Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie teaches consultants, coaches and other professionals to attract and win their ideal clients by becoming seen as authorities in their field.


Marketing Professional Services

What's Your Backstory?

Posted on January 22, 2009.

One of the most common pieces of “wisdom” we're repeatedly told in marketing and sales is that since our clients are tuned in to WII FM – What's In it For Me we need to adjust our messages and our interactions with them accordingly. In other words everything we say about ourselves must be geared to how they can benefit by working with us.

And to a large degree this is true. Our “elevator speech” or “audio logo” must be set in client focused terms to create empathy and interest – or they will simply switch off. However, it's not the full story.

Our clients and prospects are not completely self-centred creatures. They are normal human beings. As the old saying goes: people buy from people – and we are all inherently interested in other people's stories. It helps to humanise and cement relationships.  Think of the strongest relationships you have with your best clients: are they purely business oriented? Or, in fact, haven't they transcended the “what's in it for me” and moved to a level where you are genuinely interested in, and care about the interests of the other party?

So in addition to the business-focused elements of your elevator speech and the initial discussions you have with people at networking events – you must be able to move on and open up about yourself in an interesting way which lays the foundation for a deeper human relationship with your prospective client.

One of the best ways to do this is with a compelling backstory. In fact a frequent follow-up question in initial meetings is “so how did you get here?” or “what's your story”.

In the world of literature, TV and the movies, the backstory is the history of the characters. How they got to where they are today. It gives logic and legitimacy to their thinking and their actions. Helen is bristly and reluctant to form close relationships because of a painful divorce she went through. John is lacking in self-confidence because he was always told he was no good as a child.

In similar manner, a well-constructed and engagingly told backstory can really help further your relationships on both a business and personal front:

  • Your personal backstory humanises you – it helps people see inside to what motivates you and why you do the things you do and why you are the way you are.
  • It provides mental hooks for people to remember you by. “You're the guy who gave up the big corporate job to focus on helping local businesses”, “Ah yes, you're the lady who was thrown in at the deep end and learnt her selling skills the hard way.”
  • Most importantly, it provides evidence and credibility to back up the claims you make about your business. Did you spend 5 years in Japan learning their quality methods? Perhaps you witnessed the pain of your parents' messy divorce and were motivated to become a divorce lawyer who did things a better way.

Used in this latter way, your backstory can stand alongside testimonials and qualifications to “prove” you are highly competent at what you do. And it feels so much less “salesy” and more natural than trotting out customer quotes or a string of letters.

Of course, it goes without saying that your backstory must be true. But unless you think about it and prepare it carefully you won't be able to articulate it well and link it to the key selling messages you are trying to get across. You need to look at your value proposition or USP and think through: what is it I have done that makes me uniquely qualified to do this? Then find a way of articulating this in your backstory.

My own personal backstory focuses on how I have both consulted for 15 years in strategy, sales and marketing to some of the worlds leading firms – and have been in the trenches myself selling professional services (in my case consulting projects). It tells of how I learnt the hard way through mistakes – so it's a relatively self-deprecating backstory and doesn't sound like I'm showing off. The key is that it tells potential clients in a subtle and understated way that not only have I expertise from consulting, but I have been in their position and “walked the talk” and sold professional services successfully myself.

One of the best backstories I've heard is from a local accountant (Jesse Oldfield of Lymm) who, before returning to accounting, ran a number of small businesses as MD himself. Without shouting it out loud, this tells prospective clients that he really knows what they're going through running their own business. Any accountant can claim to be able to give solid business advice to their clients – but Jesse can do so with real credibility because of his backstory.

You won't use your backstory every time you meet someone. But you will be asked about your history or “how you got here” surprisingly frequently. And if you've prepared an interesting backstory, you will be able to cement their perception of your credbility – while enhancing your personal human relationship with them.



More Clients TV

How To Get Your Customers & Prospects More Engaged & Interested

Posted on August 16, 2016. How To Get Your Customers & Prospects More Engaged & Interested

Wouldn't it be great if we could get our customers and prospects (or our employees too) as engaged and interested in our business as they are when they're watching sport?

In this video I explore how we can learn from what makes people so engaged when they support a team or individual in sport, and how we can apply those same things to our own business.

Click here to watch the video »


Get Clients Online

How to Win Business with your Blog – Part 5: Finding your Voice

Posted on July 20, 2011.

Finding your voice? It all sounds terribly pretentious doesn't it?

All I really mean is finding a style to write your blog in that suits you and your audience. That gets your character across in a way that you'd like to be perceived.

Why is this important?

Well, for two reasons:

  • Firstly, if you're not writing in an interesting, engaging style then reading your blog will be hard going and you'll lose people. Remember – visitors are reading your stuff online. it's not the ideal reading medium, and there are plenty of other distractions.
  • Secondly, before someone hires you – as we said in the first part of this Win Business with your Blog series – they need to feel that not only do you know your stuff, but that they'll be able to work with you. Eventually you'll need to speak to them over the phone or face to face to fully establish that. But you can go a long way down the track with the way you write.

How do you create this good impression?

First, you have to know what impression you want to create. In my post on creating your backstory I talked about how you can focus on and emphasise certain parts of your experience and personality that give you credibility for the type of work you're looking to be hired for.

It's a bit like the way when you see a comedian on stage, the persona you're seeing is almost always them – but it's a certain part of them, emphasised for effect.

This should also influence your writing. If you're positioning yourself as a mad professor, write like one. If you're the people's champion, write like one. If you're the power behind the throne, write like you are.

Generally speaking, I prefer personas which allow you to be seen as the “likeable expert” in your field. That's the guy people want to work with.

No matter what your persona, there are certain rules and best practices when it comes to writing a blog.

Most importantly: make it easy to read.

Write in short sentences and short paragraphs. Much shorter than if you were writing something for paper.

And use short words too. Simple (though not dumbed down) language that's easy to understand and sounds “real”.

Write like you speak.

In fact, speaking to yourself as you write a blog post is a good habit to get into.

Many people advise short blog posts – and they've got a point.

I struggle with this. My blog posts are typically longer. But I figure I've got a very smart readership and if you're interested you'll have the stamina to make it through a few extra hundred words.

Read lots. Read good bloggers. Seth Godin, Tom Peters, Chris Brogan.

Get a feel for how they write. Don't copy,  But watch what impact they can have with their words and how they construct sentences, paragraphs and entire posts.

After you've written your blog post – read it out loud. Does it sound like you or someone else?

(I found in my early days, my blog posts had great content – but they sounded like they'd been written by a stuck-up history professor).

Write lots. Write at least a blog post a week for a year and you'll see what a huge difference practice can make.

The next post in the series is about converting website visitors into subscribers.


Business Development Mindset

What's Your Story?

Posted on April 16, 2011.

PersonasIn the world of espionage they call it your “legend”. In drama, it's a character's “backstory”. In marketing we often call it a “persona”.

In essence, it's the stories about you, your history, your experiences which uniquely qualify you to do the things you claim you can do. The things that give credibility to your services.

If you're a an innovation consultant, perhaps you spent 10 years at Apple and know how the very best do it. If you're an IT outsourcer, perhaps you used to be the CIO of a major corporation and know just what CIOs need from outsourcing. If you're a leadership coach, perhaps you interviewed the 10 most prominent leaders in your sector and know what they do that makes them so effective.

In my post on Marketing Half-Truths I showed how important this backstory can be. How it can give you significant credibility and also make you more interesting to clients.

I'm not talking here just about your achievements or your CV. Just a list of stuff you've done is neither interesting nor memorable.

What I'm talking about is crafting a coherent and memorable story that brings a logical underpinning to your capabilities and services.

It works best if you can sum it up in one sentence. “<your name> can <do what you say you can do> because <your story which justifies it>”.

In my case, I can help consultants and coaches get more clients because I've done it myself – despite being far from a natural at business development.

Here are some others from my Authority Marketing podcast interviews:

Drayton Bird can do world-class copywriting because he's an obsessive student of the art and learned personally from the very best.

Greg Alexander can use benchmarking to improve sales performance because he's an ex-Sales VP who teamed up with a benchmarking geek to devise a method that really measures what drives sales success.

Tom Searcy can help small businesses beat their bigger competitors to land huge clients because he's done it time and time again himself and has turned his experience into a practical methodology.

In each of the cases, the history of the person lends credibility to what they say they can do.

Knowing their backstory, I'm going to hire each of them ahead of someone who claims to be able to do the same, but doesn't have the same credibility in their story.

So do you have a credible backstory like this?

I'm not suggesting you make one up if you don't. But what you can do is identify and focus on the elements in your own history which support your claims. This could be jobs you've done, experiences you've had, something you've studied, or a quirk of your personality.

What sort of stories typically work well?

In no particular order, here's a list of types of backstory which can work well. See if your experience can fit into any of these templates:

  • “I've done what you want to do”. This is a particularly powerful one. If you've done yourself what you're advising others to do (turned around a company, led a large organisation, doubled the sales of your business) then it makes sense to people that your advice will be good.
  • “The researcher“. You may not have done yourself what you're advising people about – but you've studied those who have and become an expert on what drives success based on multiple examples.
  • The power behind the throne”. You were the guy behind the scenes advising, guiding and coaching others who've become big successes in the way your potential clients want to. Who did Roger Federer turn to recently to revitalise his career? Paul Annacone, the guy who helped Pete Sampras to nine of his Grand Slam victories.
  • “The pioneer”. You've the guy who's come up with new ideas in your field. A new theory of leadership. The first application of benchmarking to HR or whatever.
  • “The man on a mission”. You're dedicated to a cause – reducing waste in the public sector, democratising leadership.
  • “The champion”. This time you're dedicated to a particular type of business. Like Tom Searcy, for example, who champions small companies in their fight to win big deals against their big competitors.
  • “The safe pair of hands”. You want someone to manage a big IT project? This guy's done dozens. He knows every trick in the book and lives and breathes these projects.
  • “The engineer”. The guy who sees everything as a puzzle to be solved. Incredibly curious and obsessive about cracking every problem he gets given. You have a tough marketing challenge? Give it to him and he'll figure it out.

And, of course, there could be a whole bunch more.

In every case, something about the character or the experience of the persona gives credibility to why you should hire them. People can understand simple stereotypes like this. The can mentally file them and associate them with good things.

And if they're playing their role well, their behaviour and the stories they tell should be congruent with that stereotype.

So what's your story?


PS For more information on using personas as part of business development, check out Dan Kennedy's work on Personality in Copy, and Jay Abraham and Rich Schefren on Maven Marketing.

Image by Nicolas Nova


Business Development Mindset

Marketing Half Truths

Posted on March 31, 2011. Half Truths

Did you listen to my recent Authority Marketing Podcast interview with Drayton Bird? Hasn't he led an amazing life?

The interview reminded me of something I've long felt but never spoken about before. Something I describe as one of Marketing's biggest “half truths”.

Have you ever heard anyone say “your clients aren't interested in you – only what you can do for them”? Or “they don't care what you do – only the result they'll get”? Or the old classic “clients are tuned into WIIFM – what's in it for me”?

Well, of course, that's marketing 101. Real basics.

But it's also only half the story.

Here's the thing: weren't you fascinated by Drayton's anecdotes about his experiences, for example? And what are the most popular programmes on TV? The soap operas or character-based dramas like House or CSI.

We humans are fascinated by interesting characters. We want to know why House is the way he is – not just watch him cure the patient. We want to see the interplay between Grissom and Sara – not just the solution to the crime.

And vitally important for professionals – those stories lend credibility to our expertise. We hear Drayton's stories of studying human nature in his parents' pub. Of researching direct marketing more than anyone else. Of learning from the greats. And of making mistake after mistake until he got it right.

And so we think “yes – he must know what he's doing”.

So although clients initially focus on what's in it for them – what results you'll deliver for them. They're also interested in your story. What is it in your backstory that makes you credible to deliver those results.

And that means that as a consultant, a coach or other advisor, you need an interesting and credibility-bestowing backstory.

I don't mean you make one up. But you look at your story and pick out the elements that make you credible in what you do.

Did you obsessively research your subject, for example? Or have you, like Drayton, “made every mistake in the book and then some” – you've got the experience and scars that mean you can steer your clients away from the problems you hit.

Perhaps you're the champion of the little guy (or big guy) like them. Or maybe you've been the guy behind the scenes pulling the strings making others like them successful.

Or maybe it's a combination of those things.

In the next post I'll run through some of the most effective “stories” you can have.

But for now, just think about your own story and what elements of it give you the most credibility in what you do.

Hopkins' Schlitz Beer AdPS – it's not just people that people are interested in the backstory of. One of the most successful print advertisements of all time was the legendary Claude Hopkins' ad for Schlitz Beer shown here.

Did the ad focus on the refreshing taste, or how the beer would make you feel? Was it all about the result?

Nope. it talked about the 50 years of brewing experience. It described the care they took selecting the hops from Bohemia. It detailed the supervision of the process, the cleanliness, the purity, the filtration and the storage.

In short, it gave the backstory of the beer. It gave credibility to the claim that it was the best beer in the world.

And the impact for Schlitz? It went from fifth in the market to first in a few months and stayed there for years.

That's the power of a good backstory. One that goes beyond just WIIFM.


Marketing Professional Services

10 Linkedin Tips for Professionals

Posted on August 1, 2009. Linkedin Tips For Professionals

Linkedin Tips For Building Your Professional Presence And Getting More Clients

My latest tips on building a Client Winning Profile for Linkedin are now on a free, short video – click here to watch it.

Linkedin is the “social network for business” and now has over 200 million users.

And many Linkedin users, myself included, have found new clients through it, and enhanced relationships with existing clients. But many others have found it to suck up a ton of time for very little gain. So here are 10 quick tips for getting the most from Linkedin.

1. Make your profile client focused

The first thing you do when you join Linkedin is to create a profile. And since Linkedin has slots for your previous job roles, qualifications, etc. there’s an almost overwhelming temptation to make your profile look like your CV.

Resist that temptation.

When you first meet potential clients you don’t rattle off a huge list of companies you’ve worked for and the responsibilities you’ve had – that would bore the pants off them. So don't do the same on Linkedin.

Most effective introductions focus on who you help, and what problems you help them solve or results you help them achieve. Then if asked more, you say a bit more about what you do – perhaps giving a little backstory as to why you are uniquely qualified to help, or an example of the work you do.

Linkedin is for making connections – and for the majority of professionals that means clients and business partners, not recruiters.

You need to design your profile to have the impact you want on those connections. Treat it like your introduction at a networking meeting.

Think about the impression you want to make on your potential clients. What will get them interested enough to read your profile? Probably something telling them you work with people just like them and deal with the sort of challenges they have.

What will make them read on? Probably some interesting examples that spell out and “prove” the results they could get by working with you.

What would make them contact you? Well, at minimum a call to action with details of how – a website, phone number or email address.

Whatever you do, don't just stick your CV details in there.

2. Get connecting – but…

Linkedin works on connections. The most powerful use of Linkedin is to find new clients and business partners through the search function or directly via your contacts' connections. The more direct connections you have, the more opportunities you have to connect. I still see people who’ve made all the effort to set up their Linkedin profile – but who have so few connections that they don’t get any benefit.

The Linkedin toolbar for Outlook provides an easy way of inviting the your Outlook contacts and people you email regularly to connect with you.

However, there’s a catch…

3…Choose your connection strategy carefully

There are two very different strategies to connecting on Linkedin: “Open Networking” and “Trusted Partner Networking”.

In business networking generally, the value you get from your network is a product of the size of your network, and your ability to “convert” connections into productive business (work, a referral, etc.). You can grow the value of your network by getting more connections, or deepening the strength of each connection (getting to know people better, helping them out, etc.)

On Linkedin, one strategy for getting value is to be an “Open Networker” or LION (LinkedIn Open Networker). Open Networkers focus on growing the size of their network by initiating and accepting connection requests from as many people as possible. Open Networkers typically have many thousands of connections. This means that when they search for useful relationships (potential clients or business partners), for example looking for contacts in specific companies, or geographies or with specific interests or job titles – they are much more likely to find them (exponentially more likely because of the way Linkedin connections work).

The downside of this strategy is that with thousands of connections they don’t know many of them particularly well, if at all. They’re essentially using Linkedin as a giant Rolodex or telephone directory rather than as a way of making deeper connections. That’s neither good nor bad – it just means that if they find someone they want to connect with through one of these “shallow” connections, they’re unlikely to get a strong referral to them – they'll still have to initiate a relatively cold contact.

The other strategy is to have fewer but deeper connections – a “Trusted Partner” strategy. Here you only connect to people you already know and trust. Most likely from face-to-face interaction, but possibly from online interaction too.

With this strategy you have less chance of finding someone via a search because you have less connections. But if you do find someone, it'll be through someone who knows and trusts you – and they'll be able to give a strong referral to you and put you in touch with the person you’re interested in connecting with.

The downside to the “Trusted Partner” strategy is that it’s a bit like going to a face to face networking event and only speaking to the people you already know. You deepen your relationship with them – but you don’t build any new relationships.

Personally, I take a “middle way” and I recommend you do the same.

I don’t actively go out and connect with huge numbers of people. But if someone wants to connect with me, and their profile looks interesting – then I’m very happy to connect with them, even if I don’t know them. If they do turn out to be a “spammer” (I’ve only had this happen once with over 1,000 connections) then I can always disconnect.

This way, my network expands significantly. I meet new people who may turn out to be helpful to me, and I may be helpful to them.

I always try to take the time when people connect with me to send them a message to start a conversation rather than just accept the connection but never speak to them. That way we find out more about each other and it may lead to interesting and valuable discussions. At minimum, it means that if I want to ask a favour later, we'll actually have interacted before.

4. Use Search to find potential clients and business partners

This is perhaps the most important of my Linkedin Tips.

Many people get going on Linkedin but fail to use it to help their business. Absolutely the most effective way I've found to gain business value from Linkedin is to find potential clients and business partners. One of the things I do in my consulting practice is to help clients get more referrals for their business. And one of the key things I teach them is to be very specific in who they ask to be referred to.

Linkedin allows the ultimate in specificity. You can search for exactly who you want to be referred to – by company, by geography, by name, by job title, etc. And you can search across your entire network at once. Or you can look at the contact list of an individual to see if there’s anyone you’d like to be connected to.

Almost everyone I've taught to do this has been staggered by just how many people their contacts know that they'd love an introduction to. Yet before using Linkedin they had no idea that they were connected.

Once you’ve identified people you’d like to be introduced or referred to, rather than try to connect them directly, give your mutual connection a call and ask them if they can connect you. That’s much more polite than going directly, and it’s much more likely to be successful.

5. Give recommendations and endorsements to get them

Recommendations are very helpful to have on your profile. They’re a clear indication of the quality of your work and the relationships you form.

But begging for a recommendation isn’t a great strategy.

If you want to get recommendations, use Linkedin to give them to people you’ve worked with and who have done a great job for you. Linkedin will show them the recommendation to approve, then ask them if they want to reciprocate. They probably will.

Similarly with the new Endorsement feature, if you endorse someone, they'll be notified and you're likely to get a reciprocal endorsement in return. if you get an impressive number of endorsements you can move them up in your profile to just under your summary. So the first thing people see after finding about about you is that lots of people think you're great.

6. Have a helpful Professional Headline

Another one of my most impactful Linkedin Tips. When people find you in searches on Linkedin, the initial thing they see is a little box with your name, photo, and your “professional headline”.What most people have in their headline is their job title. “Owner at XYZ Company” or “Principal consultant at ABC Ltd”. By default, unless you change it manually, Linkedin takes the headline from your last job title.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t give people a clue as to whether you might be able to help them, or might be interesting to connect to.

You should treat your headline like your introduction when networking. Focus on what you can do to help people.

My headline, for example is “Straight talking advice for Consultants and Coaches to help them Attract Clients and Win More Business”. It’s much more useful in telling people what I actually do than using an “official” job title like Managing Director. That will get more people to click through to my profile and maybe begin to interact with me.

You can edit your Headline via the Edit My Profile option.

7. Join Linkedin Groups to connect and interact (but be careful)

Linkedin groups are essentially discussion forums for specific interest groups. They allow you to find out the latest news, and to join in debates on topics of interest. You can join groups both of interest to you professionally, and the groups where your potential clients “hang out”.

Some people have reported great success in meeting potential clients and building their credibility by being helpful and answering questions on Linkedin Groups. But be careful. My own experience is that far more people end up wasting hours of time in fairly idle chatter, or in trying to sound clever but with very little impact.

Before you join a group, click on the link to check out the group statistics and look at the activity stats. What you want to see is a lot more comments than discussions started every week. Lots of comments means members are actively engaging with each other. Lots of discussions with few comments means people are just posting their stuff and no one is reading or engaging with it.

8. Use Status Updates to subtly remind your contacts of what you do

Linkedin status updates are a nice way of helping to stay top of mind with contacts. If you were to call or email all your contacts any time you did something small but interesting, it would quickly become seen as pushy or spammy. But updating your status is an non-intrusive way of getting a gentle reminder out.

Depending on their settings, your contacts will get a regular email with a summary of the status updates of their contacts. And they will see the updates on their Linkedin homepage. Mostly it will just be “so and so updated their profile” type messages. So if your status update has something interesting in it (“Ian has just run a seminar on consultative selling skills”) it will remind them of the sort of thing you do and may even trigger them into action.

Recently, for example, I put up a status update saying I’d run a training course on Marketing for Consultants for the Institute of Business Consulting. That prompted one of my old colleagues to get back in touch and we came to an arrangement about sharing training material.

You can also share your latest blog post and other useful resources. Be careful through: Linkedin isn't Twitter and your connections won't appreciate you making dozens of updates a day as it will mean they can't won't anything from their other contacts.

9. Watch others’ status updates to initiate contact

Keep an eye on status updates from others – it can be a good opportunity to get back in touch – especially if they’ve changed jobs or have set out on a new venture. Even small status changes can help give you something to start a conversation – the sort of smalltalk needed to keep dialogues and relationships going in between more meaty topics.

These days many CRM systems like Salesforce and Highrise offer “Social CRM” features. They make it easy to find your contacts on Linkedin (and Facebook and Twitter) and track their activity on their profile page on the CRM.

10. Keep your use of Linkedin in balance

This is less a tip about using Linkedin, and more a tip about not using Linkedin.

Do bear in mind that Linkedin is just a tool. And it's one that's very easy to spend too much time on. Endlessly tweaking your profile to make it just that little bit more perfect isn't going to bring you any new business. Nor is chatting away on a discussion group to buddies you already know.

Be judicious in your use of Linkedin. Get a good profile. Make sure you're connected to people you know would recommend you, then harness that network to get introductions to potential clients. In a couple of upcoming articles I'll show you who to do that in the most effective way.

But make sure you're not sucked in to spending hours a week playing around with it.

More Linkedin Tips:

How To Optimize The New Linkedin Profile >>
The Number One Linkedin Mistake And How To Fix it (Free Video) >>
The Real Secrets of Linkedin >>