The 5 Elements of Storytelling Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know
Is it possible to be born an entrepreneur? The concept of following a particular career or lifestyle, predetermined at birth, is a controversial one, so I’ll just say this -- I began my entrepreneurial journey at a very young age, and I feel that I am meant to follow the path I’m on.
I love everything that being an entrepreneur stands for. Entrepreneurship depends on extreme dedication and passion toward a greater purpose. It means an undying commitment to serving an unmet need within the communities in which we live. Becoming an entrepreneur requires that you use creativity to develop ideas and execute strategies that are intended to change the world -- even when people think you’re crazy for it.
By the age of 6, my brother Adam and I had several growth-hacking and business-funding experiences, including a leaf-raking and snow-shoveling business and a can collection business. We developed great negotiation and customer service skills as we ran tables at the local swap meet with our Grandpa Joe. Both Grandpa Joe and our beloved swap meet experiences were paramount to starting our first “official” business, Dipper-Do Stunt Airplanes, just before I turned the ripe old age of 8.
My brother and I were lucky to have someone to teach us the entrepreneurial lifestyle so early on. Grandpa Joe helped us set up Dipper-Do stunt airplanes and sell them at a local folk festival, where we sold out before the festival ended. The entrepreneurial bug hasn’t left us since!
Today, we are regularly approached to become advisors to startups and serve as mentors for new entrepreneurs, and we’re constantly entrenched in the world of small business. I am deeply invested in staying on top of entrepreneurial trends in order to best serve these startups and provide them with the most value possible.
With this exposure and our commitment to supporting entrepreneurs around the world, we strongly feel that in order to stay relevant, entrepreneurs must possess the ability to captivate an audience through storytelling.
Unfortunately, we’ve come to the realization that one of the main challenges entrepreneurs struggle with is their ability to summarize what they do and what they’ve accomplished, which can be done through the use of storytelling. Whether they are attempting to raise money, build a team, speak at a conference, build an online course or close business deals, every entrepreneur must be able to tell his or her story. And in order to be memorable, that story must be told in a clear and powerful way.
By many standards, my brother and I have experienced some tremendous entrepreneurial success. However, we too have struggled with the challenge of articulating what we do clearly and concisely. We’ve often found ourselves lamely answering the question, “What do you do?” with an uninspiring, non-captivating response.
Here is the problem: Though “storytelling” is a buzzword right now, very few people are teaching entrepreneurs how to do it -- even when they understand the impact great storytelling can have on a business.
I had the chance to speak with The Campfire Effect’s Chris Smith, who has worked with some amazing figures like JJ Virgin, 6th Division, Old Republic Title, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, and Northwestern Mutual. Chris outlined for me the powerful brand and storytelling formulas taught within his four-part proprietary methodology, The Campfire Effect. He explained that five particular elements, contained within these formulas, are critical to executing successful storytelling.
1. Who we are
Many entrepreneurs tend to share more of what they do than who they are. People buy from other people, and an entrepreneur’s ability to connect with another human being through his or her authentic story will have a more profound influence on someone than all the information in the world about his or her product or service.
2. What we do
When sharing what you do, you must be succinct, clear and thought-provoking, but most importantly, your summary needs to spell out a benefit to the person you’re speaking with. After someone learns what you do, they should clearly understand how it would benefit them and want to know more.
3. Why we do it
Most entrepreneurs realize that we live in more of a purpose-driven world than ever before. People aren’t only buying what you do -- they’re buying why you do it. They “why” in your story can be one of the biggest differentiators between your business and a competitor’s.
4. How we do it
Despite the importance of this element, very few entrepreneurs truly understand it. People aren’t only interested in what you do and why you do it -- they also want to know how you do it. Your ability to powerfully articulate the method in which you do what you do will make you look both confident and experienced -- even if you aren’t. Though entrepreneurs often get excited about simply sharing what they do, sharing how they do it can establish trust and credibility between themselves and a potential customer.
Potential customers want proof of a time you have successfully achieved a result for someone, and they want to hear what you did, why you did it, and how you did it. Nothing will drive someone more to write you a check or support you than a customer success story. Tip: When telling such a story, start by sharing the pain and difficulty the customer was facing when they came to you; then explain what you did for them and why. Finally, divulge the benefits the customer holds now that he or she has worked with you. This method allows the listener to relate to the customer in your story, and will hopefully give them the confidence necessary to go to you for a product or service.
It can be incredibly difficult to outline what you do, why you do it, how you do it, and when you’ve successfully done it while staying concise, unique and engaging. What I enjoyed about The Campfire Effect is that they’ve developed formulas within their framework that allow us to easily do all of the above which results in an ability to powerfully influence others and chart a course for success. Personally, I was astounded by what I uncovered about myself in going through The Campfire Effect -- the impact I have on growth and sales has inflated with my ability to articulate what I do in a meaningful way.
Have you looked into storytelling as a part of your business and personal branding strategy? What is the most difficult aspect of storytelling for you? Nearly everyone could improve their answers to the question, “What do you do?”
Here’s to great storytelling!
Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.