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Your company’s story is a key part of marketing your small business. Whether you’re the owner of an organic foods company that got its start at local farmers’ markets or a cabinet maker who only uses reclaimed wood, potential customers care about more than just what you do—they care about why.
Telling a compelling story can help you draw in new customers and build brand loyalty with existing customers. If they believe in your story and your vision, you will be rewarded with their support. That’s why your story needs to be contagious.
Where your story matters
In addition to drawing in new customers, a compelling story can help you build and inspire your team. When you’re bringing new employees on board, for example, your company’s mission can give them a clear idea of what your company is all about and why the work they’re doing is important. Your company’s story can also inspire existing employees to take on new challenges.
Your story can also help you secure financing. For example, imagine that a wealthy investor truly believes in your mission to sell only products that use ingredients from local farms, thereby supporting local agriculture. However, she is on the fence about supporting your small business.
That investor may be inspired to support you, however, when she learns your story: Your company started with you driving from farm to farm, picking up produce and goods to sell at markets that the farmers would not otherwise have been able to access. That shows not only innovative thinking but also a level of personal commitment bound to impress anyone.
Your story has real consequences for your business, so it needs to be catchy, told by talented messengers (like you), and have context for your audience.
Five storytelling tips
Repeating your story to your team is one thing; doing so in front of potential investors or an audience of hundreds is entirely different. Here are five tips for telling your story to those outside your company:
1. Don’t start at the beginning. The best storytelling starts in the middle, not at the beginning. The audience wants to be involved immediately. If you start at the beginning, you run the risk of telling a story that is boring to those listening. Instead, try starting the story by telling your audience about one of the big challenges you faced after your company was founded. Then, explain how you overcame that challenge—and how it ties back to your mission.
2. Be clear. What is your most important point? Whether you’re trying to convey your company’s mission or the unique way you and your team approach challenges, the point of the story needs to be clear to the audience.
3. Don’t brag. Bragging gets boring really quickly. When telling your story, be careful to consider the value you are adding. Are you inspiring your audience with the challenges you and your business have overcome, or are you simply bragging about all of the money you’ve made and great things you’ve done? A successful story not only tells what happened but also ends by showing why it is important.
4. Be truthful. Truth is the most important aspect of storytelling. Your audience will hear your authentic voice and story loud and clear. Listeners will likely be more responsive, too, if they feel you are being yourself and telling the truth about your company’s path—even if you include the challenges.
5. Discover your soul as a company. Find your company’s voice and keep that tone consistent across all marketing channels. This will help you get across to a wide audience of people the core values for which your company stands. And the best way to find that voice is through your company’s story.
Practice telling your story with many different people, and try different versions until you find one that connects with a wide audience. The more comfortable you are telling your story, the more comfortable you will be recounting it to your team, potential investors, and the public at large. And, the more it’s understood, the more effectively your story can drive your marketing efforts.
Ian Smith is the author of “Fulfilling the Potential of Your Business: Big Company Thinking for the Mighty Small Business,” which won the Small Business Book Awards for Management in 2012. His blog, the Smith Report, focuses on ways to scale businesses. In 2010 he founded the Portfolio Partnership to help CEOs fulﬁll the potential of their businesses. As an ex-CFO, investment banker, venture capitalist, and CEO, Mr. Smith has realized more than $400 million for shareholders over the past 25 years. Still competitive, Ian is ranked in the top 20 in the world at 400m on the track for his age.
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