Ten years ago Way and I started our first “real” business. By real I mean, we started a business with a plan, we made money and we sold the business for a profit. Little did I know then, that our success would come by way of storytelling.
That business was Flagstaff Express, a shuttle service between our mountain town of Flagstaff and Phoenix. We catered to the college students and our story was told to and with their parents. Our business story focused on the right hero (the person with the wallet – the parents) and because of that, our business grew – and quickly.
I’ll be honest and say it was pure luck that I was telling the right story. You see, back then I didn’t understand the power of story, the structure of it, or how to use it to market my business.
Well, my luck with storytelling didn’t stop there. After we sold Flagstaff Express, I opened a little boutique that was born out of my desire for natural bath products.
I loved baths but I didn’t want to sit in a pool of chemicals. My entire advertising budget (which was $0) was spent sharing stories. Stories about the who, the what, the where, the when and the how. I shared them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and my shop’s blog and of course, I told them to anyone who would listen.
Again, I sort of got lucky that I was getting it right. I was just using my natural passion for what I was doing and my ability to talk (I did kiss the Blarney Stone, after all) to share why I was doing what I was doing. I didn’t even know at the time I was telling stories, and I certainly didn’t know I was good at it.
Then one day out of the blue I decide to enter the national Google & American Express “My Business Story” contest. I entered on a dare and … you guessed it, won.
Being named one of 36 national winners and having my story featured on YouTube changed my business. And even so, I still didn’t truly understand the magical powers of stories. I just knew my business story was bringing in new customers and driving sales.
It took me selling this business and moving half-way around the world to realize how the story played an integral role in how my businesses grew.
The requests for help began to come in. Small business owners wanted me to show them and teach them the things I did in my businesses. That’s when it dawned on me … I was a marketer in disguise.
So, I started to dissect what I did in my business and then it dawned on me …
I connected with people because I was telling stories. I created a loyal customer base because I was telling stories. My customers became family because I was telling stories.
Sure, I can teach this I thought. But it wasn’t that easy. Something that was natural for me, wasn’t natural to others. I tried to put a process in place. Formulas, checklists, and blueprints – it’s what everyone wanted. But I still wasn’t able to translate what I did every day in my business into something someone else could do for theirs.
I started to research what makes a good story, and I wrote this post back in 2013: You Have 8 Words to Capture Your Reader’s Attention. And that was the start of putting some structure in place to help small businesses tell better stories.
And that is what I’ve been doing for the past three plus years – helping small businesses tell their story. I sort of fell into this world. I kept busy thanks to referrals and I kept honing my craft. After having to turn down quite a few requests last year, I decided to create a program that would make the process I teach more accessible.
So I took all the worksheets I used with my clients and what I learned working as the director of marketing and content strategy for Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology and put it all in the oven. And out came the Brand Story Canvas.
Using the Business Model Canvas as my muse, I set out to put some “structure” to the storytelling process in a way that wasn’t intimidating. Like the Business Model Canvas helps an entrepreneur describe and design their business, the Brand Story Canvas helps a business owner describe and design their story.
Over the last three years of helping small and medium-sized businesses create stories and my personal pursuit of studying the artform of storytelling, I’ve brought together the art and science of storytelling as a way of marketing your business that is less painful, much easier and a lot more fun.
Because the one thing I learned on this journey of storytelling is summed up in a quote by Zig Ziglar:
“You can have everything in life you want if you just help enough people get what they want.” And I’m convinced that happens when you share a good story.