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Grade 4 and 5 students from St. Mary's School in Medicine Hat, Alberta listen to John Kozakewich read Robert Munsch stories at the Medicine Hat Public Library on Friday, January 23, 2009.
Grade 4 and 5 students from St. Mary's School in Medicine Hat, Alberta listen to John Kozakewich read Robert Munsch stories at the Medicine Hat Public Library on Friday, January 23, 2009.

Grow: Mia Pearson

Start-ups stall without a good story Add to ...

It’s day three of my new venture.

After 15 years with my first company, I took the plunge and went back into business as an entrepreneur. My business partner and I opened the doors of our new communications agency earlier this week.

Small-business owners can appreciate first-hand the number of priorities to juggle in the first few days: real estate, shareholder agreements, staffing, computers, branding and business cards. You name it, it is on the list.

But one item often neglected at the start-up stage – or later as your business evolves – is taking the time to develop and fine tune your “story.”

Customers, prospects, partners and potential employees are all interested in learning about your company and why it was founded. Your ability to articulate that story, in a way that resonates with each of these audiences, will have a huge impact on whether they want to do business with, or work for, your company.

We often talk about it as the elevator pitch: one to three sentences that position your brand against the competition and clearly communicate your value proposition. If done right, a strong story will be retold many times over, leading to more sales and faster growth. The challenge is that it is often more difficult to develop than it looks.

So how did we do it? We started by asking ourselves a lot of questions.

  1. What has changed in our industry and why is now the time for a company like ours?
  2. What are we doing to shake up the industry and how are we differentiating ourselves from the competition?
  3. How has the customer landscape changed and what pain points will our company solve?
  4. Are we doing anything fundamentally different that can be defined as an industry “first” or “only?”

Our story is shaped by our vision – to be a truly integrated communications firm, the social media strategy must authentically live and breathe within each and every team member from day one. The token social-media strategist or digital practice group is not going to effectively meet the needs of our customers, and their consumers.

The earned and shared media industry has changed too much, too quickly. And most traditional agencies struggle to train up or invest enough in this area.

We spent a lot of time identifying the pain points customers are feeling with traditional agency models and we looked at the barriers that keep us from reaching the trusted adviser status, where we take risks together, both with equal skin in the game. From that, we created a story around our new business model in which timesheets are non-existent and success is built on how we move our clients’ business forward – not the number of hours we bill.

Lastly, our story talks about our ideal customers. As entrepreneurs we have the ability to choose to work with brands that align with our vision. To seek out companies or brands that are looking to move in a completely new direction and be agents of change within their departments.

Our story clearly communicates our ideal partnership, where the senior management team is involved in communications and it is willing to take risks and do things never tried before in our industry.

Once your story is developed, it is important to look within your business and make decisions that keep your story authentic and true. If you own a coffee shop and part of your story discusses a high-end customer experience, ensure that you are paying above average wages so you can attract the best counter staff that surprise and delight customers on every visit.

One word of caution: customers and partners can quickly sniff out stories that are not authentic. So make sure you live up to your story, and that customers experience it every time they interact with your brand.

I was at several networking events this week, and what it reminded me of was the importance of storytelling and great first impressions. With a well thought-out story, small-business owners can begin to sow the seeds for their brand, crafting an elevator pitch that can be spread and retold by customers and partners for years to come.

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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