Why Your Small Business Needs ‘Stories’

“One more! One more! Before I go to bed…”

Whether this is about watching one more episode of your favourite Netflix shows or a child aching for one more fairytale from mommy or daddy, it seems like stories captivate both young and old.

The brain is hardwired for storytelling. It just lights up at the prospect of a good story.

Knowing this, the savvy entrepreneur stands ready to exploit this human tendency and apply it for profit.

In this post, we’ll learn how any small business can create narratives for itself and maximize its market potential.

We’ll start by defining a business story and looking into the reasons why your business needs “stories” in the first place.

What Are Business Stories?

Business “stories” are not limited to the motherhood statements and slogans that headline an organization’s advertising material. For example, Google has “Don’t be evil” and “Do the right thing.” Apple has “Think different.”

These statements speak volumes about the company—its mission, values and vision—but are not the be-all and end-all of business stories. They can be your business narrative and explain why your business exists, what problems it solves, and how it enriches the lives of your customers. You already know all that.

But it doesn’t end there.

Every aspect of your operation, every person involved in your business, and every little speck of dust that settles on your shop room floor has a potential story. You only need to package it in such a way that it becomes memorable for anybody who listens.

For example, you can be straight forward importer of coffee and do reasonably well. But if you incorporate some story with your beans, say, “These beans come from coffee plants that grow under the shade of other trees, creating harsher conditions. As a result, these beans have a more nuanced flavour than coffee varietals that are grown in direct sunlight.”

You’ve given them something to think about your product. You’ve given them something to talk about with their family and friends.

That is what business stories essentially are. They are positive anecdotes and narratives about your business that people associate with your business and talk about it to others.

Benefits Of Crafting Business Stories

#1 They make your brand memorable.

In a one-hour talk, you might forget the main points, but the stories remain with you. And an interesting one, you will tell others.

That’s free marketing right there!

Say, there’s a Texas family restaurant that sits on what used to be an old hardware store. You can use that fact as a jump-off point:

Over on the wall there, you can still see the marks where they used to hang the tools, as well as the brackets and clamps that supported merchandise. We’ve also reclaimed the old workbenches and pallets and repurposed them as tables and chairs. And so that’s why we call this place the “Toolshed Café.

With a good story, the place climbs to the top of your mind…all you need to do is make good food!

#2 They set you apart from the competition.

Stories do not only make businesses memorable, but they make them unique.

Since your business is the only one with such a story, you set yourself apart.

Your stories give your business an identity, a personality, and even a brand. In a noisy and crowded marketplace that’s competing on price, yours becomes a class all your own.

This is because stories can imbue a business with warmth, integrity and any positive traits you may want. Consistent narratives are that powerful.

#3 They inspire customer loyalty.

There’s a meat shop in town whose owner loves feeding stray dogs and cats. Early each morning, returning felines and canines line up at the store’s front door waiting for the doting owner to show up, play with them and give them some treats, maybe some smoked leftovers the day before.

If you’re an animal lover and heard the story of this old lady’s kindness to homeless cats and dogs, you’ll be inspired to support her business.

Stories are not only memorable. They can spark action. A story like the one above can spark a flood of goodwill and support for the owner.

#4 They simplify complex concepts.

Sometimes your business involves a complicated process. Maybe there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes. Maybe you’re in tech, or maybe your production process is too involved and complex.

A story can simplify the complex and make inscrutable concepts quite interesting.

For example, in a coding-for-kids school, you might say, “At Kiddie Coders Academy, we make blocks of code understandable by telling a story. We carefully explain the effects of certain functions so that kids don’t just see endless lines of alien language, but incantations and spells with magical effects. At our school, children learn coding like Harry Potter learned wizardry.”      

So why tell business stories?

More sales. They lead to more sales.

“But my business is so boring it has no such stories?!”

Don’t worry, in the next section, we’ll learn how to craft narratives for your small business.

Step-by-Step Guide

# 1 Assume that there are always tales waiting to be discovered.

“But this business of mine is so cut and dry, there couldn’t possibly any interesting about it!”

I’ve found from experience that the difficulty in finding stories is largely psychological. This is what’s stopping owners from uncovering real and interesting narratives. They think their small business is inherently dry like they’ve inherited it from their parents, so there’s nothing worth telling others about it.

But if you take the position that there are stories, interesting stories waiting to be discovered (even if you don’t know what they are yet), you will inevitably witness real great narratives coming out of the woodwork—things you’ve never noticed before that make your business indeed very cool.

This works every time.

# 2 Look for them…everywhere.

As I’ve said before, these anecdotes are everywhere. Literally. Name any area of the business, there’s always something that could drive the narrative of the whole business.

It’s not just about your origin story. It’s not just about the whole mission-vision thing.

Find stories in:

  • The way you make your products.
  •  The lives of your employees.
  • The reactions/comments you get from customers and clients.
  • How one customer used your product in a totally unexpected way.
  • Those weird orders you get from time to time.

Talk about that big order that you sent abroad, that you think must be some for a Middle Eastern prince or something.

Talk about your employee who couldn’t tell his right and from his left at first but is now making 500 dumplings an hour.

Talk about the bad day that you had and the creative solution that came out of it.

I’m sure you’ve had ideas about the business pop up when you were in the shower or when you were driving to get milk.

When you have the attitude that these tales are right under your nose, they will come to life and make you realize there’s so much worth talking about.

# 3 Package it properly.

Many times, it’s not even about the story itself that’s so interesting, but how you package it.

Think about this, love stories are always about boy-meets-girl and end with boy-gets-girl. But Hollywood can make it so interesting you’d pay good money to see what happens in between.

There are dozens of ways to make a narrative interesting. A strategy you can use is “compare and contrast.”

So for example, if you inherited a business from your parents—a pretty cut-and-dry situation. You can make this interesting by comparing how your life would be had you become, say, an architect, your lifelong dream.

“I’ve always wanted to be an architect. I spent my afternoons dreaming of tall buildings. I could have been designing buildings around the world! But here I am, sending out gourmet sandwiches to people who work in those buildings…but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world!”

(Customer: “Hey, I suspect there was an architectural mind behind the design of those sandwiches…”)

Stories like these give your small business some sheen, making it memorable vis-à-vis any competitor. And stories, told to others, become a currency that your business can benefit from.

# 4 Keep on creating narratives.

And this is the key here. You don’t ever stop.

You don’t stop looking for these narratives.

Some of them won’t work, but a few of them will stick and will become folktales or common knowledge in the community.

Which ones? You won’t know.

But you consistently need to have a marketing and advertising mindset that always looks for these opportunities to make your business grow through the stories people tell around it.

These stories will soon become your ambassadors and create sales for you.

And that’s why your business needs to have “stories.”

So look for them, they’re right there under your nose.

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