“How did you get started?”
As a founder of a business, you’d probably expect to be able to answer that question quite simply. But have you ever heard someone else tell your creation story? Or the story of your biggest success or failure?
Your stories are as much a business asset as your product, your people or the cash in the bank. People forget facts, but they rarely forget compelling stories. If that’s the case (and there’s plenty of research to prove it is), then wouldn’t you want to be the one telling the best story?
And when you have the best story, something incredible happens:
The power of your story is not that you can tell it. It is that other people want to tell it for you.David Hieatt – Hiut Denim
So how do you make sure they want to tell it? Let’s think about what goes wrong with founder stories.
A story is not a list of dates and facts
Many founder stories on company websites or in their literature are no more interesting than a Wikipedia entry. Not many people want to recite one of those at a get-together.
You’ll find dates and dry, factual information. It’s often told in the third person, not first. It’s the story of the founder, not by the founder. Nine times out of ten, it lacks distinctiveness. There is nothing to connect us as humans with that human with an idea.
Emotion is your superpower, not logic and fact.
Remember your story now before others need it.
Think you won’t forget your own legend?
I wrote about the tenth anniversary of creating the skincare legend that is No 7 Protect & Perfect. Not to brag, but to show how easy it is to forget something even when it had a major impact on a business.
I’d already known that this legend had gone awry when I heard someone who hadn’t been there trying to tell the story to a new senior executive. I could almost see him nodding off until I gave him the bald facts: that product came within 2 weeks of being discontinued, meaning you’d have come into a business worth several hundred million pounds less than it is today.
Jeopardy. Curiousity. Possibly greed. But he was hooked.
“And then what?”
It doesn’t have to be a big story
Okay, that one was, but in your business, you’ll have had big stories and small ones. They can all have value. They can all make people curious to know more and buy into what you do, not just what you sell.
The story might be funny or tragic, seemingly mundane or a series of quite extraordinary events. Told in the right way, with your distinctive twist, then they are a resource that your competitors don’t have. And most people are not investing in their stories, so there’s no reason why this can’t be something of real value to you.
How do you collect your stories?
I’m not suggesting you have to spend the time writing up all your stories as and when they happen (although if you keep a journal of any kind, that could become an invaluable prompt in the future).
When you run a small business, or you’re starting out and in rapid growth, then there are 101 demands on your time every single moment of the day.
It’s yet another thing where it’s a balance of spending some time now for an unknown return at some point in the future. So how do you do it?
Get a process
I can’t believe I just wrote that, as I am the world’s worst with process (as many project managers I worked with in corporate life would tell you). In fact, the only way I can cope with process is when it’s simple.
For a story to be compelling when you do write it, then you’re probably going to want to remember these key things:
- A bit of context
- What the catalyst was, and how that catalyst made you feel
- The complications you faced. Every good story needs some jeopardy
- The change, in what you do, how you see the world, the people around you
- The consequences, or the so what. Think of it as the story that happens after the credits roll
Don’t wordsmith it, don’t agonise over it, just get it down.
Maybe go back the next day and just check it still makes sense, and also that it doesn’t bring to mind something that you’ve forgotten.
Make that your process. To record those 5 things, as close to the event as you can.
Amend the process
Or maybe it’s add to the process. Once you’ve got the bare bones of your story down, think about when it’s going to be the right story to tell as well as to what kind of audience.
The same story will probably work for different kinds of audiences, but you’ll maybe want to tell them in different ways. For example, how you tell it to your team might differ from how you tell it to investors. But you’ll also want to make sure that your team can tell it in such a way to your end customer that it works for them.
Make the process simple
If you want it to be handwritten, make that your process. If you want to make a quick video of yourself telling the story outline, that’s your process. Where and how you record it doesn’t matter. It only matters that you do it.
Well, it’s not the only thing that matters.
Use your stories
You’re not starting a museum.
You’re collecting these stories for a purpose. They can only serve your business when you get them out, polish them up and put them out into the public realm. Treat them like the asset they are, and make them earn their keep for you.
What’s in your collection already?
If you’ve been in business for a while, then you might already have a good collection of stories. It’s worth just checking that they are distinctive, that you’re telling them in the best way possible that will get people to lean forward and say “tell me more”.
That’s when you know it’s a good story.