I am not just a prospect: Keeping it personal with our small businesses

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for a free phone chat with a well-known coach. I had cleared that slot on my calendar, prepared my questions, and, because I hadn’t been given any details on how to reach him, I clarified via several emails that I was to phone him, and was given the number to call. At T-minus five minutes, I’d even treated myself by pressing a fresh, hot cup of coffee and pulling out a new yellow legal pad.

At the appointed time I phoned, and listened to it ring. And ring. And ring. I sent an inquiring email. I drank my coffee and doodled clouds all over my yellow pad in blue Sharpie.

30 minutes past our time, he phoned me from another number, with coffee shop noise in the background, to tell my voicemail that he was running late, and suggested I try again in a few minutes.

That little phone event would have been incredibly annoying to me if I didn’t have a frame of reference. In the automated followup email sequence, for several days I received a series of pitches for products and ‘opportunities that wouldn’t be offered again.’ I knew exactly the part I was playing in his story. I was in his “sales funnel,” and I was a prospect, not a person.

Yesterday morning, I was watching a social media webinar. Over the course of its 45 minutes I counted the term “user” spoken dozens and dozens of times by the discussion panel members. The word “person”? Not once.

Several years ago, when I’d had to undergo surgery, I awoke in that awful post-anesthesia brain-soup. Nurses and aides of were murmuring to each other. I realized that I was in motion, being wheeled into Recovery on a gurney.

From above my head, I heard the gurney-pushing aide call across the room, “Where do you want this?”

I craned my neck back to look up at her, and rasped as clearly as I could manage, “I’m not a this, thanks.”

It makes me smile to note that the people reading this newsletter are more likely to shy away from the impersonal and the indifferent. Marketing gurus use language like “cold prospect” and “conversion” and “tripwire,” and advocate for an “ethical bribe” (freebie) in exchange for subscribing to a newsletter. Did you know you, as a consumer, have a Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), i.e. a dollar amount you’re “worth” to a business? (Oh, do have fun with this marketing jargon generator. I know I did.)

Yes, you might say I’m touchy about the subject. But there actually IS a bigger point to all my crankiness: We can be better than that.

I am not just a prospect.
I am not just a “user.”
I am not just a “this.”

Neither are you. And neither are the members of your audience.

In our smaller, more soulful businesses, we have the power to be genuine and compassionate with “our people.”

We can give them all the details they need about working with us, without forcing them to chase us down.

We can treat their time as honorably as we treat our own—or better, if you aren’t good at that.

We can speak to them in our marketing materials the way we’d speak to them if they were standing in front of us.

We can show respect and regard to individuals AS individuals. We can listen to their unique needs and stories, rather than trying to make them fit some universal formula.

We can be trustworthy in a world that’s craving someone to trust.

We can be authentic in our work.

Let’s.
Okay?

 


 

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.

The Story Hour: The surprising joys of creating an oasis of time for your ‘why’

Some of you know that I’ve been working on a book this Fall about storytelling for small, conscious businesses like ours (tentative title: Storytelling for Small Business: Growing Your Business Authentically Through the Power of Story). Having put so much emphasis on story for years with my clients, the act of gathering and sharing a useful body of information about it seemed a natural and pleasing next step. It’s also been an eye-opening experience, in more ways than one.

Two important new habits have emerged from the process of writing this book (and I DO so love a new good habit, almost as much as I love shedding an old bad one).

  1. Gently coercing myself into making time for creativity. I’ve been rousing myself early in order to create more time for creative work. Creating—whether it’s pondering my mission, writing for my own online outreach, brainstorming new ideas—has always been the redheaded stepchild of my work day. You know, the things that you’ll do, but “maybe later when I have time.”I’ve never been very good at early rising, especially as the sun rises later and later, so I had to train myself gradually. I haven’t used an alarm of any sort for many years, but I set my mobile phone to gently ping me at earlier and earlier increments: 6:45, then 6:40, then 6:35…and so on.It was very hard at first, so I reward the soft animal of my body for getting out of bed at my new set point, 5:30am (gosh, even writing that is hard).

    I lavish gifts on it like a good curl-up in my most comfortable chair with nice light, a silky soft blanket, a hot and delicious caffeinated beverage next to me, and time and space for something I loved doing: Writing, reading, sketching, or just listening to guided meditations or creativity podcasts.

  2. Reconnecting with my own story, and the stories of the people in my world (like you). Because I’m always immersed in different stories during this time, I’ve come to call that time of day my Story Hour.I re-tether myself to my own story, the “how” and the “why” I came to this work.I gather all of you around me (in the form of reading your current writing on your websites, newsletters, social media, etc.) and reconnect with YOUR stories. I see who you’re trying to help, what you’re offering, what’s happening in your world.I write something new every day to share with you all, be it a blog post, the beginnings of an article, something on social media, etc. That reconnects my story with yours, and plugs me into the larger world of what I’m here to do. It’s the energetic equivalent of plugging myself into a soul charger and refilling my batteries ’til they blink green again.

It’s no wonder I don’t need the alarm any more—our bodies do work on the reward system, after all. So, to recap: Comfy chair and lighting, steamy hot cafe au lait, warm wooby, quiet time to create something new, and the joyfully energizing act of spending time on my bigger vision as I stay connected with people and causes that matter.

Can’t think your way out of a paper bag early in the morning? Not a problem. The time of day isn’t as important as creating a habit that’s compelling to you.  If you’re more of a night person and find yourself shuddering at the thought of all this, know that the same routine can apply for your preferred daypart, though I’d skip the caffeine part at midnight if you have trouble sleeping. If you do your best creative thinking at mid-day, find a way to set aside a piece of that time for this ritual, no matter what it takes.

The idea is to carve out a new niche of time and make it non-negotiable, sacrosanct, and intensely habit-forming. The rewards are immense.

Do you have a ritual or habit that keeps you connected with your big Why? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

 


 

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.

It’s always about listening. Always.

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.

 

Your three words: What’s the personality of your business?

I was doing some professional reading the other day, and in the middle of a blog post on productivity this phrase cropped up: “joyful and compassionate tenacity.”

Wow. Ever have one of those ears-perked-up moments? I grabbed up a marker and scribbled it on my dry-erase wall (these are among my favorite creativity toys)

It’s October, and traditionally—through some strange biochemical magic that comes with the change of seasons—it’s the month where I do my deepest thinking about my work, why I do it, and how to do it better. For more typical Octoberish thinking, see my post, Everyone Has a Story: Tell Yours, Ask Theirs, and Everything Changes.

I’ve been test-driving new productivity tools, new ways of structuring my work day, and even new eating schedules to maximize my energy at the right times of day. The world is full of experimentation and possibility in the autumn. I’m focused on learning and growing 24/7   (and that’s almost literal….I often fall asleep while listening to podcasts).

Part of this time has been spent re-shaping the story I want to tell with my business materials, in order to reach and be in conversation with more of the people who need me. And in that regard, the phrase that caught my ear couldn’t be more perfect. It does, after all, have three of my favorite words in it:

Joyful:
I decided a long time ago that my life wasn’t going to be a slog through an endless string of mediocre days. Doing good work, hooking up with others doing good work, and being of service in these weird times—this all puts the fire behind my eyes. So even in the times when I’m exhausted, or the nightly news crushes me like a bug, or things aren’t so picture-perfect in my life, the memory of that fiery joy keeps me putting one foot in front of the other.

Compassionate:
At the risk of stating the obvious, I care a lot about the people in my lives, both personal and professional. I want amazing, happiness-inducing things to happen to them, and for them, because they deserve it. My life is based on kindness and on creating more and more ways to help people know that I see them, I hear them, and I have their back.

Tenacity:
When I was in my 20s, I was about as tenacious as a strand of overcooked linguine. As a self-employed person, though, I had no choice but to start exercising my atrophied tenacity muscle. It was a trudge for a while. I strengthened it bit by bit, resisting the temptation to let a momentary failure, a rough day, or an unexpected obstacle send me to bed early with a steaming mug of self-pity. (By the way, one of the usage examples for ‘tenacity’ in an online dictionary made me laugh out loud: “the sheer tenacity of the limpet.” I’ve never pictured myself as having the willpower of a crustacean…)

Putting them all together in my mind’s eye, I see most of the clients I’ve ever worked with: They believe in what they do, and so they do it with joy. They care deeply about their work and also care about who they do it for. They’ve experienced all the usual bumps and bruises of starting a small business or a nonprofit, but they slap on a bandage and keep on going, because what they do matters so much.

This isn’t just me playing with words (again).  It’s me exploring the story of my own business – the story of why I do what I do.

Are you joyful, compassionate, and tenacious in your work too?
Or are you focused, inquisitive, and creative?
Kind, firm, and solutions-oriented?
Loving, fierce and outgoing?
The words with which you resonate often form the backbone of your story, and the ability to tell your story is one of the most important tools you own.

Want to explore the story of your business, or what you’d like it to be? Drop me a note and let’s talk.

Everyone has a story: Tell yours, ask theirs, and everything changes.

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.)

Me

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.

You

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.

Them

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.