Why practitioners should change their story

David Sloly
Khali Ackford
Richard Hattersley
Practice Correspondent
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The secret behind connecting with clients or businesses is to have a story, according to TEDx and SxSW speaker David Sloly.  

At last month’s Practice Excellence Conference at London’s Barbican Centre, attendees learned how mastering the art of storytelling will help them communicate their brand and value proposition. “If you have a story you stand out,” said Sloly. “People share that story. They're more likely to listen.”

The primary example in Sloly’s storytelling lecture was his own. Sloly arrived at his story after his dream job as a radio reporter got off to a terrible start: he was fired on his first day. But this set back turned into his big break. He was offered a new job. 

While this may seem like a naval gazing exercise, accountants are more familiar with the power of stories than they might imagine: consider how successful referrals are as a source of practice growth.

Change your story, change your world

When practitioners have a story, especially one that shows how they’ve overcome a problem, it demonstrates to prospective and current clients how effective they can be. As Sloly said: “Studies in psychology show that stories deeply influence our attitudes, our beliefs and the decisions we make.” For practitioners, changing their story can shape the direction of their practice and bring clarity to why they do what they do. 

Peter Root from Cuddles Accountancy, for example, was so struck by the story of how an embrace from an accountant hoisted a down on their luck client out of their struggles that he based his whole brand around that idea: “Our job is to embrace [clients] and their businesses.”

Studies in psychology show that stories deeply influence our attitudes, our beliefs and the decisions we make.

Stories can be used as motivation, too. By now you might be hatching your self assessment plans. The story of past self assessment seasons should help mobilise you into action: perhaps how you survived those long working days or how this story validates your expertise to clients. “If you're a leader, tell your leadership story. How you led your team to success,” Sloly said.

When it comes to finding your story, Sloly said don't go looking for the stories to tell. Look for problems or challenges that you've faced. They are great starting points.

David Sloly
Khali Ackford

How to create your story

What makes a great story is a three-act structure. Firms wanting to craft their story should follow this template:

Act one: the problem

It is here that you set out what the problem is. When you do this it creates some intrigue because people would like to know how are you going to overcome that problem.

Act two: the struggle

This is where you bring the drama of the story to life.

Act three: the resolution

What did you learn from going through that experience?

When you start asking who, what, why, when, and where, your story becomes more clear.  

Once constructed, these three-act stories can be applied to your social media presence, marketing efforts or even client meetings. “When you create your own story it empowers you,” Sloly said. “You can turn a negative experience that may be holding you back in your life, like getting fired on your first day at work, into a positive experience that can move you forward.”

To find out more, you can watch Sloly's TEDX talk below. 

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.


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10th Nov 2017 19:20

Oh gawd! There was a bloke running around this region a few years ago promoting this idea. I think he had read it in an airport business book.

Kept going on about jelly as well.

It's tortuous at Chamber/networking events listening to IFAs/anyone else who has embraced this idea sharing their rehearsed tale of how they were someone's hero.

Not that impressed and not that interested. I spend every day sorting out other people's problems and getting them what they want - I just assumed you did the same/your job - I don't need a 3 minute anecdote about it. In fact, the anecdote just makes me worry about you.

I just want to know if you seem alright and know what you're doing.

If you seem like an idiot, a salesman, someone who has taken airport books (see above) to heart, a middleman, an idiot, an old hasbeen who hasn't kept up to date but thinks that being 55 means he can charge the earth, someone who isn't a fee-earner but attends professional networking events anyway, [insert other disqualifiers] - then you can be doomed to cruising the networking events for all eternity like some kind of Flying Dutchman for all I care - story or no story.

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12th Nov 2017 12:47

There's a lot of common sense in this idea of telling stories.

When being interviewed for a new job it is always good to have prepared and have examples of where you have overcome difficulties, added value etc - this is what a new employer wants to see.

The same applies to being in practice - give prospects/clients examples of how you have helped other clients increase profits, improve cash flow, obtain finance, improve reporting etc.

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12th Nov 2017 18:18

I must agree with Kent accountant. However there's a time and place for the stories, and that's probably what's irritated Ann.

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12th Nov 2017 21:30

Time, place and how you do it.

When I was last in London, as I was walking down the street I passed a chap on his phone. He was doing "feel felt found" into it to some poor client (or whoever). It was so obvious and painful. I was only walking past - other chap probably had it for 20 mins, not 8 seconds.

Any technique is super painful in the wrong hands.

As it goes, I've found that the more "down to earth" and direct I am, the better it's received. I think some people like this rather than being given too much flower and bull.

Whatever you do, you only need to win enough work to make a living. That means you only potentially need to please and get on with a tiny % of people.

Over the years, I've noticed that different advisers attract different kinds of clients. What kind of person are you and what kind of person do you want to work with? Those are questions that everyone should ponder.

Talk about it in terms of jelly or cheese being moved or running a fish stall and it could be a book that might sell upwards of 3 copies to tired, jetlagged businessmen!

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