Go Ahead and Steal This 20 Stories Exercise

8 min. read
May 24, 2024

Marketing can be a squishy, mystifying concept.

Some freelancers and consultants wave it aside: “I don’t have to worry about it because I get plenty of referrals.” Others approach it with a mix of hope and apprehension: “I know I should do more of it, but I’m not sure where to start.” Still others swear by it: “The best way to get dream clients is to go to them, not wait for them to come to you.”

In my Morning Marketing Habit course, the first thing I do is correct misconceptions and provide simple, sturdy definitions. For example, I define marketing is making something more desirable, spreading the word about it, and giving people a chance to care.

Marketing doesn't have to be big, complicated, or expensive to be effective. It can be as simple as going to local startup events, meeting two new people each week, and keeping in touch with them.

What matters is noticing what works and doubling down on that. This short essay will give you a straightforward, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that exercise to help you do that. And you can get my template, too.

First, let me tell you about Perry.

Meet Perry, Mr. Skeptical Himself

In 2005, Perry founded a custom cabinetry company. Fourteen years later, when a mutual friend introduced us, Perry peppered me with questions about marketing in general and my approach.

Slowly, the picture resolved. I realized that Perry was retroactively processing an experience he’d had with a marketing agency in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Their account executive had been so busy pitching the agency’s one-size-fits-all HubSpot and PPC offer that he missed insights into Perry’s target audience. Wealthy homeowners who are ready to drop $500,000 on custom cabinetry, carpentry, and finish work aren’t researching that decision online. They’re not seeing a display ad and clicking on it. Most of the time, their interior designer or architect tells them who to hire. It’s a very small world, and Perry’s company only needed to be the top choice for a handful of those people to have more business than they could handle in a year.

Perry knew that what that sales guy wanted to sell wouldn’t work for him, and he was wise to be skeptical of a strategy that was inconsistent with how his clients behave.

Principle #1 – Find out where your target audience already hangs out, and show up there.

PPC ads and HubSpot can be incredibly effective for the right businesses with the right funnels in place for customers who make their purchasing decisions online. My friends at 245Digital do impressive HubSpot and lead-gen work for their clients.

For any marketing strategy to work, it must align with where the target audience congregates and how they makes decisions.

If all your dream clients go to the same two tradeshows every year, you’d better be there. If they choose from a preferred vendor list, you’d better figure out how to get on that list.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time on LinkedIn. Does the UI/UX makes me weak in the knees and do I love clicking through carousels? No. LinkedIn is where I can find a high concentration of freelancers and consultants already averaging $8,000 or more per month, working too much, and wanting their lives back—that is, folks who are a great fit for my Business Redesign program.

The best way for Perry to set his money on fire would have been to sink a bunch of money in AdWords when he could have put together a short list of the interior designers, architects, and custom home builders who already serve his clientele and either asked for an introduction from a mutual contact or reached out to them directly.

The best way for you to get better results with your marketing is to figure out where your dream clients already hang out, and show up there—often.

Principle #2 – Figure out what’s working and double down on that.

If Perry had listened to that sales guy, he might have made the most ironic of moves and stopped doing the simple, unsexy, time-consuming things that did work for him, such as meeting new people.

Perry’s gut told him, “This just doesn’t make sense,” and eventually, I helped him better understand his own misgivings and recommended that he use most of his marketing budget to build better processes for what was already working.

For example, Perry traveled up and down the East Coast to check in on client projects. Why not research the 50 relationships that would be most strategic to him, find out where those folks lived, and then bookend his existing appointments with a coffee here, a lunch there, based on who lived nearby? It would be easier to get a meeting if he could make it seem casual: “I’ll be in your city next Thursday for client meetings. Any chance you’re available for lunch, my treat? I’ve admired your work for years, and [insert mutual friend] has been telling me we should get to know each other. If you’re not free, no worries. I’ll be in your neck of the woods again soon.”

Now, if Perry wanted to put some budget and effort into running one or two fun marketing experiments beyond that, he certainly could. Better content strategy on Instagram wouldn’t hurt the company, and you just never know who might see the stunning photos of the kitchen with the one-of-a-kind banquette in that historic home in Anapolis… .

I helped Perry create his first written marketing plan, and within a couple of months, Perry had used the rather straightforward networking strategy we defined to close nearly $1,000,000 in near projects.

Was he doing marketing, business development, lead generation, or networking? For service businesses the distinctions get blurry. What you call it doesn’t matter if you figure out what’s working and double down on that.

Some of the most effective “marketers” I know would tell you they don’t know much about marketing, yet they’re awfully good at growing their businesses.

Sustainability, not Massive Growth

Perry wanted a business growth plan that worked well with the life he wanted:

  • 40-50 hour workweek
  • Sustainable 8% year-over- year growth
  • Getting home at a reasonable time to be with his wife and young children

He didn’t want to work 60-70 per week, and he most certainly didn’t want what the hustleboyz call MASSIVE GROWTH.

We have a word for growth for its own sake: cancer.

And you don’t just want any growth, do you? You want more of the type of work you prefer, sold at exciting prices, to clients you like, ones who have reasonable expectations, timeframes, and scopes.

So if you can point our marketing at anything, you should point our marketing at that, which begs the question: Historically, which projects have brought you the most satisfaction? Which ones were the most lucrative? Which ones were the easiest to sell? And how did those projects find their way to you?

If you want to bring more sanity, common sense, and sustainability to your marketing, I recommend that you go through my 20 Stories Exercise and look for patterns.

Try the 20 Stories Exercise.

This exercise is easy. Make a list of your last 20 sales or new clients and tell a short story about each one:

  • How did that customer find her way to you?
  • Why did she ultimately decide to buy?
  • What did she buy?
  • How much did she pay?

(If you’re an overachiever, you can also use the same exercise for your last 20 missed opportunities and dig up insights there, too.)

The 20 Stories Exercise will help you notice patterns. It will help you pay attention to what wants to happen.

For example, what if you see that three of your best referrals come from a single person? Why not buy him a gift to simply and say, “I noticed. Thank you.”?!

That’s what Perry did, by the way. I recommended that he figure out what his most consistent referral partners liked, through their social feeds, spouses, or admins, and surprise them with a thoughtful gift. One architect loved a specific wine, so Perry bought a case and delivered it himself. What’s $2,500 when that architect had recently brought him in on a job worth $250,000?

Perhaps you will noticed that your recent growth came from re-marketing new services to inactive clients. Perhaps you need a reliable way to keep your customers in the know. Email newsletters exist for that very reason.

I dare you to take yourself through this exercise and not learn something that has the potential to break your marketing wide open.

Go ahead and download the 20 Stories GSheet template here, and watch the quick tutorial video below. I also go into more depth in this podcast episode.

Now, it’s your turn.

“Double down on what’s already working.” No other principle will serve you better in marketing.

Okay, maybe Gary Halbert’s idea of a starving crowd but that has more to do with juicy offers and your business as a whole.

So, my friend, set a timer for 30 minutes. Take yourself through the 20 Stories Exercise. Pinpoint what has worked for you. Do more of that as a part of your Morning Marketing Habit.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info

Austin L Church portrait photo.

About the Author,
Austin L. Church

Austin L. Church is a writer, brand consultant, and freelance coach. He started freelancing in 2009 after finishing his M.A. in Literature and getting laid off from a marketing agency. Freelancing led to mobile apps (Bright Newt), a tech startup (Closeup.fm), a children's book (Grabbling), and a branding studio (Balernum). Austin loves teaching freelancers and consultants how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, and fun. He and his wife live with their three children in Knoxville, Tennessee.


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