Storytelling — it’s one of the oldest and most effective tools to inspire and persuade, yet it’s a skill which is rarely taught in today’s business world. But when you get it right it can help you seal the deal, increase your sales and be the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. So how do you identify what power stories you should have in your toolkit? In this post, Power Stories author Valerie Khoo highlights the importance of effectively communicating your business birth story (no graphic birth bits included!).
What’s the birth story of your business? Don’t worry, I’m not referring to anything involving placenta, epidurals or umbilical cords. I’m talking about how and why your business got started. In many cases, the birth story of a business speaks volumes about your passion and commitment to your customers. It explains the driving force behind why you do what you do.
What started you on this journey?
If that’s the case with your business, then your birth story is one that should certainly be told – on your website, to your customers and even in keynote speeches. Take the case of crime scene cleaner Joan Dougherty from Fort Lauderdale in Miami. She’s the one you call to clean up the blood and the associated mess after a tragic situation such as a murder or suicide. She literally cleans up crime scenes. It’s a specialised skill that involves getting blood out of carpets, sofas, curtains and furniture. It’s not pretty.
But how does someone even think about getting into this field? Well, Joan’s stepson was killed by shotgun in 1982. After the police left the scene, Joan was left to clean up the mess, a situation she found horrifying. She told Edit International: “I asked the police who would clean it up and they told me ‘You will. There’s nobody else that does such a job.’”
While having to deal with the grief of losing her stepson, she then had the emotional trauma associated with the cleanup. She says that she knew one day she would be involved in helping other people in the same situation – so they would not face the same awful circumstances.
An implicit message
This story not only explains why she started her business, it implicitly tells you that she truly cares for the people who are about to walk back into the crime scene – families who need to go on after a terrible tragedy.
Your story does not have to be this dramatic. It just needs to be authentic. Think about the factors that drove you to start your business. Identify a story that will convey your passion and then… write it down. The act of writing it down helps you give it structure and meaning
For example, one of the reasons I created my business, the Sydney Writers’ Centre, was because I know what it’s like to be in a completely different profession (I began life as an accountant) but yearn for a career as a writer. I took a circuitous route to get here but I’m now a full-time writer, blogger and author. And I love every minute of it. I’m so glad that I changed my career.
I wanted to create the kind of dynamic centre that I wish had existed when I was looking to transition my career – because I know that there are tens of thousands of people out there who are in a similar situation I was in.
What if you didn’t start you business?
Perhaps you didn’t actually start your business. Maybe you bought into it because it was a great opportunity. That’s fine. You may not be involved in the birth of your business but there are two stories you can tell.
1. Find out what the birth story of your business is. You may discover that there is romance and intrigue associated with how your business started. Even if Joan the crime scene cleaner sells her company, the story of how she started it will live on.
2. Identify why you are passionate about your business. This is just as powerful. Why did you buy into your company? Go beyond the fact that it’s a good business opportunity. Figure out what gets you excited about it. Connect with your passion – because then your customers will connect with it as well. Your commitment to your business will be more credible as a result.
What’s the birth story of your business? Why did you start it?
Read the press release for Power Stories and buy the book here
Reproduced with permission from www.ValerieKhoo.com
Have you noticed that adaptability and resilience are the new buzz words of Australian business?
It’s hardly surprising given the disruption from technologies, financial crises and global competition.
And yet many of our best known enterprises from media to manufacturing and retail to resources are struggling to even survive. What can they do?
From a year’s researching and writing First Be Nimble my view is crystal clear.
Australian industry is at a cross roads and the all-important mid-sized enterprises either take an axe to out-dated management hierarchies and silo-based problem solving that is dragging down productivity and innovation, or they face decimation on a scale not seen for generations.
In all this uncertainty there is also massive opportunity, but only for those who understand that in volatile times there is only one strategy that makes sense. That strategy I call First Be Nimble, because it means putting every available training and development resource towards boosting the adaptability, agility and resilience of the workforce.
It’s the obvious strategy because the nimble don’t just handle disruption—they also do their own disrupting.
Five principles guide nimble and adaptive teams and enterprises. Let’s look at them briefly.
1. Co-create –— don’t rely on experts in silos
While the slow-to-adapt are ring fencing their companies and structuring their teams as ‘experts in silos’, the agile enterprises put a premium on creating nimble, connected teams that move fast and adapt.
They equip teams with tools to align, collaborate and learn together. They punch holes in silos, and forge alliances that enable them to scale up and accelerate rapidly which means they exploit new technologies and adapt to changes in market dynamics while the laggards just complain about the market conditions and look for more government assistance.
2. Build to flex — don’t let rigidity bog you down
Layers of bureaucratic rules and decision filters are slowing down many Australian companies (and rendering them uncompetitive), but thankfully there are leaders embracing the ‘first be nimble’ mantra by putting priority on a clear game plan and a small set of core principles and disciplines.
They are adapting fast because people know the game plan, have just-in-time information and are empowered to act. That’s always been the way for agile enterprises in military, emergency medicine and international sport.
3. Be Brave — not Busy
Busyness is an excuse peddled by people who claim to have ‘too many priorities’ but need reminding that they aren’t priorities if you have lots of them. Read Mark Zuckerberg’s IPO letter for Facebook— his message is ‘focus on impact’ and the advice is sage: ‘We expect everyone at Facebook to be good at finding the biggest problems to work on.’
Nimble teams move fast to create an impact. They expect and accept heat from stakeholders, refuse to be slowed down by bottlenecks and they challenge conflicting priorities.
4. Leap, learn, adapt — don’t wait for certainty
Australian businesses talk a lot about innovation but then they load people up with KPIs and workloads that treat it like any other production line task. That’s too slow; too many ‘experts in silos’ to be a serious option in any business.
Nimble teams constantly test multiple ideas and run experiments. And that’s not just in new products but in anything that can make the organisation (and the value chain) leaner and more effective.
And when you think innovation, don’t just look at your products or services. It’s the business model that’s at risk so that needs attention (which doesn’t happen from busy experts in silos). Unfortunately Kodak didn’t get that one in time, but think Apple iTunes store or what Amazon has done to the bookstore (or what Kobo might do to Amazon?).
Nimble teams learn fast; they don’t wait for certainty.
5. Let go — welcome the squirm
Nimble organisations don’t rely on expensive change management programs because they know that you can’t manage your way through disruptive change.
Instead they train and coach people for change resilience by infusing skills like partnering, collaboration and fast learning into their business. Why? Because nimble organisations are always in transition: ending something, exploring a few things and embracing the new.
Unlike the leaders of too many Australian businesses, they are good at letting go and they know that endings make you squirm so being in a team speeds up the transition.
There is a strategy!
A year of writing and researching made me decide to call my new book First Be Nimble. The reason is simple:
In a disruptive world the only sensible business strategy is to create an agile and intelligent organisation that can handle anything that the volatile business world throws at it.
By Graham Winter
Read the the press release and buy First Be Nimble here
In our book Dealing with the Tough Stuff we talk about clarity being arguably the most sought-after outcome of workplace conversations. While some people look for intact relationships and others just want conflict to end, everyone seeks a level of shared understanding—that’s how you know conflict resolution is actually working.
We recommend a process where your team defines the crystal clear rules of expected behaviour in your workplace by comparing the behaviours you would appreciate (desirable) against those that are non-negotiable (essential).
Rules like ‘never leave dirty dishes on your desk’ or ‘always arrive at meetings 5 minutes early’ might be deemed non-negotiables if that’s what you decide.
We call the essential or expected behaviours the non-negotiables but perhaps the language in your workplace might be:
|Non-negotiables||Ways to make us love you|
|Deal breakers||Deal makers|
|Make the train||Meet the train|
|Critical actions||Additional actions|
Regardless of what you call them, the non-negotiables are critical for forming a healthy culture in the workplace. Unfortunately our obsession with ‘bubble-wrapping’ key messages (or as our mate Rowdy McLean calls it in his book Play A Bigger Game,‘the cotton wool society’) sometimes creates greater problems because people don’t understand the no-go zones at work.
There are five golden rules for establishing the non-negotiables:
- They are behavioural-based, not moral- or principle-based.
- There should never be any more than five non-negotiables.
- They require commitment not interest; they should be every time not some of the time.
- They should be committed to memory and often spoken about.
- They should be reviewed regularly.
Think about your family for a second. Presuming your family is not completely dysfunctional (we all feel like we are from time to time!) there are deal-breakers everyone is aware of. If any member of the family rubs up against one of these, then a conversation is coming and, the most important thing,everyone knows it.
The hallmark of excellence in teams, families or cultures is this:
Great teams are relentless on modifying each other’s behaviour in striving for excellence, and are completely supportive of each other in the process.
To achieve this, you need to establish clarity. So what are your non-negotiables, and are you clearly articulating them?
Darren, Alison & Sean
You’ve got to hand it to Mark Bouris. His Yellow Brick Road mortgage broking and wealth management business is a loss-making minnow in the multi-billion-dollar Australian finance industry (revenue of $11.3 million and a loss of $2.6 million for the year to 30 June 2011). In fact, it doesn’t even own its domain name (yellowbrickroad.com.au goes to a carpet cleaning business!)
Yet in just four short years – and particularly during 2011 – Bouris has managed to make the business a household name by leveraging his profile, communications skills, personal wealth and – let’s face it – his model-like good looks. He’s done this through public speaking, media interviews, publishing a blog, offering advice on his website and most recently by playing Australia’s answer to Donald Trump on the local version of The Celebrity Apprentice.
Bouris is successfully pursuing a thought leadership driven marketing strategy. He’s using his expertise and making the most of the media and the internet to raise awareness of his business, win customers and gain investors, by sharing his knowledge and ideas.
In the process, he’s saving millions of dollars on advertising and following in the footsteps of Australia’s earlier finance guru, Paul Clitheroe, who used television and the publication of books to supercharge the growth of his personal finance advice business, ipac securities, and become a multi-millionaire.
So, thought leadership works. You can see it around you all the time. And you can learn from leading lights such as Bouris, Clitheroe as well as the likes of Jamie Durie and Kylie Kwong. But what is it exactly? And how does it relate to your business, especially if you don’t have Durie’s abs or Clitheroe’s easy manner on the radio?
Thought leadership is simply offering clever ideas to help other people solve problems or discover opportunities. These ideas can in turn be a powerful marketing tool in your business. Like Bouris, it will help you raise your profile and gain interest from prospects.
The goal is to transform yourself from being one of many experts to being the go-to person in your field. This will in turn make it easier to win new business and to charge a premium for your products or services. It can also deliver other benefits, from making it easier to attract quality staff to enjoying some lifestyle benefits for yourself, such as meeting other experts and trips to conferences.
According to Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), for example, thought leadership development has recently become the most important tactic in its members’ marketing strategies to increase awareness and to generate leads. Thought leadership has also become critical to purchasing decisions. Nearly half (45%) of buyers surveyed by ITSMA in 2011 said it plays a major role in determining who makes the short list, as compared to only 23% in 2010.
As a former journalist and writer, my particular interest lies in how you can convey your ideas in writing through articles, blogs, speeches, books, social media and other channels. Capturing your ideas in words is essential to creating marketing collateral that you can use with customers. This is particularly important in the Internet age, when customers are searching for suppliers by key words.
By creating unique content that displays your deep knowledge in specific specialist areas you can build your relationship with your customers. Making this information freely available on the Internet will result in attracting links, rankings in Google and getting tweeted.
The process of writing thought leadership material and advising others can deliver some unexpected benefits to you as well as a business owner or leader. It will help you to organise your thoughts about your field and force you to develop interesting views and positions. You are also likely to learn more about your field as you complete research, and find a new level of passion for your focus area.
Obviously, this is all easier said than done so in the book I break the process down to the three key phases – thinking and research, writing and then distributing and promoting your ideas. There isn’t room to explore each in detail here but the key messages are that it is becoming easier and more important to capture your ideas in words, and that anyone can do it.
Just think about the problems or opportunities that your customers face. Think about what unique expertise you hold and what advice you can offer. Think about the best format to use – like a book, blog or video script. Then start writing!
Grant Butler is Managing Director of Australia’s leading business writing firm, Editor Group (www.editorgroup.com), and author of Think Write Grow – How to become a thought leader and build your business by creating exceptional articles, blogs, speeches, books and more (Published by Wiley, RRP $29.95 and now out).