If you hang around with other business owners, you’ll find we’re careful about what we say to each other. You have to know someone very well before you’ll venture a comment like, “Isn’t he really all smoke and mirrors – a big fancy guru act but he’s really broke?” Or, “She talks a good game but she’s really living off her trust fund.”
That’s not always idle gossip. If you’re thinking about hiring someone for a four-figure coaching program, it’s helpful to know if they’re the Real Deal.
But today I’m going to share some serious advice about setting up your own brand. I’ll be polite and will only name the good names.
At some point, many people want to brand themselves as Role Models. That’s the story archetype with the promise, “If I can do it, you can too.”
A lot of so-called gurus will advise you to choose that message. The truth is, it’s very hard to pull off. Only a handful of people do this successfully. At best, the message will be irrelevant; at worst, you’ll annoy the audience members you most want to reach.”
The RIGHT way to do this is to say something like:
“When I started I didn’t know anything about marketing with funnels. So I hired a business coach and read everything I could get my hands on. I created a technique that I teach to people who could barely turn on their computer when they started.”
The WRONG way is to say,
“I was only a B student in college. My family wasn’t rich. I hustled my way into an acting job in my twenties. When I started my business, I only knew how to reach people and understand what motivated them.
“And here I am, withperfectly highlighted hair (not a trace of frizz) and a killer smile of white straight teeth (not everyone can get this no matter what your dentist says), rocking a pair of jeans and a t-shirt like a supermodel. If I can do it, you can do it.”
All I can say is, “You must be kidding.”
First of all, as a former college professor, I can tell you that lots of people who went on to get PhDs and teach weren’t straight-A students. One of my most successful colleagues couldn’t spell. He had to get an assistant to review his many well-published papers.
Being a B student who’s “from an ordinary family” hardly places you at a disadvantage. Companies often preferred to hire B-minus students.
If you were a cheerleader, sorority girl, or model, kudos to you! Martha Stewart worked as a model in college. But either you were incredibly lucky (someone saw you at a coffee shop and invited you to be on the cover of Vogue) or you knew how to work a system and tailor your looks and style to reach your goal. You understood how to appeal to tough-minded judges.
If you know you’re a knock-out, you can’t use a Role Model story. Set yourself up as a Celebrity, Educator, or Innovator. For a good example, check out Vanessa Horn’s website. She doesn’t come anywhere close to the Role Model Archetype: she’s an innovator or celebrity.
Growing up poor doesn’t help you much either. The vast majority of your audience won’t have experience with the welfare system, unless you’ve chosen to work with a non-profit that specializes in helping people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
By the time you’re earning enough to brag about your private air travel, $400 haircut and bi-level condo in Manhattan, your family history will no longer define you. What got you here won’t take you there.
Begin with your audience’s back story.
If you’re looking for some good examples of “If I can do it, you can do it,” check out some of Connie Green’s books. My favorite is her story of a road trip. She leads by example. Early in her trip she experienced severe leg pain. She could barely walk. Ignoring the advice of well-meaning doctors, she continued her journey. She doesn’t minimize the pain. She just models a way of responding.
Jon Morrow uses his background also. Jon became a quadriplegic following a horrible auto accident. Deciding he didn’t want to depend on the stingy survival offerings of the US government, he became an Internet guru and blogging expert. Today he earns enough to hire his own staff to care for him and treat him the way he wants to be treated.
Jon doesn’t say, “If I can do it, you can.” But he does show that he learned from his experiences. One of my favorite examples is Jon’s story of why he’s become such a successful persuaded. “I can’t do anything for myself. I have to persuade people to do things for me.”
Lorrie Morgan doesn’t say, “If I can you can.” But she relates her business motivation to her audience. One of her core stories is, “When the Columbine incident happened, I realized I wanted to be home with my two young sons. I didn’t want to work in an office. So I looked for ways I could support our family while I stayed home.”
Lorrie is now an internationally recognized copywriter and her young sons are now young men, working independently. And of course, working from home has become much more common. Lorrie’s story is particularly relevant for her business since her specialty involves designing marketing campaigns that will appeal to women. Her story communicates, “I understand what it’s like to be torn between being a mom and being a breadwinner.”
You don’t need to talk about your past suffering.
Focus instead on what inspires you, what you learned, and–most important–why your clients will benefit from learning about your experience.
Will you gain more credibility? Will they find it easier to approach you? Will they be more confident about taking the next steps or putting themselves in your hands?
Good stories start with strategy, not struggle. You can take it from there.
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