How To Convince People You Can Help Them (And Why You Should)

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Tim, a financial advisor, was struggling to write his About Page opening. His draft opened with the statement, “My favorite place in the world is on the golf course.”

“I want to get away from the nitty-gritty of what I do,” he said. “I’m tired of writing about numbers and goals. I want people to know me as a person and see what I’m like to work with.”

People complimented his website. They clearly enjoyed talking to him at networking events. They invited him to a lot of golf tournaments.

But they didn’t hire him. That’s when Tim decided a brand makeover would be necessary. He began in the logical place, his About Page.

Two Pillars of Personal Branding: Authority and Empathy

In his best-selling book Storybrand, Donald Miller argues that the real story hero is the person with a problem. You, the business owner, become the guide.

Tim’s hero might be a corporate senior executive who needed a retirement plan, but didn’t want to spend hours learning about taxes, social security, fixed income opportunities or portfolio balancing. Tim wanted to guide him to a comfortable retirement that would be as secure as realistically possible.

We tend to associate hero’s journey stories with iconic characters like Yoda and Cinderella’s godmother. We easily forget that these guides showed up when the hero was alone and desperate. Cinderella’s godmother wasn’t competing with the Superior Godmother Agency that promised, “Home by 3 AM — not midnight — and we give you comfortable dancing shoes, not glass slippers.”

Today’s guides have to sell themselves to the hero. That’s the copywriter’s job. As Miller says in his book, the guide needs two essential qualities: authority and empathy. The hero has to like you but if you can’t help the hero find a solution, you’re a drinking buddy. And we don’t usually pay our drinking buddies.

Tim wanted to be a person first. He had no trouble with the empathy part of the equation.

But to be more than a good drinking buddy (or golf buddy in Tim’s case) he had to show he had the chops to solve his clients’ problems. To do that, he needs to begin with the client’s back story.

What does the client say when he or she calls?

“Hi, I’m Dennis. I’ve been a VP of sales for thirty years. I’ve saved up some money. I want to know if I’ve got enough to retire comfortably without moving into a trailer near the desert. Do I need to rebalance my portfolio? Do I need to sell all my equities and buy bonds? Do I need more life insurance? There’s a ton of information out there and I’m confused.”

Typically, the Dennises of this world don’t respond as concisely. But when you ask a couple more questions, that’s what you learn.

Dennis isn’t looking for a buddy. He’s looking for answers. He wants assurance that you know more than he does when it comes to finance and investing.

He still wants you to be likeable. He wants to be sure you won’t sneer, “If you’d just saved a little more here and there, you’d have a lot more options.” And he especially doesn’t want you to say, “Single people have a tough time in retirement,” or, “Maybe you could give away your dog.”

Tim’s not the only service-based business owner with these challenges. Here’s the 3-step story formula that helps you introduce yourself:

(1) Make them say, “That guy’s really smart. I want to get to know him better.”

Imagine you’re working for a brick-and-mortar company. You hear you’re getting a new division head.

How will the office gossip go?

“Will we get another gung-ho jerk who wants us to work 70-hour weeks?”

Or, “Will she bring in another flavor-of-the-month employee engagement program?”

Or, “Will he know what he’s doing or will he create policies that make it harder to do our jobs?”

You just met the new kid on the block. Most likely you won’t be wondering, “What does she do for fun?” Or, “Why did he get into this line of work?”

After the first six months or so, you might get more curious about the division head’s personal life. Maybe she’ll handle a situation especially well and you’ll wonder where she learned to do that. Or he did something so unbelievably dumb you’ll ask yourself, “How on earth did he end up here?”

But initially, it’s all business. It’s all about, “How will this person affect my business life here?”

That’s the way most of us approach someone when we’re considering doing business with them. We want to know if they’re competent and easy to work with. Later we’ll get around to the golf course.

Your business isn’t boring to someone who’s looking for your help.

You may live with numbers and goals each day, but your prospective client finds these topics intriguing, frustrating, confusing, or scary. If you’re having trouble making this content engaging, you can start with a story. Which brings us to …

(2) Share anecdotes, not adjectives.

We’ve all seen too many profiles and About Pages with phrases like these:

“Strong analytical skills.”
“Deep knowledge of the industry.”
“Committed to delivering quality.”

When you’re writing your About Page or LinkedIn profile, there’s no need to describe yourself with adjectives, ever. You can demonstrate your personality, style, and skill with a well-chosen, well-crafted story. You can use testimonials and case studies.

Imagine meeting a new coworker in your workplace or chatting with someone at a networking event. Would you say something like, “I’m an amazing writer!”

Hopefully not.

If you’re a financial advisor, you might say:

“I had these clients — really nice young couple — who were just getting started on building their wealth. They didn’t see how they’d ever be able to buy a house. I helped them manage their cash flow and choose the best investment programs for their needs. Six months later, they bought their first home.”

Notice what this story demonstrates: caring for clients; customized rather than cookie-cutter solutions; and results flowing directly from the guide’s program.

Adjectives? No longer needed.

(3) Go deeper when they’re starting to get curious about you.

When I give a live talk, I like to mingle with audience members ahead of time. Inevitably, if they’re new to my world, they want to talk about themselves. They’ll say things like, “I’m looking forward to your talk because I’ve got a cousin who retired to Costa Rica.” Or, “I think I’m all set for retirement but I keep hearing I should wait another 5 years. So I’m curious to hear what you have to say.”

After the talk, people initiate conversations with me. This time, they’re warmer. They now have questions like, “How’d you get into this? Where did you go to school? Why are you living in Philadelphia?”

They may ask about references I’ve made during the talk.

“You’re a WNBA fan? My daughter’s playing varsity ball at a D-1 university.”
Or, “You went to Berkeley? My nephew did too.”

Now they’re interested. If I’ve done a good job with my talk, they know I’ve got the goods, professionally. They want to know more about me.

It rarely goes the other way. People rarely think, “If she’s a WNBA fan I’d better pay attention when she talks about marketing.” Instead, they think, “She gets it about marketing. Now I want to ask her about basketball.”

Stories allow you to present your expertise without showing off.

Every business owner needs a handful of success stories. How did you help your client? What’s unique about your approach?

Cinderella’s guide wouldn’t get far. “I waved a wand and there she was!” makes a cool movie but a lousy marketing story. Today’s godmother needs to talk about how she’s experienced when it comes to helping young girls escape their servitude at the hearthside…and how she’s understanding and calm, not at all judgmental, when they resist standing up to their evil stepmother and putting all their hopes on being rescued by a prince.

Want to learn more? Get started with this free guide, 3 Common Storytelling Mistakes Most Businesses Make (And The One Easy Fix That Helps You Share Great Stories). Click here to download.

Originally published at on June 2, 2020.

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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