5 ways to use storytelling to grow your freelance business

Apr 06, 2021

Some years ago, my young family and I lived in Harlem.  One of the many things I loved about it were all the small businesses that dotted the brownstone lined streets. From the florist and cool hat shop to the bakeries and restaurants, every business invited you into a unique experience, culture, and story.

Serengeti Tea and Spices was a particular favorite of mine. The first time I wandered in, I encountered the owner, Doughba Caranda-Martin, behind the counter serving customers along with his staff. Caranda-Martin is blessed with a smile, stature, and presence that makes you lean in and stick around is also incredibly warm and chatty. As he made the tea he recommended for me (by now I was putty in his hands), he told me about why he opened his store, where the tea came from, about his botanist grandmother, and their process for making and storing small-batch tea. His story drew me in, and his excellent product kept me coming back.

A loyal fan and customer were born.

Here’s the exciting part: This method of intentional and authentic storytelling works for ANY business. The caveat – you need to work at it (sounding easy isn’t the same as being easy), you must tell a story that’s true, and you have to deliver the product or service your story promises.

When you have loyal fans and customers you have repeat business and income. You’ll see tangible, bottom line results. To sweeten the pot even more, stories shorten your sales cycle and help you close the sale more naturally and often.

Sold? Read on for 5 ways to use storytelling to grow your creative business.

1) Commit to it

OK, this one’s a biggie, because most of us have to learn how to share more of ourselves with intention. Overshare and you feel exposed, hold too much back and what’s the point. As an entrepreneur who built her first business being very much behind the scenes, putting myself front and center was challenging.  My tip is to go slow. Start by identifying and communicating your values. Introduce yourself as a real person (instead of trying to masquerade as a bigger, faceless business) and replace your boring bio with a compelling story (more on that in step 3).

2) Don’t gloss over the tough parts

There’s nothing more boring than the perfect person telling you the story of their perfect life. Snooze! Listen, every good story has some drama, and I bet if you looked back over your business and life, you’d see a relationship between adversity and big, life-changing leaps. Don’t skip the adversity piece; it doesn’t make you look inept or unqualified, it makes you look human (and other humans like that!).

3) Embrace the classic story arc

If you’re not already aware of the arc of every good story, get ready to have your mind blown by its simplicity:

  • You meet a likeable hero/protagonist (that’s you, BTW!)
  • The likeable hero meets a roadblock
  • The likeable hero surmounts the roadblock and emerges transformed

OK, now it’s time to dump the eye-glazing bio and use these steps to craft your compelling story. Note: writing your story isn’t easy. Keep at it, try different entry points, get a friend to read it. It’ll be worth the effort, I promise.

4) Align your journey and transformation with the outcome and results your clients or customers seek

This one’s important folks. You’re not just telling any story, you’re telling the story that helps your clients or customers see themselves in your journey. Why? Because that’s what builds trust and connection and helps people feel they know you before they even meet you. Make sure you’re clear on who your ideal clients are, where they want to be, and what challenges are in their way.

5) Invite others to tell their story

If all this personal story telling is making you feel a bit self-conscious, try turning the focus outward. Inviting clients, community members, or people you admire to share their story with you – either on your blog, podcast, or Instagram Live – is a great way to incorporate storytelling into your business AND amplify others.

Justine Clay

Justine Clay is a speaker and business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. Sign up for her free guide: How to Find High-Quality Clients and Get Paid What You’re Worth, above.