Success stories are a cost-effective way to promote your small business. This is particularly true if you’re willing to write them yourself.
So, how do you get started? First, you need to pick a target topic for your success story.
Get the juices flowing. Alone or with your team if you have one, brainstorm a list of your most recent or impressive successes.
Grab some paper, a whiteboard or flip chart. Focus on the basics and work quickly to capture the following key points:
Who – Customer
What – Problem or challenge
Why – Reason the problem needs to be addressed
When – Timeframe
Where – Industry, location, geography (whatever makes the most sense)
How – Process, product or service applied to solve the problem
How much – Indicators of success (dollars or time saved, quality improvements, revenues earned, etc.)
Repeat this for every possible success story that comes to mind. Avoid drilling too deep on any item. Skip those for which there's no ready information and flag them for later action. Once you start thinking about it, you’ll be able to compile a number of examples that demonstrate how capable and effective you are. The first time we did this exercise, we identified 10 "possibles" in the first go-round. (Save all these notes somewhere safe, so you can find them later.)
You’ve created lots of fodder for potential success stories, but now you need to focus. Examine your notes, and pick one example. When in doubt, pick the story you think will be easiest to construct.
What makes a success story easy? You have all the core information in hand or can access it readily. You have useful evidence to substantiate success. You have happy, satisfied customers willing to share data and/or great quotes.
Decide whether your goal is to develop a full-fledged success story or something more compact. How much detail do you need to include? Want to include? As a general guideline:
Condensed – Useful for websites and slide presentations, these are very condensed and easy. They include only minimal detail, such as the customer’s name, a brief statement of the problem, and a quick statement of results.
Compact – Roughly half a page to one full page, these are very versatile. Display them on your website, link to a PDF version, use them in print, or do all three.
Complete – This is a fully developed story, consisting of roughly two pages of content, supplemented with customer quotes and graphs, charts or illustrations.
Typically, we work to create a fully detailed two-page success story first. Once you have a complete success story, you can shape and reshape it to suit any need or venue, now or in the future. (To see this concept in action, read Make the Most of What You Have.)
Now that you’ve decided the scope of your success story, commit to a deadline. Four weeks is a reasonable timeframe. Yes, I can hear you: Four weeks?!
Here's the scoop. Most companies truly don’t have all the essential information in hand and ready to use – even when they think they do. Tracking down accurate data and details takes time and energy. If you need to contact customers to get this data or obtain quotes and testimonies, that adds to the timeline. And, there’s that pesky thing called “work” which you’ll have to maintain, so set a reasonable deadline based on your circumstances.
In the first post, we summarized how useful success stories are as a marketing tool. Today, we've brainstormed a list, added some detail, picked one story to focus on, and set goals for the depth of detail and deadline for completion.
Next, we’ll take a look at how to build the content and flow it into the basic success story outline. We’ll share some practical, rubber-meets-road writing tips and explore points to consider in terms of layout and presentation. Finally, we’ll share some classic pitfalls you’ll definitely want to avoid.