The Important Personal Branding Advice Nobody Ever Gives Your Small Business

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If you hang around with other business owners, you’ll find we’re careful about what we say to each other. You have to know someone very well before you’ll venture a comment like, “Isn’t he really all smoke and mirrors — a big fancy guru act but he’s really broke?” Or, “She talks a good game but she’s really living off her trust fund.”

So I rolled my eyes when I read a well known marketer’s post on Facebook (I changed a few details):

I got B’s in college, not A’s. ⁠ My family wasn’t especially wealthy. I grew up in a quiet little town. ⁠

There is nothing in my past that’s exceptional. I didn’t inherit a trust fund and we weren’t well-connected. I did know how to relate to people and how to talk to all kinds of people. I managed to talk my way into modeling assignments for a top magazine.

As a former college professor, I can tell you that lots of people who went on to get PhDs and teach weren’t straight-A students. One of my most successful colleagues couldn’t spell. He had to get an assistant to review his many well-published papers.

Being a B student who’s “from an ordinary family” hardly places you at a disadvantage. Companies often preferred to hire B-minus students.

If you were a cheerleader, sorority girl, or model, kudos to you! Martha Stewart worked as a model in college.

But either you were incredibly lucky (someone saw you at a coffee shop and invited you to be on the cover of Vogue) or you knew how to work a system and tailor your looks and style to reach your goal. You understood how to appeal to tough-minded judges.

Those skills help explain why you were a business success. Not everyone has them.

Accompanying this statement was a photo of the business owner with long, perfectly highlighted, frizz-free hair (yes, I’m jealous). Looking like a model in a casual t-shirt and jeans. Straight white teeth and a broad, warm smile.

Could just anyone follow in this business owner’s footsteps? People do judge a book by its cover. Own your specialness and change your promise to, “I’ve got a kickass game anyone can play.” What’s unsaid is, “Even if your photos look more like mug shots after you’ve had a bad night.”

The vast majority of your audience won’t have experience with the welfare system, unless you’ve chosen to work with a non-profit that specializes in helping people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

By the time you’re earning enough to brag about your private air travel, $400 haircut, and bi-level condo in Manhattan, your family history will no longer define you. What got you here won’t take you there.

Begin with your audience’s back story.

If you’re looking for some good examples of “If I can do it, you can do it,” check out some of Connie Green’s books.

My favorite is her story of a road trip. She leads by example. Early in her adventure, she experienced severe leg pain. She could barely walk. Ignoring the advice of well-meaning doctors, she continued her journey. She doesn’t minimize the pain. She just models a way of responding.

Jon Morrow uses his background also. Jon became a quadriplegic following a horrible auto accident. Deciding he didn’t want to depend on the stingy survival offerings of the US government, he became an Internet guru and blogging expert. Today he earns enough to hire his own staff to care for him and treat him the way he wants to be treated.

Jon doesn’t say, “If I can do it, you can.” But he does show that he learned from his experiences. One of my favorite examples is Jon’s story of why he’s become such a successful persuaded. “I can’t do anything for myself. I have to persuade people to do things for me.”

Lorrie Morgan doesn’t say, “If I can you can.” But she relates her business motivation to her audience. One of her core stories is, “When the Columbine incident happened, I realized I wanted to be home with my two young sons. I didn’t want to work in an office. So I looked for ways I could support our family while I stayed home.”

Lorrie is now an internationally recognized copywriter and her young sons are now young men, working independently. And of course, working from home has become much more common. Lorrie’s story is particularly relevant for her business since her specialty involves designing marketing campaigns that will appeal to women. Her story communicates, “I understand what it’s like to be torn between being a mom and being a breadwinner.”

You don’t need to talk about your past suffering.

Focus instead on what inspires you, what you learned, and-most important-why your clients will benefit from learning about your experience.

Will you gain more credibility? Will they find it easier to approach you? Will they be more confident about taking the next steps or putting themselves in your hands?

Good stories start with strategy, not struggle. You can take it from there.

Learn more about the story archetypes in my free report, Create A Standout Brand By Telling A Powerful Story.

Discover how to move from story to brand in this free video training: 3 Ways To Differentiate Your Services.

Originally published at on July 25, 2020.

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

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