Some of the most powerful stories we hear are the ones that support the narratives that define the countries we live in.
As I’m Canadian, I’ll use one of the dominant Canadian narratives to illustrate my point.
One of the stories that defines “being Canadian” is that we’re really, really nice.
We’re polite and friendly. We love animals and the environment. We welcome refugees with open arms. We make sure all our citizens have access to health care. We say please and thank you.
Really… we’re just super-nice people.
So goes the story.
And it more or less holds true until you start scratching the surface and digging down a little deeper.
Ask a few of the indigenous peoples of Canada how nice Canadians are and you’ll get a whole different story. It turns out we’re not so nice after all.
Or look at some of the aerial photos of the tar sands in Alberta. Oops, not quite as environmentally friendly as advertised.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Canada. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
I could just as easily pick apart the prevailing narratives of the USA, the UK, France, Russia, Australia or any other country.
The point I’m trying to make here is that stories lie at the very foundation of how we make sense of the world.
Stories are used to define what it means to be a particular nationality.
Stories are also used to express the unique cultures of the regions or cities we live in. (Want to know what it means to be a New Yorker or a Londoner? Listen to their stories.)
And stories are definitely used to bind us together as families. Have you ever been to a family dinner, reunion, BBQ or other event that didn’t include the telling and sharing of family stories?
Almost everything we think of as being true, is actually just a story. And the more people repeat that story, the “truer” it becomes.
Think about it… stories are perhaps the most powerful force in our lives… and for the most part we barely even recognize the fact.
And how exactly is this relevant to your life and career as a freelancer?
It’s relevant because everything changes when you understand that stories are used to make sense of everything… including entire industries and individual companies.
Be a fly on the wall of any industry conference or tradeshow and you’ll hear the stories people tell to define the character, qualities and values of that industry.
Spend some time inside any individual company, large or small, and you’ll hear the stories that define the culture of that business.
So… as a freelancer…
You absolutely have to know and understand the stories that are prevalent within the industry niche you’re trying to serve.
If you don’t know their stories, and like their stories, you won’t be welcome. You won’t be “one of them”.
It’s like walking into a bar on the other side of the tracks. You walk in and you know right away you don’t belong. Everyone in the bar knows it too. You don’t belong because your life hasn’t been framed and moulded around the same stories.
Step 1 for any freelancer is to immerse yourself in your industry’s stories.
Dig deep and find out what those stories are. Be the fly on the wall.
If you walked into a bar – a different bar this time – where everyone inside worked in that industry, would you be familiar with the stories they are telling? (Most conversations in bars are simply the sharing of stories. Right? “You’ll never guess what happened at work today…”)
Get to know those stories. Look hard enough and you’ll find them. Industries and companies have defining stories in the same way that stories define what it means to be Canadian, American, French etc.
And make sure you feel comfortable with those stories, that you feel you would be happy to share them.
You have to feel enthusiastic about the industry you’re serving as a freelancer. You have to love their stories. If you don’t, they’ll know it.
Step 2 for any freelancer is to create your own story in a way that it overlaps and connects with the stories of your prospects.
Back to the bar…
When you walk into that bar for the first time, there needs to be a moment of mutual recognition.
The people who already belong there need to know that your story overlaps theirs. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same. But the stories do need to overlap.
For a real-life example, I have a coaching client who has a wonderful story of growing up as a total nerd in a completely nerdy family. The way she tells it makes me think of a Norman Rockwell painting. There’s something iconic about the picture she paints when she tells that story.
So guess which industry her prospective clients work in. Yep… the IT industry.
As soon as she tells her story, her audience knows she belongs. She’s one of them.
That one story of hers – which involves sitting around the kitchen table with her family, leafing through nerdy magazines – will make her irresistible to her clients and prospective clients.
Remember, we’re hard-wired to make sense of everything in life through the telling of stories… our nationality, where we live, our family, our workplace.
When my nerdy friend tell her story it’s like she’s unleashed a superpower.
She’s taken a super-fast shortcut into the hearts of her prospects. She’s gone from zero to total acceptance within the two minutes it takes to tell her story.
She has also differentiated herself from every other freelancer out there. Nobody else has her story. It’s true only for her.
If you want to be a freelance star, it’s not about the facts and the figures or the courses you’ve taken or the list of companies you have worked for.
All that stuff can help… but in supporting roles.
The true driver of your success will be a powerful story that goes directly to the heart of every prospect you approach.
So… what’s YOUR story?
NOTE: If you’d like some help or guidance in unpacking your past and creating a better story for yourself, check out my one-on-one coaching program for freelancers… “The New Story of You”
If you found this post helpful, sign up for my e-newsletter and get a free copy of my 35-page guide…
Writing For The Web #1 — 7 Challenges every Writer and Copywriter faces when writing for the Web.
Sign up and I’ll send you the link for the download, and then you’ll receive my most recent post as part of my e-newsletter every Tuesday morning.
(Your email address will be used only for the purpose of sending you this newsletter, and you’ll be free to unsubscribe at any time.)