Stories are Gold

Over the past few months, I have been speaking with scores of court reporting firm owners like you. We talk about the challenges you are facing. We talk about your opportunities. And we talk generally about your business.

Inevitably, what comes out of the conversation is a unique story about your firm, about you as a firm owner, and then we talk about how you can make strategic use of your story.

What is the key to success? It’s never one thing. It’s always many different factors, decisions, and actions that firm owners have leveraged or employed over time. Once we get talking, though, certain stories begin to emerge that differentiate each firm from the others. That is the common denominator—a good, authentic story about the firm.

You can tell when those types of stories are beginning to unfold because the enthusiasm in the people’s voices picks up noticeably. A certain level of pride begins to emerge, maybe a bit of nostalgia. It’s this type of enthusiasm, pride, and nostalgia that makes a firm’s story particularly interesting. It’s infectious. And it is those stories that are told and then re-told by your clients and colleagues alike.

Every firm has four, five, or six of those stories, what some call your “sacred bundle.” As human beings, we are pre-programmed to connect with stories. It’s literally in our DNA. There are certain core elements of every story: A protagonist, a problem, and a solution. That’s the construct we know and what we’re programmed to hear.

There’s a moment in the movie Walk the Line about Johnny Cash, when Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is attempting to land his first record deal. His band first plays a traditional, monotonous Christian ballad and the producer is clearly unimpressed. He tells Cash that he’s heard that same ballad, sung the same way, hundreds of times. He then challenges Cash, asking him if had one song to sing before he died, what song would he sing? That, he emphasized to Cash, was what people want to hear. Cash spontaneously begins mouthing the words to “Folsom Prison Blues.” The producer could see the passion behind the song and, if you’re to believe the movie script, that is how we came to know the legend of Johnny Cash.

That’s where you begin. Spend some time thinking about the stories that define you and your firm. Maybe it’s the first big client you landed. Perhaps it’s the fear you felt during your first deposition. Or maybe you have some amazing account of the strangest client request you ever received and how you fulfilled it. (I know that Nancy Varallo has a story about one of her first depositions where the only available seat was in the bathroom of a doctor’s office).

Those stories are the gold. Weave them into the narrative on your website. Incorporate them into your sales pitches. And tell and re-tell versions of those stories in your marketing collateral, in your newsletters, and on social media.

Nancy and Rob Deziel will be talking about storytelling as one of two presentations they will be delivering at NCRA’s Firm Owners’ Conference. If you’d like to talk about how The Varallo Group might be of assistance to you in helping to uncover and to tell your firm’s story, well, I’ll be at Firm Owners’ as well and I promise I have more than a story or two that I can share. If you won’t be in Tucson next week, let’s nonetheless make some time to talk.


Jim Cudahy, CAE
Partner, Client Projects