Telling stories in business: How to mine and evolve your content gold
Stories in business and marketing are now a thing. No longer the exclusive domain of marketing gurus, any business owner can embrace their inner storyteller. Yes, everyone can do it, but will they? And will they do it consciously?
A while back in this article I talked about the seven habits of highly effective storytellers. I noted there is sharing stories, and well, there is over-sharing too. Equally, there is not sharing enough and not sharing at all.
Striking a harmonious balance with your stories in business is a skill that’s worth mastering. In fact, as I suggest in 7 Day Book Blueprint, it’s essential. It’s in this book I liken drawing out your business stories to the content equivalent of mining gold.
Don’t think you have a story to tell? Not confident telling it? Let’s look at that challenge and get you on the road to discovering your own content riches.
Why rock solid stories in business are the cool of content
There’s no doubt stories stories in business are in vogue. Done well, they can be impactful and inspiring. The thing about a good story is it ‘gets’ you. In some way, or many ways, a story connects and captures the imagination. It has the potential to inspire greatness or spark hatred, uplift, call to action, unify or polarise. A good story will espouse knowledge and wisdom too, perhaps even invoking personal change.
Stories are the way people connect. This is true both for business and in life. It’s how we relate to one another, even when we don’t know the storyteller. It’s how we are able to touch hearts, create change, and empathize with strangers. And as much as negative stories may pique our interest, compelling us to ‘click’ for more, the balance to negativity is we are nourished by the inspiration of a fellow human being’s story. No question, stories in business are powerful stuff.
Think of a video testimonial you listened to and then felt tears of inspiration.
Consider a news story that left you amazed at the endurance of the human spirit.
Reflect on how your own resolve is galvanized when you read a story about someone who’s faced unbelievable adversity and overcome it.
The truth is, stories move us, so guess what? Your business needs stories because they can do all this too.
Your personal story is part of your business story
I recently shared a little of my own story in business. Like many clients I work with, I felt uneasy about disclosing more detail than I had previously. However, the evolution of my business and life made it necessary.
In fact, one of the first questions I ask new clients when we work through the ‘digging for gold’ process is how they came to do their work. Often, a highly technical (or intellectual) person will respond with, I had the grades, so I thought I’d study XYZ or My father/mother/uncle was a <insert job here> so I thought I’d give it a go. Knowing there is more buried deep below this superficial response, I always dig deeper.
Why? Because what I’ve learned is there’s always more to the story.
Like the dentist whose sister died the day she sat her entry exams for medicine, steering her in a different career direction.
Or the addiction recovery coach whose children took her on a deep journey of healing that she now uses to help others facing the same challenge.
And what about the tour operator who left his home city in China with only $40 in his pocket and built an international business?
None of these people may be on Oprah’s talk show guest list, but their stories are important and compelling all the same. Their stories create interest and connection. For each, their challenge ultimately forged their purpose.
Working together on content creation projects, we find ways to weave this personal back story into business communication and marketing – and we do it consciously. Is this page likely to rank number one on your website? Perhaps not, but it’s still an essential piece of the business story collateral.
Everyone has a back story in business. Write yours.
Your back story is more than just a professional bio. It’s the meaning behind your purpose that lets your market know you are real (and for real). Your back story tells your customers how you reached this point.
Want more evidence to demonstrate the importance of your back story? Consider this. A few years ago, I attended an awards event for entrepreneurs. A big part of the event was hearing the back stories of the winners, that is, the inevitable setbacks and successes which led to the candidates being selected for the awards. Think of someone you find inspiring. Isn’t their story – how they ‘got there’ a big part of it? I know it is for me.
So, the task I’m challenging you with is to write your back story. Whether you’re in business or a career-minded technical professional, there is huge value in this writing task. As with all conscious communication, consider your audience’s language and values and craft your story with that in mind. Think about why they will care about your story. Have they experienced the same thing you have? Are they looking for inspiration, validation, reassurance, hope?
Now get it done.
Every business has stories. Share them.
One of the chief sources of frustration from my days working in engineering consulting was extracting the stories from my colleagues. A request for case studies was met with a list of project equipment. No meat in the sandwich, just technical detail. Here’s the thing you need to know about stories in business: a boring list of bullet points will never inspire anyone. It has no heart, no depth, no substance.
Stories in business come in different forms. For simplicity, I’m using ‘story’ interchangeably with testimonials, projects, case studies, before and afters; anything where you’re not simply giving dry factual information. Here are a few different ways you might think about stories in business and how they could be used to good effect.
If you’re running your own business, you may have access to case studies, demonstrating customer’s issues and how your business solves them.
You could include testimonials or interviews with customers, clients, or industry peers, all of whom can provide third party endorsement of your offering. If you’ve filmed interviews, access to videos brings the story alive other meaningful ways.
Anecdotes about personal experiences allow customers to connect, as they bring you to life as a relatable real person.
Testimonials from satisfied customers or clients tell a great story (thank you Google Reviews). And these (ideally kind) words tell a tale without you even opening your mouth. Scoring this vote of confidence is great for you. More importantly, it provides a measure of comfort and confidence to your potential customer or client that others ‘out there’ have worked with you and can now tell a happy tale about the experience.
If you’re running a business and don’t have a process by which you source testimonials or assemble case studies that profile you, now’s the time to put one in place. This simple step will create a continuous flow of stories to add to a growing database you can access for different ways to connect with your reader.
Even if you don’t have a business, your story is important
Your personal back story is important even if you don’t have a business, because it helps to distinguish the brand of you. Marketing yourself for new roles to advance a career or to establish yourself as an authority, is par for the course today.
No longer the domain of entrepreneurial or celebrity elites, your back story is a ‘must have’ and will inform your elevator pitch, marketing collateral, brand, just about anywhere you put your work.
In the dark ages before social media, legends and back stories always existed. In many instances, the back story became legend. Here are a couple of examples:
- Banjo Paterson of Waltzing Matilda fame is said to have written these lyrics while in Winton, a tiny Australian outback town. Whether he did or not is debatable, but Winton holds onto that as part of its back story and pitch for visitors to stop rather than drive through. What’s more, Waltzing Matilda has become synonymous with the average Australian’s national pride and in many ways is considered a surrogate national anthem.
- One aspect of Richard Branson’s back story is the fact he’s dyslexic, and in spite of that (or because of that, maybe), he’s gone on to forge an unconventional pathway through life and business. Richard Branson and Virgin are synonymous with doing things differently, and for those looking for inspiration, his is a tale about overcoming adversity and believing in yourself.
I’m not suggesting you throw caution and truth to the wind and turn your back story into something it isn’t. I’m just suggesting you won’t know the impact of your back story until you tell it, and even then, the magnitude, significance or impact of it, may not be revealed to you any time soon, or ever. The important thing is to write it. And share it in a conscious way.
How to get going on your stories in business
If you’re not sure where to start with your stories in business, check out Park Howell’s podcast, Business of Story. He’s helped businesses all over create compelling brand stories that help them connect with their ideal audiences.
You can also do one or a number of the following:
- Set aside the time to write your back story properly. Instead of rushing through it, prepare your back story consciously, giving deeper thought to your audience and the most meaningful messages you wish to share. Not only will it make for content gold, it will increase the likelihood you’ll connect with your audience. This applies to your business back story too. Once written, practise becoming fluent in these stories so you’re able to share them with confidence and ease with any audience.
- Establish a process for capturing stories in your business. This could be as simple as opening up an Excel spreadsheet and keeping notes about stories as they emerge. I do this in notes on my phone and I’m always adding to it. For larger projects, follow up with clients once everything is wrapped up. Write about what went well, what was learned, and how the client benefitted.
- Give members of your team responsibility for preparing the case studies for projects on which they’ve worked. With guidelines and business brand messaging in place, it will be easier for your team to develop their skills in this area. Have them focus on the client challenge and how it was solved, along with the outcomes achieved and the difference this made.
- Have a second set of eyes check your stories. Don’t have access to an internal marketing communications department? Relax. Find a trusted friend or colleague who can run their ‘red pen’ over your work to ensure your grammar lines up and readability is good.
- Share your stories for business in a balanced way. Social media has opened up the channels for everyone to share their story, and while expression is a wonderful thing, there are many examples, where stories have fallen well short of the conscious communication we’re striving for (also known as an ‘over share’). We need to find the middle point of enough information and a relatable approach when we share our stories for business. If in doubt, check with a trusted advisor – or leave it out.
Looking for more ideas for stories in business? You can find them in 7 Day Book Blueprint or by contacting me here.