What is business storytelling?

And how do you do it?

Storytelling itself is nothing new – humans have created narratives since we first began daubing red earth hand prints on cave walls. We all love listening to a story: it engages our emotional intelligence and helps us understand complex issues.

Business storytelling is big right now. Businesses realise that the days of sitting in front of spreadsheet slides are as numbered as the data – nobody’s got time for that. Tell a snappy story, engage your audience and get stuff done. But how do you tell a snappy story? You’ll need:

A character

There once was a woman who needed a car. Not a flashy one, not an automatic one, not one with four-wheel drive. Just a little car to get her and the children from A to B. Her husband had been forced to change jobs, and instead of a brutal commute to north London he now worked much closer to home. But he needed to drive as public transport was slow and complicated compared to a 20-minute road trip. So he took the trusty old family car to work, leaving his wife with no transport.

See – we’ve got the beginnings of a story. We have a main character (the woman) and a little back story to make you care about her: her husband had found commuting tough and exhausting and had been forced to change jobs. She’s not a show off; she’s not after a Mercedes Benz, just a modest runaround to get the kids to school, swimming lessons and go to the supermarket.

A challenge

Now cars, even modest runarounds, don’t come cheap. The woman was a freelance editor/researcher by trade, a part-time job from home that had fitted perfectly when her children were little, but which now wasn’t cutting the mustard financially. She was also frustrated with the work: completely rewriting poor-quality manuscripts, receiving a modest editorial fee (nowhere near enough to buy a car) while the original authors enjoyed advances and royalties on publication of their rewritten material. One morning, the woman woke up and said, “I’ve had enough of rewriting other people’s work. I’m going to be a writer myself.”

Stories require their main character to be challenged. The best challenges are ones that are daunting while not impossible, and pique the audience’s curiosity: how is she going to do that?

A journey

The woman asked the digital agency she had been researching for if she could have a pop at writing a travel article instead of supplying research for writers to use. They agreed, and although her first article was a little too flowery, the agency accepted it, and more importantly, offered her a place on their digital media training courses to learn about writing for the web, tone of voice, digital marketing, branding and social media.

The digital team continued to use her as a writer on a whole range of topics: travel, lifestyle, banking, finance and video scripts. When her editors moved on to other agencies (as digital content managers must do) they often took her with them.  She picked up extra clients along the way: education, management, charities, and soon was working full time. More than full time, in fact – exhausting 14-hour days and weekends too. The work just kept on coming and she kept on doing it.

Your character must go on some sort of journey, and there have to be struggles along the way. Our character is embarking on the journey of becoming a writer; her journey’s goal is being able to buy a car. Although she has struck lucky being employed and trained by a benevolent agency, she works long hours on complex projects, the pay isn’t brilliant unless she works longer and harder, and she has periods of dread when editors leave: will they carry on employing her?

A happy ending

Soon, it became apparent that she needed to set up a limited company to process the income and pay taxes, which she did with her husband. They became company directors! They paid themselves modest salaries and when the time came to take their directors’ dividends, there was enough to buy a little sky-blue Skoda, 1,000 miles on the clock.

The woman had achieved her goal, and the story has a happy ending.

A reveal

In our story, the woman is actually me, and it’s really about how Arabic To Zoology Ltd came to be a thriving business (with a bit of embellishment – I am a writer after all). I love writing, but I had to learn to be far more commercial – something us freelancers find incredibly hard to do. The sudden predicament of being stuck in a semi-rural location with no reliable transport was the jolt I needed to make some serious revenue and get mobile again.

The story is authentic, it’s not particularly elaborate, it’s a genuine narrative. It’s also an example of how storytelling is structured.  You can use the same structure to tell the story of your brand, present market research findings, improve customer experience, even make data and statistics memorable and – dare I say it – interesting. Remember:

  • Story: an ‘everyman’ character you care about; a situation/predicament/challenge; a journey; struggles; a happy ending; a reveal
  • Authenticity: keep it simple, truthful and human: make an emotional connection that acknowledges flaws and challenges, but reveals resilience, innovation and success.

And my next goal? A blood-red Tesla, not unlike Elon Musk’s one that’s currently orbiting the solar system. For the environmental footprint, of course.

If you’d like Arabic To Zoology to help you with your business storytelling please get in touch and we’d be delighted to help you craft your business narratives.

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