How many times have we said or heard the expression: “Tell me a story.” Starting at an early age and onward, the story process is the same, only the topics change as we get older.
If you are a small business owner, your story telling skills need to be perfect. And it is not just one story, but one of many based on who the audience is at the moment. Your customer needs to hear a different story then a vendor. And your vendors need to hear a different story then your local government official.
Just like any story, it has to be great! Not just in terms of the content, but in the presentation as well.
David Rourk, a marketing expert with Rourk Public Relations in Virginia Beach, states that the story has to “connect deeply and quickly – be bright, be brief and be gone. Many times a business owner overlooks the little stories that are actually their best selling points.” Take the time to dig through your history, find a few neat facts that make people say ‘wow’, and create your stories around them.
We all have that story that describes the travels that brought us to where we are today. The challenge facing small business owners is in understanding the audience and then making the right pitch. Think of the many different people who will be listening to the story… customers, employees (both prospective and actual), the banker or those who would invest in the company. It is one thing to have “invented the wheel”, now describe in detail the process of transitioning from that role to being the “captain of the ship” or head of the company. Different skills are required and the story-teller has to be able to communicate this well in order to be successful.
What stories need to be told? First is the “A-ha” story…describing the motivation behind the decision to do what was done. This is the “hook” that people love to hear and it has to be structured to get and then keep the audience’s attention. Once this is completed, it is time to move on to the next audience, the customers.
The marketing story is one that is more challenging to craft. Instead of concentrating just on the business itself, the owner now has to look at the products offered, the customers who may purchase those products, and the competition already in the marketplace. What story is going to connect with the customers and motivate them to make the purchasing decision? How can the business owner differentiate him or herself from the competition? Is the motivation price, features, convenience, quality or a combination thereof? Once this story is mastered, then the finance story must be drafted.
If the marketing story was challenging, then quantifying the story with numbers can be considered a “Homeric” undertaking. It is one thing to verbally describe the businesses operations; it is something entirely different to accurately predict the costs, sales and revenues. This is the information that bankers and investors seek and, if the numbers do not match the actions, the story will fall on deaf ears. Rarely will a “mulligan” or “do over” be given. It has to be accurate and correct from the outset.
Storytelling is not just for bedtime or the campfire. It is a critical skill that each small business owner has to master in order to survive. Everyone has a great story; they just need to learn how to tell it.
Jim Carroll is the vice president of small business for the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center. He can be reached at (757) 664-2595 or www.hrsbdc.org.