People have been telling stories since the dawn of time. Before the written word, story was how humankind passed along knowledge and history from one generation to the next. And if you’re a parent, you know how important story is to your kids–and it’s so exciting to watch their little eyes light up with wonder at their favorite story. No matter how many (hundreds) of times they’ve heard it already.
In fact, our little ones love to “read” their favorite stories over and over again, sometimes word-for-remembered-word. Ad nauseum. Because, through story, they’re building their vocabulary, learning how things work and growing their sense of self.
As an adult, it might feel like you’ve outgrown the pull of a good story. But you haven’t. You just probably haven’t heard (or told) a good one lately. Or if you have, it was so good that it didn’t occur to you that the writer (or speaker) was using story to hook you in.
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When was the last time you listened to a podcast, watched a YouTube video or saw a TED Talk? If you’re like most business owners, you probably do one or more of these throughout the week. You turn to podcasts and videos to gather ideas and inspiration for how you run and grow your business. When you do, you’re listening to master storytellers entertain you while also imparting a big nugget of knowledge.
Story is everywhere. It’s in the television commercials you watch, it’s at your dinner table as you share your day and it’s in your dreams–both literally and figuratively. Story is how we live and how we think about what’s to come. And story is how we do business today.
What types of stories should you tell in your business?
There are three different types of story you should incorporate into your business:
- Stories that help to communicate a bigger idea
- Stories that illustrate an idea or thought
- Stories that educate your audience about you and your business
All three types of stories have a place in your business, if used well. So when you’re inserting a story into a blog post, an Instagram caption, a Facebook update or a video, ask yourself:
- Does this story help to communicate a bigger idea?
- Does this story help to illustrate an idea or thought, to make it easier to understand?
- Does this story educate my audience about me or my business?
If you can answer yes to any one of these questions, then go forth and tell your story. But if the story is just for the sake of a story, think twice before sharing.
But wait…I just want to be straightforward and to the point. Why tell a story?
What are the benefits of using story in your small business?
Telling a story makes you (and the information you’re sharing) more relatable. Whether you’re telling your own business story or telling the story of one of your customers, real-life examples are much easier to relate to. This gives your characters a name and face, which humanizes the experience and makes it easier to understand.
Using a real example from your own business doesn’t mean that you’re divulging confidential information. It’s fair to change names of the guilty or speak in generalities so you’re maintaining client privilege. But using that story shows your audience that they’re not alone.
Just like your kids, a story will grab your audience’s attention and help them to remember the information. It’s more engaging and interesting and more fun to read or consume. Because we’re all just big kids, after all.
Using story doesn’t mean that you’re telling a long, complicated narrative every time you communicate. It means you’re giving the setting of when, where and how your audience can use or do something. It puts your audience in the driver’s seat and gives them a mental picture–which is much more effective than simply spouting off a bunch of facts.
Of course, there are other reasons that every business owner should use story, reasons that will get you the ROI you’re looking for.
Story makes you much more relatable, especially when you’re sharing part of your own business story. It allows you to be vulnerable in the eyes of your customers so they know you’re human too.
The more real and relatable you are, the more authentic you’ll feel to the people who matter most in your business–your customers and prospects. It’s the authentic side of you that will attract the right people to you.
You need a platform to tell your story, and every time you speak up you’ll become more and more visible to your audience. As your story resonates with different people, they’re likely to share it with their own audience or (at the very least) comment on your own story. This widens the reach of what you’re posting and makes you more visible to others.
It’s a good idea to ask open-ended questions when you’re sharing a story, whether it’s on video or on social media. Then ask your audience to take action and share or comment on the post. As much as we hate to admit it, we like being told what to do because it limits our decision fatigue.
Just like story can help you be more authentic in the eyes of your audience, it will also allow you to niche down. Have you ever noticed that the more you talk about a specific topic, the more clarity you get on it? We’re social creatures, after all, and talking through challenges and ideas is ingrained in us.
As you talk through your own story and the stories of the people you work with, you’ll start to notice a common theme–the things you love to do and the parts of your business that you don’t love so much. You’ll get clarity and your audience will start to see that too. This clarity might help you niche down so you’re only doing the projects and working with the people who light you up the most.
A few years ago, I went to a conference where a speaker told a heart-wrenching story about how she came to be in business. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Not only that, but when people stood up to ask questions, they instead relayed the connection they had to her story.
In one 60-minute talk, this business owner made a connection with every single person in the room. She was unforgettable. Even if you don’t have a story like this, you still have a story that you can share. And I guarantee if you tell it, others will relate and be drawn to you.
How to tell YOUR business story
Sharing your own story as a business owner is a huge part of marketing today. Your audience wants to know who you are and where you came from–in a business sense. And many business owners also share some of their personal lives with their audiences.
No matter how introverted and private you are, telling some of your own story and journey as a business puts a human face on your business. So share away, within reason. Some important things to remember:
Know ahead of time what you want to share (and not share). Not everything is share-worthy. Think about your brand and what you want it to represent and share around those ideas. For example, if you’re a big foodie, go ahead and share pictures and stories that relate to food. But if your daughter is taking gymnastics lessons and you read while you’re waiting for class to get over? Probably not a shareable idea. It begs the question, Who cares?
Yes, you care about those tumbles and flips, but save them for your personal social accounts so Grandpa can see it. And share content like that sparingly on your business accounts.
Other things that you should probably avoid when sharing your story? Check out the video below.
Don’t give it all away. It’s boring, repetitive and no one really cares all that much. Think about Instagram Stories. Have you ever binge-watched the stories and found someone talking to the camera, sharing every last detail of their day? I have, and I usually end up scrolling through content like that. It’s just too much information to consume and it doesn’t relate to why I’m following that person in the first place. Create short, sweet and to-the-point content instead.
Know WHY you’re sharing. Like any content you create, there should be a reason behind every story you tell in your business. And it’s okay to stretch this connection a bit. Maybe you’re a marketing guru and you want to share a marketing fail (or big win!) you saw when you were on vacation. You can easily weave a story here that’s relatable and interesting and that connects to a bigger idea in your business.
Know that you have more than one story. There’s a lot to you and your business, and there’s a lot to tell. It doesn’t all have to lead right back to your business, but a story can tie it all together. Some of the best business stories to tell, depending how where you are in business and what type of people are in your audience, include:
- How your business came to be
- Adversity you’ve faced
- How you relate to others (your audience)
- Lessons learned/mistakes made
- Something funny and relatable
Where should you share stories in your business?
Thanks to the internet, the possibilities for sharing your business stories are endless. The biggest challenge is to choose the right channels for the right stories and the right audience.
Your blog lives on your website, making it a no-brainer place to share a story. I spent a year blogging about my personal experience as a business owner and single mom and those posts were among some of my most-viewed pages on my website. The process was part therapy and part an attempt to tell some stories that I thought were missing from the online space. Once a week for a year, I shared a personal blog that chronicled how I grew my business, what I did to make shifts in business and in life, how my previous career (teaching) helped me in my business as an online marketer and so much more. This process put a human face on my business and helped me to connect with business owners in a similar position and mindset.
It’s so easy to share videos in Instagram stories, Instagram Live and even IGTV. I personally got started in creating video regularly on Instagram stories first because it was so easy. You’re able to pick up your phone and simply shoot a quick 15-second video. And if you messed up? Just delete it and start again. Even better, the videos go away after 24 hours so you’ll never feel the need for them to be perfect. IGTV, on the other hand, should be a little more polished because you can keep these videos around longer. But even then, no one is expecting perfection on Instagram (and you’re better off showing your imperfect self because it makes you more relatable).
Podcasts are all the rage right now and they’re one of the best ways to share your story–if done right. Whether it’s on your own podcast or you’re a guest on someone else’s, podcasts require a quality microphone and not much else. If you’re a guest, make sure you seek out podcasts that are meant for your ideal audience so you’re talking to the right people. If you’re pitching to be a guest, listen to a few episodes first and know exactly what value you can offer the listeners. If you’re launching your own podcast, be open to sharing others’ stories and experiences in addition to your own. Listeners want a variety of stories and perspectives, not just yours.
I tell clients all the time that your emails are where you can get a little more personal and really share a piece of yourself. Your email subscribers have trusted you with their email address; reward them by giving them insight and information that you don’t offer anywhere else. You should also offer additional value in your emails, but they’re a great place to tell a story or two that relates to the other content you’re sharing that week or month.
Social Media Posts
There’s usually a story behind why you’ve created a specific piece of content you’re sharing. Share that why in your social media captions. Don’t just include a fun graphic quote; tell your followers why that quote resonates with you. Don’t just share your blog post on Facebook and Instagram; tell your audience why you wrote that particular piece. This goes for every piece of content you share on social–personal photos you post on your business feed, links to curated content, etc. Give people a reason to click by telling them why you felt compelled to share it.
Storytelling Tips for Business
If you’re ready to dive into story as a way to market your business, keep these tips in mind:
- Your story is not a highlight reel. You’ve faced adversity and you make mistakes as well as triumphs. No one wants to only hear about all the amazing things you’ve done. Include the challenges too! (That said, no one only wants to hear the story of your challenges either. Whine much? There needs to be a balance.)
- When using story on your website or sales page, let your audience be the hero. Put them in the position of having that problem solved or being successful.
- Pique curiosity in any story by starting at the middle of the action–not at the beginning. As someone who tends to make a long story longer, I can tell you that you’ll hold your audience’s attention better if you start with the climax. You may need to backtrack, but that’s okay.
- Not every story needs to be told. Sometimes, mystery and intrigue win the day.
Remember, Your Stories Aren’t Just About You
A difficult concept for most business owners to grasp is making their audience the hero of the story, even your own story. How will it benefit your audience to share each story you want to share? What will they get out of it? What call to action can you include in the story?
Often the stories we tell in our businesses have to do with our origin, personally and professionally. We talk about our past experiences because we want to help others and give them a shorter path to success. Make sure that they key takeaway from each story is clear and easy for listeners and readers to grasp.
One of the best ways to start creating story content is to batch it. Identify what stories you want to tell and sit down and create it together.