us, and so forth. Every once in awhile, I have an experience that knocks me off my axis and forces me to rethink my well-worn path. These can range from a positive event coming from an unexpected angle (such as a client recently commenting she likes being around my energy) to a very NOT positive event (such as public criticism or social media grumps). Have there been any experiences recently that—welcome or not—led to a productive shift in how you work or with whom?

A vulnerability story: Don’t be super(wo)man. We all have less-than-stellar days in our work lives. Something said or done by a person zings right into a place where we feel we’re less-than, we didn’t react “correctly,” or we’re just missing the mark. Dare to be vulnerable and show/tell your readers what part of yourself you’re working on. There’s tremendous power in this kind of empathetic resonance, and they may feel much more comfortable stepping into a conversation with you.

What’s a story your clients or wish-they-were-clients are telling often? Remember from yesterday’s post when I said I hear people say, “I don’t have a story to tell” all the time? If you start listening with your ear tuned for these kinds of things—in conversation, in consultations/sessions, in workshop comments, on social media—you will start to see common threads. Capture those stories. See where those threads match the things you can offer to help, and use them to weave useful blog posts, articles, and even product offerings.

Share a teaching story about doing things better. I wrote a blog post a few days ago about my struggle to stay in a calm, centered, productive “state of being” by using a traffic light metaphor. I loved the personal responses I received. Many business gurus would’ve advised me to keep up the ruse that I’m always in total control and life’s always perfect, 24/7. Nothing to see here, people! (smile) But those kinds of stories create more self-awareness and self-compassion in the world. If there is something you are doing to make yourself better, stronger, happier, tell us that story. We are all human. You may be surprised at how people resonate with you.

You’re in this world, so you have stories.
Sharing them can help “your people” find, know, like, and trust you.
I hope you will.

Keeping your website from getting lost in the crowd, Chapter 1

This past week, I had a conversation with a man who is struggling to build a business around his coaching work. Now, this is a guy who has a heart the size of Jupiter, as well as great skills and a keen intuition. He’s doing fine but is still working on how to make his work stand out in a field that has—to put this gently—a great deal of competition.

I spoke to him about bringing out more storytelling (as I often do). In a situation like his, it’s naturally important to have a good and clear offering. But it’s also important to help people remember you, and to humanize yourself so people feel comfortable giving your services a try. And in terms of helping YOU be the one who stands out when a potential client is looking for the right fit for themselves, a story is going to take you much further than an alphabet soup of credentials or some massive photos of you staring out at them from every page.

He said something that I hear several times every week: “But I don’t have a story. I wouldn’t even know what to say.”

(Note to all of us: When you hear something that often from people, pay attention. That’s an elbow in the ribs from the universe. Dig into it and explore.)

I hear from people who claim they don’t have any stories to tell about their business, their work, or themselves. In response, I often borrow this response from Lauren Lee Anderson of the branding agency Moonshot: “Just because you aren’t actively telling your story doesn’t mean you don’t have one. If you’re in the world, the world has a story about you.”

Think about the second half of that quote: Imagine there’s an omniscient being, one with really nice penmanship, that’s been tracking your path from birth to where you stand right now with your vocation. Not just the mechanics of it (acquiring skills, deciding on a domain name, etc.) but your inner path as well. She’s got a thick volume—the story of You—documenting the choice points that brought you here: the fears, the excitement, the vision of what your life would be life, the stumbles, the getting-back-ups, and a thousand other things.

Now consider the ridiculous opposite: We did not just appear in our office chair one morning through spontaneous generation, fully formed, complete with the vision, skillset and mindset we needed for our work. Right?

The world has a story about you. That story is in your head and your heart, and bringing it out can help you to connect with more people and grow your work.

Some thought-joggers for those who don’t think they have a story:

  • There’s a story behind why you do what you do. Of the thousands of vocations (or art forms, or services, or products) you could’ve chosen, you clicked into this one at some point, with a sound like placing a jigsaw puzzle piece. How? Why?
  • There’s a story behind how you obtained the skills to do what you do, likely peppered with stops and starts, fears and triumphs over fear, self-doubt, and celebrations.
  • There’s a story behind why you gravitate to certain people as customers and clients and mentors and partners, and not others. Your worldview matters.
  • There’s a story behind why you’re working for yourself (or want to) and not on an assembly line churning out endless widgets or memos or someone else’s dreams.
  • …and so much more.

That’s just a brief topline. Tomorrow I’ll share a list of specific ideas that you might want to explore for yourself. Once you gather these bits of story, you can incorporate into all the ways and spaces in which you tell people about what you do. See you then.

Love your clients fiercely, and the rest will follow.

I work with a lot of people who are in love with what they create and offer the world. That’s a lovely thing indeed. When we love something we’ve made, it shows. We craft it, shape it, smooth it, make it beautiful and useful and easy to want.

One particular client comes to mind, from a few years ago. She’d just become an LCSW, and had a vision of working with people recovering from trauma. She planned the perfect office from which to offer her counseling and coaching. She mapped out the location, the colors, the perfectly soothing art, the soft and comforting furniture. She designed programs on paper that perfectly articulated her beliefs and knowledge around how individuals could get their lives back after traumatic incidents.

And then, nothing happened for two years.

She worked in the public sector for a while, joined someone else’s practice, and occasionally looked in the folder with all the paint chips and treatment plans. Something was missing for her.

That special something floated into my mind this morning in my meditation (shorthand for “Margaret stares out the window and focuses on the big tree for ten minutes”).

It’s not enough just to love what you offer.
You have to love the person you’re offering it to.

Not just love them like all people deserve to be loved, that tidy, new age book love. But love them fiercely. Love who they are, and how hard they’re trying.

When I started my business 20 years ago, I wasn’t sure I’d stick with it. At that moment I was very much in the realm of “I have a skillset I can sell. I’ll try this.” My first clients, though, changed all that.

They were children’s book authors. But not just the kind who had fun writing and illustrating cute stories that would entertain an 8-year-old for ten minutes while mom cooked dinner. They had something bigger in mind.

They were travelers and loved to explore the world. In every place they visited, they saw the beauty in the vast diversity of our Earth and its people. Different art, different food, different ways of living, different landscapes. They lived out Mark Twain’s belief that travel is “…fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” They wrote their books to open the minds of kids who might never have a chance to see this bigger world.

But even more important than that vision, something else happened: They fell in love with the readers they wrote for. The kids they met and to whom they read their first book to were fiery-eyed, hungry to know that the world was big, interesting, and theirs. They pressed in with questions about the places the book characters visited. They asked whether they liked the food, how to speak other languages, whether they wanted to go to Africa, Australia, China.

They carried the beloved images of these kids with them as they traveled, researched, and wrote. They loved these wild, curious spirits, and were loved in return.

In turn, I fell in love with them as clients. I was floored by their mission, and wanted to help them open even more eyes, minds, and hearts.

When we love someone fiercely, it breaks us open. We are bigger, better, more expansive, more joyful. We want to share the object of our love with the world. We want to do anything for them.

When we take the time to know the clients and customers we want to serve with our work or our small business, it’s easy to love them fiercely. If you’re an artist, consider that your buyer might be someone who could never have nice things when she was younger. Now she’s able to spend a little to bring beauty, whimsy, and the elemental presence of human-made art into her home, her sanctuary.

If you’re writing a book, picture the person reading it, grabbing a few quiet moments before the next wave of life knocks them over: Are they stuck, suffering, craving new knowledge, needing release/relaxation after the stressful days of modern life? Are there wings you can help her unfurl to burst up and out into a new place of perspective?

If you’re a coach, think about how hard someone has worked to try to solve the pain or problem they’re bringing to you. See them as they sit quietly, remembering a time when life seemed so much better. Think about the beautiful new story they want to create, where they are able to be more joyful and share more joy with others.

When we take the time to really know and get acquainted with our ideal clients, there’s just so much to love about them. They are trying as hard as they can, doing the best they can with the light they have to see by at this moment in their lives.

Get to know them. Love them fiercely.

Learn what they want and need right now.

Create something that focuses on their needs. Make it beautiful.

Tell the world about them. Give them something that will make them want to tell the world about you.

But mostly, just love them. Everything else—inspiration, energy, abundance—will follow.

The connecting point story: Your best tool to help people feel good about taking a chance on you

Marketing the things you offer the world can be an interesting exercise sometimes. I can hear you out there. I know I’m being very charitable with the adjective “interesting.”

One of the most common conversations I have on any given day goes something like this:

“I’ve created a workshop (or coaching package, or group) that I think is really needed, shares a ton of great information, and just I know it would help so many people. But nobody’s signing up. I don’t get it.”

I wish there were always a smart, black-and-white answer I could give.

Sometimes it’s about clarity: The way you’re articulating it just doesn’t reach people in the right way, and can’t find a way into their heart space.

Sometimes it’s about cost: In a world where so much useful information is always on tap, potential clients can twist reality to convince themselves they can just work a little harder and get the same information for free (and rarely do, but that’s another story).

And sometimes it’s about trust: They don’t know you, there’s no trust factor yet, and so they resist taking a risk on possibly wasting their time, energy, and money.

But sometimes, it’s simply about bringing all of those elements together with a particular type of story structure. If you can create this special story and get it into the hands of people who need it most, it engages them, sinks into them, and proves the benefits they’re going to reap are well worth the risk of trying something new, with someone new (you).

In Storytelling for Small Business I talk a bit about this type of story, which I call the “connecting point story.” I wish I’d written more. (And in the second edition, I will.) It’s the delicious filling between these two elements of the story sandwich:

“Jean,” my client avatar

The person to whom you want to offer your products, services, and wisdom has a current story. It may be a story about how something in her life is lacking right now. A “bad guy” of illness, pain or physical challenge she can’t seem to resolve. A foe in the form of burnout, frustration, conflict, financial issues, or depression. She wishes she had a guide who could point her to something that would help her.

That same person also has a second story, a story she’s wanting to live into. It’s a place where she now has what she’d been hoping for — peace of mind, more financial security, greater capacity, physical health, organization, career advancement, success by her definition of it, authenticity, creative freedom, self-respect, or safety.

In between those stories, there’s you.

You also have a story, a vision of what you want to offer the world. It might be your unique way of coaching people to a better life; your artwork; your books; your blog; your stellar workshops. You wake up in the morning wanting to use what you know and what you do, in order to help take a person from their current story to their new story.

Here are some examples from the book that show you how those three stories fit together:

Their story now: Once there was a woman who dreamed of walking away from her harsh corporate life. She wanted to be a consultant for nonprofit organizations, but she feared she’d be worn down by the demands of running her own business. She felt paralyzed by all she didn’t yet know.

Your story: Once there was a coach who’d once been petrified in the same way, and so she chose to create some tools to help others vanquish those fears.

The new connecting point story: Our heroine was able to find the courage to start her own business. Her nonprofit clients did amazing work that lifted up thousands of others. The coach was able to continue helping more and more people, and build a joyful livelihood as well.

+ + +

Their story now: Once there was a man who had always felt he had to hide the emotional pain of his lifelong depression. The weight of his hidden suffering cast a pall over his work, health, and relationships.

Your story: In the mythical land of Massachusetts, a wise writer had dug deep into his own experience to shine a bright light on this kind of taboo pain. He found he could explain rock solid ways that men could use to begin defusing it for good. He wrote a book to share this with the world.

The new connecting point story: The book’s readers were uplifted, and responded with gratitude and positive reviews. They shared it with their friends. Both author and reader could move into their respective futures with more hope, peace, and confidence.

When you can articulate your audience’s current story well, articulate their beautiful new story well, and then demonstrate that what you are offering can build a bridge between them, more people will trust you enough to take a leap of faith and work with you.

There are many life-improving goods and services out there on offer at all times, of varying degrees of benefit, value, and quality. If you are creating something beneficial to people—a coaching relationship, a workshop, a product, a book—and you do not tell this three-part story well, it could make the difference between people being willing to take a chance on you, and not.

A few words on cost: If you sense or learn there is a cost barrier for your desired audience, you can only do your best to show them the ways in which their new story will prove itself worth the cost, in very specific language and with real math if it’s available. Social proof such as real-person testimonials (faces and names, folks) can help as well, if they also discuss actual results in a warm and human way.

There are some who will never feel something’s inexpensive enough; if you are working for yourself, you have met them. For those, consider adding a lower-cost offering that allows them to experience working with you…a one-hour session, a group consultation, even an eBook. Different payment options and plans can also help people cross that perceived barrier.

And a few words on marketing: If you’re concerned about not yet reaching the people you most want to reach, contact me and let’s talk about what you’re currently doing and what you might try (instead of, or in addition to, your current efforts).

But first: Know your story, and know the stories (now and desired) of the people you’re trying to reach. The place where those intersect can open up whole new worlds for your work.

 


Cover - Storytelling for Small BusinessMy book, Storytelling for Small Business: Creating and Growing an Authentic Business Through the Power of Story, is now available in several formats. It’s a small-but-mighty guide to getting started in the art/science of using the power of story to connect with more of the exact people you want to engage with your business. You can find links to all versions on my book page, and also find the Kindle and paperback versions on Amazon.com.

Medaling in the “I’ve never done this before” jitters

Sometimes, when we’re doing something for the first time, we can stumble or falter just from the not-knowingness of it. Let’s talk about that.

Looking for ways to breathe more life into your website/social media? Try these ten stories.

Bring your website to life. Here are 10 stories to share, in either bite-sized portions or baked into your posts or pages (can you tell I haven’t had breakfast yet?).

A harvest of stories: The big guys do it well, because they know its power

A lot of storytelling happens in the commercial breaks between Super Bowl plays. Some of it is even good. What can we learn from what the ‘big guys’ are doing?

In praise of reverse resolutions: Tracking back, not squinting forward

I’m just SO not a fan of the New Year’s resolution thing, and I know I’m not alone. Most of the people in my circle seem to be reinventing themselves in some way every month, even every week, and so it’s laughable when the rest of the world seizes on January 1 as THE day to change something up and try to stick with it for the rest of the year.

It’s a time of year when I don’t look ahead as much as I look back. I think of it as a “reverse resolution”—looking backward, not peering forward. And it’s not the oft-recommended lists of “all the things I accomplished and am proud of” I’m referring to (though that’s a great list to make). Instead, I’m interested in this scenario:

Thing 1:  What parts of life and business are going exactly right at the moment? What are the parts that are successful, helping me connect with good people, improving the health of my business, and making me feel alive?  What’s going well? First, I list those. Now, the fun part:

Thing 2: For every good thing, there was a time when this was not the case. For each thing on my list, I track back and follow the breadcrumb trail back to its origins: What small thing happened in the past—either with great intent or just out of the blue—that started me in the direction of this thing I’m now so proud of? It could be an event that only lasted a single second, or an hour, or a day. It could’ve been something ridiculous, or a complete accident! But whatever it was, somewhere there was a spark that led to another, to another, to another, and created this new happy outcome. I find it really helpful to catalog what those sparks were.

Why? If I know what they look like, I can optimize my chances of recognizing similar happy happenstances when I stumble across them in the future. So my “resolution” isn’t to promise myself something new that might be had; it’s to pay attention to each present moment for the spark it might already carry.

Here’s just a random example, one that doesn’t happen to be about business:

Spark: I was standing at our local library’s “What’s New” shelf and chose to pick up a book called The DNA Restart. It’s about the relationship between our own personal genome and the paths we all take to try to stay healthy. In particular, it talks about how all the food advice we get might be utterly useless because our individual genetic markers are all different. It’s not one-size-fits-all: Our bodies are individual, and actually need individualized strategies.

Time: 2 minutes to peruse, 1 minute to check the book out

Chain reaction: I ended up reading the book over coffee each morning for a week. (It’s super-interesting.)  It led to me dig up more about genetics and food.
…Which gave me a huge amount of self-knowledge about my own body’s possible genetic makeup and how it reacts to different things I put into it
…Which changed my diet
…Which finally gave me a clue about the connection between What/How I ate yesterday and Why I feel like a failure or can’t seem to get focused today, so I could do the right things instead
…Which made me so energized I started getting up earlier to write and daydream about good things to do
…Which turned me into a juggernaut of positivity, creative experimentation, and connection (which has been either beautiful or annoying to everyone in my tribe…)
…Which is good. And so it is.

Like that.

Some other sparks I tracked back to, and the chain reactions they created:

After the presidential election, I had an overwhelming, almost insane desire to write. I started a private blog with no readers and no fanfare on January 1, with the idea of writing every day (1 hour to set up). I put down all my fears and stressors and then could let it go for the day. I made the choice to stop that particular blog after a few months, but it morphed seamlessly into daily writing on topics that made my heart feel bigger. That is still my habit.

I dropped a shampoo bottle on my foot and suddenly, unreasonably, decided I hated plastic bottles. A lot. I went online and ordered a bar of shampoo instead (3 minutes). No waste, compostable paper wrapper and shipping box, nontoxic ingredients, and lasts as long as a bottle of hair washing chemicals. So there were (are) no more bottles in my shower. Which made me want to have fewer plastic containers everywhere else in my life. Which has — I would guess — saved me from exposure to a ton of carcinogens, in addition to feeling better about the waste stream from our household.

I had a migraine that lasted two days. In a moment of irritation, I decided to stop doing techie, left-brain work in the mornings (a split second to decide, then 10 minutes to re-shape my Google Calendar). Morning is the time when my right (intuitive/creative) brain is strongest. So I do creative work in the morning. Which made my migraine go away. Which means I’m able to more fluidly write and create nice new ideas for my circle of clients. Which has helped me magically attract more of the perfect clients. Which makes me extremely happy every day of my life.

I joined an online mastermind group for the first time in my life (1 hour to study and decide). Even as an introvert, it has provided me with a small, supportive community of super-smart, super-compassionate businesspeople to talk to. Which shows me it’s possible to bring your heart into your business and still be successful. Which gives me a lot of audacious hope that business will continue to shift that way, away from the impersonal and the deceptive.

And so forth.

It’s hard to trace things back to their original spark (if you’ve ever seen James Burke’s BBC series Connections you may find it easier to visualize). The easiest way for me to do this was to take a moment, breathe, and try to bring to mind one thing that’s a reality right now in my life that makes me happy, and that didn’t exist a year ago. And then start tracking backward, breadcrumb by breadcrumb. How did I end up with this good thing in my life…if I follow the thread back, where is the start of it? And is that something I can do again?

Anyway, it’s a lot more fulfilling than calculating how many calories I need to burn between now and December 31, 2018.

Happy new year,
Margaret

 

X-Ray vision: Seeing through online marketing, making peace with it, and doing better

(groovy image by Golan Levin)

I’ve taken a few days off writing this month, and instead have been reading. A few years ago, writer/speaker/creative Charlie Gilkey wrote a blog post called “Create, Connect, and Consume: Balance Them To Get Your Best Work Done.” Well, I’ve been living in the “connect” and “consume” phases of that cycle for a few days, and I’m both a) glad I did, and b) glad to be back. Hi.

My more typical pattern is to spend a few minutes each day trying to ingest other peoples’ wisdom, usually right between checking in with my business circles, and feeding the dog his breakfast. It’s a hurry-up kind of thing, and in those eleven-and-a-half minutes I try to take notes, Boomerang some things back to myself later, and/or convince myself I’m for SURE going to remember what I read this time.

Spending more time reading has a strange effect on me, though, and it’s not always pleasant. In that strange method in which my memories have filed themselves, I keep thinking of a sci-fi film from the 60s called “The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.” In it, Ray Milland plays a scientist who develops a technology that allows him to see through things. At first, it’s fascinating to him, then disturbing, then it drives him insane. Although I don’t plan on going crazy, I have started seeing through things to their core, and it’s a weird feeling.

I’ll explain: I was invited to a ‘free’ online summit this week, in which many luminaries in coaching and creativity would be giving webinars over the course of several months. There was a time when I would have seriously geeked out about this. But rather than just enjoying the thrill of finding it, I saw it for what it was: A learning experience, yes, but mostly it’s a structured opportunity for each of these speakers to build their subscriber lists, by offering their material in exchange for your email address.

Sifting through Facebook, I see why some very good-hearted people and pages ask, “What’s your favorite poet?” or even more directly, “In the comments, post a moving GIF to show me how you’re feeling this morning.” It isn’t that they really care that I love Rumi and I feel overcaffeinated. They know that engagement on Facebook—likes, comments, and shares, especially with pictures and video—gains them brownie points with the FB gods so their deliverability increases.

Even when people send me a contact request on LinkedIn, I find myself wondering whether it’s happened because they’re about to announce a new product or service, and want to widen their audience as much as possible first.

Before you think I’ve become a new age negative nancy, hold the bus. I do see through these things, but they don’t depress me. They just…are. This is how these particular people are choosing to build their businesses and make a living. It is their choice to market this way, and it doesn’t make them bad people. In fact, in many cases it means they are hoping/able to do more good things in the world. It’s okay. It’s a personal choice I have no right or desire to criticize. But there’s a “lost innocence” quality in it for me, now that I see motives rather than just enjoying it all.

On the upside, it makes me super-sensitive to the opposite of these tactics, which is authenticity.

Here’s an example of THAT: I subscribed to Louis Grenier’s mailing list the other day because I wanted the promised free download called “How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers.” The download was fine, but the emails I received made me smile. The first email was just a basic thank-you and download link. Great. But the second one said, “I’ve set this email up to be sent to you 2 days after the last one.” Sounds simple, right? But think about it: How many carefully-crafted automated emails have you received that tried so hard to masquerade as “It’s really me, writing just to you Mrs. Firstname! Please keep opening my emails…” I was surprised and happy with the transparency of “Hey, it’s not really me – but I thought this tool was the best way to get useful stuff to you, and so I’m showing you the innards of it.” The emails continued in that honest, open vibe.

And another: Writer/coach/creator Tad Hargrave has something called an “Are You Sure?” page that he sets up so it pops up AFTER someone clicks a Buy Now button, but BEFORE they pay for the item. It slows them down, explains the program they’re buying, distilling it down to a very clear, crisp description so they can be certain it’s going to be of value. Does that mean that some people might change their minds and not buy? Of course. But if you’re really interested in making sure that people who aren’t a fit for your programs never sign up for your programs—avoiding possible bad feelings for you and for them—it’s the ultimate in openness, bravery, and genius.

On the same day I re-noticed “Are You Sure?,” I saw that Mark Silver of Heart of Business was offering a free (with no signup!)  PDF book about ethical pricing in coaching, “Don’t Buy Now” that I found bracing and cool.  Judith Morgan, one of my favey-fave coaches for small businesses like ours, offers a PWYW (pay what you want) model. Authentic business coach George Kao offers a megaton of gorgeous free content on his website – it would take days to enjoy it all (ask me how I know…)

I mean, this kind of stuff is all around us. All over. Every day, people are coming over from business-as-usual to a place that is more ethical, more transparent, and more authentic. I’m overwhelmed sometimes with the sheer number of people crossing my path who are choosing to ditch the industry-standard sales pitch and come back to something real and human.

So I owe a debt of thanks to more mainstream marketers. Thanks for bringing honest marketing back into focus for me.

It’s a conversation, courtesy of your website (and her friends)

My clients know I often talk about websites like they’re people. To me, they have a personality, a job, a goal, and a life story. If they were interns or employees, their job descriptions would be very clear. They also embody a sort of living conversation with people who come to visit them. Let me give you an example.

I recently stopped by a new bookstore in my town. I was curious about what they offered (being only the second book retailer here in this small place).

Unusually for me, I wasn’t looking for anything specific at the time. I knew vaguely that I’d like something business-related, because I was in a bit of an “Inspiration Funk” and thought some fresh reading might help shake loose some original thought.

Here’s how the conversation with the proprietors went:

(Me) “Hi guys. Welcome to the neighborhood. We love having a new bookstore within walking distance!” (handshake)

(Owner) “So glad you stopped by. We’ve got some fresh coffee brewing in the corner by those big armchairs. Make yourself at home. Can I help you find what you’re looking for?”

“I’m not looking for anything in particular, but do you have a business book section?”

“Absolutely – come right over here. What do you do? What sort of thing interests you?”

“I’d just like to browse what you’ve got for some new ideas. I have my own business too, and lately I’ve been looking for creative ways to freshen it up.”

“Excellent. I love talking to other self-employed folks. You know what? We just got in this new book about marketing that sounded really different from all the rest of them…let me find it for you.”

“Awesome. Thanks.”

I sipped coffee while browsing, and painlessly bought my new book using their handy iPad checkout. At their suggestion, I joined their mailing list, and decided to go home and “Follow” the store on Facebook to stay aware of their sales and community events like readings and workshops.

Pretty standard retail stuff, right?

But let’s tease apart that whole story. Here’s how the conversation flows, from their point of view:

1) Well, hi there. I’m glad you’re here. Make yourself comfortable.
2) What’s your story? Let’s talk about why you’ve come, even if you’re not entirely sure yourself.
3) Ahhh, I see. I think I may have something helpful. Let me show you.
4) Here’s how to get what you’ve decided on; we’ve made it easy.
5) You know, we should keep in touch, if you don’t mind. Here’s how.

A good website—one that’s human and helpful—says and does all of this too:

  • With your home page, you set the tone, with words and with imagery, so people feel an immediate sense of having arrived at a comfortable and helpful place.
  • That page also makes a connection with the reader right away by beginning a conversation with them: What’s going on with you right now? What did you come here to look for? How can I help? It’s not always clear who they are. Sometimes, since you have a specific audience in mind but don’t know for certain s/he’s the one reading, you have to make assumptions: “So many people are struggling with (X) right now – as many as a million people nationwide…”
  • Only then do you describe your main offerings in detail (products, services, help, wisdom). The bookstore dude didn’t meet me at the door waving a copy of Atlas Shrugged, trying to convince me I needed to re-read it right now. He asked questions. Listened. Suggested.
  • Provide super-streamlined ways to purchase the thing(s) I’ve now decided I most need. Note the shop owner didn’t walk me around and block my way by trying to sell me an Ironman DVD, a bookmark, and a copy of Where the Wild Things Are (fun fact: I already have two copies). You can have them displayed in your offerings; but pop it up in my face as an impulse buy or a upsell, and you’ve become “that guy.”
  • Whether they purchase or not, offer visitors ways to continue the conversation. This can be through the site, through an email signup , or through social media.

What you can do next:

Take a look at your own home page and website.

What’s the conversation that’s taking place, even if it might currently be one-sided? What’s missing?

As usual, you can always contact me for inspiration and help. Have a great week!

 


 

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 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 for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.