Are you telling your story?
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Years ago, a friend who was running a custom cabinet shop in a small town told me a story of a somewhat embarrassing social gathering he had with friends.

He and his wife and a few other couples would get together at each others’ houses on a regular basis for a social evening of dinner, drinks, and maybe a few hands of poker. At one such gathering, the hostess was excitedly ushering everyone in to see her newly remodeled bathroom featuring all new custom cabinets. But my friend hadn’t made the cabinets. They came from some shop out of the area.

Now, my friend just shrugged it off as a minor lost job, but his wife was not going to let it go. She confronted the hostess and asked, “Do you know what my husband does for a living?” The hostess was completely embarrassed to find out that he built custom cabinets and would have been happy to bid on their job if they had approached him.

You see, my friend the custom cabinet shop owner had not told his own story to his friends. If you don’t tell your story, no one will know it.

In business parlance, this is often given some slick title and an acronym such as your Unique Selling Proposition or USP for short. In a nutshell, it’s what sets you apart and makes you different in a positive way from your competition. But if you use the business term, there’s a danger you’ll think of it too much like a sales pitch. You’ll start adding in competitive language. I think it’s better if you just tell the story of your business and let that tale set you apart by leaving a lasting impression in people’s minds.

Maybe your story is how you started in a garage and built up the business into a thriving professional enterprise that serves discriminating clients. Maybe your story is how you have sustained and grown the business started by your father or grandfather. Maybe your story is how you developed a singular way of doing something and crafting that product in a way that makes it special and in demand. Or just maybe you built your business on a legacy of outstanding customer service that helped build your business by word of mouth.

Whatever it is, it is your story to tell. But you do have to tell it. And you have to be comfortable — maybe even proud — to tell it over and over again, so everyone you come in contact with knows at least a significant piece of that story. If you make it memorable and worth sharing, your listeners will help you spread the word without your even asking them.

This is why social media is so powerful. It’s not about business competition so much as it is about telling and sharing stories, stories that are memorable, entertaining, and fun to share. What’s your story?


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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.