The following scenario is the one storytelling mistake solopreneurs should never make. Does this sound like you?

Mindy is exhausted. Not only did she wake up at 4 am to crank out some last-minute client work, but she also realized her huge meeting is today. It’s 9 am and her cup of coffee isn’t nearly full enough. Suddenly, the phone rings, jolting her awake.

“Hello, this is Main Street Photography. How may I help you?” she says in her best professional voice. You can’t even tell that she’s tired.

“Yes, could I please speak to your photographer?” asks the voice on the other end of the line.”

“Oh, yes, certainly. Please wait a moment while I transfer you,” Mindy says. She mutes the phone for a few seconds before answering, “Hello, this is Mindy, the Main Street photographer.”

The Storytelling Mistake

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture? Mindy is trying to make it appear like she has someone answering her phones! She’s a master illusion-artist who’s trying to convince the world that her one-woman business is a large, brick and mortar establishment. Instead of honoring her story as a successful-yet-busy solopreneur, Mindy is trying to alter her story to be something she’s not.

Why do small businesses and solopreneurs fall into this common trap? Storytelling isn’t about embellishments; it’s about telling your reality and experience.

The “Big” Factor

We often believe that large companies are more trustworthy and well-run than small businesses or solo ventures. But it’s not reality. Small businesses are just as trustworthy as large corporations.

Despite that, small business owners often try to make themselves look bigger than they really are. Whether it’s bulking up your company size numbers, doing hokey phone tricks like Mindy, or using language that makes you sound like a corporation instead of a mom-and-pop shop, it’s tempting to fudge a few details of your story to make the business look bigger.

But you know what? You don’t need to do that.

In fact, your story is what makes you so unique. In today’s competitive and saturated online landscape, you need something to set you apart. Nobody will pay attention to another dime-a-dozen photographer. But if you’re a photographer with an amazing story? They want to hear from you!

My Backstory

For the record, I was Mindy when I first started out with my new journey – and I failed – big time!

It was December 2010, and I had just lost my father. I also had a toddler who was essentially being raised by our nanny. I had waited a long time to have my son and was crushed to miss out on so many milestones. At the time, I was miserable, burnt out, and longed to do something that afforded me opportunity to work but spend more time raising my son. (Note: I realize this is nothing new with first-time moms, or moms in general.)

I decided to venture out on my own. But what would I do? With 25+ years in public relations, marketing, promotions and communications, naturally I’d position myself as such – and so much more. I mean, how else would I get clients?

Epic Fail

My first mistake was creating a website that made me look like a boutique PR agency. Yep, I listed all my services and offerings as if I had a staff of 10. Worse, I was actually hired by clients! I was completely in over my head; I was drowning. While I did good client work, I had no passion for what I was doing. I hated what I was doing. Why? Because it wasn’t what I even wanted to do anymore. There was a reason I was suffering from burnout.

Then a lightbulb went off in my head! Just because I had all this awesome PR/Marketing experience didn’t mean I had to sell it  – well, at least not all of it. I could just concentrate on the aspects of my background that I was most passionate about and wanted to provide to others – storytelling. After all, I was a solopreneur now — not a full-service PR company — and I could still add huge value to clients. True fact: I turned down a lot of business from former agency clients because I didn’t want to do what they needed (and couldn’t even handle if I did)  – and it was liberating. #bestdecisionever

My experience will always be part of my story, but my story doesn’t have to end there. It’s totally okay I’m a one-woman shop just offering services I’m passionate about. And this makes me so happy! Moral to the story: Don’t be Mindy — be Judy!

How to embrace your story

It can be hard to accept your story at first. Trust me — I know. But don’t worry! There are a few ways you can embrace it to grow your business.

Be honest

This is always rule number one. If it’s just you working by yourself, avoid using ‘we’ language on your website and blog. Avoid conveniently glossing over important details of your story. For example, if you started a business because you became a parent and wanted the flexibility, that’s a great fact to include. That makes you human. Your audience wants to interact with a real person much more than they want to work with a mega corporation. It’s this honesty that makes your business so much more appealing.

Be consistent

I’ve seen some solopreneurs lack consistency in their story. One day they’re a struggling parent trying to make ends meet, and another day they’re running a successful six-figure business that’s turning the entire industry on its head. I’m not saying you can’t be both of those things, but there are certain ways you need to frame your business to get the message across.

Consistency is key. It’s perfectly fine to change your story, but it needs to be done in a consistent and intentional way. Your story gives customers an idea of who you are and what they can expect from you–don’t change it to suit your moods.

Include the raw parts

We all like to project an image of perfection. But guess what? Perfection is boring! Any great story has moments of difficulty. For that reason, you need to be open about the raw points of your story. It’s especially hard to share difficult moments of failure, loss, or fear. While you don’t need to share everything, it’s important to be real so your story is relatable.

The bottom line

Remember Mindy? After hanging up from her phone call, she realized what just happened. Now, when she answers the phone, she simply answers with, “This is Mindy with Main Street Photography.” She’s proud to showcase that she’s a one-woman show, sharing her struggles and challenges to better connect with new customers. And she’s a better business owner because of it.   

Looking for storytelling inspiration or want to hear more about my mistakes in the beginning? Drop me a note and let’s discuss how I can help you!

Your story…to be continued