Stories are what make us tick as human beings. We imagine our lives as a story, and doing so gives us meaning and purpose. Stories help us feel like we're part of something bigger than ourselves.
A story tells the journey of a hero (or heroine) facing and overcoming a major challenge. The hero encounters setbacks along the journey, but through their persistence, they emerge out the other side a better person, with newly won wisdom.
Business is all about facing challenges. The act of setting up and running a business is a challenge in itself. But more than that, all sustainable business models are based on helping customers overcome challenges in their own lives. As such, the world of business is full-to-bursting with stories. Your business has a multitude of stories to tell. You have your own story to tell. You also enter into the life-story of each of your customers, giving you a plethora of stories of how you help people.
Telling powerful stories about who you are and how you help your customers makes you stand out from the competition. Knowing your story gives you a new energy. No longer will you have only a bottle of distilled passion, but a constant well-spring of inspiration.
In this tutorial, I'll guide you through two key ways of telling your business story.
First, we'll look at how to tell your business story from your point of view. This is essentially a way of pulling together your business plan into a narrative, and provides something you can return to whenever you're looking for your why.
Second, we'll look at why the customer is the real superhero in your business's story, and at how you can position yourself as their perfect sidekick. As part this of this, we'll consider ways of getting your customers to tell your story for you. As they're your business heroes, it makes sense for you to let them be the bards around the campfire too, telling of your place in the epic of their lives. Getting your customers to tell you story for you is a fantastic way of marketing your business.
While I'll show you what it takes to start exploring your story, remember there is no right way to tell a story. We all are natural-born storytellers, and our creativity and life experience means we tell stories in different ways. Part of what makes your story unique is how you combine the elements that form your narrative.
On top of that, remember that while your business is trading, your business story is never done. It's still being told in the day to day work of your business.
With that clear, we're ready to go. Let's get started!
1. Telling Your Business Story
Your business story is about how your business came to exist, your purpose in the world, the challenges you've overcome to get to where you are today, and the challenges you might face in the future.
In the following steps, I'll show you the elements you need to create your business story.
Step 1: Visit Your Business Heritage
Before telling the story of where your business is today, it can be helpful to dig into the past. This gives you a sense of being part of a bigger story, and provides direction and inspiration for your day to day work.
You don't have to narrowly look at the history of your own business. You can tell the story of your personal past, too. Who or what inspires you? For example, knowing that my grandfather worked his way out of extreme poverty by starting his own business inspires me to be the best I can be in my own business.
The following questions can help you get started in digging up your business heritage:
- How and when was your business started?
- Who are your business heroes? What do you find inspiring about them?
- What struggles has your business overcome? How did it emerge stronger from those struggles?
- What was the first product or service you sold? Who was your first customer? What did you learn from that first sale?
Step 2: Inject Purpose
Both stories and businesses need a driving force to push them forward and keep them moving. Your current business story is driven by your elevator pitch. This summarizes what your business does, and what makes your business a unique character in the broader story of the marketplace.
Your business goals provide additional forward momentum. Your goals are the challenges that shape your business story.
Step 3: Add Values
Values add another dimension to your business story. Values are essential to all storytelling. In any story, we want to see how the hero will overcome the challenges he faces while staying true to his values.
Your goals drive your business forward, while your values keep your business rooted in a deeper purpose and give your work meaning.
Step 4: Lookout for Monsters!
Goals aren't the only challenge your business faces. You've also got to keep your eyes open for lurking threats. These monsters could throw your business off course and threaten its very existence.
An effective hero keeps their eyes open for both threats and opportunities. Your business should, too.
Step 5: Form a Superhero Squadron
Not even Superman has what it takes to go it alone all the time. As you're not Superman, you're likely to need all the help you can get in your business. That's why your Mastermind Group is essential to creating a successful story for your business.
Step 6: Weave Together the Narrative
The elements of your business story are like the scenes in a play. It's up to you to weave them together into a compelling narrative. Some of this will be written down. Much of your story will only play out in the day-to-day running of your business. No matter how good you are at keeping your eyes open, there will still be monsters that blindside you, and golden opportunities that seem to appear from nowhere. That's the nature of story — its magic doesn't always make sense.
Enjoy your story as it unfolds, but remember you're at the helm. You don't get to choose all the challenges and threats that you face, but you do decide how to react. That's your power as the hero of your business story.
2. Getting Your Customers to Tell Your Story
Your business story is mainly for your own use, to guide you as you make business decisions. Some elements — such as your elevator pitch, your values, and your business history — you may make public as part of your marketing. But most of it you'll keep to yourself. That's because your customers aren't interested in your business goals, or the threats you see on the horizon. What they want to know is how you can help them.
As such, when you want to use your story in marketing, your best bet is to get your customers to tell their story of how your business has helped them.
Your customers are the superheroes of their own lives. You're just a sidekick in one small aspect of their story. You're there to help them achieve their goals. Position yourself that way, and your customers will feel like you get them.
Step 1: Understand Who Your Customers Are And What They Need
Even before you've started asking customers how your business has helped them, you can tell your business story from their point of view. To do this, you must create a customer avatar, so you begin to see the world from the point of view of your customers.
When you know what your customers need, you can appear on the scene at just the right moment to save the day. Isn't the life of a hero great?
Step 2: Collect Testimonials and Reviews
Once you've started helping customers, the easiest way of getting them to tell your business story is to collect testimonials or reviews.
Testimonials and reviews are great because they're short and sweet, and require little effort from your customers, so you can collect lots of them.
If you're running an eCommerce site, make reviews a key feature. Most eCommerce platforms have apps available that allow you to collect reviews.
For service providers, we've got a helpful guide on collecting testimonials from your clients.
Tip: You can also collect testimonials by tracking mentions of your brand on social media. Take screenshots of any tweets or Facebook posts where customers explain how you've helped them. It's always best to ask permission before using these in your marketing materials.
Step 3: Conduct Case Studies
Reviews and testimonials are rapid-fire ways to get your customers telling your business story. They're easy for current customers to write, and quick for potential customers to read.
But some potential customers will want a more meaty story that goes in-depth on how your business can help them. That's where case studies come in handy. If reviews are like flash fiction, then case studies are more like short stories.
Again, we've got a helpful guide on creating case studies for your business.
Your Story Is Never Done
Your business story continues for as long as your business exists. Over time, as your business grows and develops, be sure the stories you're telling grow with you. Stories are never static, so embrace the change that comes with being part of a story.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2013. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.
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