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Charity Impact Stories | Lessons learned

There are moments on my journey that stand out. Some for all the wrong reasons. Those ‘rookie errors’ that have held me back. The great ideas where the reality didn’t match the dream.

Then there are the moments that I recall that make me smile. There have been plenty of those and it’s those moments that I celebrate.

Interviewing Balgeis is one of those.

Dundee International Women’s Centre

Back in 2017, I’d been doing some work with Dundee International Women’s Centre to help them tell their stories. They’re a remarkable charity that supports women from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, to help them achieve their personal goals. Their ultimate goal is to engage, educate and empower women.

I delivered a storytelling workshop and as part of the project, I completed one real story for them. The team who would be tasked with telling more impact stories would observe the process. The idea being, I show them the end-to-end process so that they could become self-sufficient storytellers.

I’m pleased to say that’s what happened. As well as creating one story for them, I helped them edit their first story. They now have 6 impact stories on their site that share the inspiring stories of real women who have experienced real change through DIWC.

I’m proud of those women and the women that brought those stories to life. And, I’m excited to see the stories that they share in the future.

Balgeis

Interviewing Balgeis was an incredible experience. She was to be the subject of the story I created. I’d prepared a series of questions aimed initially at making her more comfortable. I wanted to build trust between us to put her at ease. That meant talking about subjects close to her heart. Her kids, and her talent as a baker and a cook.

It worked, and what followed was an incredibly honest and moving account of her life since leaving her homeland of Libya. As she recalled elements there were moments where I could see her battling the emotions of her story. Then, there were moments of triumph and hope where she grew taller in her seat.

At all times, what really struck me was just how humble she was. Here’s a woman who didn’t know English just a few years back that now teaches it to women who were just like she was – strangers in a strange land. There was pride, but it was very reserved. She downplayed every achievement. I was humbled by her story and by the unassuming way that she shared it.

Sitting in the car after the interview was completed, I felt drained and quite emotional. A remarkable woman, sharing a remarkable story. A life changed by Dundee International Women’s Centre. And, countless lives changed by Balgeis’s unwavering support.

The impact of creating an Impact Story

I learned valuable lessons from my time with Balgeis. I learned that the subjects of stories so often take their own stories for granted. Stories lived over a long period of time don’t feel as remarkable as they unquestionably are. Time seems to dilute their impact for the teller of the tale. Those that hear it though, experience something different.

I also learned that great stories need great interviews and that great interviews need great questions. Interviews also need to be flexible. Much of what made the story so powerful didn’t come from a pre-prepared question, it came from the unplanned follow-up question. In other words, I dug deeper into the answer I got.

It became less of an interview and more like a fascinating conversation with a stranger.

The final lesson I learned is that charities are sitting on a near endless supply of powerful stories that showcase the difference they make to the lives of others. Most of those stories go untold. Whether it’s raising awareness with future service users, securing funding or motivating your own team – the stories charities share can make a difference.

When I speak to my commercial clients, I often talk about the need to ‘get out of stealth mode’. The exact same can be said for charities.


You can read Balgeis’s story by clicking here. And, you can learn more about the remarkable work of Dundee International Women’s Centre by clicking here.

If you’re involved in a charity and want to bring your stories to life let me know. Whether you have a budget or not, I can give you the direction you need to start your impact storytelling journey.

Working With Waypoint

A year ago today, I announced that I was to become Ocius Digital’s Outsourced Marketing Director. It was a big moment for me. It represented the biggest single deal in the history of the business. More importantly, it meant I got the opportunity to continue working with the incredible team in Australia.

Just a few weeks after the agreement was struck, we completed a major project to rebrand the business from Ocius Digital to Waypoint. It was a huge decision for Dan to make, but ultimately it’s proven to be the right one. That kick-started what has been a great year for the team.

Of course, the highlight of my Waypoint year was having the opportunity to visit Australia for the first time. Getting the chance to reacquaint myself with Dan and Rhys, while at the same time meeting Mat, Neil and Luke for the first time was incredible. Video conferencing technology is brilliant, but there’s nothing quite like being together in real life. For one thing, it makes hugs possible.

The popular Xerocon 2018 ball pool. (Where I briefly lost my phone!)

I’m proud of the work we’ve achieved together. It hasn’t always been easy, time zones have at times proved challenging and I’ve felt a lot of responsibility to steer the marketing of Waypoint in the right direction. I’ve definitely made mistakes along the way, like any good story, there have been ups and downs.

We had a really productive ‘Work Together’ day in Melbourne at one of the three ‘WeWork’ offices in the city. We talked a lot about how we could work together more efficiently and about the huge opportunities open to the team. It was an opportunity to reflect on 2018 so far and start the process of planning for 2019.

The Waypoint posse getting the attention they deserve at Xerocon Brisbane.

That meeting laid the foundation for the development of Waypoint’s 2019 strategic marketing plan. I’ve been working on it over the last month and over the next two weeks, we’ll be working together to complete it. 2019 is going to be a massive year for Waypoint.

They’re an incredible business, driven by an incredible team of remarkable humans. They’re bloody good at what they do and in 2019, more lucky businesses are going to find that out first hand.

A slide from Xerocon 2018 that sums up my business philosophy.

Doing the right work with the right people is a business principle that drives me. When that happens, a business can be a thing of genuine joy. Waypoint is unquestionably a collection of the ‘right people’ and I’m ecstatic to say that I’ll be continuing to work with Dan, Mat, Rhys, Neil and Luke in 2019.

It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to build on what we’ve done together in 2018. It won’t be easy, but I’m committed to play my part in helping Waypoint have their best ever year. I’ve got no doubts that they’ll make it happen. There’s always a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but where Waypoint is concerned, I guess you could say, I have no worries.

The 8 Lego Duplo Bricks That Almost Killed My Business

8 defaced Lego Duplo bricks. 3 red. 3 yellow. 2 blue. Each has a single word written in my best ‘medical professional’ handwriting. My weapon of choice was a black Sharpie pen. This act of vandalism happened in late September 2016. I called it the Story Stack. It’s creation almost killed my business. Now, a little over two years later, it’s the thing I’m most proud of. Here, for the first time, is the story of The Story Stack.

I told a story

In June 2016, I found myself walking in a trance-like state up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. That morning I was to stand on stage in front of an audience of marketers and business owners. I was to give a ten-minute talk to around 130 people. I’d already had a talk ready to go. It was about the importance of storytelling in marketing. I spent weeks planning it. Then, with one week to go, I ditched it. Instead, I decided to tell a personal story.

The reason I made the shift was fear. Despite having over 20 years of marketing experience, I felt like a bit of a fraud. Marketing superstars including Mark Schaefer, Ann Handley, Amy Schmittauer and Bert Van Loon were delivering keynotes. They had a right to talk about marketing. I, on the other hand, did not. Telling a personal story at a marketing conference was, in hindsight, the right thing to do. At the time though, as beads of sweat raced down my back, it felt like a huge mistake.

Steve heard my story

Taking to the stage and living to tell the tale was my main goal. But, I found that sharing that story moved people and in some cases helped people. More importantly, it inspired someone to ask me for help. His name is Steve. We talked after the event, and the following week he became my first storytelling client.

I worked with Steve to help him tell his founder story. In Superhero Movies, they call it the ‘origin story’. The final story was a really strong, personal story, but there was something missing. It gnawed away at me for a while. Then I realised what it was. I’d helped Steve create one story, but I hadn’t left him with the ability to repeat the process.

The Self-Sufficient Storyteller

I realised then, that I didn’t just want to help people create one-off stories. I wanted people that I worked with to become self-sufficient storytellers. To do that would mean becoming an educator and not just a creator. I became obsessed with developing my own storytelling model. I spent a fortune on books. I watched videos online of people talking about storytelling. I consumed hours of TED Talks to see people tell their own stories.

One of the most influential books I read was Joseph Campbell’s, ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’. It’s a hard read, but it leads me to discover his concept of the Hero’s Journey. I started sketching out the first draft of my storytelling framework. The ‘stack’ concept came to me and I went in search of Lego Duplo. My boys were past the Duplo stage, but a search of the garage revealed a box of Duplo. One Sharpie pen later and I had the first physical version of The Story Stack.

The Rookie Error

I hit pause on the business to focus on turning The Story Stack model into an online course. I was blinded by the prospect of ‘passive income’ riches. This course was going to be the making of me. As it turned out, it was almost the breaking of me. It didn’t sell. In hindsight, it never had a CHANCE to sell because I didn’t have the audience.

Stopping initially to create the model and stopping again to create the online course meant I turned away a lot of business. So much so, that it put the future of the business in jeopardy.

Redemption | The First Workshop

I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been. Rule 101 of being a business is to ‘stay in business’. I was beginning to doubt the model. If I’m honest, I couldn’t bring myself to look at it. Then, on the 1st December 2016, an email arrived – the subject line read ‘Storytelling Workshop’. The email was from the Student Association at Abertay University, Dundee.

On Monday 23rd January 2017, I delivered the very first Story Stack workshop. I hardly slept at all the night before. I felt anxious, not only was I under the spotlight but so was the Story Stack model. I enjoyed delivering the session, It went well and the feedback was positive. I spent time that evening making notes to improve the delivery of the workshop.

Refine. Refine. Refine.

I’ve now had the opportunity to share the Story Stack Model on more than forty occasions. After each one, I reflect on what could make it better. It’s no longer about large changes, now, it’s all about small tweaks to make the experience even better the next time.

The most significant change was to ditch the presentation slides. Having no slides is so liberating. It’s created a much more engaging experience as a presenter, and, also for my workshop delegates. There’s more space for group work and conversations.

The future of the Story Stack

I’m proud of the Story Stack. It almost killed the business and stressed me out in the process, but the time I took out of the business to create it now looks like a great investment. My business is about more than the Story Stack, but it is, unquestionably the beating heart of what I do. It’s the difference between being a business that inspires people to tell stories and the business that helps people practically tell stories.

I’ll continue to teach The Story Stack model, and eventually, I’d love to see other people teaching it. To help that process I’m creating a card game version of my ‘Going to the movies’ workshop exercise. The Story Stack will also feature heavily in my first book, ‘The Client Story Playbook’ which I started writing this week. I’ll be sharing it with the World in April 2019.

One thing won’t change. During each storytelling workshop I deliver, the original 8 Lego Duplo bricks that started this whole journey will be with me.

The future of The Story Edge

Last week we started our fifth financial year in business. I usually use moments like this to reflect on the progress we’ve made. I could easily fill a blog post (or fifty) on my first four years in business, but that feels a bit self-indulgent. Instead, I want to use today and this post to share the vision for the future of The Story Edge.

The business I’m building isn’t the same as the business I started. When I started, I didn’t really know where I was going or what the hell I was doing. In short, I had no vision. OK, that’s not strictly true, the vision was one of survival. That was it. No great insight. No great master plan.

Now I do have a vision, and today, I’d like to share it.

The Story Edge Vision

We see a future where organisations communicate and grow through story. The stories they share with the World helps them attract more of their ideal clients. And, the stories they tell each other helps create engaged and successful teams.

Our ultimate vision is to see organisations build their success on a foundation of storytelling.

The Story Edge Mission

The Story Edge exists to change the way organisations communicate. We teach and inspire people to become confident storytellers. We give them the tools to sell products and services to their ideal clients. And, we give them the tools to sell ideas and new ways of thinking to their team, managers and partners.

The exact words of both our vision and the mission might change, but the intent won’t. We’re committed to this path.

Why story?

There are still a lot of people that have a knee-jerk reaction when they hear the word ‘storytelling’. They think it’s fluffy and irrelevant in the world of business today. We believe they’re wrong.

There’s scientific evidence that shows how our brains react to stories. And, there’s evidence that shows we remember stories much more than we do facts and figures.

In a noisy world, we believe stories endure. They cut through the noise and they build trust with potential new clients and with our own colleagues. They create commercial success and better places to work.

As well as building our business on storytelling, we’re also story evangelists. We want to influence change in how organisations see and use storytelling. Elevating story from ‘tactic’ to ‘strategy’ drives us.

What does that mean in practical terms?

The Focus

The mission we’ve shared won’t happen unless we focus on it. It’s about having intent. There are two core things that we need to do to make it happen.

  • Educate.
  • Create.

Educate

Teaching storytelling is the best way our little business can make a big difference. Creating an army of self-sufficient storytellers is only possible by being a business that has education at its heart. This is about teaching all aspects of storytelling. It’s about finding the stories to tell, crafting them and then making sure they are shared with the right people in the right way.

Education @ The Story Edge

Here are the story education services we offer:

  • Communicating with stories (Half-day Organisational Storytelling Workshop)
  • Selling with stories (Half-day Client Story Marketing Workshop)
  • Story Intensive (1 to 3-day Customised Story Programme)

Create

Crafting and telling your own stories is absolutely the best approach to storytelling for you and your organisation. You’ve lived the stories, so you’re best placed to tell them. There’s one specific type of story where having a degree of independence can help though. That’s the creation of client stories. It’s the only pure writing service that we deliver.

Creation @ The Story Edge

Here are the story creation services we offer:

  • Client Story Writing
  • Client Story Script Writing (Video & Comic)

Have you noticed something?

The observant among you will have noticed something. In my posts to-date it’s always been ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘I’ – but in this post, apart from the opening paragraph, it’s been very much ‘we’.

This business and the mission we’re on is bigger than one person. It’s time to bring in reinforcements. This year that will mean working with freelance writers and communications specialists that we’re calling ‘Story Associates’. 

The first of those, is Evin O’Keeffe, a very talented American who calls Cork, Ireland, home. Evin met Kevin (yes we know!) way back in 2015. We’ve kept in touch and while Evin worked for software company Teamwork as a Content Writer, we had the opportunity to train her on our client story method.

It means she’s the ideal first Story Associate for The Story Edge.

OK, yes, the real reason is that ‘Kevin and Evin’ sounded too good to be true!!!

We’re thrilled to be working with Evin. She’s going to be helping initially with some content writing but the plan is that she’ll create client stories and deliver workshops.

This is a pretty big deal. This business started being about one person. I was, and to a certain extent still am, petrified at the prospect of managing and supporting a team of people. I know this business can make a big impact, but I also know, more than ever, that I can’t do that on my own.

Crystal Ball Time

We’re focused on the next 12 months, but it’s fair to say we’re looking beyond that. Eventually, we’re going to have a team of Story Associates who will help deliver workshops across the galaxy. Yeah, you read that right, we’re going interplanetary! Makes sense that we start with Earth – one step at a time and all that.

We’ll look to cement what we do in the UK first, but the ambition is absolutely to grow this overseas, and with Evin being based in Ireland, that will likely be the best place to start.

We’d like your help

We shared a blog post where I said ‘if you’re bloody good at what you do, it’s time to put your hand up’. This is us putting our collective hand up. After delivering over 25 Storytelling Workshops and, making improvements after each, we know that they’re bloody good. For the next three months, our business development efforts are going to be focused on promoting our half-day storytelling workshops. They’re for teams of up to 20 people.

We’re looking to deliver these workshops to:

  • Organisations that want to improve how they communicate as a team.
  • Businesses who want to learn to tell their client success stories. (AKA Case Studies)

If you know any organisations that fit the bill, we’d be really grateful if you could share this post with them or make a personal introduction.

Luck, Grit, Resilience

Getting to four years is something we’re proud of. The support from family, friends, clients and partners has been incredible. Many of you have followed The Story Edge story since day one. Like any story, it’s had its highs and lows. Luck has played a huge part, but having the grit to stick it out and the resilience to bounce back from the setbacks have helped. We’re grateful to everyone who has supported us.

Our story continues.

Client Story Inspiration for Web Designers & Developers

I’ve worked with and for a number of web development & design businesses over the years. Some big, some small. Some good, some bad. If you fall into the ‘good’ camp, you’ll more than likely have lots of clients that provide really positive testimonials for you. Some of you might have case studies or client stories that share more detail of your work with your clients.

This is the second of my ‘Stories To Tell’ series. The aim is to give web developers, web designers and anyone involved in the creation of awesome websites some story inspiration. I’ll share 5 different client story ideas for you to help build trust, get the attention you deserve and ultimately drive more of the right sales.

Why Bother With Stories

In terms of business purchases, buying a website is hard. As an industry, web development is still very young. In most cases, buyers aren’t experienced or knowledgeable. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know. Unfortunately, what that means is that the industry is rife with absolute chancers.

For legal reasons, I’ll avoid naming and shaming, but I’ve come across my fair share of web development gurus/ninjas/experts who take advantage of their buyers lack of knowledge. For me, there are two types of web development company – those that are in the business of selling sites and those that are in the business of making a difference to their clients.

If you’re the latter, read on. If you’re in it for a ‘quick buck’ go away – this post isn’t for you.

Client Story Inspiration for web professionals

Success Stories | By The Numbers

One of the advantages of the old internetwebdotcom thing is that it’s measurable. Using Google Analytics or any number of tools can give you a really powerful story to tell your clients. If they’ve got an existing website, make sure you get a benchmark of their current traffic. That way, you can show a genuine ‘before and after’.

If you’re offering paid for advertising or SEO services you can apply the same logic. Show the difference in cold, hard numbers. A word of warning though, use the numbers that make sense, keep it simple and make the data as accessible as you can.

Success Stories | Real Results

Proving the success with numbers is only part of the story. Yes, a very important part, but what the client wants isn’t traffic, they want business. That’s the metric that really matters. Being able to tell the story of the change that the website has had on their business is really powerful.

Tell the story of how many more enquiries have been generated and of how many sales have been made. If the clients willing, talk real numbers or percentages.

‘We grew our sales by £500,000 in 3 months’

is much better than –

‘Sales are up’.

But rather than talking in general terms get your client to share a specific story of a sale to their client. In other words, explain the role the site played on their buying journey.

Success Stories | The Feels

Don’t underestimate the fact that people buy emotionally. Us humans are irrational beasts. Sometimes logic goes out the window. I’ve worked with people who have had a disastrous experience with a previous web development company. The ‘once bitten, twice shy’ mentality kicks in and makes them a more cautious buyer in the future.

Telling the story of someone who’s had a website nightmare in the past and how different their experience was with you can make all the difference. What you’re looking for is recognition from your prospective client that you’ve helped people just like them.

Process Stories

Trust is a massive thing, especially if, as mentioned above, your prospective client has had a bad experience in the past. Naturally, they’ll be on the cynical side of the street. Sharing your success stories will help, but illustrating the way you work can pay even greater dividends.

In other words, giving them the knowledge of HOW you achieve successful outcomes for your clients can let them know what to expect. If you’ve got your own process or workflow, tell a real story of it in action. Sharing the steps on its own is good, but you’ll make it easier to digest if you wrap it around a real story.

Training & Support Stories

Getting a website live is often considered the end of the story for some web design businesses. The good ones know that it’s just the start. If your aim is to let your clients manage their site through a Content Management System (CMS), like WordPress or Squarespace, training and support is vital. The best web professionals I know spend a lot of time helping their clients become self-sufficient.

So tell the stories of the training you provide and the support services you deliver to make sure people understand you’ll not abandon them in their hour of need. Get as specific as possible.

Using Your Client Stories

Creating a bank of stories is a smart move. The idea is that you can serve up the right story at the right time. Don’t just have them on your site, make them part of your entire sales process. Your client stories can show how you’re different from your competitors. It can also illustrate above all else that you’re in the business of helping their business thrive. In other words – you’re not selling a website, you’re selling a real solution to a very real business problem.

And, if you’ve already got stories, great – you’ll find some ideas on how to get the most value out of them in my 5 Ways To Make Your Client Stories Fly, blog post.

If you’ve got any specific questions or examples of your own case studies or client stories leave a comment or send us a message.

5 Ways To Make Your Client Stories Fly

Please don’t judge me, but I love a sporting cliche. Here goes… when it comes to your client stories, it really is a ‘game of two halves’. The first half is creation. The second is distribution.

Too often, the investment in case studies and client stories is wasted because they’re treated just like any other piece of content. Businesses add them to their website and leave them to die a lingering death. If that sounds like you, you’re wasting your time and money. To get the real value from your stories and turn them from a cost to an investment, you need to do more with them.

If you’ve got a written client story, here are some suggestions to make the most of your efforts and to make it fly. 

1. Create a video version

Every year seems to be the ‘year of video’, but there’s no denying the power of video, so it’s definitely something to consider. When it comes to video, there are a lot of options to consider. You don’t need to have a huge budget, and, yes, you can do it yourself. Of course, if you have a budget to bring in a videographer, then that’s definitely the way to go.

You could interview your subject and tell the story in their own words. You could even do a short animation version. Don’t simply replicate the written version though, look to draw out the core elements. Keep the video version short and snappy.

2. Add it to a presentation/slide deck

Depending on your business, you might have a sales deck or presentation that you use as part of your sales process. If so, create a slide or two for the most relevant stories you want to tell. Make them high-level versions of the full case study. Stick to the core facts. Think of it as a trailer for the main movie.

When you illustrate a feature, function or some detail in your presentation look for opportunities to cement the point your making by adding a real-world story example. It’s a great way of bringing things to life. And, if you don’t have a presentation deck, create one that’s built entirely around your client stories.

3. Conversational Stories

Stories are more powerful when they’re told verbally. Get to know your stories so well that you can rattle them off at any time. The telling of the tale might be different each time and that’s OK, as long as the important elements are in place. Who was the client, what was their problem, what did you do and how was their situation changed as a result of working with you.

Having a bank of different stories up your sleeve gives you the opportunity to present the right story at the right time. Listen carefully and the person you’re having a conversation with will give you signals of exactly what is the right story for them.

4. Audio Version – Podcast of your stories

The idea of starting your own podcast might seem out of reach, but thanks to technology it’s never been easier or cheaper to create your very own radio show. You could create a ‘conversations with series’ where you interview your clients. Or, you can keep it simple and tell a short version of your work with a client in your own words.

And, even if the idea of starting your own podcast is daunting, there is another way. Seek out people within your industry that have a podcast and offer yourself up as a guest on their show. They have the audience, you have the charisma and some awesome stories to tell, it’s a great combination.

5. PDF Version

Creating a professional looking PDF version can serve many purposes. You can leave it with a prospective client, email it out or have it on your stand at a trade show. Creating a nicely designed version also helps make even the longest case study more readable. Hire someone to do it or use a tool like Canva.com if you want to do your own.

Personally, I like the idea of having the PDF as the short summary that invites more questions and follow-up. What you’re looking for from these is another human asking you to ‘tell me more about that.’

A reminder, you’re not everyone

If you’re like most people, you’ll have already dismissed some of the suggestions above. Don’t worry, I’m not offended, it’s human nature. But don’t let your own personal preferences cloud your decision-making process. In other words, remember – you’re not everyone. Have an appreciation that everyone has their own content preferences, some prefer video, some like to read, others like to listen.

In an ideal world, we’d do everything. That way, our client stories have the best chance of being consumed by more people. That can feel overwhelming, so make a judgement based on your knowledge of your industry and your customers to start with one of the ideas I’ve shared. Which one is right for your customers? Start there.

Creating a story culture

I’ve shared five ways for you to reuse your client stories, hopefully, it’s sparked some ideas for you. Here’s what I really want, I want you to embed stories into the culture of your business. I want you to see them less as a ‘thing we have’ and more as a ‘way we communicate’.

Your stories can be your greatest assets but simply throwing them up on your site isn’t enough. Work them hard, get them out there and make sure that you spend as much effort sharing them as you did creating them.

Story inspiration for Accountants & Bookkeepers

This is the first in a new series of blog posts I’m going to be sharing. I want to provide some story inspiration for different industries and sectors. In each one, I’ll share different story types that I’d consider telling if I was involved in that specific business.

First up, it’s the Accountancy and Bookkeeping world.

My Xero Story

In 2015, I started working with my first ever cloud integrator. He’s a lovely chap called Jonathan. He was and still is, a massive advocate of the Xero cloud accounting platform. I was already a client of Xero, so I at least had some context as to what Jonathan did. Three years on and I’ve now worked with four different accountants as well as Waypoint, an Australian based cloud integrator.

In the process, I’ve got to know a lot about Xero and the accountancy & bookkeeping industries. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve got an appreciation of the changing nature of what they do and the value they deliver. I’ve attended a Xero Roadshow, Xerocon London and earlier this year, Xerocon Brisbane. Each event has given me the opportunity to meet a host of accountants, bookkeepers, representatives from Xero and app vendors. With each conversation, I’ve learned more.

case study advice for accountants and bookkeepers

The Great Compliance & Advisory Debate

One central conversation that goes beyond the Xero ecosystem is the very nature of the accountancy profession. It’s a complicated one. In one corner we have those that believe the more traditional compliance role of accountants is enough. Lodging of accounts, tax returns and payroll – that sort of stuff.

In the other corner are those that believe the future of the industry lies in offering advisory services to their clients. They see themselves offering a broader range of advice to support their clients. Some of those might still be financially related (personal tax planning, investment, insurance etc.) but it could also include business consultancy.

And, of course, there are those that sit in the middle.

I’ve heard arguments from both sides. As an outsider looking in, it’s fascinating to see the debate rage on.

For their part, Xero has recently created opportunities for accountants and bookkeepers to help their clients identify and implement the right apps for their business. App Advisory, as they call it, was a big focus at Xerocon 2018 in Brisbane.

What’s clear, is that ‘advisory’ means different things to different people.

Stories to tell

Regardless of the nature of your own practice, I believe sharing your client success stories can make a massive difference to your business. If I ran my own accountancy or bookkeeping business these are some of the stories I’d be looking to tell.

Migration Stories

Accountants and bookkeepers are a decent bunch. The notion of poaching business from a competitor isn’t one that sits well. But, for whatever reason, from time-to-time clients move between one accountant and another. Like moving banks or utility providers, moving accountants can be a chore. Tell the story of how easy you make the switch.

Cloud Stories

Not every client is sold on the idea of ‘cloud accounting’ some are frankly terrified. Put their mind at ease by telling them a story of someone who was just like them. Someone who was scared and reluctant to make the change. Tell them how that person came through it, overcame their fears and reaped the rewards.

Compliance Stories

Not every accountant does ‘compliance’ in the same way. How you do it and the processes you use can be a real differentiator. Rather than simply tell them what you do, make your approach to compliance come alive by telling the story of an experience your client had.

Bookkeeping Stories

Whether you’re a bookkeeper or an accountant that offers bookkeeping services these stories are some of the easiest and most compelling to tell. Being able to show how outsourcing their bookkeeping gives your clients peace of mind and more importantly frees up their time can be really powerful. Make them even more powerful by sharing what they do with the time they’ve won back. (Spend more time with family, make more sales call, work on the strategy etc. etc.)

Advisory Stories

We’ve already highlighted the fact that advisory means different things to different practices. Whatever it means to you, telling your advisory stories can make it easier for potential clients to understand the value your advice can bring to them. It can be a great way of attracting new clients or selling your advisory offering to your current clients.

App Advisory Stories

Maybe you’re already sold on the idea of App Advisory. Maybe that’s the future of your particular practice. If it is then there are two approaches I’d suggest. First is to tell the story of a broader client project that involved multiple apps. This is as much about your approach to delivering app advisory as it is to the specific apps. The second approach is to illustrate the power of specific apps with dedicated client stories where the focus is much narrower.

Making the most of your stories

Each story should be about change. Regardless of the type of narrative you share, it needs to be a human story that shares a journey that your clients have been on. Make them real. Have the confidence to talk about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them.

Start with one story. Look at the types of story I’ve suggested above. Make a shortlist for each and then pick the one that feels right for you now. Then write it. Add it as a blog on your site. Share it socially. But don’t stop there.

Once it’s written make sure you get it out there. Could you create a video version of it? Could you add it as a slide in an existing presentation? Would turning it into a two-page PDF help your sales process? Or, and this is the real test, can you verbally deliver it when the time is right?

Trust is a pretty big deal in the accountancy and bookkeeping world. Use these stories to give your prospective clients the confidence to say ‘yes’.

I’d love to see you sharing your client stories and case studies. If you’ve got any questions about creating them for your practice, leave a comment or send me a message by visiting my contact page. 

Are you bloody good at what you do?

Preparing for an industry trade show is hard enough at the best of times. It’s even harder when it’s on the other side of the World. I felt anxious because the event wasn’t for my business, it was for one of my clients. The client was Waypoint and the event was Xerocon.

It was a big deal for them. After years of attending Xerocon, the 2018 event in Brisbane would mark a milestone for Dan and his team. It would be the first time they’d exhibited at the showpiece event.

This isn’t the story of that event. It’s the story of one slide. And, more specifically it’s the story of eight words and what those words represent, not just for Waypoint, but for your business as well.

Event Stand Eye Candy

The slide in question was to be part of a rolling slideshow that would be displayed on a TV at Waypoint’s stand. The screen would be the centrepiece of our small part of Xerocon 2018. It had to look good, so the talents of Rhys from the Waypoint team were employed to bring the vision to life. As well as looking great, it also had to contain the right content and messaging. I created the initial flow of the deck and together, Rhys and I tightened it to make it as strong as it could be.

Here’s the slide in question.

The slide from the Waypoint Xerocon 2018 rolling slideshow.

“We are bloody good at what we do.”

In isolation, that could come across as arrogant, but, as with much in life, context is everything.

Confidence, not arrogance

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. It’s something I say all the time. But where did these eight words come from? And who uttered them first? The truth is, that initially, it was one of the Waypoint team that uttered the words. We were on one of our regular video conference calls. The words came from Mat. “Do you know what, we’re bloody good at what we do Kev.”

When he said it didn’t feel like arrogance. He was earnest, passionate and above all confident. It wasn’t a throwaway line. It wasn’t glib. And, more importantly, it wasn’t baseless. It’s based on his experience of working with the team and on years of working in the software industry.

My word is my bond

Of course, if you haven’t personally experienced working with Waypoint or any business for that matter, such claims can be met with cynicism and disbelief. “Says who? The person that works for them, of course, he’d say that.” isn’t an unreasonable thought to have.

Claims and statements like this need to be backed up. They need a supporting cast. In Waypoint’s case, that supporting cast was many and varied. We peppered them throughout the rolling slideshow. Here’s the different supporting cast that we included.

  • A testimonial from Xero. (The host of the event.)
  • A testimonial from Dear. (A key vendor partner.)
  • A testimonial from Accelo. (A key vendor partner.)
  • 3 testimonials from clients.
  • 4 client stories.

Together they back up Mat’s claim. They act as the proof that he’s not just being boastful or braggadocious. They basically say “Waypoint are bloody good at what they do.” in their own way.

Are you bloody good at what you do?

If you’re bloody good at what you do, you need to start telling people. Think of it this way, if you’re not confident in yourself, why should anyone else have confidence in you? I’ve been guilty of being overly humble and at times self-effacing. In short, I’ve had a tendency to be very ‘British’ about things. And I don’t think I’m alone.

I realise that the whole concept of ‘Britishness’ is somewhat controversial right now, but I’m talking here specifically about the almost apologetic nature of how we present ourselves. Whether we’re Irish, Scottish, Welsh or English, we seem to worry more about what people will think of us if we show the merest sign of confidence in ourselves.

I think we need to change gears. I think if we’re genuinely good at what we do, it’s time to put our hand up and say –

‘Hello, over here, if you want ENTER SERVICE HERE, we’re rather ruddy marvellous at it, but don’t take our word for it.’

It’s time. I truly believe that.

We owe it to them

Right now there are people out there that you can help. They have a problem that you can bloody brilliantly solve. You can change their business for the better. In doing so, you can change people’s lives. I know, I know – I went there. Might sound a bit much, but I believe it, I really do.

It might be the life of the business owner, meaning she can sleep easier at night knowing her biggest problem is finally taken care of. Or, it might be a member of the team who can now perform a task in a fraction of the time thanks to something you’ve implemented.

In both these scenarios, you’ve made a difference and an impact. Don’t you want more of that? I know I do.

Having confidence in ourselves and backing up that confidence with the stories of the work we do will help the right people find you. You’ll do more of the work you’re meant to do with the people you can best help.

It’s time to put your hand up

I want you to do what Waypoint did. I want you to put your hand up and let people know that you can help them. I want you to find your own supporting cast so that your new found confidence doesn’t stand alone. It starts with one story. What story can you tell today that will showcase what you do and the results your clients can expect? You’ll probably have a lot, but keep it simple. Start with one. Focus on telling that.

And, if you need any help, this is me putting my hand up. Bringing stories to life is what I’m bloody good at.

10 Lessons From 100 Days As An Outsourced Marketing Director

I’ve been working as an Outsourced Marketing Director (OMD) for a little over 100 days now. It’s been challenging, it’s been productive, and, without question, it’s been the most personally rewarding period of my professional career. It turns out that the basic principle of working deeper with fewer clients actually works.

I’ve focused my time on delivering for my first two OMD clients and, while doing so I’ve been developing new processes and workflows to make sure we’re as efficient as we can be. That’s been particularly important when working with the Waypoint crew in Melbourne. The time zones make things interesting, but by being smart, we can make that work to our advantage.

To cement the whole working smarter thing, I shared a 30-page document which, originally enough, I called the ‘Working Smarter’ plan. That plan isn’t just for the gang in Australia, it’s just as important for Tim, Kate and Chirag at Know You More. The whole OMD concept is only as good as my ability to deliver for my clients. That was an important lesson for me.

And, that’s just one lesson, the truth is that working with Waypoint and Know You More as their outsourced marketing director has taught me a lot. I’d like to share what I’ve learned.

[thrive_headline_focus title=”Outsourced Marketing Director Lessons” orientation=”left”]

Lesson 1 – Working Deeper Works

Being a longer term, partner means I get to know what makes a business tick. Which means I’m better placed to put my feet in their shoes and share ideas that can move them forward.

Lesson 2 – Process & Workflows are essential

I’m turning into a boring old sod! Every task I do for my own business and my clients I end up asking myself the question ‘is there a better way of doing this?’ The answer is usually yes, followed by ‘oooo let’s create a new workflow’. Yeah, I know, I’ve changed, haven’t I?

Lesson 3 – Not just marketing

Throughout my career I’ve criss-crossed the world of marketing and sales. The result is that marketing has always been grounded in commercial reality. As a result much of my work with my OMD clients includes a business development and sales dimension.

Lesson 4 – My job is to direct and challenge

It’s never been clearer to me that what I bring to the party is the ability to direct my clients to make the smartest marketing and business development decisions possible. And, yes, that means at times we challenge each other and disagree. That is healthy and positive.

Lesson 5 – I LOVE problems

I didn’t realise it before now, but I love it when Dan or Tim throw a problem at me. I enjoy the thinking process and mental challenge of generating new ideas.

Lesson 6 – Implementation is EVERYTHING

Ideas are great, but it’s the planning and then the DOING that really counts. I can share the best marketing strategies in the world, but they’ll mean nothing if Waypoint and Know You More can’t implement them.

Lesson 7 – Refine, refine and refine some more

Being flexible and having the courage to make changes is OK. Here’s a perfect example. When I launched my OMD service the idea was to have a monthly strategy call then a mid-month review. It didn’t work. We switched to shorter weekly meetings which are working really well.

Lesson 8 – Banter Is Underrated

The byproduct of working in this way is that I become a genuine part of the team. I’ve really missed that feeling of being a part of something bigger. Of all the lessons that I’ve learned so far this is the greatest. I want to work with people that are OK with me being me. Actually, no, it’s more than that. I NEED to work with people who like me and trust me to help them.

Can’t wait to meet the Waypoint team in Melbourne later this year.

I can’t decide whether it’s an age thing or just a realisation, but here’s the bottom line – I only want to work with people who are ambitious, want to grow and despite how serious that all sounds, want to have fun doing so. I can only support between 4 and 6 outsourced marketing director clients, so it stands to reason that I want those people to be my kind of people.

Lesson 9 – Confidence

This doesn’t come naturally to me. And, yes, to some, it will sound arrogant. Here goes. I’m really good at this marketing shit. There I said it. Moving on.

Lesson 10 – OMG I’m ALL-IN with OMD

The final lesson is that when you find the work you love, you naturally want to do more of it. I’m no different. I can do lots of different things, but this is the work I’m meant to do. I’m putting all my business development eggs in one basket. The future of my business is to work with more clients as their outsourced marketing director.

[thrive_headline_focus title=”Who I want to work with” orientation=”left”]

There’s no shortage of businesses out there that I can help, but I can only work with a maximum of 6. That means working with the right people becomes so important. The right people will be in the business of selling professional services to other businesses. They’ll be small with ambitions to be big.

And, most importantly they’ll have a real desire to use marketing strategically to drive that growth. They’ll also be looking for a long term relationship, rather than a one-night-stand. And, they’ll also have a budget of at least £1,000 per month to invest.

Here are some specific examples of the types of businesses I’m looking to work with.

  1. A UK based, modern accountancy practice that spends a lot of time in the Xero cloud accounting world and sees growth coming from business advisory services.
  2. An Australian version of the above.
  3. An IT services business (MSP).
  4. A software as a service business (SAAS).
  5. A Xero add-on application partner.
  6. A marketing software company. (Marketing Automation, CRM etc.)
  7. A creative or digital marketing agency.

If you’re reading this and want to find out more about my Outsourced Marketing Director service, the best way to move things forward is to have a conversation. You can book an initial discovery call by visiting  https://calendly.com/thestoryedge/discovery-call

The beginners guide to mission statements.

What is a mission statement?

A mission statement is fundamentally the basis of a company. It is a summary detailing the core purpose, aims and values of an organisation and highlights specifically what kind of product or service it provides, the primary market and if appropriate, it’s geographical region of operation. A mission Statement usually remains unchanged as it contains only the basic fundamentals of the company, however if a company expands or if they become more successful their mission statement might change.

It might become shorter, or their goal may differ slightly than what it was at the beginning if so it is important to keep your mission statement updated. They are extremely useful in keeping a business on track as they communicate a sense of intended direction. This is important because sometimes organisations can get lost in the process of making their company successful, mission statements remind them what they are there to do and what they want to achieve.

And here’s Kev’s thoughts

A mission statement is all about sharing why you do what you do. It’s an opportunity to show your passion for the work that you deliver and, particularly, for the people you serve. For me, a mission statement sets the tone of your organisation and gives you a sense of purpose and direction.

 

Why are mission statements important?

They give the company a clear path to follow. It reminds themselves why they built the company and what it planned to achieve. It is important to stay on task, but sometimes people can get caught up in all the fundamentals of a business they start to steer from their main objective which is where a mission statement comes in.

Three business mission statement examples 

  • Amazon – It’s our goal to be earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
  • ASOS – To become the number 1 fashion destination for 20-somethings globally.
  • PayPal – To build the Web’s most convenient, secure, cost-effective payment solution.

Three charity mission statement examples

  • Oxfam – Our vision is a just world without poverty.
  • Unicef – Working to make the world better for children.
  • Charity water – Our mission, charity water is a non profit organisation bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

Whilst researching mission statements I came across a number of really good examples to share with you, however, with the good comes the bad, so here are a few examples of mission statements I found to be especially terrible. This will hopefully advise you on what not to do when writing mission statements.

Three bad mission statement examples

  • Avon – Avon’s mission is focused on six core aspirations the company continually strives to achieve, […]
  • McDonlad’s – McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favourite place and way to eat and drink, Our worldwide operations are aligned around a global strategy called the Plan to Win, which centre on an exceptional customer experience–People, Products, Place, Price and Promotion.
  • Barnes and Noble – To operate the best omni-channel specialty retail business in America, helping both our customers and booksellers reach their aspirations, while being a credit to the communities we serve.

Quick Tips to a better mission statement

  1. Write from and for the heart.
  2. Keep it simple and use plain English.
  3. Get your team, partners and clients involved in the process.
  4. Be original. Don’t copy anybody else’s mission statement.
  5. Share it far and wide.

I’ll be sharing more posts in our Communication foundations series over the coming weeks. If you come across any great or not so great examples of mission statements we would love to add them to either our hall of fame or hall of shame. And, if you have your own mission statement you’d like to share please feel free to add it to the comments.