Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Three Year Rule - Breaking a new market

It seems that I get quite a few people who ask me how to become a storyteller.  I also get people who tell me they are just starting out and ask what sorts of advice I can give them.  Well, there are lots of ways to become a storyteller.  Some people take classes.  Some people just jump in and start telling to anyone who will listen.  Some people join guilds.  Some people start in libraries.  I think you get my gist, there are lots of ways to begin.  However, if you want to know if you are getting anywhere, I have a simple three year rule that I use to gauge that.

The First Year you jump into storytelling, you will spend most of your time trying to get your name out there and find jobs.  There are some simple ways to do this.  Many arts councils offer artists showcases.   You may have to audition for a spot.  Most of the time you can get exhibition space even if you don't get to perform at the showcase.  You should market like mad.  Direct marketing through snail mail or email are options.  You should contact schools, libraries, community centers, book stores or anywhere else in your community that might hire a storyteller.  Get the word out as best you can.  Get a website together, start a blog.  Whatever you need to do to market.

The Second Year you still have to bust your butt for marketing.  In fact, just assume that you will have to do that every year of your life as a storyteller.  Anyway, the difference the second year is that your business should start picking up a bit.  The golden goose is being asked to return to a venue.  You should get repeat business your second year.  You should also get a little word of mouth business.  Referrals are lovely and this year you should begin to get them.  You might also get some calls from people who got your materials through the mail or email and are inquiring about you.

The Third Year is your first real turning year.  This year you should get repeat business, referral work should tick up to more of your income, you should get cold marketing inquiries from people who received your material, and the golden goose this year is people who have heard of you and know you do this.  Those are the calls where they already know they want to hire you even though you have never worked with them before.  This will not be a big part of your work the third year, but you should start getting this type of call.

1)Why does it take three years, and why does it progress like this?

2) So, what happens if this doesn't happen?

1)  This progression is neither speculation, magic, or just hope.  There are those who go from year one to year three in just one year.  It happens, but not for most people, so don't count on that.  The reason it works like this is because people who hire storytellers or live performance for various venues tend to have wish lists for who they want to get.  Sometimes it is a question of money.  Sometimes it is a question of rotating the kinds of performers they get.  Sometimes it is a question of convincing the PTA that their kids really would sit still for a storyteller.  Either way, they usually have a list and when they first see you as a storyteller, you seldom go to the front of the line.  Sometimes you do, but many times people want to know someone who has had you, or something about you before they hire you.  You most likely will join the end of the line, and in a few years or so, if they hear your name, see it written down somewhere or get a chance to catch your act, they will decide to contact you.  That process usually takes three years.   I allow this much time for all new markets as well.  It takes time for people to find you, find enough money to hire you and then arrange to get you where they are, especially if where they are is across the country or international.

2)  If for some reason you get to year three and you have not followed this progression, I strongly recommend that you consider reevaluating your business model.

a)  If you are not getting repeat business, then evaluate why that might be.  Are you choosing stories that don't fit well with your audience?  Are you doing something in performance that is not working?  Are you not getting positive feedback?  Are you getting the same response over and over and you haven't been listening?  List reasons why you might not be getting repeat business.  If your number one reason is that the audiences just aren't getting what you are trying to do, then perhaps you need to target a different audience.  It might also be that whatever you are attempting isn't working.

b)  If you are not getting calls based on your marketing, evaluate your materials.  Do you have so much verbiage that they open the email, sigh and dump it.  Nobody has time to read five paragraphs on why they should hire you.  Make it user friendly.  What is in you subject line?  Does it look like spam?  What pictures are you using?  This makes a big difference to lots of people.  What does your PR say?  If you get people to read it, does it make you sound like someone they want to have in for the day?  Do you have testimonials?  What do they say?  Where are you marketing yourself?

C)  If you are not getting word of mouth business, that is really not good.  That means nobody is referring you or talking about you in such a way that others want to hire you.  Now, don't get discouraged if you are in your third year and you haven't gotten more than one or two calls from word of mouth, but if you haven't gotten any, that is something to consider.  Evaluate the above pieces of your business and consider if you need some restructuring.  If you think it is all in place and it will take a bit more time, then hang on for another year.

D)  How hard are you marketing?  If you are not doing enough, you won't see results.

Your business should grow.  That is not to say you will always make tons of money, we are artists, after all, but you should see an uptick in work, mentions, phone calls, and emails.  How many you get, how much comes your way depends a great deal on how hard you market and how hard you work on your repertoire.  A varied arsenal of stories opens up wider venues.

So, good luck and happy telling!


  1. Donna, I got here from storytelling.blogspot and I'm like, how did I miss this post?? It's good, like you probably do a workshop elaborating on this and it's very helpful. I'm past my 3rd year technically but got sick for 4 years (feeling better now) so I feel I'm starting over. Kinda. Anyway, this is advice I wish I had had when I started in 2004. Never too late. I absolutely love your writing and I think more folks should be reading this blog. But, I am and it makes me a better teller. So thank you and know that I'm cheering you on as you deal with all that a blog brings!

    1. Kalicious, Thanks for stopping by the blog! I hope you are doing well in 2014! Good luck as you get back into the world of storytelling. I hope to see you somewhere in story.

  2. I am a beginner, this is the year of a professional website, professional face book page and starting my school residencies for free with the understanding next year I will be a paid in-house field trip. I will get there, thanks Donna, you are awesome and doing fine and sharing your information, so thank you.

    1. I hope you stop back by the blog here and there and find things that are useful! Good Luck! We always need new storytellers on the scene.

  3. Another great post Donna, and I agree with the steps you have outlined. However, one thing I would add is that before marketing you have to think about your brand. Branding comes before marketing and many miss that step. Simon Brooks and I gave a workshop on Branding at the LANES Sharing the Fire conference last weekend and it was interesting to realize how many colleagues have never given it any thought. It is a crucial and important step.

    We will be offering the workshop again at the national conference in AZ. I look forward to taking your intensive there as well.

    1. Karen, I look forward to taking that workshop. I never think about branding, mostly because I just do it. I never thought about it as a separate step. Now I'm even more excited to be in Mesa! Looking forward to seeing you!