The Story Inception


The Story Inception Manifesto is going to cover a lot of ground.

One of the core principles I live by is transparency. So, before I dive in, I want to explain something important.

I unpacked the framework and building blocks that represent what we call a Durable Business in the Durable Expert Business Manifesto making it easy for you to reference.

This Manifesto is about mapping my flagship product, the Story Inception Method which supports the concepts laid out in the Durable Expert Business framework.

As part of being fully transparent, I want to say this:

The Story Inception Method (SIM) documents the principles, methods, and workflows I've been implementing myself (and for clients) and have been honing over the past 4 years.

In contrast: many courses today exist because they're easy (and sexy) ideas to sell.

The reality is they rarely represent what the creators have been doing in the field for multiple years or decades. They're marketable ideas, not stress and time-tested methods.

If I had to start all over again - from nothing - the work I would do to build a new Durable Expert Business is what you'll find documented, step by step, concept by concept, in SIM.

It is my best thinking of what actually works in the real world of digital marketing based on nearly 8 years of experience.

With that said, a question I get (a lot) is...

'Where do I start?'

The honest answer is 'it depends'. That's not my favourite answer, but it's the honest one because different situations require different solutions.

Let's start by looking at four common scenarios. Then I'll identify the best path forward for each.

Scenario #1: You have an idea for an online business and you don't know where to begin... Or you are interested in an online business but haven't developed specific ideas or expertise yet.

Scenario #2: You are generating some income online but not enough to quit your day job yet... So you want to turn that into a 'real' business.

Scenario #3: You have taken the plunge and work full time on your online business... Now you want to expand/improve.

Scenario #4: You're a digital marketing service provider/agency and you want to get the best possible results... For you and your clients.

Eventually each of these scenarios requires the three elements of a durable expert business — Connection, Community and Conversion — working together to create results predictably.

However, if you try to do all three at once it's easy to feel overwhelmed (and a great way to procrastinate!

That will slow you down.

By the end of this Manifesto you'll have a road map for each of these four scenarios. 

I'll take you through how I think about each one from the perspective of the Story Inception Method and other resources I believe are valuable.

First, I’m going to focus on Scenario #1.

I know what it feels like to have ideas to share with the world. Like you, I’m a creative professional and I want to express my ideas and make them real.

However, I also know it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Worse, there's a lot of bad advice available (and plenty of ways to spend your money on that bad advice).

Let's start by telling you what you don't need to think about if you have an idea for a business. 

You don't need:

  • Tech. It doesn't matter yet... A complicated sales funnel with upsells, down-sells, cross-sells, and everything in between
  • The latest and greatest retargeting hacks.
  • Anything to do with a webinar... They take a long time to get right and are not the best way to convert your prospects into leads.
  • A 'how to' guide for setting up sophisticated email segmentation.
  • A 'funnel quiz' on the front end of your business that does not exist yet.

Instead, what you really need is…

  • To have a really clear definition of your ideal customer.
  • To define a short list of the challenges your audience will pay good money to solve.
  • A simple way to tell memorable stories that attract, engage, motivate and inspire people to become clients
  • A proven system to reach out  to your audience and attract them to you (organically to start with) so you can start making sales.

With these, you're in a position to test your hypotheses, get feedback and iterate your way to success.

(Airbnb and Dropbox are two unicorn's that followed this process. Both represent expressions of iterating their way to what you see today. It's fun to use the Wayback Machine to see the various stages of iterations of any online business; mine included.)

Knowing the struggle that your ideal customer is yearning to overcome and being able to express it in words and phrases that they themselves would use is the foundation of your Long Term Business.

This is not just a once and done process to follow

Priorities change.
Problems evolve.
Understanding does too.

In the Autumn of 2019, your audience was thinking one way. In March 2020, they were thinking another or, at the very least, the context had changed irrevocably.

Here is a template that I use to help (one piece of the process) my clients understand on a deep and personal level who they are dealing with. Completing this framework will help you in the Connection phase of building relationships.

Once you've identified a hypothesis you want to explore, Seth Godin's First, ten approach is a low-risk way to get immediate feedback. 

Seth writes:

"Find ten people. Ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you...
Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they'll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat.
If they don't love it, you need a new product. Start over."

It really is that simple at first. 

Talk to people and, more importantly, really listen. 

Is anyone interested?
Do they want to know more?
Do they tell anyone else?

If the answers to these questions are YES... Excellent.

If the answers are NO, go back to square one and start again.

(Your goal is to make yourself indispensable to the smallest possible commercially viable segment of your audience).

Another way to validate ideas quickly and inexpensively is to use organic outreach on Facebook (you’ll learn how in SIM) to gauge response and validate your hypothesis before you invest time, energy, and money building out your full course/product/eCom site or whatever it is you do.

The point here is that you cannot develop these things in a bubble. You have to let your potential audience tell you what they like (and will pay for) before you create it.

If you find yourself in Scenario #1...

Here's a 'road map' you can follow for step-by-step, focused results (with as little risk as possible along the way).

Start with the Personna Worksheet and fill in as much detail as possible. This is non-negotiable because it:

  • Identifies your avatar’s main characteristics quickly (2-3 hours to generate) and the major problems they face.
  • Stacks the deck in your favour by explicitly matching the most important needs of your audience with the core benefits of your idea.
  • Minimise risk by focusing on minimum viable hypothesis to test quickly for feedback.

Next, reach out to your Facebook Audience on your Timeline and ask them relevant questions about your business idea.

(The Personna Framework works really well to develop and test ideas for new products, new offers, and new services for existing businesses too — we'll talk more about that later in this email series.)

Facebook is a powerful way to test ideas with real audiences (who may eventually become customers and Superfans). 

You can do that without spending a dime on Facebook Ads.

In fact, until you have your first 10 customers, don’t be tempted to spend money on paid traffic. It’s the fastest way I know to blow hundreds and possibly thousands of bucks that you don’t have (or don’t want to spend, right now).

Once you've identified one or more ideas with some traction, it’s time to focus on turning the most likely one into income by landing your first 10 customers.  

(We'll go into detail about both later.)

Two more things...

First, I was asked to take part in a digital marketing summit and as a result recorded this LIVE interview. Manny and I  talk about the importance of storytelling irrespective of whether how you are making Connections.

When you have watched it (40 minute run time), if you have specific questions you'd like me to answer, please ping me an eMail or a message on Message .

(You can ask other questions too, of course.)

Second, I’m going to introduce SIM customer Hannah Cremona in the next section...

Earlier this month, Hannah reached out to me and said:

"... And another potential client who is also stepping in quicksand right now and is soooo lost and soooo needs me right now.  
He's focusing on the wrong things in his business."

I interviewed Hannah recently and I’m excited to share ideas from that conversation. Hannah is an action-taker and has built the foundation of her ‘real’ business from scratch to the point where she hovering between Scenario #2 and #3. 

More about that later…

Now, we're going to discuss Scenario #2.

Rather than a hypothetical example, this was inspired by SIM customer Hannah Cremona.

Hannah Cremona

Hannah wrote:

"... And another potential client who is also stepping in quicksand right now and is soooo lost and soooo needs me right now.  
He's focusing on the wrong things in his business."
He’s trying to sprint before he actually learns to walk.."

It’s so common for new online entrepreneurs to get sucked in and start to try to sprint before they actually learn to walk… 

And it’s so understandable.

They're confronted with a firehose of new knowledge that they need to mentally wrestle with and make sense of. 

They forget the people they are trying to emulate are further down the road than they are and are therefore ready to use a whole different set of tools than  the ones that are appropriate for where they are.

If you’re in Scenario #2, you need:

  • A simple technical set up... To test your offers and take on your new clients.
  • A Community... Usually a Facebook group where you can deepen connections and build relationships.
  • An autoresponder service so you can email your list... And again deepen those connections.
  • A 'story driven marketing strategy'... That overcomes resistance, boosts receptivity and converts leads.
  • And a proven organic outreach process... With the option of spending $1 per day to increase reach.

I interviewed Hannah last week and learned more about what she has accomplished already and what her goals are.

With her permission, I’m sharing her story - and my recommendations - with you.

Hannah helps heart-centred yoga wellness coaches to build a scalable online wellness business. She's also an action-taker who did the work to create a minimum viable version of her offer. 

Here's version-one of the way she tested her strategy, in her own words:

"I dived into organic outreach on Facebook to drum up some connections and invite them to join my group. That is, after I had put together my initial offer along the lines of... 
'Wellness coaches, if you want to move your business online, there is one thing you need to define really clearly… That is your understanding of your ideal client.
Here is a simple system that I use to help my clients do just that...”
I just have a simple landing page — my website is still in development. And another funnel fragment to allow leads to schedule a call with me."

Facebook organic outreach > opt-in > Lead Magnet > Book a call.

Simple. Effective.

So effective, in fact, she’s already working with clients and has a pipeline of other leads to talk to . That's impressive.

Hannah's question was 'What do I do next?'

Before we answer that, let's recap the situation...

  • Hannah has experience and expertise that's valuable to her audience.
  • She generates Connections with a simple Facebook organic outreach process that makes new Connections and moves them to her Community.
  • She builds relationships with people in her Community by posting regularly on her Timeline... And in her group demonstrating her expertise and insights.
  • Then she Converts prospects into customers with those same posts, messenger conversations and strategy calls.

If we look at Connection, Community, and Conversion individually, conventional wisdom says Hannah has several options.

She could:

  • Spend money on cold conversion Ads on Facebook to make more Connections. 
  • Test different iterations of her landing page to generate more leads (To turn more prospects into leads).
  • Add an email autoresponder series to convert more customers.

Each of these decisions is logical based on conventional wisdom. 

Ask most marketing experts would nod sagely and agree... Three fine choices.

But conventional wisdom is rarely the answer when looking at a business systematically.

It is just generally accepted that that is how it’s done… 

Par for the course, if you will.

At best, focusing on the parts will produce incremental gains. At worst, systems theory tells us that focusing on the parts may undermine the whole, and in most cases, it does.

That means we need to step back, define success for the entire business-system, and then optimise for that success.

We know that Hannah wants to turn her nascent business into a profitable Long Term Business. To do that, she needs to create happy customers predictably, reliably, and at scale.

While interviewing Hannah, her path forward began to reveal itself...

She explained that her wellness coaches are yogis too, who were happy working with their customers in a studio environment.

They charged each customer by the hour and made that work for them by working with a studio full of people. 

Now all that has gone out of the window. The studio is closed or can only accept 50% capacity.

This is hurting them badly. They can only serve half the number of clients at any one time. Studio time has doubled. Income is down. And they need to find a solution fast.

They want to take their calling online and transform it into a business.

As Hannah spoke, she created a world for me (and, more importantly, her audience) to inhabit that challenges conventional wisdom and shows a better way to meet that core desire and the motivations of the audience she cares about serving.

A useful observation revealed itself that's worth sharing...

As experts in our various fields, it's easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the work we do in service to our audiences. It's easy to get lost in the forest, where all we can see are trees, trees, and more damn trees.

There is a lot of value in externalising expertise to others (one benefit of a coach).

 They have a better perspective to read the label on the bottle and spot an insight that may be so obvious to the expert that it remains mostly invisible to them — a blind spot.

A framework emerged during that conversation that compares how her audience currently behaves (for example, networking like crazy to fill up their half empty studios) to ways the audience could experience significant gain at a much lower cost of both time and energy - using Hannah's simple holistic embodied marketing approach.

The world Hannah created in that conversation will permeate everything she does going forward. It'll show up in her posts, her Facebook Ads (eventually), her landing pages, her email communication, and her conversations.

That world establishes a compelling framework for her audience to understand something meaningful to them in a way that leads invariably to Hannah as the logical solution to their needs.

This framework is all about aligning her values with her prospects’ beliefs then moving them through a logical series of steps, to a point where they are ready to buy.

I call these steps the ‘Inception Engine’.

This is a principles-based approach to modern marketing that combines the power of story and customer-focused empathy to build beliefs our audiences want to adopt, moving them step-by-step, towards a buying decision.

Hannah's note: 

Here's how I describe Story Inception:

"The wild west days are over, replaced with an emphasis on delivering real, sustained value over time to an audience you care about.
There is no better guide for your journey into this new world than Rory Ramsden — year after year he has consistently walked his talk. Living and doing business by the same principles he teaches in Story Inception.
Stop whatever you're doing right now and buy it. It's worth 1000x the price because the moment you embrace its principles you'll never be the same again."

If you have an idea that has generated some results and you want to know what's next, Story Inception is the place to start.

Before we move on, I'd like to thank Hannah for giving me an opportunity to learn more about her business and share elements of her story with each of you.

That takes courage and I appreciate it.

Thank you Hannah.

Now let’s turn our attention to Scenario #3.

When you have an existing business that you want to expand, improve, and grow.

(And do it in a way that doesn't leave you feeling a little dirty because you've defaulted to a more aggressive, push-y, style of marketing.)

I’m going to assume that you already have an offer or offers that Convert, sources of traffic that create Connections for your business, a process which adds people to your Community (a way to nurture your prospects), and a list of prospects and customers you reach out to either by posting on your Timeline, or in your group, or by email (or all three together which is preferable).

From the interactions among those three parts — Connections (traffic), Community (leads), and Conversion (sales) — your business is producing ROI-positive results. (Meaning you're making money.)

If this describes your situation (or one you hope to find yourself in soon), there are three ways you could grow your business

Each would work (well), but one is (significantly) better than the others. (I'll explain why, below.)

I like to 'show my work'... 

So you know how I'm thinking, not just what I'm thinking.

Option A:  Boost traffic flow — This is the default advice I hear to scale an existing business. Drive more, high-quality traffic (and extract more value from existing traffic with behaviourally-based retargeting).

This option adds fuel to your business engine predictably and systematically, and growth follows.

Option B: Optimise conversion — This is a more nuanced approach to business growth. The basic idea is to improve the efficiency of the sales and marketing systems you already have in place — the 'Hybrid Conversion Engine' of your business.

(It's important to remember that only 15% of your available  customers will convert in the first 90 days. The remaining 85% of customers will come in over the following 15 months. This gives us a clue as to where I should invest our time and effort, going forward.)

An oft-repeated phrase in Internet marketing circles is 'the money is in the (email) list'...

There's certainly truth in that statement, but too often it's an excuse for focusing narrowly on the wrong objectives (acquiring, accumulating, and monetising leads as quickly as possible).

A more accurate, empowering version of that phrase is...

'The money is in the strength of the relationships you build with the people you have attracted into your orbit".

That subtle shift in perspective changes everything.

One of the three parts of the Story Inception Method (SIM) is the ‘Relationship Engine’ which establishes the intellectual and emotional foundation of your entire story driven marketing thesis. 

These stories build authentic, transparent and durable relationships - using Facebook Ads, Community posts and eMail - with the audience I seek to serve.

SIM uses the (super)power of story to pull your audience closer, marketing with them — not at them — without manipulation, persuasion, or coercion.

By itself, the ‘Relationship Engine’ can transform your business results by fundamentally changing how you think about converting prospects into customers and Super-fans.

However, if you already have a business that is creating results...

I believe that combining the ‘Relationship Engine’ with the ‘Inception Engine ’ and the ‘Hybrid Conversion Engine’ you get far more than 1+1+1=3. The sum of the parts is significantly greater  than the whole. 

Option C:  Begins with ‘Relationship Engine’ to identify the high level narrative arc of your marketing from initial Connection through Community to Conversion.

Then the ‘Inception Engine’ sets out the beliefs your prospects needs to internalise and accept before they can become customers and superfans, and builds that logical sequence, step by step, into all of your marketing messaging (Ads, articles, Web-copy, Webinars, videos, emails, etc.).

Then, the focus shifts to improving Conversion using the principles, strategies, and tactics integrated into the Hybrid Conversion Engine (informed by the insights generated from Relationship Engine).

The Hybrid Conversion Engine is the 'volume dial' of your business, giving you greater predictability and more control over your results long-term.

In simple terms:

  • Relationship  Engine establishes the intellectual and emotional Connection which is the foundation of your entire story driven marketing thesis.
  • The Inception Engine turns that thesis into a system for attracting the right prospects to your Community and discouraging the wrong ones.
  • The Hybrid Conversion Engine Converts that awareness and engagement into customers and Superfans.

Each element reinforces and expands on the other two, creating opportunities for exponential results that produce happy customers. 

Each is an integral part of the Story Inception Method

(Full transparency — this is exactly how I am improving and growing my own business. I practice what I preach. Everything I teach I do myself.)

The next part will have a slightly different format 

I will explore how I use SIM to get results for my clients.

If you're a digital marketing service provider — or thinking about becoming one — this will answer many of your questions and spark some ideas.

Let's recap where I've been so far...

We’ve identified four common scenarios my students encounter, and I shared my approach to…

#1: When you have an idea for an online business and you don't know where to begin... Or you are interested in an online business but haven't developed specific ideas or expertise yet.

And to…

#2: You are generating some income online but not enough to quit your day job yet.. So you want to turn that into a 'real' business.

Not forgetting...

#3: When you have an existing business that you want to expand, improve, and grow.

Now we will focus on...

Scenario #4: You're a digital marketing service provider/ agency and you want to get the best possible results for you and your clients.

Principles are timeless

For as long as I can remember I've framed my work with clients around two simple principles. 

Number one, they have to sign up to owning a story-driven business rather than a competition-driven one or the following question is irrelevant.

And number two, I have to implement the strategy of preeminence meaning, if I woke up one morning as the owner of your business and knowing what I know from my almost decade of experience in digital marketing, what would I do that would serve you best

That question has served me well for a variety of reasons.

It keeps me focused on my client's fundamental needs, and is instilled with a deep sense of fiduciary duty for my clients' results.

For the purposes of this text, I'm going to revise that question so it's useful to you now...

If I had to start all over again as a digital marketing service provider, knowing what I know from countless hours working with clients and decades devouring every learning programme I could get my hands on, what would I do that would serve you best?

First, I'd learn a core set of principles that apply to all aspects of digital marketing. There's so much to learn, and tactics / tech change so fast, that it's impossible to keep up.

Second, I would explore systems theory as it relates to digital marketing. You don't need a Ph.D. in systems theory — but you do need to internalise the basics. (Read Eli Goldratt's book The Goal.)

Third, I would want to develop an in-demand skill that I could monetise quickly while building broad expertise. (You'll learn a lot faster when you're in the trenches doing the work, and there's a lot less stress when you're making plenty of money consistently.)

Storytelling has been around since the dawn of time.

It is one of the two things that make homo sapiens unique (the first is our ability to imagine something that does not exist).

Whether you are telling stories in your Ads, your posts or your emails, they are core to your ability to make Connections who are attracted, motivated and inspired to work with you.

The other skill you need is an understanding of how to initiate those Connections using Organic, Paid or rather, Integrated Traffic.

These two skills are always in demand and they are the bread and butter for any digital marketing service provider. 

There is no right answer for which one to choose.There's only the answer that's right for you.

You don’t have to be a Hemingway or a JK Rowling to tell memorable stories. You just have to understand the principles behind what makes a memorable story.

Then practice your craft until you become good at it.

When you do and you apply it to building Connections, Community and Conversions on behalf of your clients, the results you achieve for them will be exponentially better.

Storytelling is the soft skill that reinforces and expands on your ability to produce happy customers that want Long Term Businesses.

Happy Customers stay with you for a long time reducing churn and ensuring lifetime customer value (LTV) goes through the roof. They are the lifeblood of your business.

As promised, I recorded an interview for an online Summit recently in which I laid out what you need to understand to tell memorable stories and most importantly WHY they are such an important piece of your marketing toolkit.

We covered a lot of ground in that 40 minute call, including:

  • How telling engaging stories over time boosts your ROAS.
  • The 5 essential pieces of any good story.
  • How stories fit into your organic traffic strategy.
  • Why variety is the spice of life when it comes to your Timeline.
  • Who is the ‘hero’ of your story.
  • Where the Inception Engine starts.
  • A simple 5 step story framework.
  • And much more.

That Summit Training Call is 100% free. It's our way of saying thanks for your attention so far.

You can watch the video of that conversation here (38mins 14 secs).

And finally, yes, for those of you who want to jump the Q, the thing to do is DM me so we can a have a chat about you, your business  and how you can put the Story Inception Method to work in your business.

That's it.