Don’t be a Sandwich Board … Be a Story Board!

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Written by Diane Currie Sam, BSc, MA,  award-winning business coach, sales & marketing expert and master storyteller


Building a Business is hard. Building a service business is hard. And growing a business, getting more customers and really making an impact (without a massive advertising budget) is particularly hard.


UntitledBecause there’s probably millions of people out there that could use your services, but almost no one knows they need you or your business.

That’s the hard core truth of running a service business. I’d say that close to 97% of your ideal customers don’t know you exist and aren’t actively out looking for your products or services.

Ouch. I suggest you read that last sentence out loud. And then go get a highlighter pen. It’s that important to understand.

Because if you focus all your marketing at trying to compete directly with other businesses in your industry for that tiny 3% of the population that might actually be out looking for your products or services, you are going to spend way too much money, time and effort for very little return. I call that style of marketing “traditional telling”, like you are going out on the street corner with a sandwich board, just walking around hoping someone will notice your attractive sign and approach you. On the web, traditional telling manifests itself as spending a lot of money on a beautiful web site, and banner ads, hoping to drive enough traffic to your site to generate the one person that might be interested in working with you.

It isn’t going to work. Times have changed. Move on from traditional telling and old-style marketing and learn a new way.

You’re not Coca-Cola (thank god) with a huge advertising budget trying to nudge out Pepsi and compete for shelf space.

You are a person with a story to tell.

You are a unique and powerful person with a story to tell.

And if you want to learn a new way of marketing and stop competing for shelf space in a crowded and largely misinformed market place, then the absolute place to start is with your unique story.

Your marketing strategies, content and plans have to spring from the story of who you are and how you came to be in business. It has to be emotional, compelling, hit all the “hot buttons” of what might be keeping your potential clients up at night, appeal to a wide range of learning style and types of people, and tell a consistent story that will immediately hit home with your ideal customer.

Not only does your business have to be mission-driven and spring from the heart, most importantly, it has to appear that way to your potential customer. That is what breaks my heart as a business/marketing coach – the business owners I work with are heart-based and mission-driven, and without exception, have a unique voice and something to contribute to the marketplace, but are often caught in this trap of traditional telling and boring brand. Their web site and marketing materials look and read like everyone else on the market. Their knowledge is showcased, but it’s not wrapped up in a story that is relatable, and as a result, they struggle for attention, or struggle to have their message heard and understood by the right people. Sometimes the most knowledgeable and amazing business owners and service providers are ignored and struggle for clients while the most misinformed and corporate –sponsored ‘experts’ thrive because they get how to create and position their marketing content in a compelling story-like manner that gets them attention, and ultimately gets them the sale.

See how heart-breaking this is?

I know because I’ve lived this. I’ve painfully lived this in my own story.

I was a ‘business coach’ or ‘marketing consultant’ for years before I knew what fundamental story I was telling in my business (ironically, I was telling about the re-emergence of the narrative as a powerful force in business building). When I was building my business, I focused on marketing the services I could provide (helping develop content, developing CRM systems, strategy sessions, training), instead of marketing the story of who I am and I how I am different from every other business/marketing coach out there. It was frustrating, because I knew I was unique, that I had a unique genius in not only helping to design a marketing strategy / content strategy for a business, but also in uncovering the story they needed to tell in the first place. I thought I had to be ‘corporate’ in my marketing, showcase my degrees, my skills, my knowledge, and in some ways, I hid behind that.

It wasn’t until I ‘got’ my story that my content became viral, my marketing strategies became really clear to me, and my business began to take off. I was a storyteller, a story “puller” who can pull amazing stories from everyday people and help them weave it into compelling marketing content that sells and grows their business. I discovered the 5 key stories that business owners need to uncover and tell well in order to thrive. I systematized how to draw them out of people, and get them published and distributed in the marketplace as efficiently as possible.

I flipped it around! That’s how you market to that other 97%! It’s the really the opposite of how many small businesses go about it. Most business owners start out with a business structure/idea (“I want to be a personal trainer”), then think about a brand/concept (“working with new moms”), and then later, often much later, come to think of how they might incorporate their own story and story-telling deeply into their business (“how do I communicate a compelling, consistent story that emotionally connects who I am, and what I offer to my customer base of new moms?”)

But the story has to drive the business, drive the marketing right from the start. Really getting this one concept is going to save you the years of frustration and headache trying to get more clients and trying to make an impact. Do the opposite of what everyone else is doing, and actually figure out your story, write your book, first instead of when you retire (or never). And I don’t mean you actually have to write a book. I mean the metaphoric book, the story of who you are and where you are going and with whom.

You are not a pop can competing for shelf space in a crowded supermarket.

You are a unique person with a story to tell. Start there. Start right there. Tell your crowd to pull up a chair, gather around a campfire, open up your mouth and say to them “once upon a time ….”

And watch your business take off.


DianeHeadshotWebDiane Currie Sam, BSc, MA, “The Business Story Coach” combines intuition and encouragement with nuts-and-bolts marketing and business expertise. Her coaching and training programs show business owners how to discover their authentic stories, share their viral-ready stories through social media, and boost their business results.