As the co-founder of an education company that advises on the college application process, I often hear my students say that they want to go into business. The problem is, they can’t articulate why. They don’t know how to explain why they’re interested or why business matters. They’re simply not sure how to sell themselves.
At this moment, I encourage my students to think of the application not as a sales pitch, but as a story. For prospective business majors, especially, the ability to tell stories is essential.
This got me to think that a lot of entrepreneurs may need to refresh themselves on how to tell a compelling narrative too. Here’s how you can harness the power of storytelling in your own business:
Foreshadow the Road Ahead
When reading a book or watching a movie, we find comfort in the predictability of the three-act structure. It may not be clear where exactly the narrative is headed, but we implicitly know what to expect. As business leaders, it’s our job to provide a similar framework for our customers and staff, especially if the road ahead is unclear.
With this in mind, think of your website not only as a sales tool, but also as a resource for prospective and current clients. Include a FAQ page that doesn’t just cover questions about your offerings, but that outlines the process itself. Similarly, start every client relationship with a timeline so everyone understands what the third act will look like. With your team, too, defining the “chapters” of a project helps everyone measure success. A shared timeline on an app such as Teamweek keeps everyone on the same page, so to speak.
Remember That You Are the Protagonist
Your personal brand is also a narrative. Especially in the initial phases of a startup, the founder may be synonymous with the brand. Operate under the assumption that your customers can and will see your personal social media accounts. And don’t post anything you wouldn’t be comfortable with them viewing. Similarly, every piece of text you write serves the narrative of who you are. Don’t press send until you’ve reread your message. For this reason, I avoid answering emails from my phone whenever possible — I find that I can write a more cohesive and thoughtful message from my computer. Also, we all know that written words can easily be misconstrued. Always ask yourself if a more delicate matter can better be addressed over the phone or in person.
Don’t Forget About Style
In fiction, content and language both matter — and the same is true in business. You can’t forget about tone or aesthetic, and these are often conveyed through the environment. Verbal communication is essential, but physical spaces also tell stories. For example, our office — a center for high school students applying to college — is meant to feel more like a startup than a traditional school. We want our students to walk into the space and imagine the future ahead of them. When designing your office, don’t just think about functionality. Consider feelings. The aesthetic should serve the story of your business — of where your customers and team members are currently and where they hope to go.
As I enter the college application season, I am reminded of the virtues of my own liberal arts education. It’s certainly important to learn how to read a balance sheet or navigate Excel, but there’s so much more to business than that. So, for all you entrepreneurs: don’t be afraid to take a humanities course – or even just read a work of fiction. Believe it or not, what you learn just may help your business.