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Category: Storytelling

Stories say so much more than just words…

The purpose of marketing is to persuade customers to pay attention to your message and engage with it long enough to take an action in line with your bigger goals. It is a stepping stone to another destination, such as visiting your website, picking up the phone, starting a free trial or placing an order. Marketing can be subtle (brand recognition), direct (sales letters, email and offers), or simply stumbled upon.

Marketing can be visual, audio or in word, but ultimately it is a sales piece designed to attract attention and draw people into making a buying decision. Most companies make the mistake of ‘talking at’ their prospects and customers through their marketing, rather than ‘engaging with’ their reader’s emotions.

Stories are intuitively opposite to most sales orientated marketing in that people ‘want to’ read them. They appeal to our basic inquisitive, human spirit and when we find one that appeals to us directly, we simply cannot put it down until we discover how it ends. That is why some people can’t resist reading the final page of a novel long before they get there. Others will simply read on into the night until they reach the happy ending… or otherwise.

Imagine if your marketing had that effect?

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Appeal to your customer’s natural obsession!

Our natural obsession with stories is the reason that Reality TV and Seasons 1-6 of your favorite shows dominate flat-screens and tablets the western world over. It is why annual book revenues still outstrip computer games by three to one and why soap operas continue to clean up when it comes to viewing figures each Christmas.

The Pyramid Principle! This is how it works!

Picture an upside-down pyramid in your mind and let me tell you a story. The first line of that pyramid is like the start of the story. If it grabs your attention, you will read the next line and the next until you are hooked. The closer you get to the end, the more you feel engrossed in the characters, the plot and the promise of a twist or happy ever after. As you descend further into the pyramid, angling towards the point at the end you simply cannot resist the final page. And you read every single word that leads you there.

Now turn the pyramid into its standard position. This is traditional marketing. Your intention now is the long line at the bottom. It is the first sale, the satisfied customer and the ongoing relationship that will make your business successful. The problem is that you have to start at the top. You only really have one chance, a short window of opportunity in which to win their hearts. Your headline has to be stunning to get them to read further down. Your next line has to engage them even more because by now they have clocked that you are trying to sell them something. You need to get them into the irresistible detail of the sale as soon as possible before they lose interest and go somewhere else. You have a tough job on your hands and, in all truth, you probably won’t win on the first attempt. You’ll need to build a desert full of pyramids to get there.

Go and find your story…

I promise you this works. Go and find your story, your why, your passion and then share it. Tell the story well and tell it from the heart. Get it in front of the right people and the right people will listen right through to the lifelong customer and beyond…

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Category: Marketing

I share a birthday with Jack Dee (although he is exactly seven years older and approximately seven years grumpier than me), and this has always given me a sense of affinity with him. Apart from the fact that I do find his dry, sarcastic wit and deadpan delivery highly amusing; having this date in common creates a kind of imaginary kinship in my mind which means my ears always perk up when he appears on the telly. So what has that to do with you? (I hear you think in an uninspired, slightly bored Jack Dee-style voice).

‘Well, loads really’ is my answer: because it is highly likely that you too will know of famous people (or just people you know) that you share a birthday with – so you will identify with the previous paragraph. In fact, ‘statistically speaking’ it is almost certain that someone reading this post will be thinking ‘how odd - today is my birthday.' But this is not just a blog about sharing birthdays – my present to you today is even bigger than that.

Birthday coincidence or not – ‘association’ is incredibly powerful!

Obviously, you won’t have the same birthday as all of your clients, so you won’t be able to create a connection in that way. But, if you are smart and think more carefully before composing your marketing messages, then you will be able to engage more directly and effectively with their thoughts by being relevant to them exploring a multitude of other avenues. And in the same way, that the loveable Jack Dee can assault your humour buds with cantankerous quips you can carefully and tenderly provoke your customers into recognising and engaging with your services in a far more personal way.bigstock-Two-Kid-Boys-Having-Fun-With-C-97403966.jpg

People are motivated by ‘recognised association’ and, whether they admit it or not, most people are mildly superstitious so they can’t resist the idea of coincidence or serendipity. There will be things occupying your client’s mind that you can tune into – things that really matter to them today. All you need to do is think carefully about what those issues might be. Or you can even be very specific about what you already know about them – Believe me, you don’t need to be Derren Brown to effectively ‘read someone’s mind.’ If you do a little bit of research about your target market, you'll be amazed at how easy it is to make a reasonable accurate educated guess about what is going on inside their head.

If it is your birthday today ‘have a great one’ and if it isn’t, then I hope you have a lovely day all the same :-)

Martin

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Category: Storytelling

There is far more involved in producing effective content for your website, blog or newsletter than merely adding the right keywords and phrases. While optimisation is important to get noticed in the first place, if you want to turn ‘notice’ into ‘attention’ you must add a little bit more thought to your work. To encourage an action as a result of your message; or to influence an opinion in your reader’s mind, your copy must engage, inform, invite or maybe even evoke emotion.

Imagine going to see the latest action thriller, the final film in the trilogy (advertised to the hilt with all the thrills and spills of car chases, explosions, and special effects) only to find a storyline lifted from a Mills and Boon novel. Not what it said on the tin and not what you were looking forward to seeing? Often the highly optimised copy that PPC and SEO attract can be equally disappointing (if less dramatically so) and can fail to deliver what the keywords promised.

So the real ‘key’ is, having won your readers ‘notice’, to grab their ‘attention’ with well-written copy that delivers a strong message while building interest and possibly even incorporating a ‘call to action’. So the next time you write copy, make sure you leave your readers clicking on the ‘act now’ button, turning the page, subscribing for more, or eagerly waiting for the next instalment.

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Four things to consider when building engagement:

1: Connection: Whatever your business or the message that you want to share 'your audience will always matter more'. Think about their hopes, fears, and values. Craft your story around issues that really matter to them, themes they will identify with and, most of all, values that they will care about.

Unless there is a message or some sort of meaning that your readers can connect with (on a human level) it will not have any impact at all. Think about the brands that you love and the way their stories make you feel.

2: Intrigue: A great place to start a story is often in the middle or at a moment of drama in the narrative. If you did a deal with Google make that the hook and work backwards; or namedrop a celebrity then retell the lead up to the endorsement; maybe you came back from the brink, were inspired by a tragedy, changed the face of your marketplace, created a revolution or simply made a customer’s dream come true.

We are curious by nature; it is in our DNA, and it is why stories have kept the world turning for millennia. See if you can create a sense of anticipation, layout a treasure map to follow or involve your audience in a ‘need to know’ scenario. Always finish with a strong conclusion, but subtly leave them wanting more…

3: Heroes: Every good story needs a hero! It can be an underdog come good, a brave act that saves the day, the customer whose life was changed or an act of kindness from a passing stranger. No one is so self-secure, confident or obsessed with themselves that they don’t look for inspiration in others. So, a key element of engagement in storytelling is to introduce your reader to people that they can identify with and actions they can aspire to engage with or emulate.

The most popular stories on the planet are full of celebrity lives, amazing exploits, everyday human interest and tales of survival against the odds.

4: Attractive: Make your story real and relevant by carefully crafting its content. Wherever possible, write ‘in the moment’ to make the person reading it feel like they were actually there, witnessing the event. Don’t use exponentially exorbitant expressions just for the sake of it (wink), but don’t use overly common and boring words either. Try to create a flowing, interesting narrative that matches your passion and enthusiasm for your story. And remember, the best way to portray honesty is simply by being honest!

A sneaky Ninja Trick for colouring your copy is to write it in full and then, as you read it back, right-click a few ordinary words and replace them with more creative synonyms. But don’t overdo it!

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What is good copy?

Jan 07, 2016
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Category: Marketing

Good copy, just like ‘good’ anything else, is copy that achieves its purpose. Commercially, there really is no better measure than that, and I have seen plenty of examples of ‘technically poor’ content delivering exceptionally good results. You see, it is all about what you are looking to achieve from your copy, and most people (especially those who consider themselves ‘good at writing’) get too caught up in seeking perfection. In business, the focus should always be on ‘results’.

Here are a few examples:

  • Sales copy needs to identify and the engage the emotions and desires of its reader, leading to a call to action…
  • Blogs should attract, inform, entertain and leave the audience wanting to hear more from the writer…
  • An ‘about us’ page needs to share a story or history, aiming to engender trust and confidence…

There is skill involved in all of the above, but it is centred on understanding your reader, not having a Masters Degree in written English.

I would even be bold enough to say that good copy is not ‘necessarily’ about good grammar, correct sentence structure, or even a concise message… because sometimes that is not its purpose. That is to say that, in some cases, it is merely about volume, optimisation, or what I tend to think of as ‘copy fodder’ (yuck). This could be seen as ‘good’ simply because it achieves its goal of saying to Google, “here are some keywords that you might like to notice”.

By the way, please don’t ever ask me to write ‘copy fodder’ because the very idea causes my soul to weep. But I live in the real world, so I know that it has a place – it’s just not my bag.

There are many types of copy and the most important RULES I can leave you with, to make sure that yours is good, are really simple. Firstly, understand your reader, be clear about your message, and aim your copy at the point where those two meet. My secondary RULES would be to write at a level that is appropriate to your reader. Don’t use language that you wouldn’t use in speech and don’t overcomplicate the idea or call to action.

A final thought. Perhaps a better question (and indeed answer) would be to discover what GREAT copy is! I believe it is good copy which gets a better result than anyone else’s.

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Category: Storytelling

Walking inspires me. It is as though the world has slowed down and invited me to come in and have a closer look at its best bits. From a simple stroll along the river at the end of my road, to a planned hike along the peaks and valleys of some distant land, blessed with horizons and blossom touched views… I love to walk.

In those slow moments, those precious pauses for reflective thought, I find that all things come back into focus. Every other person you meet complains that life is too busy, or there is too much to do; but how many of them ignore the secret of the time-slowing walk? For me it is one of the most valuable indulgences that life can afford and yet, in its simplest form, it costs nothing. In a world which is determined to speed up and spend, to entertain and consume; those of us fortunate enough to have some form of physical mobility often take for granted the ability to exist in a moment, unwind for a while and simply walk.

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I thank God that I can walk and while the strength remains in my legs, I will. I want to enjoy the heat of the sun, the chill of the breeze, the shocking blue of a Kingfisher’s dive and the green, grey curve of the mountainous path. I love to walk.

The very essence of creation can be captured in a moment of time; in fact, it is happening around each of us all of the time. But if we never stop to look, if we never pause to engage with its beauty, we are in danger of forgetting the simple pleasures of the world we live in and the fact that God gave us legs for a reason.
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Category: Marketing

People often ask me if they should use well-known phrases, jargon or acronyms in their business writing. Most people would warn you to stay away from such childish things, but I believe they are wrong. As with so many other writing etiquettes, it all depends on who your audience is and the message you are trying to impart. We all know that “you can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time”. But when you understand that you are rarely speaking to “all of the people” you can start writing to your target market far more effectively.

For example, if I am presenting a taxi service to a law firm I might tell them that my booking software can allocate ‘case numbers’ to their journeys at the time of booking, for ease of recharging. This simple reference demonstrates that I have knowledge of their business, and its use in the sentence shows that I understand a need that they almost certainly have. Using industry lingo in this scenario is powerful and does not need to be explained – in fact, it would be counter-productive to do so. Similarly, if I was writing to a military organisation and I talked about being ‘in theatre’ they would know that I was referring to a live scenario in a potential battle zone, and would assume that I had a level of experience or insight into their world. Others might question its use (thinking hospital or West End) but they were not my market.

It’s not life and death, but it helps to know your audience…

As a rule, we are taught that whenever you use an acronym in a document you should write it out in full the first time, and generally speaking I agree. But imagine you were writing to a doctor, informing them of how your service could improve the effectiveness of CPR after an RTA. You would not need to explain these acronyms to any medical person and to do so would probably be an insult to their professional intelligence. (In fact, if you know any doctors who have a problem understanding these terms I would suggest finding a different one.)

Using lingo to close a deal…

One of my favourite ways of using unexplained jargon is as a ‘call me’ teaser. I’ve used this on some of my own marketing materials, where I list my ‘seven secrets to employ when crafting powerful sales copy’. One of these secrets suggests the effectiveness of using ‘dual readership paths’ in your writing. The other six secrets are pretty clear, but I deliberately do not explain this phrase because I want to encourage the question that might follow… (ie. To open a conversation and generate client engagement). This can be a powerful tool, but I would advise that you only do this as part of a deliberately planned strategy to get a response.

In summary: Think about who your reader is, then give them the benefit of the doubt about the language you use (people love to feel that they are in the know). Elsewhere use plain English and explain the obscure if needed – but most of all don’t be boring.

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Category: Marketing

If I started this post with a claim to make you millions in minutes, it is more likely to arouse your suspicion than get your attention. In today’s climate, this is the quickest route to your reader hitting the ‘delete’ button. Likewise, a message explaining why I want you to buy my products is far less absorbing than one which genuinely addresses something of real importance to you. If you are a human being, and I assume you are, then the topics of most interest will include your family, your business, and your general well being. Good communication is always personal.

If someone shouts ‘Buy This!’ or they simply speak your name in a crowded room; which call are you going to hear above the chattering noise? We all recognise our name – it is a symptom called self-interest.

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So my little marketing tip for this short post is quite simply this: THINK before you communicate anything to anyone. What subject will interest your intended reader or would engage their attention? How could you help them benefit those interests? What can you say that might just move them to action rather than bore them into going somewhere else? How can you connect with that person as an individual…

...Calling them out by name?


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Category: Storytelling

Listening to Adele’s version of The Cure’s classic ‘Love Song’, I am once again fascinated by the power of beautiful words, an absorbing melody and the rich, passionate tones of an awesome voice flowing like water over pebbles in a stream. There is no doubt that the delivery, namely the music and the wonderful Adele herself, play a huge part in moving the heart and ear of those who truly listen; but surely it’s the words which really matter.

Connection, familiarity or even revelations from within lyrics somehow manage to bring comfort or a sense of fellowship to the hearer. How many times has a song found you dabbing away wetness from beneath your eye, or transported you to another moment in another time and place?

Words matter; their meaning, their feeling, and the way their sounds resonate with the purpose of the writer’s mind. So the next time you rush to put pen to paper or finger to key, first close your eyes, slow down and think. Consider the texture and tone of the truths you have to share, or the taste and triumph of the dreams you wish to weave, absorb them into your heart, then simply open your mind and give generously…

Why wouldn’t you give your customers your best?

Imagine the music, the voice, and the passion which seasons the rhythm of your thoughts, then compose much more than mere words. Create, caress, converse and convey your imagination into something that will relate to the reader and move them to feel your purpose and take action.

Maybe this is all too grandiose for a piece of marketing content, but believe me, there is something of value here – if you are prepared to listen. People do want facts – sometimes – and they do want you to get to the point. We live in a busy world, with under pressure lives and no time to stop and read. But do we actually want to be confronted with boring dribble every single time we search the internet? Is tedious, tiresome content really what your customers desire or deserve? I don’t think so. In fact, I know that people appreciate the effort and effect that they experience within carefully crafted content. I know this because my customers tell me, and what’s more, my customers’ customers tell them too…

The frantic, frenzied nature of life is all the more reason to deliver pleasure to your readers in what you write. Give them a reason to slow down, escape the busyness and be taken to another place. How much more will your customers appreciate that you took the trouble to entertain them, serenade them and touch their hearts with your words?

Your message says a lot about you!

Whether it is an email, a letter, a note or even a text, why not take an extra moment to make it extra special? Are you too busy for your customers or are you prepared to make time to sing them a lullaby or even a Love Song?

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Category: Storytelling

We all know the widely quoted public speaking statistics (7% words, 38% tone, 55% body language) describing which elements of a person’s presentation are the most impactful. But what does this actually mean? Surely the words themselves are worth more than 7% or else people won’t understand the ‘content’ behind what you are ‘implying’.

Indecently, I am told by a good friend of mine who is a brilliant public speaking coach that there is some debate about those 45-year-old statistics anyway. But my purpose here is to consider the sense, not argue the science, of positive communication.

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Considering the sense, not arguing the science…

Who am I to argue against such well-established, scientifically proven (apparently) conclusions as stated above? And as I mentioned before, that debate is not my intention. What I do know to be factual, regardless of ‘how’ you put across what you are saying, is that what people ‘perceive’ is far more powerful than what you actually ‘meant’. Whether you are communicating in person, by the written word, through a webinar or on the telephone people will make assumptions about what you are really saying (and mean).

Having started my working life in retail, I spent a lot of time face-to-face with customers listening to their needs and then nudging them towards the store’s most appropriate solution. This engaged words, tone and body language. After that, I moved into telesales (existing B2B customers, not cold-calling) which put more emphasis on words and tone although, oddly enough, body language was still incredibly important. (Some of the most successful telesales guys I ever saw perform made calls standing or pacing up and down in front of their desks.)

These pursuits, along with my subsequent roles in field sales, training and coaching, all taught me the same thing…

It doesn’t matter what you say!

Actually, it does matter. It matters a lot (far more than 7% I believe), but only if you get the rest of your communication (tone, body language, attitude and intent) correct first. No one needs to be an expert in body language to know what someone else is thinking, if they are listening to you or if you are being understood. We are (most people are at least) designed to read the signs. Call it intuition, a sixth sense or perception, this skill is built into all of us. Some are better or more practised than others, but I believe that all we need to do is open our eyes and ears a little more to see it.

My point is this. Real communication is not what you intended to say, but what the receiver perceives from what you said. So, to increase your chances of clarity, influence and sharing knowledge stop thinking ‘what shall I say?’ and start thinking ‘how will this come across?’ or ‘what will they see, hear and think?’

I promise you that a different approach will create a different result!

Words are the most powerful media of all…

Today I make my living (and enjoy indulging my time) in the written word. I believe (despite the Google-led move towards video) that the most powerful (even if it is not currently the most popular) form of communication is writing. Done well it can still deliver tone, stimulate a sense of posture, and maximise the power of your words through wonderful stories, subliminal suggestions and beautiful prose.

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Category: Storytelling

Most people are nosey and want to buy a good story

For example: If I start my story be telling you it is about a man who discovered three Roman gold coins while planting roses in his garden in Hemel Hempstead, I might get your attention. If you live within the vicinity of that town, however, I would certainly have created a little bit of curiosity. Were you to be interested in history then I might even have encouraged you to read on? And if you also happen to be a detectorist (or for the uninformed, a member of a metal-detecting club) Then I guarantee that you would find the story absolutely irresistible.

To someone who had no interest in the area or history, however, there would be no value in the story at all. The chances are they would simply move on and read something else.

Stories open doors that adverts cannot even approach

Now, let’s suppose that I link my story to a website where you can buy metal detectors or an advert for a new metal detector store opening in Hertfordshire. From a marketing point of view, this would be a really smart thing to do because I have attracted a nosey audience. The people who moved on, however, would never have been interested in my offer anyway, so it makes no difference that they didn’t stick around to see the advert.

Compare this way of introducing perfect customers to your business in an engaged, comfortable, communal way with the traditional direct route. Namely, the ‘in your face’ advert that provokes the equally commonplace, ‘what’s the catch, you are just trying to sell me something’ response. People are attracted to stories that resonate with their own interests. And here is the really important thing…

If you are trying to attract the attention of future customers. Be specific and talk to them – not ‘everyone’ else!

Does touching an emotion make you uncomfortable?

Don’t tell or sell! It is better to create interest, engage their passion, share information and wisdom, and ultimately demonstrate that you have a kindred spirit. If that sounds a bit too deep for you, then feel free to replace ‘kindred spirit’ with ‘common interest’. But I promise you that connecting with your customers on an emotional level will win their loyalty more than price, special offer, or even being the best.

The really important thing to remember is that there is nothing underhand or ‘hard sell’ here. You are simply helping people who are already interested in the things you do to find you. And, once they have made that connection, you are sharing your passion with them in a friendly, helpful and interesting way. In doing this, you will be building relationships with customers who want to buy from you and want to trust you as a supplier. It is important to understand that not everyone just wants the lowest price. Some people (I believe most people) actually want ‘value for money’ – and that means a relationship. And the reality is, that these people always become the best customers. A true WIN-WIN!

If you would like to know more about turning your message into powerful, attractive stories, get in touch and let's see what we can do to help you change your style.

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Category: Storytelling

If I started describing food to you, or even at the mere mention of the idea, something will move in the pit of your stomach. It may not be hunger, necessarily, but the suggestion will cause micro messengers from your mind to go and investigate the possibility. If they find any hint of a need when they get there, it will begin to grow, and with no more than a little more encouragement, you will soon be reaching for the snack jar. It’s just the way we are made!

Likewise, when you read the word ‘posture,' you will shift in your chair, sit up straight, maybe stretch out your back and remember, for a few minutes at least, that you should not slouch. Sensitive words like these will cause a reaction, stimulate recognition and potentially change a mind.

This knowledge could make or break your business!

Words are powerful! Speeches have changed the cause of history, stopped wars, started revolutions and reduced the hardest of hearts to tears. Single sales pitches have won million-pound deals, turned prototypes into global brands and saved many a small business from sinking. But you can’t always be present to deliver a speech. That is why writing well is such a sought after skill and why content (video and written) is so important in today’s business world.

If single words can create emotional reactions and sales copy can convert browsers into buyers, how much more powerful do you think storytelling can be? The irresistible allure of a story which connects with its audience is perhaps the most potent force in sales. Stories tell a reader that you understand them and introduce them to a more personal you. Told well, a story can break down barriers, build up trust, share common ground and start a conversation.

If you only ever present your business as an entity, a logo, a range of products or a piece of marketing you limit the potential of building relationships. People buy people, and people love people stories.

If you are still not convinced switch on your TV, search YouTube, read a magazine or Google a celebrity… The whole world runs on stories!

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Four secrets to powerful storytelling for business:

1: Connection: Whatever your business or the message that you want to share your audience will always matter more. Think about their hopes, fears, and values. Craft your story around issues that really matter to them, themes they will identify with and, most of all, values that they will care about.

Unless there is a message or some sort of meaning that your readers can connect with (on a human level) it will not have any impact at all. Think about the brands that you love and the way their stories make you feel.

2: Intrigue: A great place to start a story is often in the middle or at a moment of drama in the narrative. If you did a deal with Google make that the hook and work backwards; or namedrop a celebrity then retell the lead up to the endorsement; maybe you came back from the brink, were inspired by a tragedy, changed the face of your marketplace, created a revolution or simply made a customer’s dream come true.

We are curious by nature, it is in our DNA, and it is why stories have kept the world turning for millennia. See if you can create a sense of anticipation, layout a treasure map to follow or involve your audience in a ‘need to know’ scenario. Always finish with a strong conclusion, but subtly leave them wanting more…

3. Heroes: Every good story needs a hero! It can be an underdog come good, a brave act that saves the day, the customer whose life was changed or an act of kindness from a passing stranger. No one is so self-secure, confident or obsessed with themselves that they don’t look for inspiration in others. So, a key element of engagement in storytelling is to introduce your reader to people that they can identify with and actions they can aspire to engage with or emulate.

The most popular stories on the planet are full of celebrity lives, amazing exploits, everyday human interest and tales of survival against the odds.

4: Attractive: Make your story real and relevant by carefully crafting its content. Wherever possible, write ‘in the moment’ to make the person reading it feel like they were actually there, witnessing the event. Don’t use exponentially exorbitant expressions just for the sake of it (wink), but don’t use overly common and boring words either. Try to create a flowing, interesting narrative that matches your passion and enthusiasm for your story. And remember, the best way to portray honesty is simply by being honest!

A sneaky Ninja Trick for colouring your copy is to write it in full and then, as you read it back, right-click a few ordinary words and replace them with more creative synonyms. But don’t overdo it!

And finally, because every good story must finish well (indeed many a well-penned novel or thrilling blockbuster of a movie has, in my humble opinion, been totally ruined by a poor last page), let me conclude.

This is an article about writing stories for your business, so it is critical that you give your tale some context. This is the equivalent to the ‘call to action’ on a piece of marketing, although probably not quite as direct.

In other words, try and blend into your story the idea that what you’ve done for others you can also do for your reader. After all – It is all about them – leave them feeling hungry for more!

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We all know that focusing on your niche is a smart idea, but most of us still can’t quite resist the temptation to shout about everything we do. It seems counter-intuitive, not to mention downright scary, to only promote or talk about the ‘one thing’ that you do better than anyone else. And this is likely to be the ‘one thing’ that you most want to be doing too. Somehow the idea of narrowing your offering and potentially alienating some of the people that ‘could’ buy from you doesn’t sit well in the heart of someone who ‘needs’ the business.

Now please don’t take offence if this is you…

I used to be desperate. For me, the whole ‘needs’ the business bit was the painful eye-opener. You see for a long time that was me. So whenever I had the opportunity to answer the question, “What do you do?” I blurted out, in as long a list as I could fit into one breath, all the things that I was ‘prepared’ to do for money… Even tasks like editing and technical writing (which I hate doing). As it happened, this year has started so much better than the last four or five, and it put me in a much more stable position… In other words, I was no longer desperate. And all of a sudden I felt more confident about saying ‘no’ when approached to do less appropriate work…

The lesson: Desperate people are prone to poor decisions…

All of this meant that I could (albeit with a little bit of cash flow behind me) find some slightly firmer ground upon which to build my niche. You see I never went to university and studied Journalism or English Literature, and I also rely heavily on Spellcheck. But I was always very good at telling stories (some of them were true) and engaging an audience, whether it was with a magic trick or a tale of dragons. I won’t go into the long story of how I became a freelance copywriter here. But suffice to say that it was only ever a title and over the last nine years I have simply learnt ‘on the job’ from some of the very best in the world.

But my passion and best work comes out within my niche…

So, yes, I can do the long list of things that other copywriters do. And if someone asks, I might even consider taking on the project (especially if it looks like fun). But I will not be promoting it anymore. I am a storyteller, and I am best at drawing out other people’s expertise and crafting it into beautifully written, enticingly brilliant blog posts. As a ghostwriter, I get inside of their heads and turn their thoughts into words that will promote their niche and attract their ideal customers.

Oh, and the other thing… niching works for me, and it will work for you too…

Just imagine that every single day of your working life you went to your office or place of work and you only ever did the things that you enjoy doing. It was work that was profitable (financially and emotionally), it was working for customers that you want to work with, and it came with a stress-free, lifestyle enhancing accompaniment. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing indeed?

OK – it is easy for me to say this because I only managed it after eight years of being too desperate to try… I get that. But it doesn’t change the ‘absolute fact’ that focusing on your niche is a really good idea. And you don’t have to do it the way that I did… You could just go out and be brave today.

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Category: Storytelling

One morning Brilliance had a dream

Brilliance awoke and, just like every other morning that Brilliance had been alive, he started to think.

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He envisaged truly wonderful things; he saw grand schemes of monumental importance, he dreamt up solutions to smooth the way to success, and his ideas grew into plans which warmed his heart and inspired his soul. Brilliance let his imagination run into places that only the boldest of visionaries would go. He did this because he knew who he was, he knew that his name meant something spectacular and that by releasing his insatiable creativity upon the world, soon others would see it too…

Action stopped dreaming every morning

On the other side of town, a more ordinary scene was taking place. In fact for Action, this was quite a typical, everyday kind of morning. Her day had started a little earlier, not much, but certainly earlier than most. She wasn’t flamboyant; she wasn’t fanciful, and she wasn’t a daydreamer. That wasn’t to say that she didn’t have an imagination either – she just didn’t dwell on it for too long. You see, Action was a doer. And that morning, just like every other one, Action got to work on turning one of the simple ideas that she truly believed in into a reality.

Meanwhile, Brilliance continued to visualise his world of incredible, unimaginable (for the ordinary mind at least), multi-dimensional, colour-fantastic, sense-tingling and utterly unfeasible dreams of success.

In summary: “Action planned, Brilliance faded, and the same thing happened the next day, and the next, and the next…”

Caveat: not all Brilliant people are stuck in a daydream, but sadly far too many of them are…

Moral: There is no point in being brilliant if you never do anything with your talent. If you are lucky enough to be Brilliant, however, why not go and find someone to help add a little Action to your ambition!

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Category: Marketing

The website content, sales letters, emails, blog posts, videos and any other customer communication you publish is all part of your marketing. If the message is disjointed, contradictory or just plain confusing then that will be the perception you give out to the world.

“People will assume that the way you do one thing is the way that you do everything

With blogging, just like any other part of your marketing, you need a strategy or you would better off not doing it at all. Ad hoc posting of content can be seriously detrimental to your entire message. At the very least you need to build themes, use a recognisable voice and decide on your overall purpose: and at the completely fabulous end of the scale, you should design a monthly content schedule, create a deliberate structure, devise a compelling storyline narrative and get organised.

Five questions you need to ask before starting a strategic blog!

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1) Whose attention do you want to attract?

Tune into your reader’s ear first. Most businesses are too consumed with what they want to say and pay little attention to what their potential customers want to hear. Before even considering starting a regular blog you need to get under the skin of your ‘who’ and find out what they ‘want.’ Identify your avatar in as much detail as possible: What they do, their hopes, fears, wants, needs, habits, and current situation.

2) What is the purpose of your blog?

Closely connected to the appetites, desires and interests of your ideal customer is the ‘purpose’ of you writing a regular blog in the first place. Please don’t be sitting there thinking ‘it seemed like a good idea’ or ‘someone told me that I should’ because if that is the case you are seriously wasting your time. These are some of the main reasons people and businesses should blog.

  • Advertising (create a following to attract traffic to sell your products or others’ via affiliate links)
  • Credibility (become the go-to resource in your market by demonstrating your expertise and sharing nuggets)
  • Visibility (proactively putting out compelling content with a view to gathering data and building a prospect list)
  • Nurture (building your existing relationships to keep clients engaged, educated and coming back for more)

There may be other reasons for a business (or business owner) to blog, but I think these are the most commercial ones. For this post, however, I am going to ignore the first one (advertising), as that is a business in itself; and focus on developing the marketing support function of the other three.

3) What are the stories and substance you can share?

Your overriding brand message and style are paramount, but if there is one place that you can bend the rules and let your personality show through a little more it is your blog. The very nature of blog posts lend themselves to telling stories and engaging your readers on a more personal level. That means you can be a little more expressive, give abstract examples, inject some humour, challenge accepted wisdoms, or even allow yourself the occasional rant.

We all come face to face with potential blog material every but most people don’t tend to take notice. Start to collect together your observations, directly from your marketplace or any other area of your life. These can be stories, quotes, quirky ideas, achievements, wit, wisdom, news items, innovations, or comment – anything that you can connect to a value message for your clients.

And there are some great ‘thought capturing’ solutions (APPS) out there: OneNote, Evernote, Trello, or a pen and notepad is pretty good too J

4) Which recurring themes, messages, or actions do you want to promote?

In the classic 80’s movie ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ there is a scene where Steve Martin’s character finally snaps at the incessantly cheerful and rumbustiously chatty curtain ring salesman, Del Griffith (played by John Candy). In losing his composure he mercilessly lambasts Del’s personality and ends with the line, “And by the way, you know when you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea – Have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”

So, have a point! If you are telling stories with no relevance to your understanding of your reader’s needs, then you will only confuse or annoy them. Likewise, if there are mixed messages, lack of substance and little actual value you will lose their attention. Remember the idea of an ongoing blog is that people come back for more.

Make a list of five or six PURPOSES for your blog and try to centre each one around one of those themes. These will depend largely on your answer to ‘question two’ but examples might include:

  • Subtly highlighting common problems that you know exist in the marketplace (but that you can solve)
  • Commenting on subjects you know your prospects will be interested in, or searching for…
  • Sharing ‘how to’ nuggets or value messages that others might not know
  • Mentioning one of your products or services (in a non-salesy way) as a subtle ‘name drop’
  • Describing the ideal scenario as if it was ‘standard’ – this suggests that to your customers ‘it is’
  • Writing about complimentary themes that your prospects will be interested in (to highjack other traffic)

5) How often, and in what way do you want to post?

Based on the answers to the previous questions, you should have an idea of the frequency that you want to post. If it is to get Google’s attention it needs to be often and at least 500 words each time; if it is engagement than perhaps less and certainly better quality. Other things to consider are planning, calendar, your time, sourcing information and promoting the posts (social media, etc.).

My suggestion would be to set up posting dates on a calendar and assign a subject or working title to each slot. Some of the subjects that you could summarise each post under might include:

  • Better performance (while at work)
  • Better lifestyle (for the home)
  • Topical (market-relevant, or general interest, anniversaries)
  • Education (nuggets and your wisdom)
  • Credibility (case studies written as stories)
  • Entertainment (people love stories and trivia)
  • News (show yourself to be current and informed)
  • Resources (few things are as attractive as free gifts)

You will also need to think about including keywords (if you are looking to be found by Google) and create a social media strategy for sharing the content that you are creating. Don’t forget to re-share old content too. Once you have done the hard work of creating a fabulous post, don’t waste it on a one-shot-punt at being found. Build re-posting and re-purposing into your strategy for getting your message out there.

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Why do I bother?

Jun 17, 2016
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Category: Storytelling

If you were expecting a frustrated rant, then you’ve clicked here for the wrong reason; because that is not what this post is all about. The title, despite its more commonly cantankerous connotation, is not in fact a question, but an offer to share with you the answer: Why I write a blog…

And, just for the record, I also write a post each week on my LinkedIn profile

There are FOUR reasons why I blog:

1) I simply love writing, experimenting with words and entertaining the idea that someone else might smile as they amble around my alliteration, get taken on an imaginary journey of similes or become short of breath before they reach the end of my overly long sentences…

2) Civilisation was built upon stories. People have been buying stories and the products and services that those stories represent for millennia. If we lose the art of telling stories (I prefer the written word – but any media will do) then we will forget how to do business. So I want to help keep the skill of storytelling alive.

3) The feedback that I get suggests that people value the thought-provoking ideas (I’m not sure I would flatter myself to call it wisdom) that my muses contain. They are, for the most part, taken from real life events that have made me think and seek out an answer - so it is a joy to share those thoughts.

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4) I have to read so much awful written communication each day that it actually saddens me. It is not just the culture of txt speak and e-everything, lol – I do get that. It is more the lack of imagination, passion and appreciation of a readers’ ears that bothers me. I believe that words are beautiful and therefore should be used to attract attention.

Think for a moment how powerful that could be in your business!

Oh, and there is a fifth reason. A man has to make a living; and turning other people’s stories into passionately-written, market-influencing, customer-attracting words is how I make mine…

Let me finish with the inevitable (but ever-reliable) get in touch if you want to find out more or book your free sample.

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Tags : Storytelling

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Category: Marketing

The power of words has long been understood by the ad-men, the conmen and those blessed with great penmanship. But with a little bit of thought, the tiniest hint of imagination and the knowledge that I will share in this post, you too could increase your sales, change peoples’ minds and inspire others to greater actions… simply by choosing your words more carefully.

As a writer, I enjoy playing with words and telling stories to try and touch my readers’ ears, just for fun. But when writing for business, there is often a specific result which you are looking to achieve. It may be persuading your staff to buy into a new idea, trying to sell more products, or simply making sure some important information is clearly understood. Whatever your motivation, here is a powerful and highly practical tool that you can use to make your words work harder and give your efforts a much greater reward.

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It’s all downhill from here on in…

It is all to do with the North-South divide. In an experiment, a group of people were asked to estimate how much it would cost to send a particular package from London to Edinburgh. Meanwhile, others were asked about the same package going in the reverse direction from Edinburgh to London. With the two critical variables (distance and weight) staying exactly the same you would imagine that the answers would be similar. However, the average estimate for the South to North version of the journey was significantly more… The findings demonstrated that going ‘up’ the country encouraged the belief that extra effort and resources would be required. And this was not an isolated result; based on the assumed costs variances of different cities its findings were verified by similar studies all over the world. In other experiments, people showed a tendency to visit local shops that were south of their homes rather than those to the north that were equidistant or nearer, again on a presumption that it was easier to travel downhill!

So how does this help you? It proves that the same information can be presented in different ways to invoke a better response. For example: saying that ‘Brian is the best player in the team’ is better than saying that ‘Brian isn’t the worst player.' And telling someone you are feeling ‘down in the dumps’ sounds defeatist while saying you are looking for something to ‘cheer yourself up’ reflects a far more positive attitude about your situation.

It may seem like a very small idea. However, I promise you that by thinking carefully about the words you use it can have a massive effect on the power of your communication.

Have fun

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Category: Marketing

The often quoted ‘fake it until you make it’ is an interesting concept. It describes the way that people manage to bluff their way through, selling themselves as experts in their field whilst trying to earn the accolade and success which they feign to have already achieved. There are loads of these people around and I’m sure a few names or faces might be springing to your mind as you read. While I can’t argue with the logic, and I agree that we all had to start somewhere, it is the implied dishonesty here bothers me. So I want to share my four top tips for using your blog to build your credibility and demonstrate that you genuinely are the go-to guru.

Write until you reach the height…

1) Just write something… the simple fact is that Google loves content and the more new and original pages you have on your website, the more likely it is to be picked up by the search engines. Just one blog per week will give you 50 new pages per year on your site. If you are as good as you claim, you must have something to say…

2) It doesn’t have to be very long… although recent studies suggest that Google prefers longer blog posts, it is still an inescapable truth that ‘a short blog’ is significantly better than no blog at all. Even if you post a few sentences and a link to an article elsewhere you will have increased your online profile. A blank space says more than you think…

3) You ‘do’ have something to say… all you have to do is stop for a moment and think about what you did today. You provided a service, some knowledge, or a skill which someone else couldn’t do – so they paid you instead. Share that information, tell the story, demonstrate your skill or translate it into some top tips. Google loves lists…

4) Your blog buys you credibility… if you write an informative, regular blog, your customers, and maybe even some prospective customers, will keep coming back to learn more. If you are the industry expert you claim to be or are on your way to becoming, then start shouting about it. Waiting to be discovered is a risky strategy…

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Category: Marketing

People love stories. Our entire civilization, and every culture that ever left its mark in history has been built upon and fuelled by the telling and sharing of stories. Just look at the most popular TV shows, sports events or musical icons that surround our lives today. It is far more than just their performance that grabs the public’s attention. Their followers and fans want to know the person behind the brand, the subject of the story.

Discovery is better than bore, and real lives say more than unproven promises.

That is why blogging is such a powerful tool in marketing. It is the softly, softly insight into the heart of a business or individual. No matter how good the offer, in an advert or a piece of marketing, is there is still the ‘certain knowledge’ in a buyer’s head that they have been manipulated. That is not always a bad thing, and it may be that the offer is a genuine ‘good deal’ from a company that will deliver a great service. (If the company has any ambition to build an ongoing relationship with its customers you would hope so…) But it is still just a ‘deal’ until a conversation takes place. It is only after engagement begins that relationships can blossom.

Now I am not saying that blogging is the only medium for building a customer relationship. Of course, it isn’t. You need multiple pillars of communication. Without question, the most important trust-building vehicle is to consistently deliver outstanding service. Following this, you should and ‘talk with’ and ‘listen to’ your customers regularly. Nothing compares to that!

But I do believe (in fact I know) that regular, engaging, informative, helpful and friendly communication builds trust and confidence with prospects and customers alike. The reason is that a blog and is open, less formal, unobtrusive and simply there to help. And, if you can make them entertaining, interesting and irresistible, at the same time, you might just be on the way to building a lifetime relationship.

The complete picture and the perfect pitch

The other side to blogging, of course, is that Google absolutely loves new content. Every time you post a new blog or engagement article on your website, LinkedIn or other platform you are waving a little ‘here I am’ flag. If you can crack the combination of these two skills, then you will have the created the perfect foundation for any future marketing effort. It attracts and engages.

The facts are that when you blog regularly (and well) the following things happen: The chances of your prospects finding you are significantly increased. Those that already know you are more engaged and very likely to be sharing your message. And every time you add extra content and develop your blog strategy you will be laying stronger foundations, creating value and building trust.

Don’t let your message drown in direct marketing without a firm foundation!

The very best thing about effective business blogging is that it really is so easy to do. All you need is a touch of discipline, a strong content strategy, and a clear process, to make it work smoothly. That way you can blow other marketing out of the water or even create a platform upon which your direct efforts are more likely to float.

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Category: Storytelling

It seems like the ‘in’ thing to talk about storytelling at the moment, and how powerful it can be as a communication tool. Well, enough of the theory, I am about to demonstrate one of the main reasons stories can have such an impact on your business message.

First I am going to tell you a story, and then I am going to ask you four questions. It is not the fact that you will probably only be able to answer two out of four questions that will surprise you… But rather an observation about the two questions that you will get right. Read on as I take you on a short journey to a far off land…

Once upon a time, in a land dominated by champions and divided by challenges; there lived a magnificent beast of extraordinary power, prowess, and potential. It was different from the other animals of that realm and carried within its heart an ancient heritage born from a charmed line.

This majestic, mystical animal spent its days soaring the harsh, rocky landscape below; seeking thermals to give it lift, clear skies to make the most of its pin-point, perfect vision, and food to maintain its strength. In flight it was a truly glorious creature; graceful, mighty, with speed in its wings, fire in its feathers and eyes set true and steadfast upon a prize of purest, brightest, richest gold… And it lived each day with a purpose born out of legacy and love.

Despite its attributes and heart, on this day it was simply a creature of humble, latent possibility. And while, when it spread its fabulous wings it could dominate any sky, overcome any obstacle and tackle any foe, its very survival was dependent one thing…

Now without re-reading the text (no cheating) answer the following four questions:

1. How did I describe the landscape?

2. Who dominated the land where the animal lived?

3. What sort of animal did the story describe?

4. Did the story describe a real-life or imaginary creature?

Unless you have something akin to a photographic memory, you probably won’t be able to answer the first two questions (I will give you the answers in a minute); but I reckon you’ll have a good shot at the second two.

The answers are as follows:

1. Harsh and Rocky

2. Champions

3. Bird (well done if you thought Phoenix)

4. Imaginary

So what is the point?

The interesting thing about this is that I never actually gave you any specific detail about the two questions you were able to answer – I merely implied them. Whereas the facts that I shared were easily lost in the noise. Powerful eh?

Stories are more memorable and share the power of your message far more than the facts… And, as a business, if you get your story right you will never need to tell people how great you are… they will just know!

Oh, and one more thing. I bet you are still wondering the one thing that the Phoenix’s survival depends on… Or can you guess?

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Category: Marketing

Almost every company I ever speak to tells me that they are different? Yet when I ask how they ‘think’ they differ most of them still come out with the same boring drivel as everyone else. They claim:

To give great service, have competitive pricing, provide reliability, deliver a great experience, offer value and blah, blah, blah. It’s so boring (to be frank off-putting) and totally unconvincing, that this approach even verges on the unattractive, misguided and disingenuous. There is, of course, a longer list of predictably abject claims that people make about their companies… but I don’t want to bore you with them now.

If everyone claims the same thing… isn’t ‘sameness’ what they are claiming to be?

Maybe your business genuinely does provide all of the things that everyone else claims. If so, that’s fine but is being the same as everyone else really what you want to portray. I want to know what makes you different! I can almost hear the tormented thoughts of some of you now suggesting that the difference is that you really do deliver these things while everyone else only ‘claims’ to. If you do think that, then you’ve totally missed my point.

You see, you only have two choices when it comes to differentiation: either be genuinely unique within your marketplace (this is very rare in any business today) or tell your story in an original and creative way. By all means, if you do have some exclusive, untouchable quality shout about it, but please try and see it from your customers’ point of view!

In other words, don’t be boring.

It isn’t what you do, it’s the way that you tell it… For example, instead of stating that you give great service (like all of your competitors are claiming) why not say something like ‘ask us why we have the happiest customers in Hertfordshire.’ And rather than talking about being really competitive, simply tell your prospects that your current customers get an average 317% return on every pound they spend with you. Or, if you sell products, tell them that 97.3% of your customers placed repeat orders last year, and then send them to your testimonials page to ‘find out why.’

All it takes is a little bit of creative thought and good communication skills (verbally or in writing). The easiest way for you to do this is to put yourself in your customers shoes (in their mind is better) for a moment. Then ask yourself (your customer) what it is that you actually want and what would make you choose one solution over another. Try and resist being prejudiced (because you already believe in you) but instead, be objective and seriously think about what would influence a neutral observer.

Give more than anyone else and you’ll get more in return!

I can tell you now that people are attracted to things like evidence, intrigue, challenge, value messages, special offers, testimonials, friendliness, personality and simply being different!

Don’t be afraid to give away valuable advice, free trials or discounts either… I promise you the more you come across as helpful and giving value, the more you will sell.

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Category: Storytelling

Just to be clear, I’m not questioning the death of SEO in my title. The ‘or is it?’ actually refers to whether it is sad news or happy. Because the end of SEO as we knew it is already a certainty. I'm pondering whether it is OK to be happy about a troublesome adversary approaching their expiry date. You see, I’m a bit of a purest (certainly not a technical-detail kind of guy) when it comes to marketing and have always dreamed of a time that Google would devise a way of ranking good stuff over well-optimised blah, blah, blah. Well, I believe that the day has finally arrived and I, for one, am happy.

Welcome to the world of Content Marketing.

The clever search engine optimisation algorithms do still exist in some format, and the use of keywords still does have an impact (only to a lesser degree) – but, just like the people that it is trying to serve, Google much prefers a good story. In actual fact, there is nothing new here because our entire civilisation has been built upon stories throughout the ages. And not only ours but every culture, every empire, and every person that ever lived has been massively influenced by the stories that surround them and went before them. In fact, today more people than ever choose to live their lives in dream-like stories of their own future and forget that the present day is where the work needs to be done. But that is another story… back to the present for now.

This new art (and I passionately believe it is far more worthy of that word than the seemingly dark art of SEO), which we call Content Marketing, is about engaging with, informing or even amusing your audience into taking action. It is about giving them useful information not selling to them, and providing them with valuable, interesting stories to build rapport, trust, and engagement. People love stories now more than ever, and we love to make important decisions based on our relationship with those stories. That is why content marketing is so important to today’s businesses.

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Stories sell, and they sell really well…

I am so excited by this shift towards beauty over optimisation and the art of telling stories defeating the mysterious, ever-changing, distinctly unharmonic tune of search engine optimisation.

Think about the last time you spent a reasonable amount of money on anything; a holiday, a car, a mobile phone, a laptop, a new sofa, a house or anything like that. Did you simply believe the advert, the supplier’s website or the sales guy? Did you really make an uninformed decision without first going to the internet and reading other people’s stories about the experience? Or perhaps you were initially influenced to buy through a raving review on your favourite social media site, which was then shared by a ‘friend’ of yours and backed up by several hundred others.

The fact is that stories sell and today this has never been truer. But Content Marketing does even more than tell stories. It is about you, as the expert, sharing good information, useful advice, meaningful and truthful critique, observation and unbiased comment. In short it establishes you as an expert voice with a story to share. It never sells your product or service directly, but it builds your credibility enormously. It is truly powerful stuff.

Get into Content Marketing today and get in touch if you want to know how it can help your business.

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Category: Storytelling

It was the French movie director, Jean-Luc Godard, who said, “Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” If this is true of complexity, I think that the same ‘problem and solution’ idea can be applied to commerciality, necessity or just plain boringness in the business world.

Let’s face it, most people have very little interest in the daily business life of other people, except for the fact that they might need the goods and services they provide. Does anyone really care what an accountant, lawyer or bank teller does, minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, each day? But we all need those sort of people from time to time. Likewise, if you have ever stood up to talk about your job at a networking meeting or been asked what you do by someone at a dinner party, it will not be long before you are met with glazed looks and the realisation that the question was simply a conversation starter… Unless of course you’ve translated it into a story!

(Unhappy comment reducing proviso) There are, of course, many people who have genuinely interesting jobs, but it is usually the story within what they do that highlights the fascination within them.

People buy people!

The idea that people buy people is not just relevant to those who work in sales. The fact is that we are, if not just as human beings then certainly in our Western culture, fascinated by the human angle. Our TV screens are littered by back-stories; we listen to songs that tell of heartbreak, love, belief and belonging; and nothing moves us more than a story of the little man making a difference in the big bad world.

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What makes a business story connect?

The obvious answer is to understand the customers that the business is trying to attract. What are their needs, fears, and desires? Do they have other options, priorities or prejudice? Is their motivation price, participation or purely need?

That is the obvious answer – but it is only a part of the right answer. You see, there are two sides to any story and it is the place where teller and hearer (service and customer) meet which is where the magic should happen. I tend to see two extremes with companies trying to connect with their customers.

On the one hand, it is ‘we this’ and ‘we that’ without even the slightest thought about what their customer might want. These companies believe in themselves completely and expect everyone else to believe as passionately – just because… Then there are the companies who identify that what customers want matters but they don’t understand themselves enough to find any common ground. These companies try hard and then resort back to fighting on price and ordinariness, just like everyone else.

And they all lived happily ever after!

The question they should ask is ‘why?’ The answer goes deep, far below the outward manifestation of the business, past price, good service, quality products or even USPs to the core of the business and ‘why’ it is there. Discover your company’s purpose. Uncover your customer’s need. Then tell the story of how the two meet, fall in love and go on a wonderful journey of discovery and mutual benefit together.

That is the power of a good business story! And it doesn’t matter if you are still trying to find yours because I think it was Jean-Luc Godard who also said, “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”

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Category: Storytelling

If all you want to do is write a business book, the statistics suggest that it is easy. After all, tens of thousands of people publish business books every single year. But, like actors, less than 5% of the growing multitude who claim the title of ‘author’ become celebrated, reviewed or held in high regard. The majority settle for being extras, shelf-decoration, mild claims-to-fame, or at best a lowly representation of a once glamorous dream.

You see, most business books today were never intended to be read. They were only ever designed to be a fancy business card or to justify placing ‘published author’ in a LinkedIn profile. Most business books are also-rans.

But what if someone of influence, a person whose opinion could impact a career, read one of these cheap books? What impression of its author’s true talent would they garner from its pages? Would they beckon that person to accompany them down a red carpet or to grace the silver screen?

Write a business book that your readers will read, reread and recommend

There are five key areas to consider when setting out to write an influential business book. Unsurprisingly, they mirror the basic stages of any marketing endeavour:

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1. WHO: work out the distinct identity of your perfect audience – then pinpoint the questions your readers would like answered and the value that they might want from your story
2. WHY: engage with your own heart and write down exactly why you want to write this book and what it means to you personally (do not underestimate the importance of this stage of the process)
3. WHAT: unpack all the expertise, stories (yours and others), evidence, wisdom, education and thought leadership that you want to share with your perfect audience
4. PLAN: create the story or structure that will connect what your readers want to know with the riches that you have to share with them – this is where your why meets theirs (see stage 2 above)
5. WRITE: break your plan down into small manageable chunks – parts, chapters, sections, and seeds – then design and commit to an achievable writing timetable – and stick to it

Three important notes on writing:

Style and why: your writing style should be flavoured by the reason that you want to write your book in the first place. That is the only way to make it reflect your personality and show that you are an authority in your field. Unless each page is laced with authenticity how will anyone know that you believe in what you are writing about and you know your audience? Connection is credibility!

Ability and syntax: I believe that everybody can write and those who worry that they can't do so under the shadow of red pen-marks from long-gone perfectionist English teachers. If you can think, feel, empathise or speak your mind, you can write a compelling story. This absolute truth is best described in words attributed to two of the greatest writers to ever handle a quill:

Ernest Hemingway penned the line, “writing is easy - all you do is open a vein and bleed.” I call this free-flow or think-to-ink. Whereas Mark Twain wrote, “writing is easy - all you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” You can think of this as editing – and the good news is that someone who knows the rules can do that for you.

Books and pamphlets: going back to my earlier observation about how a publication represents an author’s qualities, reputation or brand. Most business books are around 35,000 words in length, and that is generally what you will need to create a substantial book that will look the part on the shelf. There is nothing wrong with writing a shorter piece of work (and clear and concise is certainly a smarter strategy than filler and fluff) but calling a pamphlet a book might also create the wrong impression. There are ways to market shorter books well, and classics such as The One Minute Manager, Who Moved My Cheese and The Lazy Optimist demonstrate this perfectly. But, while you can’t always tell a book by its cover, rightly or wrongly, most people will make an assumption.

Why most business books are boring

If you are anything like me, you will have a shelf full of business books lining your office wall – most of which you have barely got halfway through reading. There is one reason why most business books are boring and are cast aside causing an unseemly dent in the credibility of the author. These books are poor in a variety of ways, but there is only one ‘reason’ they fail to deliver. They have no story or structure to create that genuine reader-author connection that all good books (of any genre) are built upon!

If you go back to the five key secrets to writing a business book that will capture your reader’s ears (as summarised earlier), there is one of them that holds the others together. The four ‘Ws’ are massively important (Who, Why, What and Write) but it is the ‘P’ which becomes the glue, the magic dust and the difference between dull or distinctive. If you do not have a Plan, specifically one which is designed around a story, you are in danger of writing another boring business book.

If you care whether people read your book and believe that its author is someone worth listening to, believing in, or paying a premium fee to answer their ‘whys’, you must have a story-based plan.

The perfect BookPlan

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People love stories. Whether they are verbal, written, visual or experienced first-hand (ironically the latter is often the least appealing) people love to get lost in a good story. And because a well-told story is such an emotive and engaging experience, it is when people are most open to learning, believing, connecting with and buying into the storyteller’s ideas or inspiration. The only way to truly get across your message is by telling it in stories.

All stories follow a framework or storyline. They have a beginning, an ending and a conclusion. They introduce you to their characters, plots, twists, turns, intrigue, romance, adventure, secrets, sadness and joy. And they should hold your hand and take you through their pages, as a friend or a fellow-traveller on a quest to see what delights you will find as you go.

Why should a business book be any different to a good story? Surely, if you want to share something of value with your readers, there is no better way? If you are in a position to be thinking about writing a business book, then I would have to assume that you are an expert in your subject – that you have been there and done that – well that sounds like the start of a good story to me.

Why are you writing a business book?

As I alluded to earlier. If you miss out the ‘why do you want to write a business book’ section of your planning, you are missing out on the key to turning your book into something worthy of your expertise. Your story should be flavoured by your connection with your material and the pain, sweat and years that you invested in getting to where you are today. If you don’t value that journey – no one else will. If you are not proud of what you have achieved – no one else will care either. And if you cannot tell your story with heart and soul – why would anyone else listen?

Your book plan should be the seamless fusion of the things that you want to teach and the reason that you are the right person to tell that story. Perhaps it might look a little bit like this:

  • Introduction: a summary of who you are, who the book is for, why it exists and what to expect from its pages
  • Chapter One: Things were different then… background to the subject matter (yours and/or generally)
  • Chapter Two: Challenges and champions… first experiences and early influences that shaped your story
  • Chapter Three: Foundation principles… a break from the narrative to establish your first key point
  • Chapter Four: What Google taught me… drop in your connection with a celebrity (business or person) story
  • Chapter Five: Learning while earning… go back to your story and your first big breakthrough
  • Chapter Six: If you do one thing today… expanding the big win from your story with practical advice
  • Chapter Seven: When plans go missing… lay your heart on the line here and describe a low point
  • Chapter Eight: Fighting back from the brink… the victorious conclusion of the previous chapter
  • Chapter Nine: This is your generation… prove to readers that following your strategy will work for them too
  • Chapter Ten: Seven steps to mastery… lay out a step-by-step plan that your readers can follow
  • Conclusion: the final challenge, invitation, summary or pulling together of all the loose ends

Clearly, the above structure would require fairly long chapters of around 3500 words each – and is just meant as an example of a story-driven plan. Generally, I would recommend a larger number of shorter chapters; as experience suggests that readers prefer to digest smaller chunks and the transition between stories and practical summaries or education is smoother. This style also gives you more opportunities to establish a pace and rhythm that might help generate the magical ‘just one more chapter’ response that every storyteller is looking for. (And ‘yes’ why wouldn’t you want that from a business book?)

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There are many other elements to writing your business book as a compelling story, some of which I will cover in other posts, but without the structure in place first, they are immaterial. Before leaving this part of this post, however, I would encourage you to study the chapter structure above once more. Compare its elements to some of your favourite adventure stories – a hero, a calling, outside help or mentors, struggles and doubts, overcoming, victories and the final triumphant return. Basic story elements and formula, like these, have won hearts for millennia and still hold the key to capturing them today. Add a little intrigue, a few surprises and a handful of magic dust, and you’ll have people queuing up for signed copies at your big red-carpet launch.

The alternative to writing your business book as a story

If you don’t agree with the storytelling model of writing a business book, as described above, then there is an alternative approach (although to be honest, if stories do not engage you, I’d be amazed if you’d even continued to read this far). The other way to write a business book is to imitate the textbooks that you were forced to read at school. That’s right – the ones overfilled with repetitive facts and figures that were designed to make you study hard and spend hours revising to even get a handle on what they mean.

If that is what you want to do, please go and reread the first of my key areas again – the one about ‘understanding what your reader wants’ before starting to plan your book. Because we all know how most successful entrepreneurs and business owners excelled at school and were rarely pulled aside for daydreaming about higher endeavours, don’t we? Go on, tell a story – give your audience what they want.

What are you waiting for? Make a plan and enjoy the journey.

Get in touch if you'd like to learn more about my next exclusive BookPlan day

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I Don’t Work Fridays

Jul 08, 2019
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I Don’t Work Fridays by Martin Norbury

While co-running a business mastermind group several years ago, one of the business owners in the room referred to me as her Scalability Coach. The term swirled around my head for several days and everyone I later mentioned the interaction to seemed to nod in agreement with her proclamation.

Shortly after that, someone else challenged me to write my story up into a business book – particularly the part about why I took the decision not to work on Fridays anymore. They suggested that it would be a powerful analogy of getting the balance right between work and life by making sure work functioned perfectly.

In a flash, I realised that the two ideas – reducing your hours and scaling your business – were beautifully linked together and the idea of writing a book began to grow. That is where the serendipitous beginning of writing my book became a little unstuck – because I realised that I didn’t know where to start nor had the experience to give it a go. As it happened, the person who I ran the mastermind group with had just published his second business book – which had been co-authored by Martin Gladdish. So, I gave Martin a call, and we arranged a meeting to discuss some options.

From BookPlan to first pages

As soon as we started to talk, I realised that Martin got it – he was able to capture the essence of the things I had learned throughout thirty years in business and back into my education and childhood. With Martin’s guidance and advice, we found a structure that could capture everything that I wanted to say about scaling a business while combining it with life events that represented those lessons.

Together we planned, scoped and designed the ebbs and flows of the style that we wanted to adopt. Then with the clear plan laid out before me, the first words made their way onto the page.

Hearts, minds and interviews

With a clear writing plan to follow and using detailed questioning and interviews, Martin coached me through the process of turning my experiences into a fully formed, publish-ready manuscript.

If you’ve read the book, you will be aware that there are some deeply poignant and personal events central to its telling, and Martin was pivotal in helping to find the balance for those hard-to-write pages. If you haven’t read it yet, and you are starting to wonder why I don’t work on Fridays, it is because of the story I just mentioned.

Working with Martin as a book coach made the challenge of writing my book easier and more of a pleasure. He brought clarity to the direction, sanity to my reason for doing it, and accountability to the process of getting the words onto paper.

69 reviews on Amazon 4.6 stars ▪ Amazon No. 1 Bestselling Business Book ▪ Book of the month on 5,200 global flights ▪ Over 3000 followers on social media

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Category: Storytelling

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Have you ever watched 'Would I Lie to You'? The show where celebrities are challenged to share stories with each other and separate tall tales from unlikely truths? It is hilarious and, aside from the spontaneous chemistry of the show's captains and host, it makes for a fascinating study into the human ability to weave wonderful yarns.

Now, I am not suggesting that I spot every single deception or rapidly conceived fallacy that is told, but I do tend to hit more than miss. Except for the extraordinarily rambling tales of the inimitable Bob Mortimer (where the more outrageous the story, the more likely its truth), there are always tells. Much like the ticks and traits of the poker player or the eye-flickers police interrogators are trained to spot – true stories ring true.

Proverbial, paradoxical or metaphor

Stories, however, do not have to be true to contain powerful truths. There never was a race between a tortoise and a hare; it is not possible to live the same day over and over again just so you can appreciate time, and almost every rags-to-riches story every told is economical with its details. But that is not the point. The story is simply the vehicle for delivering the truth within the message.

It is so important to understand this principle when telling your business stories.

Have you ever been to see a comedian perform or watched a set from Live at the Apollo and laughed yourself to tears? Then, felt mildly inadequate as the same material later falls flat from your voice? It's a little upsetting, isn't it? Then there was charming Uncle Pete from your childhood who always seemed to get the room in stitches just by showing up at a family event. Some people, by nature or decades of dedicated practice, seem to sell a story or weave a funny quip without too much ado.

You could even go as far as to say that the story itself doesn't matter all that much. As the late, great Frank Carson would say, "It's the way I tell em".

Truths to tell and services to sell

When telling your business story or stories, the biggest thing to remember is this: Do not try and sell. There is a time to sell your business' goods and services: It's called marketing or 'ironically' sales. But your stories purpose are to show people that you are for real. They must engage, create confidence and tell a truth. It doesn't necessarily have to be 'the' truth, but it must be 'a' truth – and trust me on this – your readers will be able to tell if it is a porky pie.

Just to be clear: Stories are powerful and must be founded on things that your customers will identify with. You cannot simply make up incidents, histories, or testimonials to over-represent you: even if you are as good as those stories say. But you can weave the facts into beautifully flowing narratives that bring your strengths to life. You are entirely within your rights to use metaphor, folklore or the lure of current affairs to connect situation with story and make your point.

Be truthful in all your business communications: but don't let that limit your use of imagination. That is the true power and potential of business storytelling.

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Go niche and see your audience increase

We all know that focusing on your niche is a smart idea, but most of us still can’t quite resist the temptation to shout about everything we do. It seems counter-intuitive, not to mention downright sc…
Aug 23, 2015
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