Category Archives: Marketing

3 Keys to Creating Trust with Potential Clients.

Here’s a shocker! I was reading that a CBS News/New York Times Poll revealed only 30% of respondents believed people in general are trustworthy. Not surprising perhaps but disillusioning.

But all’s not lost. When a  similar group was asked,“What percent of people that you know are trustworthy?”  the response jumped to 70%.  Clearly knowing someone makes a big difference. The more people get to know us, the higher the level of trust. It makes sense.

A key factor in whether potential clients will hire us as personal historians is trust. But how to build trust in an introductory meeting?

I turned to The Oxford Dictionary for help. It defines trust as: a  firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something. If we take each of these components of trust, they provide clues to building rapport with a new client.


Reliability begins with the simplest of acts – showing up on time for your meeting. Nothing kills  reliability more than changing an already fixed appointment date or showing up late or early.

It also helps if you’ve been in business for a few years, have a track record,  and have a set of glowing testimonials.

Avoid being needy. It reeks of desperation and raises questions about the health of your business. No one wants to sign a contract with someone who’s about to go under.


Refrain from being somebody you’re not. People can smell phoniness.  You don’t have to adopt a “marketing”  persona or be over solicitous.  Go into your meeting with a new client confident, friendly, and mindful. That’s it, nothing more.

Forgo trying to be all things to all people. For example, if your specialty is producing video biographies, don’t “fudge” things by selling yourself as a book specialist in hopes of  getting the job. You won’t sound convincing. It’s better to recommend a colleague whose expertise is print. You’ll win points for being honest. While you might lose the contract, your good name will spread in the community. And that matters.

We all expect straight answers. Your clients are no different. Questions about your fees, expertise, years of experience, and the time to complete a personal history need to be answered  without obfuscation.


If you’re new to personal histories, you may have little to show prospective clients. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t highlight your previous experience to establish your proficiency.  For example, print and video editing, interviewing, counseling, radio and film producing all require skills that come to play in producing a print or video life story.

Regardless of the number of years  experience, you want to display your interviewing expertise from the moment you meet your prospective client. If you’re friendly, curious, attentive, and  non-judgmental, then you’ll have modeled  good interviewing skills. This is subtle “selling” but it works in establishing trust and rapport.

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5 Essential Marketing Approaches You Need for a Successful Personal History Business.

Not all marketing approaches are equal when it comes to your personal history business. Traditional print advertising, for example, isn’t that effective. Few if any of us could sustain the major expense of an ad campaign. And we engage our clients at a very intimate level which requires that they know, like, and trust us before buying our service.

So if not all marketing approaches work, what does?

The collective wisdom of personal historians  who’ve built successful businesses suggests that these 5 approaches are essential.


Having  satisfied clients sing your praises to their network of family and friends  is pure gold. A colleague of mine gets most of her clients by word-of- mouth. If you’re starting out, it’ll take some time before you’ve built a critical enough mass to ensure a steady flow of clients.

This doesn’t mean you can’t begin the process with your very first client. If that person is really pleased with your work, don’t forget to ask for referrals. Check out my previous post Lousy at Getting Referrals? Here’s Some Help for more help.

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful. ~ Jeff Bezos, founder

engage your community

Because our profession is a very personal business, potential clients want to be able to see, hear, and be inspired by us. So put yourself in the middle of groups  where you’re likely to meet face-to-face with potential clients. You can do this by volunteering, agreeing to sit on boards of community groups, and networking with business associations like BNI. I’ve written more about this in What Do Fishing and Personal History Clients Have in Common?

public speaking

I know this can strike fear in the hearts of the bravest souls but don’t pass up a great opportunity to promote personal histories. I’ve some help for you in  How to Get Control of Your Pre-Presentation Jitters.

Remember that your presentation isn’t about soliciting business but about educating people on the wonderful world of personal histories. Work up a variety of presentations that can fit a 15 or 30-minute time slot. You can read more about honing your presentation skills in my previous article Do You Want to Bolster Your Presentation Skills?

Next, contact groups in your community who might be interested in personal histories such as church groups, genealogical societies, book clubs, and service organizations.

build referral partners

There are a number of businesses which serve some of the same clients as personal historians. These include life coaches, wedding planners, financial planners, and eldercare transition specialists.

Over time you can  extend your reach by cultivating such referral partners. Read more about this in  You Can Do It! Get Referral Partners Today.

talk it up

Don’t underestimate the value of mentioning your work whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Don’t be shy. Always carry a few business cards.

See your supermarket, bank, library, dentist office, and public transit as full of potential clients.  Chat with a stranger in a line up or with a receptionist or librarian. It works.  I’ve been asked for my card by a cashier at our local grocery store and by my dentist.

You just never know where your next client will come from.

Make it happen!

Don’t turn the chance to go anywhere. Join clubs, do anything you can to get out there and meet people. You are your product. Advertise it.
~ Max Markson, Australian marketing expert

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Encore! You Can Do It! Get Referral Partners Today.

You Can Do It! Get Referral Partners Today. In a previous post, “Lousy at Getting Referrals? Here’s some help,”  I provided several tips that could increase your referrals. A personal historian colleague asked me to expand on my suggestion,  Develop a large network of referral partners. She asked, “I know that we can benefit one another, but how do they know? How do I persuade them to give me their time for free? And what does it mean to follow up with my network every three months or so?” … Read More

Want to Know What Betty White Can Teach You About Your Personal History Business?

1989 Emmy Awards

Who doesn’t  love Betty White? I’m a huge fan, first encountering her as the sugar-coated tough cookie  Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. This past weekend I was reading an interview with White.

I was struck by the fact that her life has lessons to teach those of us who run personal history businesses. I’m not for a moment suggesting that we can all possess the good health and talent of a Betty White but we can certainly learn from her example.

Keep going

Betty White has been working hard for over  six decades. She’s done it all, constantly reinventing herself. She started out in radio in the 1940′s. Her first television appearance was in 1949 with Al Jarvis on Hollywood on Television which she later hosted.

Through the 50′s she created, co-produced, and starred in the syndicated comedy Life With Elizabeth for which she received her first Emmy Award.  Through the 60′s  and early 70′s she appeared regularly as a celebrity panelist on game shows.

Her big break came in 1973 with The Mary Tyler Moore Show where she was a regular until the series ended in 1977. Her next starring role, for which she received her second Emmy Award, was on The Golden Girls from 1985 through 1992.

Through the 90′s, White guest starred in numerous network television programs. She also lent her voice to a number of animated shows. Most recently she’s hosted Saturday Night Live and is starring in the comedy series Hot in Cleveland.

LESSON: Success doesn’t happen overnight. As a personal historian you’ll need to put in many years of hard work. You might have to take on a second job to pay the bills. Like Betty, who continually reinvented herself, you’ll need to learn new skills such as public speaking, book  production, blogging, or workshop design. Doing all this with determination and a positive attitude will help you through the tough times just as it did Betty White.

celebrate your uniqueness

Betty White embraces her age. She makes no apologies for being old. From the Golden Girls to Hot in Cleveland she’s demonstrated that you can be old and still be funny, smart, outspoken, and sexy.

Receiving a lifetime-achievement award at the 2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards, she gushed sincerely about how lucky she’s been to work with so many in the room, and then seamlessly added, “And I may have had some of you, too.” Back on that podium again in 2011, she stroked the statuette’s bare bottom and smiled lewdly.

~ from the Globe and Mail  The Betty White tornado

LESSON: Be yourself. As a personal historian, I bring decades of experience as a documentary filmmaker. I value my graying beard and wrinkles. I see my “advancing years” as a plus in this business. Age suggests experience and a life lived – all valuable and marketable traits for a personal historian.  Look hard at what makes you special and unique. This will be a selling point with your potential clients who are not only looking for competency but also authenticity.

Embrace curiosity and learning

“You have to stay interested in things.” White said in her Globe and Mail interview. “There’s so many things I want to know more about that I’ll never live long enough to do. But it’s something to reach for.”

Betty White is a marvelous example of life-long learning. Starting in radio, moving to television, then becoming a producer, starring in feature films, hitting the quiz show circuit, and now releasing her fifth book  If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won’t).

Given her six decades in the entertainment business she could have easily succumbed to its changing technologies and tastes as many did. But she rose to the challenges, got even better, and survived without any bitterness. As she says, “Sickeningly optimistic.”

LESSON: To survive in the personal history business we need to adapt or be swept aside by the the digital revolution. E-books, print on demand, social media, and HD video all require learning new ways of doing our work. Sure,  it’s not easy at times but sticking our heads in the sand or complaining bitterly won’t work. Grab on to your inner “Betty White” and just do it!

look Fantastic

Have you noticed that throughout her career Betty White always looks fabulous and stylish? She’s not afraid to show some flair and sassiness.

LESSON: Hire a designer to ensure that all of your marketing materials – business cards, brochures, and website are first class. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to come up with a design that speaks to your uniqueness. And don’t forget your own appearance. Looks do speak volumes whether we like it or not. You want your business attire to read confident, impeccable, trustworthy, and appropriate.

Photo by Alan Light

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From the Archives: Are You Using Storytelling to Promote Your Personal History Service?

Are You Using Storytelling to Promote Your Personal History Service? “For most of the 190,000 years that humans have been alive on this earth, they’ve learned their most important information, including survival skills, culture, religion, etc., through stories. The human brain, in fact, is wired specifically so that stories, and storytelling, have a much stronger emotional impact than information that’s presented quantitatively or according to some other emotionless structure.” ~ marketing guru, Michael Bosworth … Read More

From the Archives: 8 Reasons Why Personal Historians Should Use Twitter.

8 Reasons Why Personal Historians Should Use Twitter. [A tip of the hat to Diane Haddad at Genealogy Insider for giving me the idea for this article.]

These days there’s a lot in the news about Twitter. Some of you might be tempted to dismiss it as a fad and of little value to you as a personal historian.  I’ve been using Twitter for awhile and see its potential.  Here are eight reasons why I think you should give it a try: Expand your network … Read More

The Costliest Personal Histories in the World!

How many of you would have the nerve to proclaim, “We will NOT be oversold”? Yet that’s just what designer and retailer Bijan Pakzad did.  For thirty-five years he reigned over his exclusive Rodeo Drive establishment in Los Angeles. Bijan died last week at the age of seventy-one.

From his by-appointment-only boutique to his claim as “the most expensive clothing designer in the world”, Bijan was an unapologetic promoter of exclusivity.

You might be asking yourself, “But what does opulence and exclusivity have to do with personal histories?” Good question and here’s where I see the connection.

People buy products for their perceived benefits not for their features or functions.

We purchase a computer not for its technical specifications but for its benefit to us – namely fast research capabilities, entertainment, communications, marketing, and so on.

Bijan wasn’t selling clothes. He was selling celebrity, exclusivity, and glamor.

As personal historians what are we selling? If you said books, videos, or CDs, you’d be wrong. Those are the products of our work. What people are buying are:

  • Time. People are busy and don’t have the time to document mom or dad’s story.
  • Satisfaction. People feel good honoring someone through a life story book or video.
  • Expertise. Generally people  aren’t skilled in the many aspects of producing a personal history and need our help.
  •  Closeness. People perceive that a personal history will bring families closer together.
  • Understanding. Participating in the recording of a life story gives people a better understanding of who someone is and how that person got to be that way.

people will pay a premium price for specialty products and services.

The truth is that while  Bijan’s clothes are priced at the high end of the designer market at $1,000 for suits, they are hardly the most expensive in the world. His clients are drawn by the cachet of exclusivity and pampered service.

On a more pedestrian level, Starbucks pioneered the brewing of premium coffee in North America.  Before  Starbucks  opened in Seattle in 1971, a cup of coffee was just a cup of coffee and could be had for 10 t0 15 cents.  Many a skeptic would have questioned the wisdom of charging 10 times that amount for a “fancy” coffee. They were proved wrong. The story of Starbucks success is now part of pop culture history.

In a previous post  Are You Charging Hamburger Prices for Gourmet Work? I wrote:

Something else to think about. A  Stanford University study showed that when subjects were given the same wine and told that one bottle was $5 and the other $45, people unfailingly found “the expensive wine” tasted better. “So, in essence, [price] is changing people’s experiences with a product and, therefore, the outcomes from consuming this product.” said Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing who co-authored the research report.

What do these studies  say about how you price your personal history services? They show that pricing too low can be perceived by your potential clients as you’re offering an inferior product. People still believe the old adage – you get what you pay for.

Personal historians provide a specialty service and product. Like Bijan and Starbucks, we need not apologize for charging a premium price.

I’m not suggesting that every personal historian should  sell exclusive products at eye-popping prices. What I do want to emphasize is that we  need a shift from seeing ourselves solely as “craftspeople” toiling away in obscurity for the love of our work. That’s okay if you’re into this as a hobby. It’s not okay if you want to build a successful business.

So, who will proudly proclaim that they produce the costliest personal histories in the world?

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From the Archives: Eight Lessons My Mom Taught Me About Marketing.

Eight Lessons My Mom Taught Me About Marketing. My mom is ninety-two and a wise woman. She never had much schooling but she earned her doctorate at the university of life. She has a homespun wisdom that on reflection has taught me some vital marketing lessons. Here they are:  1. Never leave home without being carefully groomed. My mom always leaves her home neatly dressed and with her hair  … Read More

From the Archives: 12 Ways to Ensure Your Personal History Business Fails.

12 Ways to Ensure Your Personal History Business Fails. [A tip of the hat to Laura Spencer at Freelance Folder for inspiring this post.]

Ever get a “teensy” bit tired of all those gung-ho blogs dedicated to productivity and success? It’s time for some balance. Let’s talk about good old-fashioned failure. For all you personal historians who are  run off your feet with  clients’ demands, here’s your escape plan. Follow these 12 tips and you  can’t help but fail successfully. Do you have some great … Read More

Would You Hire Yourself?


Every time we meet potential clients, we have to prove ourselves.  They’re sizing us up and assessing whether we’re the right fit for them.  Here’s a cheeky question. Would you hire yourself? My quick reply  is of course I’d hire myself. Why wouldn’t I? Here’s a list of my qualities and skills:

  • Friendly
  • A calm and inquisitive nature
  • Good listener
  • Reliable
  • Sense of humor
  • Meets deadlines
  • Six years in business and a proven track record
  • Testimonials and references from previous clients
  • Prior life and work experience that shows a connection to my current interest in personal histories
  • Membership in two professional associations – the Association of Personal Historians and the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.


This sounds like a pretty good list.  Right? But here’s the catch. What’s missing? Some years ago I did a little self-examination that revealed some cracks in this otherwise “sterling” picture of myself. And to be honest, these weaknesses  contributed to the loss of potential clients. Here’s what my analysis revealed:

  • I was focusing more on “selling”  rather than “soliciting the  needs” of the client.
  • I failed to show samples of my work.
  • I wasn’t precise and clear about my pricing.
  • I didn’t offer alternative personal history products that clients might find more within their price range.
  • I failed to show my passion for recording life stories.

I’ve since worked on these weak points and can now claim that I’m almost perfect. ;-) But seriously,  we all need to do a periodic self-examination and ask, “Would I hire myself?” You might be surprised at what you find.


It’s your turn to shine a light on your abilities and shortcomings as a personal historian. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Have you have a body of work you’re prepared to show potential clients?
  • Do you get projects delivered on time?
  • Are you clear about your fees and how they’re structured?
  • Do you have a “stick with it” attitude or give up easily?
  • What have you done in the past six months to keep up with changing technologies?
  • Do you belong to any professional associations? How active are you in them?
  • Do you present yourself in a professional manner?
  • Are you a good listener and able to empathize with people?
  • How much experience do you have in running your own business?
  • Do you have testimonials available for distribution?
  • Do you offer a variety of products and services?
  • How do you show passion for your work?

What other questions could you ask yourself? Please share your comments. I always enjoy hearing from you.

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