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Show, don’t tell: The great potato heist of 1774

One of the problems that financial planners often face is that many people don’t know the value of advice. This can be difficult to solve, since it’s hard to communicate to someone the value of something that they never even knew they needed.

Thankfully, there is a solution to this. Showing your potential clients the benefits of what you have to offer, rather than just telling them, can be a much more effective way to get your point across.

To illustrate this, we’re going to step back in time to 18th century Germany and take a look at how the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ helped Frederick the Great to save his people from famine.

It’s a cold, clear night in 1774…

A young man quietly digs away at the earth whilst his friend keeps watch. The patrols of soldiers are everywhere, their long bayonets glinting in the moonlight.

A terrible famine is gripping the region and despite the risks, the two men have been forced to steal the King’s own potatoes just to feed their families.

The young men start to gather up their ill-gotten gains when a voice rings out like a clarion bell: “HALT!”

The soldiers have spotted them!

The young men scramble to grab what they can. The soldiers in their heavy overcoats are closing in.

With their arms and pockets full, they make a break for it. They vault the fence and dash away into the night.

They have done it. They’ve stolen the potatoes from right under the noses of the King’s guards and lived to tell the tale. They’ve pulled off one of the greatest heists that has ever been seen.

Or have they?

Potatoes are a very useful crop, but many farmers initially rejected them

As the European population swelled in the 18th century, agriculture had to adapt to avoid famine. The adoption of potatoes as a staple crop played a key part in this.

The humble potato is one of the best vegetables you can grow if you have a large population to feed. They yield about six million calories per acre, significantly more than any other crop.

However, since potatoes are native to the Americas, and only came to Europe in the 17th century, many people were initially hesitant to start growing them.

In the modern day, we know that potatoes are safe, calorie-rich, and you can cook them in a variety of delicious ways. Back then, however, people were less familiar with them and more apprehensive.

If you’d like to put yourself in the shoes of an average 18th century farmer, try taking a bite out of a raw potato. Then, imagine how you’d feel if someone asked if you’d like to eat them every day for the rest of your life.

Frederick successfully showed the value of his new crop when talking alone wasn’t enough

In 1774, Frederick’s kingdom was gripped by famine but when he tried to help his subjects by encouraging them to grow potatoes, many of them declined his offer.

This presented him with a problem, as a hungry population is often an unhappy one. He eventually decided that if he couldn’t persuade his people with words, he would do so with actions.

The first step for Frederick was to become a conspicuous consumer of potatoes, incorporating them into many of his meals and publicly extolling their virtues. He also had potatoes planted in the land that he owned and ordered the army to guard them.

His sudden interest in potatoes made many ordinary people wonder if they’d been too hasty to turn them down.

This was, of course, exactly what Frederick wanted. His creative approach persuaded many peasants to reconsider their initial misgivings about the new crop.

Soon, many farmers began sneaking into the royal fields to steal the potato plants so they could grow their own.

As for the soldiers guarding the fields, Frederick ordered that they should be deliberately slack in their patrols and if they encountered a thief, they should give chase but never actually catch anyone.

Soon, just as Frederick had intended, many farmers were soon growing their own potatoes. This made their farms better protected against future famines, even though they had never known they even needed them.

‘Show, don’t tell’ is a principle that we live by at The Yardstick Agency

Working with a financial planner has the power to completely change someone’s life. But as we mentioned earlier, the problem is that many people don’t know the value of advice until they’re already receiving it.

This raises an obvious question: “How can I persuade people of the benefit of advice when they don’t know they need it?”

The answer to this can be found in the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’.

One of the best ways you can showcase the value of your advice to prospective clients is with testimonial videos, in which satisfied clients can talk freely about what they have gained through working with you.

Of course, you have to do more than just upload them to your website. As our Director Phil has previously written about, there are a variety of things you should do with your client videos if you want to get the most out of them.

Get in touch

Actions speak louder than words, so if you’re looking to communicate the value of your services to prospective clients, you may want to take a leaf out of Frederick’s book.

Whilst you probably shouldn’t hire guards to bar the entrance to your office in the hope that clients sneak in at night to discuss their retirement plans, a creative approach might be just what you need.

If you’re interested in showing the value of your financial advice with client stories, get in touch with us at or call 0115 8965 300.

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