One reason I love working with small businesses is because the people who comprise them often have great stories to tell: stories about their passion and how they help other businesses or organizations become profitable or achieve success.
It’s also why I’m passionate about creating Websites that stand apart from the crowd versus stuffing a company’s delightful story inside a one-size-fits-all WordPress theme and blah stock imagery.
To tell a company’s story, you have to employ the Japanese concept of genchi genbutsu or “go look, go see.” Go look, go see means you go look at things for yourself versus relying on others’ data or truths.
When I begin a new Website overhaul project, I take a tour of the business. If it’s a factory, I ask for a factory tour. If it’s an office, I ask for a walk-through. I begin observing things the minute I pull into the parking lot and note everything from the building signage to the lobby environment to how I’m greeted by the receptionist.
I’ve discovered over the years that a company’s story is often right there in front of me. When I did my initial tour of the financial services firm Welch & Forbes in Boston, I was struck by their collection of antique clocks. The company, founded in the 1830s, prided itself on using the latest in technologies to help their clients manage their wealth and on the fact that their client relationships spanned not decades — but through generations of families.
The resulting site (designed by Sonora DesignWorks) show cases this delightful combination of past and present both in terms of content and pictures. Even though I’ve done many sites since doing this one in 2009, the Welch & Forbes site remains a favorite to this day.
When I hear a good story (or stories!) during my tours, I get goosebumps. When I feel that delicious shiver, it’s because I know I’ve found a diamond in the rough.
Recently, for example, I was hired to project manage a Website overhaul for the Visiting Nurses Association of Eastern Massachusetts. The VNAEM management wanted to create a new site to better market their two assisted living residences in Somerville.
Within the first 15 minutes of the tour, I knew I had my story. The VNAEM, it turns out, was the first Visiting Nurses Association in the United States to build an assisted living facility. The woman taking me around on my tour, Linda Cornell, President of the VNAEM, and her board, had single-handly driven the construction of the first assisted living residence on a former brown field.
Yes, I saw a building and delighted occupants, but I also saw: vision, passion, commitment, creativity, and power. You want to know how hard it is to get a building constructed in Massachusetts? HARD. Linda and her board of directors had done it not once but twice!
Now that’s a story — and I couldn’t wait to weave those elements into the copy. You can read about the VNA of Eastern Massachusetts and tour their facilities by visiting their brand new site at http://vnaem.org (designed by Sonora DesignWorks).
Sometimes, however, I can’t do a tour, especially if the company is out of state or it’s virtual. It’s then that I rely on telephone interviews and research — lots of research. One client I’m currently working with is Dennis Woodruff, CEO of ClearView Consulting Company. Dennis and his team of consultants partner with the University of Virginia’s School Turnaround Program to assess principals and school districts to see if they’re ready for UVA’s program.
Dennis, I learned from interviews with people on his team, is “the man” when it comes to the BEI — behavioral event interview — a process developed by renowned human motivation scholar David McClelland (1917 – 1998). Dennis studied under McClelland and went on to become one of the top U.S. experts and visionaries in leadership assessment. (Dennis hired me after meeting with me at a coffee shop in Ipswich, MA. Once I learned who he was and what he did, I realized he had hired me after putting me through his own BEI. Whew.)
To help communicate ClearView Consulting’s story, I included a Methodology page about David McClelland in order to better explain the BEI and the theories Dennis and his team draw on in their work. You can see a screenshot of the page (the site, designed by Cre8d Design, is in progress and should be going this week).
These are just three examples of small businesses that have unique, wonderful and compelling stories. Given this, it would be a travesty to hide these stories in blah and boring WordPress themes and stock imagery.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Leave your comments below.