The other day I was busted. I’m still looking back on it now and shaking my head in shame. I was unprepared for a few simple questions about a new project I’m working on. In this case, the stakes weren’t particularly high, but I should have known better. It would have been a great opportunity to practise my spiel with a compelling Business Story. But I didn’t have one.
The friend I was speaking to was left confused about my project and felt none of the excitement I have for the work ahead. Instead, I laid out my doubts and all the unknowns that were on my mind.
This incident highlighted that I have some work to do to figure out my Business Story. I thought I had clarity about this project, but I couldn’t clearly and enthusiastically explain it to someone else, so apparently I didn’t.
A Business Story is better than an Elevator Pitch
A while back, the talk was all about the “elevator pitch” – the all important 30 second spiel you get to make your one and only impression on someone. However, times have changed and as Jason Fried recently explained more eloquently than I could, an “elevator pitch” is not really the best format to describe your business.
The problem is that the notion of an “elevator pitch” encourages entrepreneurs to reduce their business into a pithy one-liner – that usually ends up full of jargon and meaning nothing. So what’s the solution? A business story… well four business stories actually.
What is a Business Story and why do you need them?
Stories have been used by humankind since forever. Why? Because they’re powerful. Putting something into story form makes it relatable, real and memorable. We can instantly get the sense for what’s going on. We can learn more easily from stories. And we can develop and emotional connection to the characters.
In other words, Business Stories form the backbone of your branding. By telling compelling Business Stories that your listener can relate to, you bring them into your story. They become one of the supporters and might even start spreading your story.
How can you develop a set of Business Stories?
Yes, that’s right – business stories, plural.
With a small set of business stories in your armour, you can adapt your approach for different types of audiences. For instance, you might tell a different business story to a team member than you would to a potential customer or business partner. You don’t need 10, but you almost certainly need more than one.
The Four Business Stories you need
There are lots of different types of business stories but I find the most practical approach is to break them up as follows;
1) Business Origin Story
This tells the story of how and most importantly, why you started your business. Were you frustrated with the other available solutions? Were you working somewhere else and had customers asking you for something different? Did your parents or teachers deem you as entrepreneurial from an early age? Did you try many other things and fail before finding that customers really wanted what you’re offering now? Or did you see a problem and with a burning desire to fix it, you set about finding a solution to that problem? Or did you stumble on something by accident?
2) Customer Story
Customer stories are like case studies. You should describe the customer’s scenario before they used your solution, and what changed for them since using it. Make it specific. Use their names and describe their pains and their victories in as much detail as possible. Don’t be tempted to make them 100% favourable. Make sure they’re real and believable. (See our 7 steps to collect powerful testimonials – while customer stories are a bit different and include more detail, you can use the same process.)
If you have different types of customers (or users), you will need to have a customer story to fit each profile.
3) Product Story
If you have multiple products, you should also have a story behind each product. It might be the background story about the stimulus for the development of this product. Or, you could focus on the details of the raw ingredients that go into the product. Alternatively, you could include details about how the product has been designed or manufactured.
Knowing more about your product makes your customers (and other stakeholders) feel more connected the item and value it more highly. In fact, in 2009 an anthropological experiment was conducted whereby writers were given the challenge of creating a compelling story to go along with (essentially junky) items selling on eBay. 200 products were purchased for an average price of $1.25 each, but when an interesting story was added to their description, the average selling price skyrocketed to over $40.
Your product story should also explain how your product fits in the marketplace – what category does it belong to?
4) Operating Philosophy Story
Your operating philosophy story describes the type of business you’ve decided to build. It should feed into your “why” and your business vision, but it takes things further. It gives you a set of principles to operate under and should also explain why you’ve decided to take this direction.
For instance, you could decide you want to disrupt an industry with much lower costs by eradicating unnecessary overheads. That’s a philosophy that will dictate lots of things about the way you operate.
Or, you could decide that customer service is your key competitive advantage. You’re sick of dealing with businesses with lack-lustre attitudes towards their customers and you want every customer to feel special.
Elements of a Good Business Story
So write each of your four business stories out, but then go back and edit to make them more compelling. Ensure you include the following elements;
» Set the scene
Paint a vivid picture of what what going on before – or even better, in the middle of your story (you don’t want a long and boring introduction). Describe the frustrations, struggles, and disappointments.
» Build curiosity
Create some tension so that your listeners don’t quite know how things are going to pan out. Explain the choices your characters face and their thinking process, or the series of events that lead up to the climax of the story.
» Create strong, relatable characters
Show their flaws along with their hopes and wishes. Make them human beings that others can easily empathise with. The hero of your story can be your customer, an employee, an early mentor, or even your product. Of course, the hero can also be you – but if it is, make sure you share your failures in equal part to your successes. (Otherwise you’ll just sound like a prat.)
For inspiration, here are some good examples of business stories.
Prepare Your Four Business Stories Now
Get started with a first draft and write out your four business stories now (I’ve just done this now too!). Do your best but don’t worry if they’re not perfect. Start using them on everyone you can and figure out how you can tweak the story or adjust your storytelling so to increase your listener’s engagement.
Soon it’ll be second nature for your business stories to be rolling off your tongue. And you’ll be well on the way to building a strong brand for your business.