The (War) Stories You Choose To Tell

You’ve got some big stories to tell in your business—your origin story (how you came to be doing this, right now) and perhaps a few “how I grew my business” stories.

But of course what clients want to hear/see/watch after they’ve checked your bonafides?

War stories.

Your badges of honor from the front.

Not some random client project, but truly killer stories that perfectly capture the transformation they can expect if they choose you.

The best war stories showcase the experience of working with you. The bigger and riskier the work, the more weight clients put on your stories.

So choose wisely.

A designer I was vetting for a client project decided to pitch me based on his approach of “always standing by my designs”.

It went like this. A very high-profile client (Mistake #1: yes, he name-dropped which in this case felt wrong) hired him for a project to design the visual identity for a new start-up.

The client “chose the wrong option” (Mistake #2: never show a client an option you’re not prepared to live with) and the designer was beside himself. How dare the client make such an error? All of his appeals fell on deaf ears—the client loved what was supposed to be a throwaway design.

So, without telling the client, he substituted his preferred design in the pivotal meeting unveiling the company identity to its key investors (Mistake #3).

As he tells it, the investors loved his perfect design and extolled its virtues to the client. Who (at least in this version) eventually forgave him and now tells the story himself.

I was stunned.

Pulling an intentional, very public sabotage of your own client?

And bragging on it?

Saying no was a foregone conclusion.

But as much as it turned me off, there was perhaps a bit of genius in his story.

It might very well appeal to someone who wanted an arrogant cowboy.

Believe it or not, there is a subset of clients and agencies that want this in a designer, believing you can’t get great work without bad behavior.

And his story did perfectly capture what to expect from working with him—which also meant I bowed out early in the process and didn’t waste his time.

Did he take the story too far?

Of course he did for me, but I’m clearly not his target audience.

The only way to be sure is to look at his bottom line results from telling it.

Has it won him other assignments?

Does he have to turn away work because he’s so busy?

Does word-of-mouth help or hurt him?

I’d dearly love to look under the hood of his business to see how that’s working for him.

Because if the market for a free-wheeling, fast-dealing designer is big enough—and you can get beyond the “ick” factor—his plan is genius.

But if not, he’s doomed to spend most of his time trying to sell and not very much time actually doing the work he claims he loves.

Your war stories are an integral weapon in your consulting arsenal.

Hone them well.

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