Updated: Jul 23, 2021
By Lindsay Stewart Glor
We are all storytellers. Every day, whether we are meeting with a client or reviewing the day with friends, we are not just conveying information, but using story to build connections. And building connections is crucial for entrepreneurs.
Cate Friesen is a Manitoba-based story practitioner whose company, The Story Source, works with businesses and organizations to hone in on the power of story.
“We understand our world in two ways,” she explains. “We understand it cognitively though facts and spreadsheets, but our brain is always looking to make meaning, and we do that through story.”
In an oft-cited story, Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, asked her students to do a short pitch to their classmates. She then polled the students about what they remembered, with five per cent saying statistics and 63 percent saying stories.
“The brain is always looking for a story,” says Elaine Turcotte, an Ontario-based sales and mindset coach who brings her expertise in both sales and psychology to her work with entrepreneurs.
But what if you’re an entrepreneur and you don’t have a story? Do you need one?
Maybe you are the biggest/friendliest/most amazing realtor in your city. You have spreadsheets and sales reports to prove it. Now what if you are at a conference with 300 real estate agents, all of whom are the biggest/friendliest/most amazing realtors in their cities? How do you stand out? What makes you unique and memorable?
Both Friesen and Turcotte say the answer comes from looking past what you do to why you do it. As a prompt, ask yourself: When was the last time you got lost in your work?
“It’s a fun question to ask. It reminds us of when we are really happy in our work,” says Friesen. “At this point we’re all exhausted, but take me back to that last time you were so engrossed in something at work that you felt really alive. When we feel really alive, we are doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Staying focused on her passion for story kept Friesen going through the uncertainty of COVID, starting in March 2020, when she saw six months of speaking and workshop contracts disappear in six days.
“If I wasn’t able to anchor on to why I do what I do, and connect with that, it would have been really hard at that point not to throw in the towel,” she says.
Finding that anchor story, that “origin story,” as Turcotte puts it, can be hard when many entrepreneurs are just trying to stay above water.
This is where a business advisor can help, offers Alison Kirkland, CEO of the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada. “Working with someone who understands your business plan and financial reality, but who can look more broadly at what makes you unique, is a great resource when trying to hone in on your story, whether you are preparing to meet with the bank or a potential partner.”
In those situations, your story, says Turcotte, can add to your credibility.
“If you’re going to invest in someone’s business, you want to know that they’re incredibly passionate about it,” says Friesen, “and that’s something that can’t be conveyed through a spreadsheet.” But don’t dump your spreadsheet - strategy and story are a “dynamic duo.” “Strategy, that’s your business plan and your marketing plan, what it is that you’re actually going to be offering as your services, but your story is how you uniquely deliver that.”
Lindsay Stewart Glor
Lindsay Stewart Glor is the communications manager at the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada, which works with women’s enterprise support organizations across the country to champion innovation, broaden expertise, and enhance collaboration.