Share Your Backstory

“Letting people behind the curtain changes your relationship with them. They’ll feel a bond with you and see you as human beings instead of a faceless company.”
– Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, Rework


This afternoon at 6pm Eastern time, and barring any unforeseen mishaps between now and then involving the Hopkinton Massachusetts police department, my son Evan will graduate from high school.

It’s a big day for him and a big day for us. Evan’s our oldest, which means that with each “life milestone” he reaches, it’s usually our first time through as well. As a result, I typically find myself giving these events a little extra thought.

And, since I have an unhealthy tendency to measure the passage of time via two-week newsletter publishing intervals, I got to thinking about how many of these newsletters Evan has been featured in. There was the one about him taking karate lessons; the one about him becoming world famous; the one about him learning how to drive.

And many more. 39 in total, if the search engine on my web site is to be believed.

But it’s not just Evan. Throw in my daughter Emily, my son Jonathan, my wife Linda and my dog Abbie, and over half – 137 – of the newsletters I’ve written over the past 11 years have included stories about my immediate family.

And here’s what I’ve come to realize. While it wasn’t my conscious intention to use my personal life as a marketing tactic – I was just trying to share useful information and the stories came naturally – the more I do it, the more interaction I get from readers and the more readers who turn into clients.

I admit, that’s somewhat counterintuitive, particularly from the standpoint of selling “serious business services.” After all, your prospects and mine are busy, focused professionals with no time to spare. They want information and facts, not idle chit chat about people they don’t even know.

Right? Right?

Absolutely. That’s why reality shows have no viewers, news networks spend most of their time covering noteworthy topics and social media has failed to catch on. Serious people doing seriously serious things, 24/7.

Look, here’s the thing. We businesspeople like to jump up and down all day about how busy and hard working we are. But you know what? I don’t buy it. Being social is part of our DNA and when you boil out the personal stories in the name of efficiency, or because of your fear of being labeled “unprofessional,” or some combination of both, two (bad) things happen:

  1. Your stuff becomes deadly dull. I gave a two hour workshop last week and at the end, I handed out a single sheet of paper containing all the “information” I had shared. Two hours, and all I had to show for it was a piece of paper that could be read from top to bottom in about five minutes. So what did I do with the other 115 minutes? I told stories. Without the stories, few people would pay attention, even fewer would internalize the key points, and nobody would remember anything at all by the time they got back to their office the next day.Personal information keeps it interesting, engaging and memorable.
  2. You miss out on a HUGE marketing opportunity. I can use facts and persuasion to convince you of my credentials, my expertise and my experience. I can write case studies highlighting the impact I’ve had on clients. I can show you examples of the work I’ve done. The one thing I can’t do (successfully) is argue for why you should trust me. You, as my prospective client, have to get there on your own.Well guess what?Revealing your backstory – whether that’s talking about your kids, telling a funny anecdote about your recent company outing, confessing your odd attraction to middle aged bald men, whatever – allows people to see enough of you that they begin to trust you. And until they trust you, Mr. or Ms. Professional Service Provider, they’ll never hire you (at least not for anything important).

Here’s the bottom line. Most professional service firms are obsessed with proving their credentials, showing off their clients and making the case for their expertise and experience. Not me. I’m obsessed with just one thing: strengthening relationships and building trust (okay, two things).

And while I readily admit that the use of my own personal story in the way I market was a happy accident, I now consider it to be the secret ingredient (shhhh) in whatever success I’ve had attracting clients. If you’re not doing the same, you’re working a lot harder than you need to in growing your business.

Gotta run. You-know-who is about to graduate and there’s no way I’m not getting a good seat!

23 thoughts on “Share Your Backstory

  1. Mary Miller

    Congratulations Michael on Evan’s Graduation, which is a big step for sure. I so enjoy your newsletters and the ‘backstories’ you have shared. I hope tonight is just perfect for you and your family.


  2. Bruce Horwitz

    Hi Michael – I think, unusually, you’ve missed the mark by going from the specific to the general. The specific is the MK style of writing and the business you’re in. I don’t have to remind you that in the past you’ve urged us all to write with our own voices.

    Unlike you, I don’t do the raconteur thing very well. Moreover (see, you’d never use a formalism like that)(just as I wouldn’t normally insert these little side comments like you do) your business is not about specific technical knowledge, unlike many of the rest of us. Your business is about communication that helps establish a relationship and everyone agrees that a story is a great way to introduce a topic – that you are able to find (or make up – I know you have) stories in daily life that allow you to make a point is great. But in technical subjects it’s a lot more rare to find a story that fits.

    Ironically, as you may remember, about the only time I had a “real life” story to introduce my subject was when you provided me an “Evan” story – where he wondered about patenting coffee cup lids!

    Anyway, congrats to Evan.


  3. Brenda Stewart

    Congrats, Michael. Another milestone reached! Be sure to take tissues for Linda (and maybe for yourself, or at least be prepared for a really large lump in your throat when Evan crosses that stage!) Your backstories are the key to your success, and always a pleasure to read. Now go get that front row seat!

  4. Debby Brown


    Congratulations to the parent of an about-to-be-graduate!
    That long road probably feels quite short right about now.

    Good newsletter. What you say is absolutely true about the “backstory,” as I’ve had many of my readers comment on that–in a positive way!


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Debby!! Yes, the long road is short, but we’ve still got two more trucks on the highway (metaphor overuse alert). But nice to be there. And your stories are great so it’s great to hear they’re working so well for you!

  5. Martin Whitton

    Thanks for the newsletter! I enjoy occasionally talking about my family, or more specifically, family activities by mixing little tidbits into my regular blog posts. It’s probably a little easier for me to weave these things in because my business is photography, and I can take pictures of our family activities, such as gardening or whatever. But adding some family activities to the mix makes things more interesting and fun. And you’re right – everyone can relate to the human experience, no matter what kind of business your promoting.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Martin. I agree about the human experience. I’m always amazed how with songwriting, for example, musicians can use just a few words and yet it’s often very specific and feels like they’re talking about your own particular situation.

  6. Stacy Williams

    Congratulations, Michael! I almost feel like I know Evan, since I’ve read so much about him.

    You are dead on with this issue (as usual). A key example is Facebook. When I set up my Facebook account, I originally planned to connect only with personal friends on it, and then connect with business associates through LinkedIn. Well, that fell down quickly, of course, and I’m now Facebook friends with literally hundreds of people I know through business, including vendors, employees, referral sources, and even clients.

    I was nervous the first time I accepted a friend request from a client, but the next time we had a meeting, she greeted me with a hug and we talked about our kids. Our relationship is so much deeper and more meaningful now. Business people are people, like you say, and they want to do business with people they like!

  7. Michael Katz Post author

    Stacy! That’s a good point about Facebook. I should give it a closer look in that regard. I still pretty much do what you used to do — LI for biz; FB for friends — but I really have no good reason why!

  8. Claudette Pelletier-Hannah

    You’ve made a believer out of me. I’ve been copying your story style for years (thank-you) and it’s what people tell me they like about my newsletter. I don’t think it matters what business you’re in. Everything that happens to a writer is material.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Claudette. Yes, it’s been funny (but not unusual) to see how many comments and direct emails I’ve received in the last 24 hours, at least two-thirds of which are about graduation and kids, not the bigger “business point” of building trust which is what the newsletter is supposedly about. The personal life stories are always what make the connection!

  9. Nick Miller

    Michael, Congratulations to you and your family for supporting Evan to reach this milestone! I hope you took lots of embarrassing (to Evan) pictures. 🙂 And thanks for this article about the back story. I could not agree more. Backstory builds trust, connection, empathy, and lots of other emotional connections. The more “authentic” and candid, the better.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      You’ve been doing it longer than I have Nick and I’ve taken many notes from you! All went well last night. Evan sang and played the guitar at graduation which was really nice. Now I’m waiting for the recording on the local cable channel to get posted!

  10. Bob McCarty

    Michael – congrats to the entire Katz clan…only two more to go! I’ve enjoyed reading about Evan’s Exploits…I also enjoyed the stop-motion video he did a few years ago. I’m looking forward to more…and on to college!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Bob. Yes, I reviewed those old videos myself the other day. Pretty cool to watch, especially after a few years. Wrote my first college tuition check this week … yikes!

  11. Catherine Nichols

    Congratulations to Evan. My daughter, Devon, will be graduating June 17th, so like you, I have been thinking hard about how the years have passed.

    I only wish I had kept up with the secret I discovered at the beginning of my career in real estate; I’m sure I’d be in a different place now. When I first got into real estate a little over nine years ago, I wrote an e-mail newsletter through Constant Contact. Since I had no real deals at the beginning with which to provide potential clients with “evidence of success,” I simply wrote about stuff that was happening with my family and me. I never mentioned real estate but I did put my title in my signature. I got many deals from that newsletter, and it had absolutely nothing at all to do with real estate; it was forwarded to people I didn’t even know who then contacted me about buying or selling a home. A weekly newsletter that I wrote about my family for free got me my first and future home sales. Go figure. Postcards, open houses, ads in newspapers, and other marketing methods have never been as successful.

    I stopped writing the newsletter out of fear I didn’t look professional enough. After all, buying and selling homes is a serious business (especially these days). But after reading your newsletter and knowing what I already know, I will be returning to this highly effective and easy method of getting clients.

    Thank you for the reminder, and congratulations again to Evan!

  12. Jan Gallagher

    I have an odd attraction to balding middle-aged men–if and only if they tell good stories.

    I’m not the storyteller you are, Michael, but people tend to like my e-letter because it’s funny. I think I do some of the relationship / trust building just by being me and writing the way I think, which is pretty quirky. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I believe.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Totally agree on the cat-skinning Jan! In fact, I think as long as you are doing things to reveal the “real you,” that’s where the trust-building happens. Finding what comes naturally is a big part of that.
      Baldly yours,

  13. Lorna

    Hі would you mind sharing which blog platform
    yoս’rе workіng with? I’m going to tart my own Ƅlog in thе neаr future but I’m having a hardd time decidіng
    between BlogEngine/Wordρress/B2eѵolution and Drupal. The reason I ask іs because your design and style seems different then mot blogs and I’m
    looking for something unique. P.S Apologies foг getting off-topic but I had to asҝ!


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