3 Tips for Mastering Storytelling as a Small Business Owner
I truly love storytelling and the role that it plays in building a successful business. So much of making the impact that you desire comes down to understanding who you are, your mission and the purpose you have behind your business.
This statement is always true, but perhaps even more so after this past year that the world has experienced. As I’ve reflected on this time, I’ve asked myself: What did I learn? What did this global crisis teach me? One takeaway: a renewed confirmation that storytelling has the power to build connection, trust and loyalty, particularly if you do it in a way that deeply resonates with your audience.
For those of you who are thinking, “I don’t have a story,” don’t give up just yet. Chances are, after you complete the exercises below, your “no story” will become “several stories.”
The science behind storytelling
Did you know that when you incorporate storytelling into your content you are actually increasing the likelihood that your audience will remember it? In fact, according to psychologist Jerome Bruner, you're increasing it by 22 times. Yes, I’m serious.
When your audience is reading and listening to those stories, there's a lot going on inside of their brains and hearts, naturally building a connection with you and with your brand. One of my favorite things that happens is called “neural coupling.” This is when the story you’re sharing fires neurons in your audience’s brain that allow them to make an emotional connection with your story and even highlight parts of their own story.
You see, by activating their brain, you’re more likely to keep them engaged, which is essential to building a memorable brand. In addition, storytelling releases dopamine, which as an added bonus makes them feel positive feelings about your brand. All of this is essential because we know purchase decisions are made because of an emotional connection.
The science is there. It’s time to start incorporating storytelling into every single level of your business. Here are the strategies you need to do it.
1. Review your brand values
One of the greatest things we can do for our brands right now is to not only gain clarity of our brand values but also openly share them with our audience. After experiencing so much racial and political unrest, now is the time to make your values known to the people you want to attract.
Such a large part of the storytelling process depends on your in-depth knowledge of your ideal customer. We can’t tell great stories that grow our business without understanding who those stories are for. From this research we can also get a better understanding of the type of person with whom we want to work.
I always like to say, your brand should attract and repel people. Clients need to know where you stand and whether you are a good fit for them. And in all honesty, if your values aren’t in alignment with someone, should you be working with them anyway?
In a global 2019 study of 1,800 brands, Havas Group found that 77 percent of consumers stated they buy from brands that share their values. Communicating your values through storytelling is a smart and necessary business move.
If you have not taken a look at your brand values this past year, I highly suggest dusting those off and revising them for the rest of 2021 and beyond. By sharing stories that are aligned with your values it ensures no one in your audience will be confused about who you are and what you’re about.
2. Begin your story bank
The stories you choose to tell should all ladder back to the question: “Does this help my audience?” But, you needn't have experienced a great tragedy in life to have a story that is meaningful to your audience. So many women in my program have sabotaged themselves with that skewed belief. Because when you think of it from a marketing perspective, it is really the “microstories,” the ones that occur during day-to-day life, that are often the most worthy of sharing because they are the most relatable to your audience.
Instead of trying to drum up earth-shattering moments, think about the tiniest moments and decisions in your life. Oftentimes it's a small decision or challenge that presents itself, that will be the most meaningful message to share.
When starting your story bank remember, simplicity is key. I encourage my clients to make it a document that is as simple as possible for you — be it a spreadsheet, Google Doc, anything. The idea is that the document should be easy for you to access whenever an idea pops up. Oftentimes I will be on a hike or adventure with my family and an idea will come up, so having easy access to my story bank from my phone is a must.
My story bank only consists of two columns — the first column is the story idea, and the second column is where I answer the foundational question: Why is this story important to my audience? If I cannot answer this question, then the story doesn’t serve a purpose in my business.
Remember, importance to your audience can come in many forms, from inspiration, motivation, education or entertaining.
You will find just having this document created and at to your fingertips is going to increase your awareness when going through your day-to-day. If anything, it makes me more present and aware of the happenings during my day, which grounds me. The other day I walked into the room to find my five-year-old son, Cal, sitting at my computer. He looked up at me with this huge grin on his face and said, “Look, Mom! I’m working too!” Rather than file it away as one of his many adorable moments, I actually took a moment to think about it. After logging it in my story bank I realized there was a “why” for sharing this microstory with my audience. If anything, this moment embodies one of the main reasons I left corporate America in the dust. I wanted to create and run a business I could be proud of — a business that showed my son you can and should do work that you love.
3. If you’re in it, don’t share it
This is an important caveat that I remind the women in my community. It’s tempting to share a vulnerability or learning lesson as it is happening. We have all signed on to Facebook or Instagram and “liked” someone’s sob story out of guilt. I know I’m not the only one! But therein lies the problem.
If you are sharing a story while you in the throes of the messiness, then your story is going to come off ... well, messy. Be careful of treating storytelling like your own soapbox because then the act is not achieving the ultimate vision, which is to tie back to your overall business goal. Remember: You are storytelling as a business owner. The true motive is to build a community of people who will buy for you and do business with you.
Valuable stories are always shared after the fact. When enough time has passed to relay the main discovery in a rational state of mind. You want to be a guide for your audience, and help guide them through their own mess. At the end of the day, your audience should be the hero of the story. Not you.
If there’s one message to leave you with, it is this: Take time to take a step back, revisit your brand values again, and before sharing a story, always return to the guiding principle: “How does this help my audience?” If the answer is “It doesn’t,” then it is not a story worth sharing in that moment. Although maybe Mom will get a kick out of it.