Make Your Pitch Personal

Can I share my own story when I pitch to my target market?

➽You might worry that others will think sharing candid personal details shows weakness, but I’ve found that it forges a bond.

For example, when I started Women For Hire—a career expo company—more than a decade ago, I let job seekers know I felt their pain by telling them how I was unexpectedly fired from a position I loved. I knew all about pounding the pavement to find my next gig. I think it gave me a gravitas among a crowd leaning (understandably) toward skepticism, if not outright cynicism.

And in late 2013 my book The Shift debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list because women could relate to my deeply personal account of being overweight my entire life… until I lost 62 pounds in a year.

How do I know this to be true?

Because in both cases, the people I was aiming to reach told me so—to my face, in phone calls and in thousands of letters and emails.

Nobody has my story, background or personal experience, and I use those unique assets unabashedly to support everything I’ve done. I’m not alone.

Amelia Lock of the Boston area designs and sells jewelry, but behind those gorgeous gems is a lawyer. By revealing her background to the people she works with and sells to, Lock says she has earned respect over the years. “Customers take me and the business a bit more seriously when they learn I’m a lawyer. It seems to convey the message that switching careers was not something I took lightly, that it was deliberate, and that I take business ethics and honesty very seriously. There are so many flakes and pushy sellers in jewelry, and having the law background helps to set me apart.”

Susan Raisch of Staten Island, N.Y., helps schools develop anti-bullying curriculums. She describes how she heard about the Columbine school shootings in Colorado. “I was working at home, and the news was airing in the background when my son, Peter, came home from high school. He was 16. We watched the tragedy unfold on TV. There was a boy Peter’s age bleeding and hanging from a broken window—trying to escape his two schoolmates, who were randomly shooting students inside. Peter said the shooters must have been bullied. I was shocked by that, but every teen I asked said the same thing.”

After news coverage of the massacre waned, Raisch says the “big focus was to put metal detectors at the entrances of schools.” But she felt strongly that students needed to learn about bullying and how to fight it, so she emphasizes early prevention and leadership. Raisch created the bullying prevention tool “One Can Count” that is available free (a state senator funded it) to 30 elementary schools in her area. That family conversation from years ago plays a prominent role in every pitch she makes, differentiating her program from similar ones.

Branding expert Ali Craig explains why the sharing works: “Strategically using your personal story doesn’t just help to distinguish yourself and your company from everyone else—it will also speak to the subconscious core values of your customers. They connect with the story, which helps them connect with your brand, creating a customer base who will proactively promote and defend your brand.”


Tory Johnson is CEO and founder of Spark & Hustle, a weekly contributor on ABC's Good Morning America and a contributing editor of SUCCESS magazine.

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