The Business of Storytelling

I can tell you how to become a millionaire with storytelling: start off as a multi-millionaire. It’s an old joke, but it doesn’t have to be true. The trouble is that many people with an artistic mindset don’t have a business mindset, and vice versa. But if you want to earn money from your love of storytelling, you have to face a simple fact: you’re an entrepreneur running a business.

Did you know that 90% of every business is the same? You have to achieve almost exactly the tasks any other service business does. So you owe it to your success to learn the basics, but they aren’t hard and it can be a very satisfying adventure to build your own enterprise.

There’s one simple mistake that almost everyone makes, which can easily make the difference between your business growing or failing. It’s a mindset problem, which means it’s easy to overlook and causes problems in many different business activities. And changing your mindset can make it far more fun, reliable, and strategic, to build your business. This is the mistake: not thinking like your customers.

Here’s a test: does your website, brochure, or verbal description of yourself start with something like “I’m a storyteller and I tell [insert your favourite type] stories”? Now consider: why should your potential customers care? They are busy thinking about themselves and their problems, and many don’t even know what storytelling is or have very skewed ideas about what it’s suitable for. How will you get their attention, and how will you get them to imagine how your services will solve their biggest problem? By thinking like them, with their point of view, self-interest, vocabulary, and probable ignorance of storytelling.

This simple adjustment of your approach won’t just vastly improve your publicity; it can open up new markets for you. When you understand how people see their own problems, and the results they want, you can develop targeted messages and offers to help them. Very few people have a lack-of-storytellers problem. But they may have a kids-won’t-sit-still problem, or an entertainment problem, or a low-literacy-rate problem, or a boring-museum problem. And some of them are browsing the web looking for solutions to those, not knowing how well storytelling could work.

Only once you’ve announced that you can help will they want to know the method you use. Only then is it part of your job to help them understand why storytelling is perfect for them. And for people who do know about you or storytelling, this sequence reinforces how useful and what great value you are.

Experts reckon that around 30% of the time you spend in your business needs to be on marketing. Other main tasks are admin, development of skills and repertoire, and oh yes, storytelling. Since you can’t ignore the bits you don’t like, instead learn how to make them as effective and fun as possible, and perhaps automate some bits with the power of the internet.

And yes, marketing can be fun. Most people think they hate it, but that’s because they mistake it for pressuring people or advertising. Marketing is a conversation, especially in today’s world. It’s about developing relationships and getting to know what your clients actually want. Was there ever a storyteller who didn’t like talking to people? The dry language of business and old-fashioned methods can fool you into dreading stuff that can be far more creative and suited to who you are and what you’re good at.

Here’s what you have to do continually:

  1. Find people who need you, and get some way of contacting them. In today’s multi-connected world this is far easier than before, and you can be very strategic, reaching larger numbers of more suitable people on very little budget. Most websites don’t do this – a ‘brochure’ site is just advertising – but they can do, and so can social networking sites.
  2. Make irresistible offers to those people, and to previous clients. This is where it pays to really understand their needs – what problems are they desperate to pay money to solve? If such results don’t sound like something a storyteller could offer, your imagination and creativity need engaging. People love to receive irresistible offers, but not generalised advertising.
  3. Give great value. That doesn’t mean low prices and working too hard, it means getting people to understand how huge a value they get from everything you do. Start by giving away helpful stuff online that costs you nothing. Continue by educating people in all your marketing – not just about your services but about how they can solve their problems, and of course about what storytelling is and can achieve.
  4. Be consistent. It’s a busy world and people’s attention is stretched. If you are giving people great stuff that they want, they’ll never tire of hearing from you. Have you ever heard of these things called “stories” that make people desperate to receive the next installment? It will take them hearing from you a few times before they are finally ready to buy your services.

Once you’ve found out more about what a certain kind of customer wants, and have a repertoire of enough stories, package your offers to suit them so that you don’t have to customise every performance. Professional storytellers often gradually develop programmes of stories on various popular themes. Then you can spell out the benefits of each one. People get tempted by something they can imagine.

Finally, storytellers often ask “Does Facebook work to get clients? Does LinkedIn?” The answer is an emphatic Yes! No! …These and other networks contain gigantic numbers of your potential clients, but they are merely tools. They won’t do magic; you have to learn how to use them effectively. Every network is full of potential, as long as its members include your kind of client. Use them to find and converse with targeted people. Don’t advertise at them! Make them tempting offers, educate them, give them valuable and useful freebies that cost you nothing. Experiment, test, measure, and improve. And enjoy yourself! Be creative. A helpful person having fun is very attractive!

So… what are you the solution to?


  1. Thought-provoking questions . . . I’ll look forward to more time with you and more puzzles to solve.S

  2. Susan Scott says:

    Interesting post thank you. I’ll give some serious thought as to what I am the solution to – good question.

  3. Pam Faro says:

    Strong, useful, important, abundant, helpful, right-on, good advice and info. Thanks, Tim!

    • Tim says:

      So glad to hear it hits the mark, Pam! I do feel passionately that storytellers could struggle so much less, with a little strategic thinking to get the business side working in a way that’s still fun and creative.

  4. Stuart says:

    What a great post on running a business! I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts!


  5. It’s so true that writers and artists of all kinds need to cultivate their business mindset if they want to have control over their success. Interesting post, interesting questions.What *am* I the solution to??? There’s something to ponder…

  6. Constance Vidor says:

    Great advice, Tim. May I add a simple tip? Please, please, please make it clear and obvious on the very front top center of your website where you live.

    • Tim says:

      Great advice in return, Constance – thanks! I am constantly bookmarking storyteller’s sites to add to the Storytelling FAQ, and I always add a note of where the teller is based. But I often have to search hard through several pages to find it, and sometimes I don’t even find out what continent they’re on. No one else will bother to look that hard, and won’t hire someone who could be anywhere far away.

  7. Thanks fie sharing and for reminding me to look critically at my website once more and again and again…

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