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Sound bites for small business success

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If you think sound bites are just for movie stars, politicians and the pundits you see on TV, think again. In today’s get-to-the-point-centric world, your small business spin has power.

I was reminded of the importance of this during a coaching session I had last week with a group of women entrepreneurs.

As each business owner was going around the table telling us what their companies did, I noticed that some of the stories just went “clunk” — in a good way. I got an instant idea of the business these people were in and how it might help me or someone else. Others, however, were more vague and rambling in their descriptions — or just plain boring and run of the mill.

Being able to distill who you are and what your business offers down to a single scintillating sentence (or two) — in other words, a sound bite — has practical applications, not just at a cocktail party but in the online universe.

For more enlightenment on this topic, I interviewed sound bite expert and media coach Susan Harrow.
“The problem that most small businesses have isn’t that they don’t have enough to say about what they do,” says Harrow. “It’s that they have too much to say.”

Harrow says that well-crafted small business sound bites are nothing like normal conversation and are in fact a whole different kind of speaking process. She likens them to the way language is used in novels and film.

“What makes great dialogue in movies and books is that it’s a highly condensed version of conversation that resonates. In just a few words, the language has more meaning than simply what is being said. There are layers beneath that show a bigger story,” says Harrow.

Harrow suggests creating small business sound bites that connect with your ideal audience by crafting a variety that cover the following areas:

Story: Kristen Scheurlein left a multi-million-dollar business as a graphic designer to become what she calls The Blanket Lady.

“I didn’t want to become an entrepreneur, but it’s in my blood. My grandfather was a shoemaker. In the Depression, he saw that many people couldn’t afford shoes. He traded chickens for shoes to make sure that none of the children in the village went shoeless. I didn’t realize that I was following in his footsteps when I began my business, which will become a complete non-profit in five years, but I am. We give away blankets to churches, charities, homeless. In essence, I’m trading chickens for shoes.”

Statistic: In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical errors.

Fact: “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes; I had one thousand and sixty.” Imelda Marcos

Vignette: Laura Bell Bundy, who is starring in the musical “Legally Blonde,” said in an interview, “There’s some really hilarious things that happen on stage with the cast. I lost my shoe once in the middle of a number. It flew out into the audience, and I kicked the other one off and ended the show in bare feet. I love when things like that happen. I love when things go wrong.”

Anecdote: “When a man says ‘no,’ it is the end of a conversation. When a woman says ‘no,’ it is the beginning of a negotiation.” Gavin De Becker

Analogy: Speaking in sound bite is like taking the novel “War and Peace” and turning it into haiku poetry.

Aphorism: “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” Warren Buffett

Acronym: F.A.S.T. equals Fix American Schools Today

The trick is to pepper these into the conversations you have with potential clients, media or anyone else you want to have a powerful experience of your business. This can happen at meetings, conferences, interviews, lunches, online and just about anywhere you talk about what you do.

“I have one client who was standing in line waiting to buy an iPad 2 when she spoke about her small business in sound bites to the person in front of her in line,” says Harrow. “As a result, she sold over 200 books and closed a speaking engagement.”

What is your small business sound bite? We would love to hear your comments.

Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author and president of Sterling Marketing Group, where she helps businesses negotiate the wired world of today’s media landscape — social and otherwise.


Melinda Phillips
October 3, 2011 at 2.08 pm

Something short and sweet can get my attention more easily than long and boring. If I am interested after the initial sound bite, then I’ll be more than happy to look into the rest of it.

Robyn Shapiro
October 4, 2011 at 8.31 am

Right, acronyms are getting too overused. Also, just about every time I see one there is an explanation about what it means. Wouldn’t it just be easier to say it?

Janet Lassiter
October 4, 2011 at 8.35 am

What gets my attention are facts. Statistics are great for getting someone’s attention. Numbers are very powerful. Visiting Spain, and we know, with the debt crisis over here that numbers can stir an entire nation!

Jenny Case
October 5, 2011 at 8.00 am

Where can I learn more about sound bites? Is there a book or video that can help small businesses incorporate them into their advertising?

October 5, 2011 at 8.23 am

A sound bite is like a good song or jingle, it sticks in your brain forever. It maybe doesn’t get everyone to opt for that choice, but at least it might put that choice in mind first before custormers have to think of other tangibles to decide on what business or product to choose.

October 6, 2011 at 4.01 am

Are sound bites able to be trademarked? What if similar businesses have similar slogans?

Karen Leland
October 6, 2011 at 4.10 am

Janet, I agree about statistics, but what makes them an even more powerful soundbite is when you as the expert have a particular point of view or interpretation about what they mean.

Anglia Abbey
October 6, 2011 at 5.47 am

I read a small bit from Susan Harrow on I like how she ends it with saying it’s not so much what we decide to say, but what we decide to leave out. Make it potent.

I’m going to check her out at now that you’ve posted this link, Karen!

Ryan Kucera
October 8, 2011 at 8.38 am

Just posted on a more recent post of yours, Karen. But I also had to comment on this one. F.A.S.T. – I think one of the problems with schools is there are too many acronyms. At my son’s parent/teacher conference I had to stop and ask what she was talking about 3 times. I felt like an idiot. But I do agree that something short is best for attracting customers in business. Just some food for thought.

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