Telling Stories Can Lead To More Referrals, Better Blogs

The Power of A Good Story

Stories are powerful things. They are the most effective way to transfer ideas and information. In other words, stories are easy to remember, which makes them quite powerful. They burrow deep in our minds when we connect with them, and the best ones inspire us to change.

Client referrals are a main driver of new business for financial advisors. What if you could harness the power of stories to situate yourself, and your value as a financial advisor, in your client’s mind? Think of it like inception, but less sinister: If you can learn how to tell a damn good story that your clients will remember then it’ll be easier for them to refer you to their friends, because it won’t be as much work for them to remember what they like about you.

Furthermore, learning to tell a good story will help you write better blogs. There’s certainly a place for lists, how-to’s, reviews, and technology posts on a finance blog, but nothing will stick to your reader’s pixel-soaked brain like a good story. And, sometimes, you can weave your lists, reviews, and technology posts into a mega-story, creating an OMGIHAVETOSHARETHIS-style blog post, which is obviously ideal.

Story Structure Basics [Adapted]

For story structure theory, I turn to my man Dan Harmon, creator of NBC’s Community, which is a great example of storytelling because every 28-minute installment feels like it has a feature film’s worth of story in it. Harmon’s lessons in storytelling are great because he’s well read (he’s an avid analyst of Joseph Cambell, the foremost authority on comparative mythology and narrative patterns), he’s a master of brevity, and he’s hilarious, and his humor makes all this theory (yuck!) easier to digest.

Harmon distilled Cambell’s “monomyth,” the pattern that every great story ever–from James Joyce’s Ulysses to Die Hard– follows, into an 8-step master-storytelling circle that anyone can grasp in just a few minutes. Here’s the magic circle of story telling greatness, as borrowed from the Wiki on his old site, Channel 101:

I hope I’ve made it clear to you that the REAL structure of any good story is simply circular – a descent into the unknown and eventual return – and that any specific descriptions of that process are specific to you and your story.

Here is my detailed description of the steps on the circle. I’m going to get really specific, and I’m not going to bother saying, “there are some exceptions to this” over and over. There are some exceptions to everything, but that’s called style, not structure.

  1. You (a character is in a zone of comfort)
  2. Need (but they want something)
  3. Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation)
  4. Search (adapt to it)
  5. Find (find what they wanted)
  6. Take (pay its price)
  7. Return (and go back to where they started)
  8. Change (now capable of change)

To bring this lesson full-circle (terrible pun), I’ll paraphrase Harmon’s example of this structure at work through the story of a man who has to change a tire: A man is driving in the rain (1). He wants to get home (2). But he gets a flat tire and has to pull over (3). He goes to the trunk for the spare, but there’s a lot of junk in there, making it hard to find (4). Eventually, he finds it and changes the tire (5). But now he’s soaking wet and has a little grease on his hands (6). He gets back into his car and starts driving again (7). But now, he knows how to change a tire and he can tell his wife at home of his triumph (8).

That story is boring. But it’s a story. It’s complete. You could tell it to someone right now, having read it once. The thing that this model doesn’t make crystal-clear, however, is that the “You,” the guy driving the car, is your protagonist. Your audience will identify with him regardless. So he has to be relatable; his motives clear. While you might not remember the 8 steps (they aren’t in story-form), what you need to remember is the circle: you start at the top with a character in a normal state, and you have to provide a reason or motive for your character to get down into the dark side, the subconscious, the unknown; that life-altering place, only to come back up to the top, having changed.

Homework: Write Your Story

If you have a blog, or a website for your independent advisory practice, write your story and post it as a blog or your about section, or both. Use the 8-step structure. Tell the story of how you were inspired to become a financial advisor, or when you decided to go independent or something. Writing it will help you internalize it. Then, try giving it a go with one of your clients, face to face. If they seem underwhelmed, tweak the story. If they like it, do it again with your other clients.

If you think about it, what I’m asking you to do is exactly what Carl Richards did with his controversial piece, How A Financial Pro Lost His House, which went viral, helped him sell books and–I’m sure–earned him more than a few referrals. Carl’s story has all 8 steps; his journey into the unknown was scary and dark, but he came out capable of change and better because of it.

DJ DJ is a freelance writer, hopeful photographer, and social media has-been. He writes to financial advisors about lifehacks, science, technology, business and marketing for Blueleaf, a software that helps create dramatically simpler, more scalable financial advisory businesses. You can find DJ across the web (about.me/djswitz) or you can just follow him on Twitter (@djswitz)!
  • Another great post, DJ, and a good reminder. I enjoy reading and learning about stories much more than the feeling that I’m being talked to or at by someone just dumping information on me. Yet, I think that’s how most financial advisors who’ve been in the business for a while were trained.

    Sure, features and benefits have their place, but if you can wrap what you’re trying to communicate inside a story, I believe it becomes much more powerful.

    I’m working on this idea myself and have embraced more of a storytelling approach with a post I published on my blog just yesterday about my wife.

    • Thanks, Russ! Read the latest post, and thought it did a nice job of enveloping a message about financial risks with the risks one takes to pursue their passions. I also poked around the site a bit and think you are doing a great job telling meaningful stories. Your “Why” page does an especially good job: http://wealthcareforwomen.com/why/

      • Thanks, DJ. My site is a work in progress and will continue to evolve over time – and hopefully improve, as well. Appreciate you dropping by to check things out and thanks for the kind words. Welcome any suggestions or specific feedback you may have.

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