What’s Your Problem?

Whether your customers are B2B, B2C, or B2G, no matter if you sell products or services, tangible or intangible, you will, through trial and error, lost sales and big paydays, develop good stories that convince customers and make sales. Over the years you will trot these warhorses out again and again because they take you to the bank.

Your selling stories can take any number of approaches depending on what and to whom you sell, but one tried-and-true selling story category is the Problem Story. In a Problem Story you demonstrate that you can relate to the prospect’s pain points, you understand what is driving the prospect’s situation and you’re prepared to work with him/her to come up with an effective and reasonably priced solution (that just so happens to reside in your product or service line).

The best Problem Stories have a basic format that you can then adapt and apply to any prospect. Learn to personalize your Problem Story with a visit to your prospect’s website, an internet search to read what’s appeared in the press and if you met the prospect at a business association meeting or similar event, a call to the membership chairperson to get additional info about the prospect and his/her business. Get the back story and begin to comprehend the big picture of your prospect’s goals and understand what really matters. Now you can put together and customize a winning Problem Story.

For example, I provide event planning and PR services for a couple of large annual art events that are sponsored by an artist’s organization. The project specs describe the event planning responsibilities and event promotion public relations campaign that I’m hired to manage, but the unspoken purpose of my job is to persuade art lovers, art dealers, museum curators and the curious public to attend the event and buy art. My service enables the meeting of the relevant parties, so that business can be done.

When I write for the women entrepreneurs magazine where I am a staff writer, my unspoken purpose is to provide compelling content that persuades readers to click on my articles. Those clicks are tallied and they measure both my value to the magazine and the magazine’s value to advertisers, whose budgets sustain the publication.

Problem Stories communicate your understanding of what the prospect is facing and why s/he needs your help. Problem Stories communicate your authenticity because they entail sharing and not just telling. You “get it” and you care. A Problem Story is the opposite of a canned, impersonal sales pitch.

BTW, problem Stories can have a life beyond your conversations with prospects. With client permission if you’d like to reveal names, your Problem Stories make excellent case studies that you can upload to your website, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile, or share with the listening audience when you are a pod cast guest. Make use of your Problem Story wherever and whenever you’d like to demonstrate expertise, build trust and grow your customer base.

Thanks for reading,

Photograph: Academy-Award winning actor (“Network,” Best Actor 1977) Peter Finch (1916 – 1977) as Howard Beale in “Network” (1976). Directed by Sidney Lumet.


Storytelling Made Simple

What would be useful for my audience to learn and how can I package this lesson or bit of information in a compelling story format?“—Travis Bernard, content marketing guru at TechCrunch, the leading technology industry blog based in San Francisco, CA

Whaddaya say we learn how to put together a good story for your marketing content? Some people are natural storytellers and others aren’t, but it’s always useful to develop and hone the art of storytelling when one is a public speaker and that includes Freelancers, business owners and sales professionals who must speak with prospective clients to generate sales or billable hours.  Your story need not be long and elaborate.  In fact, a concise narrative will be more memorable and impactful.

Your content marketing story will describe a client experience journey.  The story will feature three main characters—the hero, the villain and the mentor.  The story will have a beginning, middle and end.  A call-to-action, when you encourage your content reader to act on the information that you’ve shared, will be the story’s epilogue.

The hero of the story will have a problem to solve or avoid, a challenge to overcome, and that is the goal.  The hero will be waylaid or deceived by the villain, that is, an obstacle that is preventing him/her from achieving the goal.  The hero must seek knowledge and guidance from a mentor during the journey and that is your role, storyteller friend.

Act I is when the hero acknowledges that there is a problem to solve.  There is a goal to achieve and an effective solution will be necessary.

Act II will describe the magnitude of the problem and the failures of various less than stellar solutions that the hero has tried and discarded (homegrown remedies or competitive products).

Act III is where you come in, the mentor who helps the hero make sense of the possible solutions and explains how your product or service can resolve the matter.  The hero agrees to adopt your product or service and the problem is resolved.  The hero looks like a genius to his/her superiors and colleagues.

The Epilogue features the call-to-action, when you show the content reader how to obtain an effective solution for his/her goal, a solution that will overcome the challenge and make the content reader look like a hero to the higher-ups.

Be advised that the hero of the content story is never the product or service.  The hero of the story is the protagonist, s/he who takes action and moves the journey forward to its triumphant conclusion.  The client is always the hero of the story.  You, the storyteller and possessor of expertise, serve as a mentor, to ensure that the hero will prevail and achieve the goal.  Your product or service supports the hero by overcoming the challenge and enabling achievement of the goal.

The purpose of your content/ story is to persuade the reader to act upon the information that you’ve delivered.  Integral to persuading the reader is to build trust in you as a mentor/ expert and confidence in the solutions that you recommend and provide. You may be able to persuade content readers to give your post a Like, or share it with others.  The ultimate validation is when content readers are so confident in your proposed solution that they click through to your website shopping cart or contact you to ask questions about how you might handle a project.

Finally, you’ll need a specific story to tell (and eventually, you’ll have two or three more). Without naming names, your content/ story will the based on a client who has successfully used your product or service.  If you will tell your company’s brand story to promote awareness, your content story will illustrate why company founders were motivated to form the venture and include mention of the mission, values and guiding principles.

Client experience journey content stories, or your company’s brand story, can be included in your blog, social media posts, white papers, videos and so on. You’re sure to find that they help prospects envision their own circumstances and how your products or services can be useful.

Thanks for reading,


Photograph: Portrait of Clementina Maude (circa 1862) taken by her mother, Lady Clementina Hawarden (Viscountess Hawarden of England, 1822-1865)

The Elements of Your Brand Story

A perennially engaging way to tell clients and prospects about you and your business venture is to spin a good story, ideally one that contains a compelling case study that spotlights your problem-solving ability, creativity and expertise. Everyone enjoys and remembers a good story; they usually feel connected in a positive way to people who tell them well. Expert storytellers have the ability to captivate an audience and gain their trust.

You may never become a TED Talk-worthy storyteller, but it’s still possible for you to devise a more than adequate brand narrative that effectively illustrates what you do; describes your typical clients; and gives an overview of the positive solutions that you create for clients. Your ability to tell the story will improve along the way.

Consider storytelling to be an element of your leadership development process; the most highly respected and popular leaders are excellent communicators and good stories are often included. Those leaders are persuasive. They are likable.  They generate trust and respect and there is great confidence in their abilities. As you brainstorm the elements of your brand story, try organizing your thoughts around the following:

  1. Who you are and what you do

Share a sliver of your personal details, to help your audience understand who you are and what matters to you. Don’t be afraid to break out of the expected corporate mode (while maintaining your comfort level boundaries). Segue into the services that you provide and/or products that you sell. Be succinct, clear and thought-provoking as you describe the needs or problems that you and your team address and resolve.

There may be no distinguishing factors to your work philosophy, but do mention your commitment to excellence and exceeding expectations. Inserting a paragraph about your volunteer work could be helpful. Whether your volunteer work is with those who are trying to improve their professional skills or in some aspect of the arts, that knowledge gives prospects and clients a good sense of your values and portrays you as a community-oriented, well-rounded professional.

2. Why / For whom you work

Name the usual customers that you work with: Fortune 1000 life sciences companies, small not-for-profit arts organizations, or whatever in between.

3. How you do it

Insert case study. The challenge is how to describe what you do without betraying client confidentiality, your proprietary secret sauce,  or overloading your audience with confusing details.  On which projects did you (and your team) deliver the goods that made a difference? Write it down, edit well, rehearse out loud and perfect the telling.

4. Outcomes / Proof of success

Potential clients must feel confident that you and your team will meet, if not exceed, their expectations.  Sharing an example  of a compelling client success story paints a picture of you in action and at your best.  Start with a description of the challenge or difficulty that these clients faced when they came to you.

Next, in simple and concise language (and preserving client confidentiality), explain selected highlights of what you did to achieve the desired results and why you chose that particular course of action. Conclude with an overview of the key benefits that the clients have received now that they’ve worked with you.

Tell case study stories that encourage prospective clients to identify with the challenges or problems that you resolved, so that they will be inclined to feel that hiring you is a smart move, one that will make them look good in the eyes of their superiors, colleagues and staff.

Thanks for reading,



Case Study and Client Success Story

It is cause for celebration when your Freelance consulting expertise helps a client to achieve important objectives.  In previous postings I’ve recommended that you add to your website,  LinkedIn or Google +  sites case studies,  which are client success stories,  to demonstrate how you work with clients and the excellent outcomes that are realized when you arrive on the scene.

Business strategy development,  facilitation of business strategy meetings and marketing campaign development  (that is sometimes the result of a business strategy meeting that I’ve facilitated)  are my consulting specialties.  Special event and conference planning,  along with event marketing PR,  is an important niche market.  Also,  I develop curriculum and present workshops in business plan writing,  sales skills training and networking skills training.   My client list consists of small and medium-sized for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and except for teaching,  I connect with clients through referrals and personal introductions.

"Cooling Water"

“Cooling Water”

In November 2011,  a friend introduced me to the artist.  She is mixed-media collage painter and occasionally,  she sculpts brightly colored decorative bowls.  Her work had been featured in a small local museum that is far from the tourist areas and in solo or group shows in modest art galleries.  Over the years,  the artist had received several opportunities to enhance her career,  but she was often unable to follow-up and many slipped through her fingers.  Members of the creative class tend to have little energy available for business strategy and marketing.

She sold a few original paintings and her prints and decorative bowls sold reasonably well,  as did the greeting cards that featured images of her paintings.  The artist had recently earned a career victory,  when she was named the coordinator for a community arts initiative that is based at her alma mater.  She asked to meet with me.

We discussed her primary goal,  identified potentially promising opportunities and made a list of objectives that would serve as milestones.  Solo and group shows at more prestigious galleries,  an exciting offer to illustrate a children’s book published by a small local house and the formal launch of the arts project of which is coordinator were the defining objectives.

A business strategy and marketing campaign that would guide her choice of projects to accept or pursue,  to advance the primary goal of upgrading her brand and attracting higher-end collectors,  was developed and implemented.  Integral to the campaign was a revised marketing message and PR communications strategy.

The ArtMobile encourages local children to be creative

The ArtMobile encourages children’s creativity

Good results came quickly and serendipitous fortune appeared.  The university agreed to sponsor a big launch party for the arts project.  Outreach to the local cable television network led to the artist’s appearance on a talk show.  Two gallery shows were scheduled and offers for two more came in,  when gallerists who had been acquainted with her work,  but had not been moved to offer her a show,  learned of her affiliation with the community arts project.

One of those galleries is located in Martha’s Vineyard,  in the town where the President and First Lady,  who are known to be art lovers,  vacation.  The artist’s paintings sold well in Summer 2012 and she was invited to show her work there again this summer.  We have our fingers crossed and hope that the Obamas visit the gallery.

To review and evaluate the book illustration contract,  I referred to the artist an acquaintance of mine who is an intellectual property attorney and he gave the thumbs-up.  Because the book is based on a historical figure,  the artist felt that period research would be essential to her creative process.

I contacted a local college that has a well-regarded library and information science master’s degree program.  Within two weeks,  I was able to speak with four potential candidates who both concentrate on that period and have an interest in art.  I sent them to the artist for interviews and she hired two: one to perform research for the book and the other to catalogue her archive of paintings.

On the evening of July 3,  the artist hosted a large opening reception and birthday party at a restaurant that is now displaying several of her prints.  I contacted a pastry chef and asked him to create a special cake for the occasion,  a cake that depicted one of the artist’s paintings in butter cream frosting.  He chose to portray  “Never Walk Alone”.  A local newspaper was contacted and the editor sent a photographer.  Guests were wowed by the cake.  It was beautiful to behold and delicious!

The artist and the pastry chef

The artist, the pastry chef and the cake

The crowning milestone achievement was reached on July 16, 2013,  when the artist was sworn in as a committee member of the Boston Arts Commission,  a 123-year-old agency that chooses the art that will be displayed on City of Boston property.  This prestigious honor is a 5 year appointment.  The artist was nominated for the appointment by the arts association in the neighborhood where she has lived since childhood.  She leads art walk tours that highlight the distinctive architecture,  cultural institutions and public art in her neighborhood.

Swearing-in at the Boston Arts Commission

Swearing-in at the Boston Arts Commission

Signing appointment documents

Signing her appointment documents

Thanks for reading,


Escape From Power Point Purgatory

Presentations are an excellent way to sell yourself and your product or service.  The late Steve Jobs of Apple Computer was famous for delivering presentations that  never failed to inform,  educate,  inspire and entertain his listeners.

Overwhelmingly,  presentations mean Power Point,  no matter the number of obituaries written on its behalf.  Power Point continues to dominate,  despite the presentation capabilities of the iPad tablet  (sorry, Steve).  The challenge is to avoid the tendency to use Power Point as a teleprompter and leverage its advantages.

The secret to working with Power Point is to keep things simple.  Venture capitalist and author Guy Kawasaki  (“The Art of the Start”, 2004)  says  “A Power Point presentation should have no more than 10 slides,  should last no longer than 20 minutes and should contain no font smaller than 30 points.”  Communications coach,  author and popular keynote speaker Carmine Gallo likewise advises that 20 minutes is the ideal maximum length of a presentation,  based on research by neuroscientists from the University of Kentucky,  who found that attention spans drop precipitously after that time.

Every presentation is a story,  a narrative that has a beginning,  middle and end.  When invited to present to a client,  frame the story that is your presentation as a challenge.   After you’ve told your listeners who you are and established your expertise,  begin your talk by describing that challenge.  Next,  highlight any major obstacles that might impede success and then explain the solution you will deliver to resolve the matter.  In conclusion,  give a concise summary to reinforce the key take-away points.   Ask for the business and take questions.

Regarding the design of your slides,  experts recommend that you keep those simple,  too.  Janet Bornemann,  who designs Power Point presentations for corporate clients and is the creative director at PowerPoint Studio in Acton, MA,  recommends that when making slides,  think 5 x 5:  five lines per slide and five words per line. “It is very important for the mind to be able to rest on an idea or thought,  so if it’s a constant flow of words,  people will grow tired”,  she observes.

Treat your slides and the presentation overall as an extension of your brand,  your image,  like any of your marketing collaterals.  There shall be no clip art and no jazzy slide transitions.  Your presentation convey that you are capable, trustworthy,  confident and professional.  Bornemann says,  “Be consistent with colors and fonts.  Focus on the message—everything has to have a reason.”

Jim Confalone,  founder and creative director of ProPoint Graphics cautions against the overuse of charts and graphs and advises that any art and charts you include must be integral to the story and move the narrative forward.   Some presentation experts feel that the first slide should show a startling fact about the challenge the client is facing,  some attention-grabbing adverse outcome that the client must overcome and that captures the reason for hiring you.

Do not bury your listeners with minute details.  They will probably remember only three or four key points.  Leave your audience of decision-makers with a sense of your expertise,  your ability to produce the deliverable; describe the primary benefits derived by the organization if your solution is chosen to resolve the challenge that is the project; and let them know that you give excellent customer service and will respond to their needs and fulfill or exceed expectations.

Finally,  muster the discipline to rehearse your presentation and then rehearse some more.   Jim Confalone says that the number of hours it takes to create the presentation equals the number of hours you’ll need to adequately rehearse.  In order  to shine,  you’ve got to know the thing cold.  One does not read from the slides, ever.  Know your material,  be enthusiastic and connect with your audience and exude confidence.  You might even enjoy yourself!

Thanks for reading,



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: How to Write A Press Release

In numerous posts,  I have urged readers to send out press releases.  Despite the presence of social media outlets,  traditional media outlets still matter and the usefulness of a well-crafted press,  or news,  release continues.  When you win an award,  participate in a major charity event in your community,  teach a class, host a webinar, or debut a new product or service,  a press release should be sent to the appropriate media outlets.

Writing a good press release can be a challenge.  The stakes are high for Freelance consultants and other small business owners who must promote their products and services to target markets on a shoestring budget.  The press release is an important representation of you and your brand and it’s imperative to make it effective. Reporters might receive dozens of press releases a week,  so the relevance of your story must be obvious.  The key to success is an interesting news hook,  says Lou Colasuonno,  former editor-in-chief at both The New York Post and The New York Daily News and now Senior Managing Director at the New York City P.R. firm FTI Consulting.

Colasuonno advises his P.R. clients to consider how newsworthy their story will be to a publication’s target audience. Colasuonno also advises that the press release email subject line summarize your story hook in 10 words or less.  Your release needs a good headline,  so that the editor or reporter will immediately see how your story will impact their readers.   He recommends that you customize your press release to the editor or reporter who has responsibility for whatever your topic is,  to improve the likelihood of a response.  Finally,  he cautions that you visit media outlet websites and note publishing deadlines.  Two weeks lead time is standard for many newspapers and a bi-monthly magazine may require three months lead time.

  • Determine the story your release will tell
  • Write a  “hook”  that communicates why your story qualifies as news to recipient media outlets
  • Avoid using words and phrases that are likely to get your email blocked by a spam filter
  • Keep to a 400 word maximum release

Follow the standard format when you compose your release.   At center top in capital letters,  write FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE and below that include the contact information,  with email address,  web address,  telephone number and today’s date.  Centered below the contact info and written in bold capital letters,  provide your headline.  If your press release must exceed 400 words or one page,  include a short synopsis of your story below the headline.

Many press releases begin with a dateline,  giving its city and state of origin in parentheses.  In the first paragraph,  summarize the story’s theme and newsworthy info very concisely.  The most significant items appear at the top of the page and less important information is stated in subsequent paragraphs.   The final paragraph gives standard company info,  including the company mission,  when the company was founded,  awards that have been received or other major achievements,  so that the media recipient will have some background information.

Add credibility to your news release by including at least one quote from someone in authority  (maybe that’s you).   An insightful quote communicates to readers why your story is important and deserves publication.  You might also add audio-visual aspects to your press release and include a YouTube or podcast link or link to a client testimonial from your website.  Finally,  it’s recommended to send your news release in the body of the email and also as an attachment,  since many editors and reporters will not open an attachment from someone whom they do not know.

Alas,  even when we follow all the  “rules”,  our press release may go begging.  Carson Stanwood,  Freelance PR/media consultant and COO of Channel Signal,  a social media analytics platform in Jackson Hole, WY,  claims that in his experience,  only about 10% of press releases receive a response from recipients.  He recommends that you follow-up your press release with a phone call and cautions that you not call daily or otherwise make a pest of yourself. I prefer to call the editor or reporter first,  to determine whether there is interest in my story.

I pitch first and then send the press release if appropriate.  My strategy does not always work,  because editors and reporters sometimes lie,  unfortunately.  Really,  whether your story sees the light of day depends on what other news is happening and what the editor or reporter finds compelling.  But keep sending out press releases when appropriate,  because that is how relationships with the media are developed.  Offer to take a business reporter or editor to coffee and pitch your story in person.

Thanks for reading,


That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It

When your objective is to bring someone around to your way of thinking,  tell that person a story.   Effective storytelling allows us to communicate with listeners in both an emotional and intellectual way.   As a result,  barriers between people break down as they are brought together in a shared experience that strengthens relationships.  A well-crafted and delivered story allows speaker and listener to understand and therefore trust one another.

Stories are used to build confidence in a person or agenda,  motivate listeners to think a certain way and perhaps do certain things.  Storytelling is the original call to action.  Those of us in business are advised to create good stories,  narratives that can be used to persuade others of our integrity and expertise.

When putting together your story,  think first of its ending.  You can choose where in the arc of your professional development  to begin your story,  but the ending is the most important component.  You must present a strong and memorable take-away anecdote,  lesson,  or triumph that listeners will remember,  believe and act upon.

It is advisable to create a  “portfolio”  of business-themed stories.  Your most basic story is your elevator pitch,  the story that describes what you do,  the goal you help clients achieve and the types of clients you work with.  Another,  more detailed,  story will tell listeners about you and the development of your business.   Other stories in your portfolio illustrate your expertise and professionalism.

The story of how you built your company will tend toward the inspirational.  That story might describe what motivated you to go into business and give a brief behind-the-scenes look at an obstacle you had to overcome on your way to becoming successful.  Don’t be afraid to reveal mistakes made along the way.  Let your listener experience your humanity and authenticity.

To demonstrate your expertise,   tell stories that show how you helped a client make money,  save money,  avoid disaster,  or discover a niche market.  Both types of stories build your credibility and are useful relationship builders and sales tools.

When developing and presenting a story,  be clear about its purpose in your communication strategy.   Know what you would like listeners to believe,  understand or do after you’ve told the tale.  For example,  if you want to convince a prospective client that you offer superior service,   perhaps write a story about how you worked through a holiday weekend,  so that a critical deadline would be met.

When you tell that story,  describe first why the goal of excellent service had to be met,  its importance to the client.  Then spell out the obstacles you overcame to achieve it.   Add a little drama to your story to encourage listeners to identify with the client and picture themselves in his/her shoes.   Remember to keep your story uncomplicated and easy to follow.

When writing your stories,  be mindful that there will be a beginning,  middle and end.  A well-designed story also has a person who must do or confront something;  a place,  where the action will occur; a time frame,  so that listeners can distinguish between “then” and “now”; and a hint of its direction,  to allow listeners to anticipate the outcome.

Be sure to identify and describe the turning point in your story,  the decision you made that made it possible  to achieve the goal.  Take special care not to confuse the turning point with the end of the story,  however.  The turning point triggers the successful outcome that makes the happy ending possible.  The end of the story,  the culmination,  describes how that goal was achieved.  Describing how the goal was achieved paints the picture of the take-away you want to leave listeners with,  namely that you provide superior service every time,  especially when the client needs it most.

Storytelling is a powerful business tool,  one that enriches business conversations and presentations as we communicate with listeners in both an emotional and intellectual fashion.  Stories help us to explain new ideas and concepts,  win support for projects and convince prospects to become clients.  Learn the art of building and relating stories and make clients know why they want to do business with you.

Thanks for reading my story!