As cliché as it sounds if I had a quarter (inflation) for every time I’ve been asked “Have you been published?” this website wouldn’t exist.  You would find me in a tropical locale, attempting to fulfill my fantasy of being the female Ernest Hemingway writer of the century:  warm sand pulsating through my toes, a gentle breath of wind carrying fragrant nautical scents with a faint taste of salt on my tongue.  No Wi-Fi, everything is hand written.  Margaritas for everyone!
Ernie would understand.
Yes, I’ve been published – thanks to a dog.  How is this related to a commercial writing website? It’s storytelling – authentic, emotionally engaging, and memorable.  Give me a product, concept, service or topic and I’ll work some magic for you.  In the meantime, enjoy a not-very-business-related-but-fun-read-nonetheless dog tale.
In memoriam:  RIP Katie Marie – July 4, 1998 – December 13, 2012.
Ode to Katie Dog
Before you came into my life with your four large paws, floppy ears, wet kisses, table-clearing tail and glossy penguin-like coat, I considered myself a confirmed cat person.   Cat people, as we are known by the masses, enjoy the feline faculties such as an inherently independent nature, the ability to defecate in a small box deftly concealing the evidence, and their undemanding requests for daily exercise.  Cats, you see, are the chosen pet of choice for those of us unwilling or unable to make long term emotional commitments.  You don’t need to rush home to let a cat out to pee.  Daily walks are unheard of and they rarely, if ever, generate a call from a neighbor complaining that their constant meowing is keeping them up at night.  “Shut that cat up!” is something I never heard, not once, in my thirty plus years as a self-described cat person.
Cats are simple, you are not.  The day you arrived I held serious reservations concerning the future of our arrangement together.  Your original father, my son, couldn’t keep you because you wanted to herd the new baby and he was afraid you might accidently hurt her.  Given your breed’s nature this was not a complete surprise, after all you should be on a ranch herding sheep in the Scottish Highlands not sequestered in a two bedroom duplex with wall to wall carpeting.  What was a surprise was that he asked me, the woman who harbors a secret Cat Woman fantasy, to adopt you!  I don’t do dogs, I do cats.  You know tuna, balls of yarn, scratch posts and self-cleaning litter boxes.
Fortunately for you my life partner is a dog person and he suggested we take you for a short foster ‘trial’ week to see how you adapted to our home before we took full-fledged ownership.  I know he really meant “let’s see how the crazy cat lady adapts” but the burden of proof really falls on your furry shoulders Missy, so don’t act too needy or off to the farm you go.
Day one, you lick a lot and this is annoying.  Mc-Partner thinks you are sweet and tells me they are kisses not licks as if I just landed on earth and it is his job to educate me on all things living.  You are pretty smart, I’ll give you that.  One of your Border Collie relatives made the cover of National Geographic and was referred to as one of the smartest breeds on the planet.  I liked that.  Better to have a smart dog than a stupid one.    I was impressed with your ability to go to the door and make a low howling sound indicating you really needed to visit the giant outdoor litter box and you never once mistook any part of the house for the lawn.  You will never fully understand how much this is appreciated.
After a week of walks I can’t say I’ll ever be happy about having to pick up your hot poop with my bare hands – well two double-wrapped Albertson plastic bags serves as a buffer – but still, it’s disgusting.  Would you like to pick up my poop?  Just so we have an understanding:  Feces are not fun.  Mc-Partner agreed at the start he would “face the feces” in the backyard which suited me just fine.
What I can say that I am happy about is our walks in that not only do I find people more willing to engage with me whilst you are in my company but after our first walking week I shed about four pounds.  This was a surprising discovery and I’m thinking this arrangement might work out as you are the ideal work- out partner: encouraging but not demeaning, slows down or speeds up to meet my pace, could care less what I’m wearing and besides the pooping (dropping your own and smelling others), you love to listen to everything I have to say.
You arrived just four months after my human mother died.  She and I didn’t have the best relationship and I spent most of my life trying to win her love and approval.  Upon her death I realized I had run out of time and was forced to cope with the hand I was dealt.  Toward the end of your trial week while Mc-Partner was at work and I was parked on my office futon attempting to read, I was suddenly assaulted with a mishmash of feelings about my mother – some good, some bad – as they spewed out from their tightly sealed bottle concealed deep within my emotional pantry.  In the background I vaguely recall hearing your frantic paw peddling as you dashed from under your chair-cave in the kitchen, nails scratching and scraping across the linoleum as if you were herding a lone lamb away from a hungry wolf, eliciting a soft whimpering noise as you barreled into the room diving onto the futon.
You used your nose to skillfully pry apart my hands which were sealed tightly over my eyes as if to try and stop the tears from falling.  You whimpered and forced your way through my hand fortress licking my tears and nuzzling my face as if to say “let me stop the pain, it’s ok, it’s OK!”  I pushed you down, yet you persisted until finally, I relented.  You patiently sat by my side while my body’s convulsions slowly dissipated and my mind returned to the here and now.
Now I never had a cat do that.  If I attempted to seek feline consolation I was most often met with aloofness or complete rejection.  I liked this new feeling – of being loved, comforted and not judged.  Even the licks, I mean kisses, were nice.  Was my self-described cat person identity really a projection of the rejection I experienced in my childhood?   Could a dog prove to be a more suitable ally than my therapist?  Certainly she costs less overall.  I don’t have to make an appointment to see her and my therapist would never dare cross the professional boundary and give me a hug, let alone lick away my tears.  Hmmm, this might just work.
So Katie, I owe you a lot.  You have taught me that unconditional love does exist.  It’s OK to have poop issues.  I need to walk daily with you, it calms us both down.  You keep me from hanging out too much inside of my head.  You ask for very little but give so much.  I’m ode to you girl, for bringing me back to life.
Now let’s go chase off that Siamese cat that keeps pooping in our garden.  Please try and refrain from wanting to eat her poop as I see a peanut butter snack in your near future.

 

 

1

Nonprofit Storytelling

 

Ok, I’ll admit it.  As I writer, I confess to not wholeheartedly embracing the age old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”.    Everyone sees the world through their own pair of rose tinted glasses colored by their own personal experiences and sprinkled with a large dose of social conditioning.   Perception.  We all possess it.  Question is:  should we trust it?

Merriam-Webster defines Perception:
: the way you think about or understand someone or something

 

One of the most effective ways to influence or change other people’s perception is by telling them a story.  I could babble on and on and give  different scenarios to drive the point home further but I would rather just tell you a story.

Several years ago I worked with a nonprofit company whose mission was to help drug addicts overcome their addiction and put them on the road to recovery.  My mission was to help them increase their donor base and other revenue streams (grants/fundraising).  Although I didn’t admit it at the time I walked into their world with my own perceptions of “what” a drug addict must look like rather than “who” is affected by drug addiction.

Not only did I need to re-evaluate my own negative stereotypical thinking I had to overcome the perceptions of the community at large.  The community we were asking to help us help these people.  When asked the question “what do you think a drug addict looks like” most people conjure up an image of a homeless man or woman in tattered clothing, dirty, and sleeping under a bridge.  In reality the majority of people addicted to narcotics are gainfully employed as nurses, lawyers, accountants, and even politicians.

These are people that typically came from stable homes where they were nurtured and encouraged to do their best and often afforded the luxury of a college education to boot.  This is not to say that someone from a poverty stricken chaotic childhood where drug abuse and domestic violence was their normal can’t succeed in life.  But the chips are stacked against them.  We are not all dealt the same hand in life.

The silver lining here is that stereotypes can be broken and that people with drug addiction do recover and succeed due in large part to the tremendous efforts of compassionate souls and committed social service agencies who give them a hand up.

So how do we eradicate negative social perceptions, instill compassion, educate, and subsequently gain support of the community? We tell “their” stories, not our own.  Not “Our agency provides substance abuse help for homeless individuals” but “Joe came to us last year homeless and fighting alcohol and heroin abuse.  Joe’s early life was…….., and after completing our program Joe is no longer living on the street.  Joe is now pursuing…..”    You have now given Joe a voice.  Much like a fictional character in a novel the author gives you the “backstory” of the character which helps you identify, understand, and feel emotionally connected to that character.  You want to read on and see how he or she fares.  It’s the same in real life.

It was while working at this agency that dealt with one of the most unpopular social issues that I urged the Executive Director to let me interview some clients, tell their story, plop it in the newsletter and on the website and let’s see what happens.  What happened was an influx of new donors with local community members eager to participate in fundraising sponsorship.  It also didn’t hurt to slip a story or two in with a foundation grant application (when appropriate).

Portrait of Success (below) is the first client story they published.  One lady was so moved that she included a note with her donation that basically read “I never gave a second thought as to why or how anyone would ever try drugs.  Why can’t they stop?  I feel ashamed by this thinking especially since I have been unable, or unwilling, to give up my daily chocolate bar even though I have diabetes.  Maybe I can now.  Blessings, M.”

This is storytelling at its finest.

Portrait of Success

Meet Sarah.  Sarah’s childhood was fraught with trauma and confusion, raised by a mother with a long-time methamphetamine and heroin addiction problem and an alcoholic, absentee father.  Fate seemed to have dealt Sarah quite an unfavorable hand.

By the time Sarah was a “legal” adult at the age of 18, she was using methamphetamines on a regular basis.  Her teen years were shrouded in drugs; smoking marijuana, cigarettes and consuming alcohol.  She eventually dropped out of school in her freshman year.  Without any positive role models or support she moved in with a boyfriend and became pregnant with her first child.  Sarah considered her mother her best friend and they frequently went on long “drug runs” together – consuming methamphetamines and staying awake for days at a time.

At the bequest of the Department of Health Services (DHS) Sarah entered ______ women’s residential treatment center at the age of 21, pregnant and caring for a 19-month old son.

Sarah was adamant about not wanting treatment and expressed herself by having frequent temper tantrums and bouts of crying and yelling.  Sarah did not possess any sense of what a normal healthy relationship entailed and was devoid of any practical parenting skills.  She summoned her young son by yelling commands at him.

Despite her incessant pleas to leave treatment she eventually started to build trust with her counselor and other staff members.  Slowly, Sarah gained insights into her relationships and developed an appropriate nurturing relationship with her son and gave birth to a healthy little girl while in treatment.  Through treatment Sarah began to learn parenting skills, relapse prevention techniques and other “life skills” that she was never taught, let alone exposed to.

Sarah’s progress steadily climbed completing her GED and successful graduation from _____’ residential treatment program.  Sarah secured housing with a drug and alcohol free family member.  Her counselor helped her find a job in a large retail operation and Sarah experienced her first understanding of independence and confidence that comes with realizing your full potential.

Today Sarah continues to attend outpatient treatment services as a result of her own desire to continue improving upon her life and gather more tools that will contribute towards a healthy and bright future.  One that she, and every child born into misfortune, should not be denied.

Help break the cycle of generational alcohol and drug problems.
Treatment Works – People Recover.

 

 

1

Planning for Success

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”  

Greetings New Mexico prospects and clients!  I’m pleased to announce that The Story Muse has relocated to the incredibly beautiful high desert of Albuquerque having built an adobe nest in the quaint village of Placitas.  I enjoyed 10 years of living in the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Oregon) but I must say it is wonderful to be able to dry out and enjoy consistent sunshine than I’ve experienced in over a decade.  Too bad the Twilight movie series has come to an end; I would have made a great extra.
I didn’t have much time this year to blog as I would have liked to.  2012 was a busy year – and I hope 2013 proves to be increasingly more productive.  Many of this year’s clients were nonprofit organizations which kept my brain buzzing and my fingers blazing since besides making sure your grant application and its’ content is impeccable, making sure you meet those deadlines is imperative. Otherwise you miss the boat entirely and will have to wait until the following year for the next grant cycle to commence.  Twelve months to wait for money that you need pronto is not going to propel your organization forward at the speed you would desire.  Keep in mind how many underfunded nonprofits are vying for the same grant awards.  Submitting your application even by one day matters; the early bird gets the worm, or at least, plucks the prime ones.  I advise all my clients to shoot for one week prior to the deadline to avoid any delays that are out of their control; the Post Office is a prime example.  Send those grant applications out Priority Mail, as there is a much lower chance of it getting lost in the giant package shuffle that goes on behind the Post Office front counter. 
Regardless of what type of business you have I believe on of the biggest keys to success is to plan, plan, and plan!  Get yourself one of those jumbo dry-eraser 12 month calendars and put it in your sales area, conference room, or wherever the troops gather, and utilize it.  Assign a different colored marker for each specific action/person.  Of course you can use on-line shared documents or software, but I’m old school….keeping the calendar up for everyone to see on a daily basis ensures people won’t forget to check their computer generated calendars.  For grant writing purposes, after you have identified those foundations whose focus areas match yours – get them up on the board.  Depending on how much information you have already compiled (financials, history, success stories, goals and objectives) draw a timeline and put a big fat red circle around the DEADLINE date….again, I suggest giving yourself a week’s lead time.  This calendar can be archived and later updated for next years because even if your proposal is declined the first time, you have another opportunity to dazzle them next year. 
Another handy tool that is especially effective for start-up companies or new projects is to develop a simple spreadsheet that would include a start date, the person, or persons, in charge of a specific function, and the projected date of the next step/completion.  Bring this sheet to every management/planning meeting and go down the list asking each participant to provide an update on their task including the next action needed and/or anticipated date of completion.  It might look something like this:
 Julie/Marketing     Education Brochure   11/30/12        Mark/Finance        Budget    12/05/12            Jane/Materials        Quotes/COG               11/30/12

 

This helps keep the group organized and informed as to what their team members are doing and helps hold them accountable as to their prospective role/s in the project so there are no unwelcome surprises down the road.  “What do mean you forgot to send the final copy to the printer?”
I don’t want to bog you down with today’s blog, so let’s all get back to work.  My plan is to figure out how to best introduce myself to the ABQ metro area businesses, and your plan might be to mark “call this woman who calls herself The Story Muse and see how she can help us” on your calendar.  Works for me; I look forward to the potential of working with you towards increasing your success. 
My rates are reasonable, fair, and I will work as if I own a stake in your organization.  I might even be willing to partially barter for some good green Chile salsa.  So please, consider giving me a call.  I’ll bring the chips.
 
 
 
 

“No story is the same to us after a lapse of time; or rather we who read it are no longer the same interpreters.” -George Elliott

If you have recently joined the social media bandwagon you might be asking yourself (or your communications manager) why, after a month of telling customers how great your product or service is while utilizing these new fangled applications, has yet to produce any measurable results?

I’ve got good news and bad news for you:  the good news is that you are keeping up with the new school business climate; the bad news is your story might not be as compelling as it could be coupled with the fact engagement remains at the core of social media achievement.  Engagement means responding to public customer comments, posting complimentary and relevant information at no charge (Value Added), and demonstrating an authentic and consistent commitment to meeting your prospect and customer’s needs by encouraging two-way conversations.

Many old school marketing mavens are perplexed by the notion that the New School Rules of Marketing now require a more proactive response than just a “thank you for considering our product or service” blurb.  I can tell you a large chunk of new school success can be built around your ability to authentically and consistently craft your business story and be able to “tell” this story in a brief and concise manner.

The ABC’s of Successful Storytelling include:

A. Authenticity.   No one wants to be snowballed or bullied into buying so make sure your story is authentic in scope and your goals for your product or service align with that vision.  Don’t be afraid to include personal anecdotes from yourself or from a client/customer (with permission), as nothing speaks louder than “true” stories.

B.  Brevity.  Keep it simple and to the point:  answer your company’s who, what, why, where and how succinctly.  Who (who are we-what is our business), why (why this product/service was created), the how (how our service benefits society, how our product helps you stay healthy) and the where (where people can go to receive your product or service).  Create your own 30 second elevator speech (I’m Julie aka The Story Muse.  I help local nonprofit, community and business leaders increase their customer base by crafting authentic stories through various mediums targeting their primary audience) and build from there.

C.  Consistency.  The story and subsequent chapters should be consistent across the board:  literature, web content, social media and employees should mirror The Big Story.  Consider allowing your employees to come up with their own 30 second elevator pitch – you might just find their version might be more concise (and upbeat) than your own.  Regardless, as a business owner it’s reasonable to ask and expect your staff to mirror the story.

Be clear about what you do and who benefits from your product or service.  “We are a nonprofit that helps unwed mothers.” So you help pregnant teens, or any woman who is pregnant and unwed?  Do you help women in Texas, California or anywhere in the west?  Let’s retell it by stating “We are a non-profit organization that assists single pregnant women in rural Oregon who lack financial and emotional support receive education and medical services so they can make informed decisions about their future and that of their unborn child.”  This is their 30 second elevator pitch.   Then we can answer why, where and how we do this.

For those of you interested in digging deeper on how to use social media, blogs and other “new school” marketing tools I highly recommend David Meerman Scott’s outstanding book “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” (http://www.davidmeermanscott.com/books.htm) where he covers the whole new media enchilada from blogging to viral marketing techniques.

The beginning of telling a compelling story starts today; there simply is no reason to write an ending.