chef-headIn preparation for the launch of Story Bistro, I reached out to my readers and asked for your best storytelling questions.

At least half of the ones you sent were a variation on this one:

I work in two distinct areas. How can I incorporate them both into my story? Or should I tell two different stories? Does it matter? It’s so hard to try and make all of it fit together in one cohesive (and understandable) way.

The short answer to this is it depends.

If your two (or three, or four) things are related and have similar audiences, then yes — you can likely combine your “brands” under one umbrella. In many cases, the unique combination of your various talents is what will help you stand out in a crowded, noisy marketplace.

Your multiple passions make you someone special. They can help position you as a specialist or help you niche your business in ways that most of your competitors would find difficult to copy.

But if you’re not careful, they can also make you feel (and sound) a bit schizophrenic.

Simplify Your Story’s Title

Every story has a title, and that’s especially true with the story of you.

What you call yourself — whether you go with a simple “bookkeeper” moniker, or a more fanciful “digital numbers wrangler” — tells people a whole lot about your personality.

But when your title has too many hyphens or commas in it, you’ll just confuse your audience. Stories need to be simple (and short enough) to remember and repeat.

Typically, this means you wouldn’t combine more than three items in your title…at least not all at once.

If you’ve decided to combine all your things under one umbrella, you could say I’m a bookkeeper who specializes in the music industry. Or, you could have fun with it: I make my clients’ bookkeeping sing.

But if you’re not combining your brands under one umbrella, the best approach is to offer a title that speaks to the context. For example, if you’re in a room full of small business owners, just tell them you do bookkeeping for small biz owners. If you were having a conversation with other musicians (or those who hire them), lead with your music industry hat. And when you’re not sure who might be interested in what (like at a cocktail party), lead with the thing that you feel most drawn to in the moment: I’m a drummer who moonlights as a bookkeeper.

bigstock-A-place-setting-empty-plate-s-38968315Your Back Story

Most lives do not follow a simple, straightforward path. And that’s a good thing!

If you started at Point A and then ended up at Point B without any twists and turns, your story would be a snoozer. Boring!

So embrace your tangents and side-explorations. Even if you feel like you’ve gone around in circles, your path has meaning (perhaps your circle is actually an upward spiral?).

The challenge is to share your story in as simple a way as possible — so that you don’t confuse your audience.

The best way to start is to write it all down — do a complete brain dump and don’t leave anything out.

Next, consider the point you want to make with your story.

Are you trying to showcase your vast experience? There will be pieces that don’t really matter to your audience.

Don’t be afraid to edit. You don’t need to include every detail — especially if those details aren’t all that pertinent to the point you’re trying to make.

And the point you’re trying to make depends on context.

If you want to showcase how you learned a particular lesson, or gained a particular skill set, the elements you share will be slightly different.

Just remember that every story needs to have a main idea, and you’ll be less likely to let your story wander (I wish I could teach this to my grandmother!).

Let Your Story Unfold

You don’t have to share every detail with folks all at once. If you’ve started three separate businesses, it’s definitely okay to not mention all three when you’re introducing yourself to someone the first time.

Every human being has multiple sides and interesting quirks. Keep some of those interesting tidbits back for later conversations. Reveal pertinent points in their own time.

And remember: It’s okay to have a hobby. Or two or three.

You don’t have to combine every one of your passions into your business. Nor do you need to start more than one business (at least more than one at a time).

Each of us has the same 24 hours in a day. The more you split your energy between multiple businesses, the slower you’ll progress.

If you can stick with one thing and focus on it like a laser, the faster you’ll realize your dreams.

Now it’s your turn: Do you have a specific question or suggestion related to a complicated branding story? Share in a comment below!