The #1 way to represent yourself in the best possible light
The Backstory Blueprint for Knifemakers
“Those who tell the stories rule society.” ~Plato
Before we start, I’d like to admit one thing (promise, this will be short).
I’m no good with grammar or spelling and I get my wife to proofread nearly everything I write. And that’s cool. Because the Backstory Blueprint is more about the story structure than the grade you got in high school English.
Before plotting out your own story, I suggest skimming through this training once. You’ll get the big picture and that can be helpful.
(I know that a blank page is intimidating. So at the end of the training I have a handy-dandy Worksheet for you; it’ll make getting your story down easier.)
Once you’re ready to start, set aside some time.
Finishing your story could take 20 or 30 minutes.
So if you were planning on firing up the BBQ in the next five minutes, DON’T. Having an effective story for your About Page will be worth it.
Now, without any further ado…
- Snag yourself a copy of the BB4K Mindmap (it’s a free PDF file)
And let’s tell a story that’s unmistakably you.
[BB4K] WHO ARE YOU TODAY? (element 1)
Open with a swift introduction to you, the knifemaker. In other words, give your reader a factual snapshot of your current identity as it relates to selling knives. The goal here is to establish yourself as an expert. Think you’re not an expert? Yes you are. Compared to newbie you, you certainly are.
(You CAN get away without opening with your expertise, IF it’s certain the audience already sees you as an expert.)
For example. Leatherman (a well-known brand) starts their backstory with this:
This is the first part of Leatherman’s story. They didn’t toot their own horn to establish themselves, but…
They don’t have to.
Just about everyone knows what a Leatherman is. Before even starting to read the story, the audience is ALREADY aware that Leatherman is a massive company doing things right.
This is how it is for big brands. Not fair huh?
I suggest that small or medium knifemakers start their story by establishing their expertise.
Because establishing your expertise early on sets your story up in the right way.
Being seen as an expert is important once you start the next section.
Things to include in your introduction: Your name, what type of knifemaker you are, your specialization, how long you’ve been making knives, and any distinctions that set you apart.
An example from Forged in Fire: In the first 20 seconds of David Baker’s backstory, he tells us his name, specialty, and his distinction of making weapons for movies.
As you go through this training, I’ll have some made-up examples to share.
I (figuratively) barfed out these examples in about 30 seconds. And put together, the story still makes sense.
So with a little thought, I’m certain you’ll get a decent draft of your own story done by following the BB4K structure.
Here’s my first example…
Randy Randleman’s ‘introduction”: “Hi there, my name is Randy Randleman. I’m a journeyman with the American Bladesmith Society and I’ve been hand-forging “hunting” knives for 6 years.”
[BB4K] HOW DID IT START? (element 2)
After the introduction, it’s time to set the scene for your backstory.
Take the reader back to a time before you became an expert knifemaker.
The start of your career is a slice of your life that’s easier for non-knifemakers (your potential customers) to relate to.
There are two parts to setting your opening scene: element 2a + element 2b
What made you interested in knives? (element 2a)
What’s a common interest between you and your potential customers? Give yourself a gold star if you answered “knives”.
Keep your backstory focused and relatable by telling the reader how you got interested in making knives.
With me so far?
Good. It’s your turn.
What influenced you towards knives?
(pick one major influence and share the details)
Maybe movies, books, Forged in Fire, your first knife, a survival situation?
Maybe your father or a friend?
Maybe something different?
How old where you and where did it take place?
Don’t be afraid to share your past. If your reader had a similar experience it will speak to them, and they’ll like you instantly. That’s a major win for you.
And if your silly past doesn’t resonate with the reader? Well, they’ll move on and forget about it. No harm done.
For some cues to amp-up your memory, check out Element 2 on the BB4K Mind Map.
If you missed downloading it, get it here.
Randy Randleman’s ‘influences’: “To begin with, it was mother who first got me into knives. When I was growing up she’d insist on me going out on survival trips while she had “friends” over. I didn’t have much choice. I’d have to fish and hunt and prepare all my own food. Everything by hand. I always needed a sharp knife.”
Your first attempt(s) at making knives (element 2b)
Knifemaking is an unusual hobby. And that gets people curious about how you got started.
Sharing your first attempts at making a knife helps your reader know you better. And it has another benefit.
The story of your first attempt paints an image of you, way back when you were the beginner.
And gaining experience is key to the Transformation Phase.
I’ll talk about that in a bit.
But first, check it out – humans have a cognitive bias that influences us.
Better Humans puts it this way:
In other words… if a buyer only sees you as an expert, but never as a beginner, you’re MISSING OUT.
Because when a buyer EXPERIENCES your transformation from beginner to expert knifemaker, they assign your expertise a GREATER VALUE.
Stop. Go back and read that last sentence again.
The amplification effect is the reason every sane knifemaker should have a good backstory on their website. One of many reasons actually.
Your story, your transformation from novice to expert, is what makes you stand out when a buyer is choosing between your quality knife and a competitor’s equally-as-good knife.
So, start at the beginning.
How did you start making knives?
Maybe you were making knives for your friends in high school?
Maybe you couldn’t afford an expensive knife, so you made your own?
How did it turn out? Did people notice the work you did?
An example from Forged in Fire: At 21 seconds into J. Neilson’s backstory he talks about how he liked swords but you can’t exactly carry one around with you. So instead he decided to focus on making knives. It’s a quick mention. Yet it accomplishes the story’s goal, which is to establish a starting point in J’s knifemaking transformation.
Randy Randleman’s ‘first knife’: “It wasn’t until I moved back to Danger Island from boarding school and started survival trips again that I tried making my first knife. It turned out okay and a friend saw it. She wanted one and after that, well, it’s a small island; word got around.”
[BB4K] THE CHALLENGE YOU OVERCAME (element 3)
You’ve introduced yourself. And talked about your novice beginnings.
Now it’s time for your story to get tough on you.
In a backstory, the past-you must go from weak to strong, wrong to right; gaining understanding to become a better knifemaker.
In other words, your story has to show how you fought to overcome a challenge.
When a reader imagines your struggle, they root for you.
And that’s when the magic happens because they enter your story.
Your readers will feel your pain, then the joy of discovering a solution, right along with you.
“Storytelling in its many forms, can be an incredibly powerful tool for gaining new perspectives and creating shared understanding.” ~ Zapier
When you finally get past your obstacle the reader will be just as happy as you were.
“Witnessing” your transformation from raw to experienced, through story, is impactful. It amplifies your expertise.
And there’s another benefit.
Challenge keeps your backstory interesting, and gives it a sense of forward-motion.
There are four steps to writing a good challenge. I’ll go over all the steps in the upcoming elements, 3a, 3b, 3c, and 3d.
What did you struggle with when you started? (element 3a)
Think back to your early career as a knifemaker. Probably you didn’t know that much. Or maybe you didn’t have the proper tools. Either way, you had to get over some hardships to get where you are now.
Even though your buyer likely isn’t a knifemaker, they’ve had struggles in their life too. Haven’t we all.
Sharing a problem (one linked to knifemaking) that you overcame makes you relatable, even if your buyer hasn’t had the exact same experience.
And *BIG* bonus…
Discussing your struggle is a classy way to promote your skills without bragging.
An example from Forged in Fire: At 41 seconds into Doug Marcaida’s backstory, he talks about his struggle as a troubled child who got into fights. This leads to his training, which eventually turned him into the deadly weapons expert he is now.
When I watch this video, it’s easier for me to respect Doug as an expert, now that I know he took some lumps to get there.
(Imagine being the kid who fought young-Doug. After seeing Doug’s fighting video I’d be terrified of him coming back for a second round.)
Now it’s your turn to struggle…
What was a challenge the younger-you had when making knives?
Maybe you had to learn everything on your own.
Maybe you couldn’t afford good tools and used make-shift stuff.
Maybe you had trouble finding buyers.
Maybe you couldn’t afford or find any new steel.
Randy Randleman’s ‘challenge’: “Back when I started, I didn’t know what I was doing. I mean I had a ton of energy and could move hot metal, but I had no idea about anything. Everything I did was trial & error, and I wasn’t getting better very fast. This was before YouTube and the internet, I had no idea know who to ask for advice. Certainly not mother.”
What person, tool, or insight made beating your challenge easier? (element 3b)
You explained your challenge. Now it’s time to crush it.
You did crush it. Right? Heck, I know you did.
But what enabled you to do that? When did you take a turn in the right direction?
Maybe you found a good mentor.
Maybe a friend encouraged you to attend blacksmith school.
Maybe you started hanging out at the hunting lodge and sold knives there.
Maybe you started biking around the neighborhood asking for scrap steel.
Did you have an “aha” moment?
Randy Randleman’s ‘insight’: “I ended up going to a local hunting show and there was this fantastic knife display by K. Loggins from Danger Zone Forge. I chatted with Kenny for a while and looked over all his knives. I had so many questions. He eventually got fed up with me and my 1,000 questions, and told me to go contact the American Bladesmithing Society.”
Your REACTION to getting the tool/insight (element 3c)
Congrats. At this point in your backstory you’ve figured out how to defeat whatever challenge it was holding you back.
If you were Archimedes you’d jump out of a bathtub and shout, “Eureka!”.
Then run out naked into the street to tell the scientific community how you discovered water displacement.
But your transformation’s not done.
There’s still a next step that you’d be foolish to leave out. It’s what’s going to prove to your reader that you are a man (or woman) of action.
Because you know who sucks… Someone who knows there is a problem and knows how to fix the problem. And yet they sit there, stuck in mediocrity. Never doing anything about it.
That vile type of person is not you.
You’re a smart, ambitious knifemaker who reacts. And acts.
The reaction part of your story needs two things:
Reaction = emotion + action
- The emotion you want to share is that feeling of finally getting a solution. Having that emotion shows that you actually care about improving your knifemaking.
- And the action is what you did about it. Action proves that you’re worth rooting for; that you’re the type of person who fixes problems.
An example from Forged in Fire: At 48 seconds into Jason Knight’s backstory, he talks about his emotion of how awesome it was to attend the ABS school (the solution to his challenge). And then he tells us his action – he made his own knives and sold them at a show in California.
How did discovering/receiving a solution to your challenge make you feel?
Maybe you felt inspired to create a knife that was better.
Maybe you felt determined to learn all the secrets of steel.
(*Finding the right word can be difficult. I get that. If you’re stuck try using the OneLook Thesaurus)
What action did you take after getting the solution?
Maybe you gave hunters your knives to test in the field and collected their critiques.
Maybe you enrolled in a Metallurgy course at college.
(Remember, there’s more memory cues for you on the BB4K Mind Map)
Randy Randleman’s ‘reaction’: “Finding these helpful guys at the ABS floored me. I’d been struggling to forge my knives this whole time and here was a group of skilled smiths excited to teach. Without a second thought I applied to join the Bladesmithing Society.”
The result of your reaction (element 3d)
You explained your challenge and how you got over it.
You’re the freakin’ Jedi warrior of knifemaking now, not some lowly padawan.
But your transformation is not complete. There’s one last step.
At this point the reader has committed his/her time to your story. And to be satisfied, they want to know how it ends. Heck, I want to know how it ends.
So tell me…
What was the result of your previous action? What does your success look like?
Maybe hunters started calling you, at all hours, to make them a knife.
Maybe Knives Illustrated featured you on their cover.
In the Forged in Fire example above, Jason Knight won an award and became a popular figure in the knife world.
Randy Randleman’s ‘result’: “The ABS was a great place for advice and resources. I had more help than I knew what to do with. After practicing my butt off, I saw noticeable improvements in my work, and that just encouraged me try even harder. Soon my knives were selling faster than I could make them.”
[BB4K] WHY SHOULD PEOPLE CARE (element 4)
Hang in there, you’re almost done!
This last section only has 2 parts, 4a and 4b.
You’ve been following along with the Forged in Fire backstory videos, right? Good.
I’ve got something to point out.
The History Channel designed their videos to promote Forged in Fire. They’ve edited their endings to get viewers excited for upcoming episodes. Good for them.
But that isn’t our goal.
We are crafting your backstory to get potential buyers excited to buy a knife from you.
The vital difference between a marketing story (like this BB4K template) and a pointless fairy tale, is that marketing stirs people to take ACTION.
In this next section we’ll entice your reader to take action.
We do this by spelling-out what makes you – and your knives – special.
And then we’ll stack one last thing in your favor.
Before the curtain comes down, we’re going to give you a mission.
You still with me?
Good. Let’s finish ‘er up.
The “magic & passion” you add to your knives (element 4a)
The reader has followed along with your transformation.
In their mind, you’re now – indisputably – a skilled knifemaker.
For this reason, when you tell them (like you will in this section) what makes you special, it rings of truth instead of fog-horning like a blowhard.
While this section is part of your story, it’s really about the customer. We’re going to build his (or her) confidence so they know they’re choosing the best knife for them, with the lowest risk of disappointment.
To do this, I need you to tell me two things…
What makes you especially qualified to craft your knives?
Where does your inner fire (your passion) for knifemaking come from?
An example from Leatherman:
Randy Randleman’s ‘magic & passion’: “I started specializing in skinning knives and seeking out feedback on my blades from various hunting groups across the country. This let me stay true to functionality, while I tested the limits of my designs. Now I have my own unique style that hunters look for. There’s all these awesome people who depend on my knives, and appreciate them, and that’s something to be proud of.”
Your mission… if you chose to accept it (element 4b)
It’s all over for you. Now it’s up to them.
Here is where you want to include your mission as a knifemaker. Let readers know that you stand for something more than profits.
Because a mission that resonates with the buyer could be the final push they need to make a purchase.
When you have a mission (related to making knives) it suggests to the buyer that, by purchasing a knife, they are contributing to greater goal.
It’s a win for them. And for you.
It’s time to do some soul searching.
What do you hope to achieve through knifemaking?
Here are some ideas:
- A plan to keep learning to become the best
- Clearing up some misunderstanding
- Educating / teaching
- Make connections / relationships
- Supporting a cause
- Influence / teach next generation
- Honor the past
- Reach perfection
- An expression of yourself
- Reflect beauty of nature
- Experiment to discover new possibilities
- Push the boundaries of steel
- Pinnacle of function
- Support a ritual or tradition
- Bring client designs to reality through custom production
- Reach more clients and turn hobby into full-time
A real-life example (for knife sharpeners):
“I still get excited every opportunity I have to sharpen a knife, and that happens every day. In my spare time, I like to write about sharpening for my blog and for Knifeplanet. My hobbies are reading books about sharpening to get a better understanding of metallurgy and the science behind the steel I work on in order to create not just sharp knives but knives that stay sharp for as long as possible. I plan to continue to sharpen and learn about sharpening until I can no longer do so. My sharpening dreams include a visit to Japan and to meet sharpening Masters and talk about sharpening until they ask me to leave.”
(Credit for this goes to Peter Nowlan from New Edge Sharpening, a knife sharpener from my neck of the woods in Nova Scotia.)
Randy Randleman’s ‘mission’: “I plan to keep testing my skinning knives in the real world. I’m searching for that sweet spot of function and a one-of-a-kind design that reflects the joy I find in hunting.”
CRACK OPEN A BEER MY FRIENDS. YOUR BACKSTORY IS DONE.
…but if you’re like me, a perfectionist, then you’re going to tweak your story a few times. Just to get it right.
I’ve got some free resources to help.
But first some advice…
Start small. Don’t get caught up trying to make an epic tale. Simple, straightforward, and authentic is best. Could someone remember the gist of your backstory and repeat it, after hearing it just once? That’s the type of simplicity you’re aiming for.
Don’t freakin’ lie. Do you know the backstory of eBay? The founder started the company to help his fiancée collect PEZ dispensers. At least that was their story. But it turned out to be a big fat lie. By the time the truth was uncovered eBay was a huge company, so they got away with it. Do you want to take that risk? Last I checked, the knife world is small, and the web can be a merciless place.
Resources! To make your life easier
How to WRITE it yourself:
- Get the BB4K Worksheet at the end of this post.
- Then follow the worksheet and just throw your story down.
- Worry about proofreading afterwards.
How to force YOUR COMPUTER to write it down:
Speech to text is an easy way to capture your unique voice & tone, without worrying about the actual writing.
How to get SOMEONE ELSE to write it down:
Record your story using your smartphone. Then send it away and let someone else do the writing.
How to get PROOFREADING help:
Hi there, it’s Tim.
You got this far in the training and for that I’m grateful.
I get it, there’s a ton of material here and taking it in can be daunting. At least that’s how I feel when taking in a new skill.
I chose the BB4K structure because it simple and it works. It can transform a simple story on your About Page into a marketing tool that drives customers to you.
But really, it’s just a prequel for the REALLY GOOD STUFF:
NEXT STEPS (both still free):
- Download the Backstory Blueprint for Knifemakers Worksheet >>
- Subscribe to my free trainings, The Knife Marketing Email List >>
If you’re interested, I want to show you behind the curtain of professional marketing, self-promotion, branding, and advertising. For that, you need to be on my email list where I break down online marketing into parts that you can see, understand, and replicate.
I’m excited for this!
~ Tim (Knife Marketing) Hirtle