Sensational headline alert! But also, it’s true. Have you wondered why you never hear back from clients who ask for a quote? Have you wondered why you meet people and then never hear from them again? Do you ever wonder why you lose so many bids to super boring competition?
You might not have thought about it, but maybe you’re not telling the right story about yourself. Or maybe it’s too complicated. Or maybe it’s too long. Or maybe it’s too rigid. Or maybe it’s not exciting enough. It could be anything, but when I talk to most people about developing their business, the first thing I ask is for them to tell me in one line about themselves/their business.
Now the problem lies when I hear a crazy variance between these stories. Some of the “one liners” last a full 30 seconds, some of them focus on technical details of their last project, some of them give me the name of everyone at the office, and some of the aurally boast a full CV worth of experience. So what’s the real problem here?
The power of narrative
More than being a verbal CV or a tech spec of impressive details, your “what you do” and bio should be the purest seed of your narrative. It should be concise, easy to remember, relatable, and powerful. Think about all of your favourite movies, books, songs, installations, posters, art pieces, architectural pieces, or anything. What you’ll most likely find is that they have a powerful message that at it’s core is probably pretty simple, on top of which everything else stands. No matter how complex the piece is, there is almost certainly deep core that is relatable and probably pretty concise, similar in the movie Inception. You got to get to the simplest form of the idea! We have to treat our biographies and answers to the “what do you do?” question the same way. We need to treat our answers as narrative. Why is that?
No one cares…
Let’s just get this easy one out of the way. People are busy. Everyone’s in the struggle. If the person you’re talking to is rich, they have their own set of struggles and things on their mind, and if they’re a broke college student, they’ve got a different set of struggles. You’ll rarely ever encounter someone who doesn’t have their own set of struggles. And that means that you laying a ton of info on them is more trouble than it’s worth. They asked you a simple question “what do you do?” or similar, and you gave them a 1GB text file of data back. I guarantee they won’t remember it and will be subconsciously annoyed by it (unless they specifically asked for it!!! more on that later) and thus they’ll toss it from their memory immediately after the conversation. So that’s one reason you need to keep your narrative as concise as possible.
You need to improvise
Another important part of business development is being able to improvise and react to the situation. No two sales pitches or business meetings are the same. You need to be aware of how the room feels and modify what you’re doing every step of the way based on real life feedback. Are people looking bored? Does the CEO in the corner look confused? Are people too excited and need an Inception kick (sorry…I recently watched Inception again…)? Are the clients looking for someone really technical? Are they looking for someone creative? Did they just get really interested about something I said in passing? These are all cues you need to become aware of. It’s similar to the idea of DJs and live performers “play the room”. This is how you capitalize on all opportunities. If you give the same spiel to every single person you meet, most of them will not really be interested.
Get them interested and let them ask the questions
I mentioned earlier not to say more than you need unless specifically asked. This is huge. This is another reason why our narrative needs to be super concise and powerful. We want a lot of depth and meaning in a short phrase. We want to point them to the ocean and let them figure out what part of the ocean they want to know more. And don’t worry, if your initial narrative is compelling and concise, they will have questions. They’ll want to know more. They’ll be refreshed because they aren’t being bombarded with facts and info. It’ll be an actual conversation….gasp!!
Simpler stories are easier to advocate
This one is huge. Most of the time you tell someone what you, you’re almost invariably trying to impress them. What you’re failing to realize is that they probably aren’t the final decision maker or they’ll need to get buy in from their bosses or team mates. So instead of focusing on trying to sell the immediate person in front of you, you really should be focused on feeding them your simple and powerful narrative so that you can turn them into an effective advocate for you. If you give them your full CV verbally in 30 seconds, guess who’s going to mess up when they try to repeat it 2 weeks later in a meeting? Yup, the person you tried to impress. If you start telling someone your full list of capabilities and skills, guess who’s going to go to their boss and simplify it all down to a boring “they do a lot of stuff, yup” mention? Yup, the person you tried to impress.
So what you should be doing is conveying the important parts of your narrative in a simple to relay format. I always say to start with one phrase of 10 words max approximately. Inside the 10 words you should at least give a sense of WHO you are as an entity (team vs studio vs corporation vs multi-national conglomerate vs indie artist, etc) and the 1 most important thing you do (build experiences for kids, bring joy to people’s lives, create empathy between well-off people and charitable causes, etc). That’s it! Make that, then try it on all your friends and colleagues. Get their input, refine it. Then try it on a bunch of new people you meet. When they ask what you do, you just say the one line and see where the conversation goes.
If you did all of this well, your narrative will be memorable. The person can relate to it. it’ll be powerful, emotional, and most of all simple. Dead simple. So simple that when they hear it, if they like it, they’ll never tell it wrong to anyone. They’ll go into a meeting a few weeks later and be able to carry your narrative for you with pretty good accuracy, efficiency, and probably even some excitement if they liked it. And that, that right there, is how you win bids. That’s how you get gigs. That’s how word of mouth travels like wild fire.
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Further resources and how to get started
If you want to get started with this stuff, I’d also suggest reading another post I wrote about this previously. Give that a read, but then come back here and add all this stuff on top. In that one I didn’t go as in-depth on the topics of narrative power and advocacy, which I think are pretty critical. Then start making a list of words that summarize what you do, who you are (as a business), and what’s important to you (as a business). Take those words, mash them together, throw out the weak ones, find stronger versions of the same words. Keep doing this till you have 1 word for who you are, 1 word for what you do, and 1 word for what’s important to you. Put them together in a sentence. I bet you’ll already have something pretty powerful feeling by that point that you can start experimenting with on your friends and colleagues.
I really can’t stress enough the power of narrative and advocacy in your business growth. If you only ever focus on impressing people with your client list and tech specs of the last mega-project you did, you won’t get anywhere fast, or worse…you will get somewhere fast and then have a slow painful decline of a career. You want to be in this for the long game, and for that you need advocates and a strong narrative to carry you over the years.