3 Timeless Elements of Storytelling That Will Grow Your Business Stories aren't just for kids, they're how our brains remember and communicate information effectively — but if you want to tell effective stories that help your business grow, they need these three key elements.
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I run a digital marketing agency. If we are able to track a client's revenue and connect it to the ads we run (an ecommerce client, for example), we can tell them — to the cent — how much they make in revenue for each dollar they spend on ads. If that sounds like a numbers game ... it is. But when I pitch clients, I don't lead with numbers.
When I pitch a client, I don't tell them we can generate $34.12 for every $1.00 they spend on ads. Surprisingly, that's not what seals the deal. Don't get me wrong, the numbers are important, and I share numbers in every pitch I make, but they're not the most important thing. What matters more than numbers, or any other detail I could share, is whether or not I can tell a good story.
Frankly, numbers bore clients. They're just a box to be checked. If I start to talk numbers too much, the client's eyes will glaze over, and I can see that what they want to say to me is, "Yes, yes, the numbers are good enough, I see that, check the box, move on, now tell me a story!" Not that they're looking for just any story, they want a story they can identify with. They want a story that shows that my agency has worked with someone like them before and that we got great results. But that's not all they want. Here are three elements your story should include in order to convince your clients they want to work with you:
Storytelling Element #1: A hero
In his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, author Joseph Campbell laid out what we all now call "The Hero's Journey." To simplify, the hero is comfortable at home, when suddenly there's a call to adventure. He leaves home, faces challenges, overcomes obstacles and comes back home a changed person. This story is told over and over again in books and movies, from The Hobbit to Star Wars to Harry Potter.
However, while every story needs a hero, where many entrepreneurs make a mistake is in assuming they or their company is the hero. As Donald Miller explains in his book Building a StoryBrand, "When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognized as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges."
Your customer is Bilbo Baggins, and you are Gandalf. You are the Obi-wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker. You are Dumbledore, and your customer is Harry Potter.
This technique has helped at least one entrepreneur raise over $8 billion for her clients. "Most firms in our industry go into a meeting with a polished pitch that's all, me, me, me," says Stacy Havener, CEO of Havener Capital Partners, an agency that helps investment boutiques build, launch and grow funds. "We flip the script. When we help our clients raise money, we tell them to make their prospect the hero." Havener explained that in one case, the strategy resulted in a $10 million commitment after just a single initial meeting.
Storytelling Element #2: A challenge
There's no more boring story than, "We wanted to do XYZ, so we went to work, and we did it." Where's the excitement in that?!
Entrepreneurs are tempted to tell this kind of story because we don't want to admit that we ever face any challenges. We want the client to believe that if they work with us, everything will go flawlessly, without a single hiccup. However, when we leave this important element out of our story, we not only hide the truth, but we shoot ourselves in the foot because we're missing a great opportunity to show the client something important about ourselves — that we know how to overcome challenges.
Juliana Garcia has helped business coaches generate millions in revenue using her trademarked technique, which she calls "Elegant Vulnerability®," to share their challenges. "You don't have to have the perfect story or hide the parts of your story that you feel ashamed to share," she says. "Your clients don't need you to be perfect. When you share your own challenges, you show up as a relatable human authority. This helps clients to gain a deeper sense of trust, and they're willing to pay you more."
According to Garcia, there is an ideal ratio when sharing your challenges. "Balance 50% personal stories to be relatable and 50% business training to show you are a true expert. High-paying clients come to you when they resonate with who you are and at the same time feel like you will get results."
This is the future of storytelling online. A reasonable client expects there to be challenges, but they want to know that when you face one, you'll figure it out quickly. There's no better way to show a client you'll take care of them, no matter what, than to tell them a story about when you overcame a big challenge.
Storytelling Element #3: A lesson
What's the third element in crafting your winning entrepreneurial story? "Victory, of course!" Sorry, no. Telling about how you faced a challenge and were victorious in overcoming it can be helpful, but it's much less important than talking about the lesson you learned from the challenge.
Ever heard someone ask, "What's the moral of the story?" Someone who was famous for including lessons in his stories was Aesop, a Greek slave born around 620 B.C. Some of Aesop's most famous stories, known as Aesop's Fables, include "The Fox and the Grapes," "The Hare and the Tortoise" and "The Goose and the Golden Egg." In each fable, Aesop included a lesson — something practical the listener could learn and apply easily in their own lives.
Including a lesson in your story isn't designed to teach your customer a lesson they can apply so much as to show them that if something goes wrong while they're working with you, you're smart enough to not only fix it but make sure it never happens again. Ironically, by sharing your past challenges or mistakes, you build the client's confidence in you.
My business is very personal because I sell services to clients. You may sell products and never get to know your customers. Regardless, storytelling is vital to fuel your growth because whether you're working with clients or customers or selling services or products, people do business with businesses they know, like and trust. Nothing I've found helps people feel like they know you, get to like you and develop trust in you than telling stories that include the customer as the hero, an exciting challenge and a lesson learned from facing the challenge. Try incorporating this kind of storytelling into your marketing and sales strategy, and watch how your customers rally around you.