Business Storyteller

Join Our Newsletter

Privacy Policy 



In this episode of the Brand Tuned Podcast, Shireen interviews Susan Payton who helps business owners tell three stories - their personal story, their business story and their customer story. 

Show Notes


In this episode of the Brand Tuned Podcast, Shireen interviews Susan Payton who helps business owners tell three stories - their personal story, their business story and their customer story. 

  • How a career writing and researching in TV and radio led to Susan's business which revolves around how businesses should use stories
  • Susan has trained in Nashville with Donald Miller - the author of Story Brand and is a certified story brand guide
  • Why your customer’s story is the most important story of all, the one to focus on
  • Showcasing what your customer needs will show you care about their problems
  • A good example of business storytelling in action is TOMS shoes who donate a pair of shoes for every pair they sell.
  • Susan can be found at

LinkedIn: Susan Payton

Valuable Resources:

Brand Tuned Accreditation
Brand Tuned Newsletter




Shireen Smith: Hello and welcome to Brand Tuned, successful brands successful business, the show for entrepreneurs and brand create, where we discuss personal and business branding, to give you ideas and inspiration for your own brand. I'm Shireen Smith, lawyer, entrepreneur, author, and advocate for developing purpose based brands to change.

Susan Payton helps business owners to tell three stories, their personal story, their business story and their customer story. She founded her business, the business of stories four years ago, and has trained with Donald Miller of story Brand Book fame, to help businesses to better craft their stories. Welcome, Susan to this Brand Tuned podcast. Very nice to have you. 

Susan Payton: Yeah. It's great to be here. Thank you. 

Shireen Smith: Great. So, Susan, how did you get into this line of work?

Susan Payton: It’s an interesting journey? I've had a really varied career in media and showbiz I started life working in television. I don't know if you remember TV am the boat long before Good morning. Whatever it's called now.

So yeah, I used to work in television, I worked in the PR department. So you know, writing press releases and things back then so I've always kind of done right. I've always enjoyed writing I've always enjoyed researching I worked in radio. Your London listeners will remember Chris Tarrant Breakfast Show on Capitol radio. So worked on that for years writing a lot of the funny stories that Chris Reese used to read out, doing various research and, and stuff. I worked in events, I did charity balls, I did golf days. So I've always kind of love that I realized now looking back, I've always loved writing. And I've always loved storytelling in all its forms, you know, because I mean, TV and radio is storytelling. So is events, you know, you put on an event you're you're telling or you're bringing people into a story that you want to tell. So I've always had that, that love of storytelling, and but I also love people, I'm curious, I'm always interested in people, I love to hear people's stories, you know, they're always fascinating. 

So all of that kind of came to a point in in 2015. When I wanted to create something from scratch, I wanted to create something bring people together, I actually started a group originally for women who wanted to start their own business. So that was called the business of mums. And I'd always worked for myself, I'd always, you know, I knew a bit about running a business I knew about working from home. So I started offering coaching in the group's I had also actually trained as a life coach back in 2011. So I've kind of trying to bring all of that together and trying to work out what my role was, you know, what, what value I could bring. And I got a few coaching clients, not tons because I hadn't really worked out what I was offering or what that value was that I was bringing that clarity kind of came later. But I did get a few clients and I started working with them. And I quickly realized that a lot of people I would go so far as to say most people really struggle to know how to talk about what they do and who they do it for and, and why. And I just found that these people I was working with were couldn't easily articulate kind of what problem they solved and what they help their clients or their customers achieve. And the question I found myself, just keep asking over and over again and keep coming back to was well, what's your story? Just tell me, tell me about you. And then they'd start telling me their story. And suddenly everything would start to become a lot clearer. And in their story, I'd see their way I'd understand, you know, what was driving them, I'd understand what was lighting them up and I'd see why they wanted to solve that problem for others that they that they're solving or I understand, you know, who they felt really compelled to, to work with. And literally I used to end up saying to them, just say that tell that story. And more and more became fascinated with the power of story and how we can hear someone's story and immediately feel drawn to them that feel a connection, you know or not, you know, your story is not for everyone. And that's, that's okay. 

But I just kind of thought, well, if it's true that people buy from people that they know and like and trust, then what better way to enable people to get to know you better and see if that connection is there is then through story. So it was very organic. But I, I kind of officially switched to helping business owners use storytelling in at the beginning of 2016. 

And I launched the business of stories. So my focus very much then was on that kind of personal story and why you're doing what you do and why your business exists. But also that third story that you mentioned, the customer's story, and you know where your business fits into their story. But as part of my kind of research, and all the stuff, I was reading and learning about storytelling, and I came across a company called Story brand, who, at that time, just had an online program, that's all they had. But I really liked what they were about. And I ended up buying the online program. And it really changed the way that I thought about storytelling in business. And it changed the way that I worked with my clients quite significantly. So the year after that 2017 they brought out the book, but some of your listeners might have read building a story brand. 

Shireen Smith: Yes. I've read it. Yeah, brilliant. Yeah.

Susan Payton: It's such, it's such an amazing burger. It's such it makes most people who read it to say to me, it just makes so much sense. So I read the book, I continue to use it every day in my work. And then eventually, I decided to fly out to Nashville, and actually train with Donald Miller, the author. And I was the second person in the UK to become a certified storebrand guide, as they call us. So now most of my clients come to me because they've read that book, you know, they've read the book, and then they want somebody to actually work with them, one to one to help them implement it, or coach them, you know, to be able to do it themselves. So. So that's how I got to where I am today. 

Shireen Smith: Wow, that's really interesting. I mean, with a background like that understanding publicity and what, you know, stories need to hear, and I'm sure, you know, it would be fantastic to use you. So how do you actually help your clients to uncover the right stories to tell? What's your process?

Susan Payton: Yeah, well, I mean, the I very much use the story brand framework now. And, you know, I often people often come to me because they understand the significance about storytelling, and they get it. But actually, what people don't always expect or realize is that the most important story that you need to tell is actually not your story at all it's your customer story, which might sound a bit awkward, you think, well, how can I tell someone else's story? And surely, you know, it's important to tell my story so that people can connect with me and see if I'm a good fit and everything and, and absolutely, there is a place for your story. Yes, but it's not the minute somebody lands on your site, you know, because if I land on your site. And there's a, there's a great big image of you, and you're telling me about why you started your company and what you know, what you're passionate about, and what gets you out of bed in the morning, and how many awards you've won, or how many cups of coffee you drank, it means that you think your business is about you, you know, you've given yourself that kind of starring role. And that means it's not about me, you know, means that it's not about the customer. 

So, and the problem with that is that, you know, we're being bombarded with information every minute of every day. You know, and your brain can, can only take so much and literally is wired to wade through that, you know, all the millions of messages that we're bombarded with and somehow filter through it all and actually work out what's relevant to me and what's going to help me be the person that I want to be or you know, live the life that I want to live or run my business or have the career I want or be the parent I want or the leader or investor or whatever it is. 

So we're looking for people and businesses and brands and products that can help us find the success that we want and, you know, win the day and so when I land on your site and you're talking about you, my brain is literally going to think, Well, I'm not sure if this is relevant to me or helpful, or you know, is this are they actually going to help me achieve the goals that I've got, and if I can't see that pretty quickly, then I'm just gonna check out I'm just gonna leave, and you've just lost a customer. So it really, you know, when I start working with a client, we work on telling a different story, we work so that when somebody lands on your site, the story that you're inviting them into is their story, you're talking about that thing that they really want, you're talking about, you know, the, what's getting in the way of them having that the problem or the challenge that they know they've got to overcome, to be that person that they want to be. So you're, you're describing how that's making them feel, you know, you're talking about, you're talking about their story, and you're laying out the journey in front of them, you're talking about the steps they need to take to get to where they want to be, you're showing that you understand them, you're making it about them, and, and then they're going to be interested, you know, that's the story we want to hear. And that story, you know, if it goes on to describe what success looks like, and what my happy ever afters going to be and how I can live the life I want to live, then then I'm going to be interested in the story. So we need to stop there, we need to start with the customer story. And then you can start to tell our story.

Shireen Smith: Yeah, as you know, he says that, in his book, they are the heroes and we need to make them the hero. 

Susan Payton: Yeah, yeah. And people don't always get that or understand what that means. And, you know, but it really is just about that, you know, it's just about making it about them because if we make it about us, then people are just not going to have the discipline, they're not going to have the time, they're not going to have the energy, they're not gonna have the brainpower and space headspace to wade through all the stuff about you to see if what you're offering is actually relevant for them. So yeah, yeah, that's where we start.

Shireen Smith: So yeah, that sounds really useful. So who is a typical client that you help describe a typical situation where you get involved and what you help the client to achieve as an outcome? 

Susan Payton: Yeah, so I've got I've worked with all sorts of companies. I mean, that is one of the things that I love about story brand is that framework will work for any business, Donald Miller often says if you use words to talk about what you do story brand can help you. 

So the, you know, I literally have worked with charities, training companies, ecommerce, business, you know, b2b, b2c, coaches, consultants, professional services, financial services, marketing agency, so it really can be, you know, a wide range, I do, like working with, excuse me, the owner of the business, you know, I like to really talk to that person that created the business in the first place of the founder, you know, and really reconnecting with, why their business exists and who they want to work with. And then helping them craft the story that's, that's going to communicate that value and, you know, get, help them to create that business that they set out to create. 

So typically, they come to me when they've grown to a certain size, probably through word of mouth and referrals, you know, they're good at what they do. So they've, they've had some level of success and they've grown through providing a great product or a great service and word of spread, but then they get to a point where they just want to be more proactive about generating leads, you know, they want to get their messaging, right, they want to get more traffic to their website, they want that traffic to actually convert into enquiries and sales. So you know, they might want to create a compelling you know, Lead Magnet something for people to download when they come to the site. They want to grow a list of, you know, engaged, ideal clients, they want to create emails that you know, to nurture those leads and start giving value and building a relationship and so they just want to be more proactive. They want to build an effective sales funnel. But, and here's the thing I hear a lot. They don't want to be salesy. And that's I think, you know, one of the biggest concerns that people have is, you know, we need to be better at selling ourselves, but we don't ever want to be salesy sound salesy, and that is the beauty of storytelling is you never have to be salesy. 

You know, if you get the storytelling, right, you're just never going to be salesy. And this is the best analogy that I always use with clients, which is imagine that you're about to go into a jungle, okay, you're standing at the edge of the jungle, and you really need to get through it, you really need to get through to the other side, because you want what's on the other side, you know, that life or that job or that relationship that you know, is on the other side of the jungle, you, that's what you want, but you're nervous that you know, this is unknown territory, you don't feel equipped, you're worried that you might get lost or go off track or lose your possessions or get eaten or whatever, you know, it's scary, you don't know the way you don't know, there's no clear path, you've got no idea what you're going to come up against. So imagine you're standing there and a guy appears. And he clearly knows his way around, he clearly knows the jungle really well, you know, he's got the backpack, he's got the bottles of water, he's got the map and the, and the compass and, and he says, you know, it's okay, I know where you want to get to, and I know how to get you there. I know, I know the steps you need to take, I know the routes, and I can guide you, I can make sure you stay on the right path. And I can keep you out of danger. Or I can make sure you get to the other side, and you can get that life or that job or that relationship that you want. How are you going to feel?

Shireen Smith: Yeah, very reassuring. 

Susan Payton: Yeah, you're going to feel immense relief, you're going to feel like you're in safe hands that someone knows the way and they're going to take you by the hand, they're going to guide you through it, you know, you're going to feel hopeful, you're going to feel optimistic or even excited, you're not going to feel sold to you know, you're just going to be relieved that that person that guide that you needed is has appeared. So when you're messaging when your website, when all your marketing can make your customers feel like that when you can play that guide role and talk to them about helping them on their journey and helping them win the day. And you know, then, then you'll stand out, then you'll stand head and shoulders above everyone else who's busy talking about how great they are?

Shireen Smith: Sure. So essentially, it's about talking about you, not about we and really identifying the problems that your ideal client has, so that you can speak to that and your homepage

We’ll take a short break his point, as I'd like to mention the brand tuned series of webinars, which support founders to think through their brand, taking IP into account at the right time, which is before you make firm decisions about what to create, just visit And the webinars are reference right there on the home page. Okay, back to the podcast now.

Shireen Smith: So when is the right time to tell your story?

Susan Payton: So then, you know, so your guides turned up. And he's said that he knows the jungle, and he understands where you want to go, and he can get you to the upside and all of those things. So he's talked, you know, you're, you're confident that this person understands what you're trying to achieve. And he and he's already navigated, you know, those pitfalls and barriers and things that are going to be in the way so now, you might have some questions for him, you know, now you might want to know, well, you know, how many times have you done it before? Or, you know, can I trust you and do do you really understand my situation and how comes you understand my situation? You know, have you helped other people? So now it's appropriate for him to tell me a bit about himself, you know, or I could say he obviously he or she. So but even and this is where you tell your story. You know, you've told your customer story. You've talked about the pain. You've talked about the desires, you've talked about what they Once you've talked about all of those things, and now it's appropriate to tell them a bit about you, because you know, they're gonna want to know that so, but even then, even when you're telling your story, it's always with the customer in mind, you know, so what bits of your story irrelevant for that, what bit of your story shows how you get them and how you understand their pain, you know, which bits show that you can get them the result, or you've done it before, and that you care and why you do what you do. 

It's Donald, in the story brand, they talk about, you know, show empathy, show that you get them and show authority, you know, yes, I know what I'm doing. And, and I've done it before. So your stories, you know, not, it's not just about what you've done, it's, it's how the experiences you've had good or bad apply to the experiences that your customer is having, and the experiences they want to have, you know, you've got to know which bits of your story are going to be highly relevant. And again, it goes back to understanding. So who is the audience, you know, what did they want, because if you don't know that, then you can't talk to, you know, you're not going to know which bits of your story are relevant, because you're not going to know which you know, you're not, you can't talk to their wants and desires and pains and fears, you can't show empathy, you can't talk about the conflict and the problem you're fighting to solve. And you know, you won't know what stories to tell if you don't have a deep understanding of them. And you'll never get traction, if your story isn't really aligned with your customers story. Does that make sense?

Shireen Smith: Yeah, sure does. So you really need a very deep understanding of your customer. And to know which bits of your story are relevant, because obviously, we all have very long histories, and not every element or, you know, maybe that people just thinking they need to tell a story will get the wrong end of the stick and tell completely irrelevant stories. 

Susan Payton: So it has to be relevant, completely relevant. And I will say storytelling is not about dumping, you know, it's not about it's not therapy, it's not like, you know, I just, I just want to get it all out there. And I just, I'll just tell them stuff about me and you know, and that's enough, it's making it highly, you know, you need to put the work in so that your customer doesn't have to so if I'm telling you a story about me, that's, that's highly relevant. And so for instance, earlier today, I was talking to I had a, I've got a client, new coaching client, and they've created a system that is really easy for charities to build a database. So charities, you know, tend to have data all over the place. And you know, there's, they've got their contacts, they got information, they got stuff, they need to get to trustees, they got stuff, they need to get to funders, they need to track projects, they need to track where the money's going, they need to show what impact they're having, what difference they're making. And he's basically created a system that is very simple for the charity to use. It's very low cost, and they can have everything in one place, you know, really at their fingertips. And when I said to him, or why did you start the business, and he was running a youth club, and he couldn't find anything out there, where he could have all the information, he needed to run the youth club in one place. So he literally, he's very techie, had an IT background, and he just created a system for himself that could help him keep track of everything he needed to keep track, you know, in the youth club. And that's how he started his business, he realized that there's nothing out there, you know, you know that a lot of charities would really benefit from having this system that he'd created. And obviously, over the last 15 years, it's built the business up, and he's now got 450 organizations using this system. But it all started with him needing something for the youth club, he was running. That story is relevant, you know, that tells me that he spotted a problem, you know, that needed solving. He's spotted a gap in the market, he created something that wasn't out there for people that did fulfil a need and solve a problem. That's relevant, you know, but that's, that's pretty much all of his story that we're telling, you know, the rest of it isn't read. That's what people want to know. You know, that's, that's why he started his company. That's the problem he solves and that's why.

Shireen Smith: Yeah, well, very lucky to have something that directly links like that into what you're doing. So, Which brand do you really admire the most for their storytelling, it might be useful to hear an example.

Susan Payton: Yeah, I mean, there's lots of great companies, but I mean, I like TOMS shoes. You know, they, they very much make their customers the hero because you know, you know that when you buy a pair of Toms Shoes, you're helping someone else in need, you know, they for every pair of shoes that a customer buys, they donate a pair of shoes to, you know, third, third world country. So, you know, you're making a positive impact, you know, you're making a difference. I mean, they donated something like 100 million shoes, literally, you know. So that's a great story to invite people in. And that's something that I think charities get wrong sometimes is they talk about the difference they're making and the work they're doing. But actually, if they turned that around, and made it about the donor, you know, they made the people who are going to donate the hero of the story and you know, you can make a difference. And you know, our customers have donated 100 million shoes rather than we've donated. That's switching it around and making it about the customer. 

So TOMS Shoes are good at that I also was at an event A few years ago, and there was a guy talking and him and his brother had lost their parents and younger siblings a really sad story. They were in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit in 2004, I think so they'd lost everything. But the people of Sri Lanka helped them get home and they wanted to do something to give back. So they started a flip flop business in their bedroom in Brixton with you know, nothing more than a Facebook page. But they wanted to raise money to build homes for orphans in Sri Lanka. And they that brand is called dandies, and they've got stores in London now and they sell other clothes and travel accessories and, but their whole thing about their brand is, is around storytelling, but they very much you know, make the customer the customer gets to feel good, because every time you buy something, you know that you're helping to build homes and schools in Sri Lanka, you know, you're making a difference. And when you can turn that round and make the customer the hero. It's very, very powerful.

Shireen Smith: That's really lovely. Yes. Well, thank you so much, Susan. I'm sure there's a wealth of useful information that listeners can take away. Thank you very much bye then.

Susan Payton:  Bye Shireen.

Shireen Smith: Thank you for listening to this episode of branches, where we aim to answer the question, what does it take to create a successful business and brand? I'd love it. If you would take a moment to give me a review. If you have any questions, send me a message. You can find me on LinkedIn, or most other social media platforms, or on my personal website,