Using business storytelling to sell freelance services

Something about stories really pulls us in.

Whether it’s wisdom and ideas that have survived through centuries of retellings or modern-day blockbuster movies and political speeches – we’re surrounded by stories for a simple reason.

Stories are how we make sense of the world around us, and they are how we share and preserve knowledge.

Humans love stories because they allow us to understand and communicate complex ideas and concepts quickly. Our brains have evolved to memorise the information packaged in stories quickly and to help us to understand the meaning intuitively.

Whether it’s good vs evil of Harry Potter, the underdog cunning of David vs Goliath or the Epic of Gilgamesh (a story that has survived over 4,000 years), there is simply no better way to transfer a message than by using story.

So knowing how effective and how deeply ingrained in our brains storytelling is, why are we freelancers so dry when it comes to talking about ourselves and our businesses?

We all do it – someone asks what we do and we mumble something like ‘I do graphic design’ or ‘I do copywriting’. And the conversation ends right there.

There is no intrigue, interest or meat for the other party to get their conversational hooks into. There’s no drama, there’s no story.

So I want to talk about the value of using stories to spread the word about who you are and what you do, and how you can use storytelling to stand out from the competition and attract more clients and business.

Using business storytelling successfully

When it comes to using stories as a freelancer, I like to think of stories as little vessels of knowledge or information.

Think of one of the best-known stories in the world – the Trojan horse. This story tells of a great siege that was finally broken when Greek soldiers used their cunning to secretly enter the city of Troy while hidden within a wooden horse.

We all know this story and it’s used to immediately communicate the idea of tricking an enemy into lowering their defences and inviting you in.

We use the idea of a Trojan Horse to describe computer viruses, for example, which are usually downloaded by the user.

But we can think of stories as Trojan Horses of good intent. You can use stories to entertain and interest your audience. But a good story can also subtly carry your message into the head and heart of your listeners, and help your audience understand the ideas a little more easily.

Why does story matter so much?

As a freelancer, you have a lot of competition. So how do you get noticed when there are so many other people offering exactly the same services that you do?

Storytelling is one of the best ways to stand out from the competition and to put your business above the crowd.

If you understand storytelling and can tell a compelling story, you’re much more likely to be remembered, attract more interest, and be more successful when selling and pitching.

Always remember, people tend to be emotional when making buying decisions, and people want to work with people they like.

Even in a business setting, it’s true that clients will generally favour working with people they like and trust, than those who are objectively the most skilled. Stories are simply one of the best ways to build trust, engage the emotions of your clients and pass on the information and ideas that you want to.

So let’s look at how you can start to engage storytelling more effectively and strategically in your freelance business.

Define the problem you solve

To tell good stories, you need to know who you are speaking to in the first place.

Your stories and the way you tell them will be different, depending on who you are speaking to, and what their values are. So first we need to clearly define our audience.

I used to think that creating customer personas was a bit pointless and a waste of time. Not having them, however, meant that my old communications were very scattered. There was no focus.

So even if it feels a bit strange, commit to spending some time creating a fictional character, who represents the clients you want to work with. If you don’t know who you are speaking to, you won’t be able to create stories that resonate with them.

Think about a problem that they have that you can solve. Maybe their website doesn’t turn visitors into customers as it could, maybe they struggle to build authority in their industry… Whatever it is, your freelance services will be solving a specific problem for your clients, so think about what it is.

Break it down to its core component too. If your client needs your help to create 10 blogs, then chances are they actually want more organic web traffic so they can sell more products.

Understanding the problem your client has, will give you clarity on your role in helping them solve it.

Using story strategically

Once you’re feeling good about your defined audience, and you know what their problem is and how you can help them solve it, you can begin to develop your stories.

The issue at this point is that you understand the problem and how you could improve your client’s life – but they don’t. They have no context, to understand how you can help them, or even that they need help in many cases.

So the challenge becomes sharing this knowledge, in an effective way.

One of the best ways to do this, is to bring in storytelling.

As we’ve discussed, storytelling is so effective here, because it engages our interest – you can’t help but become emotionally invested and curious about a good story.

And if you’ve grabbed their attention, you’ve grabbed your best opportunity to convince them of the value you’re offering and how you can help them.

What makes a good story?

Let’s get a bit more practical and look at how you can start to think about bringing storytelling into your business communications.

The main components of a good story

A good, engaging story tends to have a few components to it.

Essentially there is the main character, who faces a problem. An obstacle that they need to overcome. Think of Frodo in Lord of the Rings. His life is disrupted by the knowledge he has to overcome an arduous journey to destroy the ring.

This brings us to the next element, and this one is interesting because it’s where you come into the story.

Most people make the mistake of thinking that they are the main character. But when you’re using storytelling for business, to sell your services, and serve your clients, you’re not. You actually play the role of the guide.

This mindset shift is critical because it helps you to keep everything relevant and interesting for your audience. It’s all about them.

So rather than being Frodo, you’re Gandalf. You’re the guide, a trusted figure of authority who provides the motivation and wisdom for the hero to make a positive change.

The guide helps the hero realise they have a problem and shows them the way to solve it. Your job is to show them the route to success, which comes with taking action and directly addressing a problem.

You will need to bring to life the consequences of ignoring the problem vividly, and also how life could be once the problem is overcome. Give them an idea of the happily ever after that awaits.

You can bring these elements into any kind of communication. When you’re writing your website copy, think about the framework and how you could use it to bring the reader into a story where they are the hero.

Show them that you understand and emphasise their problem. Illustrate the disaster they face if they don’t take action, and the way things can be if they do.

Of course, you have to be able to help them deliver the results, but this kind of storytelling can work in conversations, emails and social media posts.

Implementing business storytelling

While you can use the story in various ways, one of the key places I recommend thinking about the story and whether you’re using it effectively is when it comes to your website and your landing pages.

Attention spans are unbelievably transient online, and you have to have a good hook to make a website visitor spend their time reading what you have to say.

So the story is your best friend here.

→ What problem do you solve?

Use the framework we have discussed, which is inspired by Don Millar’s Marketing Made Simple and Storybrand ideas.

Firstly make it incredibly clear what the problem that you solve is. Boil it down to its essence in just a sentence or two. This will make it clear, and force you to understand it too.

I explain this more in-depth in my course Freelance Bootcamp, and you can watch that lesson for free here.

→ What’s at stake if they don’t do business with you?

You can then explain the problem that they are facing. Explain what’s at stake here for them if they don’t take action. Maybe it’s wasted money, wasted time or a failed experiment. To understand the value of the solution you offer, they have to understand what’s at stake.

Don’t go too far, but make sure they realise that there is a real problem to be solved here.

→ Happily ever after

Now it’s time to ride in on your white horse. Contrast the last section with the positives of working with you and resolving the issues. Show how their life can be.

At this point, you can begin to introduce yourself and show why you are the guide who should be trusted. Show that you understand the problem. Include testimonials from previous clients to demonstrate you have been able to solve similar problems for others.

Again don’t overdo it, less is more here.

→ Tell them what to do next

Now it’s time to send them on their journey. Give them a three-step plan for action, which reinforces the story.

So it could be:

  1. Enter your email below.
  2. We’ll set up a call
  3. You’ll start making more money from your shiny new website in just two weeks.

It doesn’t matter if the actual process has more steps to it, just boil it down to the key components, the three steps that matter.

Bringing it all together

Think about how you can bring stories into the ways that you communicate, and how you can get your meaning and ideas across to your audience more effectively by doing so.

Building on these kinds of stories is an excellent way to develop your branding, differentiate your services, and stand out from the crowd.

If you like this article, we have a feeling you will like these as well:

Building a simple freelance website that will get you more clients and more work
Freelancers’ Guide to Crafting the Perfect Elevator Pitch
The secret sauce of story: using story to get more clients and stand out from the competition

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