Cold Dead Fish Problem

Telling the Story of Micro Enterprise

We suffer from the ‘cold dead fish’ problem.  That’s the problem of the delicious sushi restaurant owned by a really nice Japanese couple with awesome service and great prices that’s empty.  Why? It might have something to do with the sign out front that says “We Sell Cold, Dead Fish.”

With that in mind, Joel ben Izzy taught a room full of CAMEO members how to tell our story so that it grabs people.  A few takeaways…

  • When asked what do you do, don’t start with “I work for a non-profit…” and then spout your mission statement – that’s the ‘cold dead fish’.  Instead, say, “Can I tell you a little story? People will usually say sure. Once you get permission, then you can launch into a story.
  • Avoid certain words like “non-profit” and “help” – we aren’t charities and the people we partner with might need some education, but they aren’t helpless.
  • Know what your audience needs – different audiences will want to hear different things. Funders want to hear that you educate people so they will suceed.  Policy makers want to know that microenterprise creates new jobs.  Potential clients want to know that they can trust you. These are just some of the messages we talked about that we want to get across.
  • To get around the problem of obscurity of microenterprise in the public eye or the misconception that it’s an international phenomenon, connect microenterprise to something that people know – their drycleaner, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, i.e. micro enterprises are EVERYWHERE.
  • When you want to encourage a behavior use a positive story, when you want to change behavior, some combo of the carrot and the stick is a good thing.
  • People like stories that validate their own story.

And now a few tips for storytelling.  There will be more to come.

First thing you do is set your time and place.

Once upon a time, well we don’t really say that in the workplace, so instead of triggering your story with “Once Upon a Time,” preface it with “About…” as in “About a year ago.”  Something like:

About a couple of years ago, right in the beginning of the Great Recession, a woman named Martha walked into my office.  She had been laid off from her purchasing job at Macy’s.  She had just bought a condo in downtown Oakland and had no idea on how she was going to make her mortgage payments now that her savings was dwindling.  She had been looking for similar work for 6 months, but no one was hiring.  She loved working in the clothing industry because she loved fabrics – the feel of silk and the warmth of wool.  She had made some of her own clothes and had gotten lots of compliments on them.  For fun, she took her clothes to a crafts fair and made about $1,000.  … (to be continued ;)