Building trust with strangers through storytelling

At the end of a call with a client last night, I asked her to share challenges and pain-points she’s experiencing while growing her business.


“Two things I am working on right now: enrollment of new clients, and building trust with strangers.”


In this post, I am wearing the hat of “entrepreneur”.

Topics I cover…

(1) Earlyvangelists (I promise not to enroll you in a cult, yet)

(2) Storytelling

(3) Personal Brand

And away we go…

(1) Earlyvangelists

Earlyvangelists are your first paying customers. It is a term coined by startup veteran, Steve Blank. Earlyvangelists are unique because in a world of countless options, they consciously decide to give you an opportunity.

Earlyvangelists feel connected to your humanity, they feel inspired to act, and they are attracted to the idea of being apart of something bigger than themselves. They want to live in the world you see, and they’re willing to pay an extraordinary price to give you an opportunity to prove them right.

(2) Storytelling

An earlyvangelist feels connected to your humanity as a result of you opening up and being vulnerable. She is moved when she hears you talk about the purpose of your existence being to serve humanity in your unique way.

Differentiate yourself and give potential clients an opportunity to be with you in the moment as a relatable human being. The earlyvangelist sees the upside of placing a bet on you far outweighs the potential loss. She invests in your vision by paying for your services.

A story

I built a marketing agency from 2010-2012. My customers spanned 10 university departments, several SMBs in the tri-state area, and NJ local municipalities.

During negotiations with my first customer, I was honest and upfront about where I was in the process of growing a business. I said, “This is going to be my first large scale engagement. I do not plan to take on additional clients for the next two months. I want to learn as much as I can about how to best serve you before I attempt to scale my business model.”

By sharing openly, I established a deeper level of trust with the client. Confidently stating I didn’t know everything and clearly expressing a desire to learn and grow our businesses together seemed to add glue to our newly formed social bond.

I modeled the behavior for my client to see what it looks like to adopt a culture of experimentation and continuous improvement. The client could see that I brought something new and fresh that would keep his business relevant and competitive.

(3) Personal Brand

Prior to finalizing the deal, the CEO performed additional due diligence by reviewing my personal brand online (I learned of this after the fact). Fortunately, I established my personal brand online to provide potential clients and partners with transparent access to learn more about who I am, what I stand for, what I have accomplished, with whom I have collaborated, and what I am learning along the way.

Within the next few days, I closed the client on a $20,000 12-month contract with $6,000 due at signing. Within 18 months of acquiring customer #1, my business generated about $250,000. In 2012, I accepted an offer to merge with a larger company. By 2013, I exited.

I differentiated myself and acquired customer #1 by being myself.