How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust My Entrepreneurial Journey (and How You Can, Too)

Working for yourself can be tough. A 2014 study about the mental health of entrepreneurs found that 30% of the 242 surveyed experienced depression. In the general population, the number is significantly lower at 7%.

The rigors of entrepreneurship—building a business from scratch, wearing many different hats, and even setting the right price—can be stressful enough to put you in a serious funk.

As a result, more than once I’ve found myself struggling with a fear of entrepreneurship. There have been times I’ve wanted to quit, worried that I am wasting my time starting a freelance writing business. Oddly enough, I wasn’t scared to start my own business, but I still fight that persistent fear of failure.

Through it all, however, I never jumped ship.

In spite of the mental and emotional challenges, what I have learned is that you can either constantly worry and fear failure, which is a valid response, given failure rates among new businesses. Or you can stop worrying and trust your journey. I have chosen that latter, and have found that’s where true success and happiness in entrepreneurship lies.

I’d like to share with you a few methods I use to stop worrying. These methods have helped me and continue to help me stand my ground and place one foot in front of the other, building a profitable business that impacts others for the better.

Table of Contents

2 Exercises to Help You Find Clarity and Minimize Uncertainty

Clarity and focus are indispensable tools when confronting your fears in business. I’ve found two exercises have been particularly beneficial for finding the focus needed to move forward. They are:

1) Figuring out your ikigai and

2) Filling out a Business Model Canvas

Both exercises have forced me to look within to find my motivation and figure out what I have to offer the outside world. They can do the same for you.

Ikigai

I learned about this concept from a video by an entrepreneur named Marisa Murgatroyd. Ikigai is a Japanese term that means “reason for being,” and is similar to finding your motivation, or what we refer to in business as your “why.” It consists of four components—what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs.

Ikigai doesn’t just focus on how you can help the world, but equally on your own desires as well. So there is an element of who you are that is involved that adds gravity to your journey and business.

With each of the four areas fulfilled, you can thrive. Without all four, your potential will remain unfulfilled. Your ikigai rests at the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs.

 Fear of entrepreneurship Ikigai

To find your own ikigai, answer a series of questions. I listed these questions below and also included my answers as an example. Then you combine all of the answers to create a phrase that summarizes this life force, or reason for being.

What do you love? (My answer: I love uniqueness and individuality.)

What are you good at? (I’m good at writing.)

What does the world need? (The world needs inspiration.)

What can you be paid for? (I can be paid to highlight the special voice of a business through words.) 

What would your answers to these questions be? After answering them, combine them into one statement that fulfills both the needs of society and what you desire. My ikigai is:

To create compelling content that promotes the unique voice of an individual or business.

Answer this question, and when you hit a snag, refer back to your statement. It will help you remember your “why” and give you a stronger reason to continue because you have found the value that you and your idea really can add to the world, and to yourself.

Some journeys are smooth sailing, but if you’re facing a lot of obstacles—looking for more clients, setting a fee that you can live off of, or simply dealing with less-than-perfect feedback—you can easily get the feeling that things are unraveling. Ikigai connects you more deeply to the meaning behind your work so you can look at this information as data to improve your journey. It gives you the power to replace fear and worry with insight and action. Your energy becomes kinetic.

Business Model Canvas

A big reason people worry is fear of the unknown. And while we can engineer certain outcomes in life, the question of “what if” always looms. Variables exist and can skew results. With the many unknowns for entrepreneurs—how viable is my product, can I bootstrap or will someone invest in my idea, how do I use this new piece of information—minimizing variables becomes important.

To do so, you must answer as many questions as you can to have as much information as you can for the times when uncertainty will exist. You must give yourself a head start through preparation.

As an entrepreneur, you might say, “How can I answer the questions when I need to get started to know what the questions are in the first place?” One solution is the Business Model Canvas, a tool developed by a business theorist named Alexander Osterwalder that functions as a business plan for startups.

Scared to start my own business Business Model Canvas

The Business Model Canvas consists of nine areas:

Key Partners: suppliers or partners you work with to outsource certain goods

Customer Segments: the people, organizations, and businesses you serve

Value Proposition: a set of products of services that provide value to a Customer Segment

Channels: ways that you communicate and distribute the Value Proposition to a Customer Segment (brick-and-mortar location, online, social media, apps)

Key Resources: resources needed to deliver the Value Proposition and sell your product (cash, credit, person with a certain skill, intellectual property rights)

Key Activities: actions to take so your business model works (developing a product, marketing, and selling)

Customer Relationships: the type of relationship you have with customers (personal versus automated)

Cost Structure: the costs associated with your business

Revenue Streams: The way or ways you make money (recurring payment, one-time payment, subscription fee, tips)

The idea behind the tool is that you answer questions for each category based on what you know at that moment. Then as your product or service begins to interact with the marketplace, you can update the Canvas based on new information. This tool allows for call-and-response—answer questions based on where you are, and then edit as you receive feedback, eliminating unknowns as you go.

Here is a link to a blank Business Model Canvas. You can also see an example of a filled-out Business Model Canvas below. Each segment has questions to focus your answers. The Business Model Canvas was also created with the visual element in mind, so you can use sticky notes to write your answers and post it to the sheet of paper as well.

There are also no right or wrong answers. The strategy behind this canvas is to help you organize the aspects of your business so you can feel more confident to move forward and grow.

 Fear of entrepreneurshi Business Model Canvas

To use myself as an example, I completed a Business Model Canvas two years ago when I first started. I identified three Key Partners: 1) companies that outsource content needs, 2) publications, and 3) startups. I now see other partners exist—accountants and software such as Wave for invoicing and HelloSign for creating contracts—and have updated to reflect them.

Through this process, you also learn what works and what doesn’t. What fear or worry you had will be replaced with actually taking steps and making decisions on how to continue to build, or avoid failure. You are forced to confront the nine areas of the Business Model Canvas by interacting with the outside world. Then you can best determine how the different areas can work together to the benefit of your business, or what changes you need to make to get there.

Like ikigai, the Business Model Canvas can help an entrepreneur find answers to important aspects of their idea, to acknowledge the “knowns” of their journey and start to build a business in line with what you can genuinely offer to benefit of others.

This knowledge alone can do a lot to alleviate stress of the unknown, knowing that a market does indeed exist for you, and that you provide something unique to it.

Note: Working with a mentor can support you and help you face your entrepreneurial journey with more courage. If you want to learn how to find a mentor you can trust, click below to download our free ebook.

Click To Get Instant Access To Our Free Ebook, the “Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide On How To Find A Mentor”

Calling on Your Network

There is a proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” I think this saying sums up the power of having a network.

A network, which can consist of both personal and professional contacts, fills in the metaphorical blanks on one’s journey, and can also compound your efforts, taking you further than the fastest version of yourself can go alone.

The benefit of including both personal and professional contacts in your circle is that a person’s skills might cross-pollinate from one camp to the other. For example, a personal contact might also have professional knowhow. And sometimes you can build a more personal connection with a professional contact. Other contacts might be purely professional or purely personal. You simply increase your chances of succeeding by developing a network of people with varying capabilities, like a personally selected A-Team or Justice League.

How do you begin to assemble this network? First, it should include people who have had m

 Fear of failure in business justice league gif

ore experience than you in entrepreneurship and business, and perhaps even life, too. In this way, you have your bases covered, and will never be too alone as you build.

With a network that includes entrepreneurs, business owners, and supportive friends and family, I have been given extra sets of eyes, ears, and hands. I have people in my corner I can trust who can offer feedback based on experience, advice, or emotional support.

So how can you build your own network?

Run an Internet Search for Industry-Related Groups

Simply type in the combination of (industry group)+the word “organization” or “association”+(city). You can also experiment with different keywords to net different search results.

 Fear of failure in business keywords to net different search results

After you’ve run your search, sift through the results and find the best matches. Find their contact information, either via the “Contact” page or sometimes at the bottom of the homepage where social icons sometimes are. You can also tweet or Facebook message them. Tweeting and Facebook are generally fast, I’ve found. Calling is great though because you get to connect with a human being. So I would suggest making this connection by picking up the smartphone and dialing those digits.

Contact Tips

When you call, ask if they having paying opportunities (if you are an independent contractor, like I was at the start) or volunteer opportunities (to gain free access to events that otherwise have a fee). You can also ask about upcoming events.

The benefit of finding a human being to reach out to is that you’ve started the process of building your network by meeting this first point of contact, who can then connect you to other people. If you attend events, you will also be meeting people and sowing seeds for building authentic relationships. Bring business cards if you have them, or make inexpensive ones via Vistaprint for less than $20. While I prefer being referred by someone and find it 100X easier than meeting someone randomly at a networking event, I did start with networking events first. So my advice is to get out there, even if you are introverted. Stay engaged and balance talking about yourself with asking the other person questions, too. Then follow up the following day, ideally.

Post-Event Follow-Up

So you just attended a networking event, you passed out a few business cards and got a few emails, now what?

1.     Send an email to say “nice to meet you,” in your version of saying it. Add something specific about your event conversation to the follow-up. You will show that you were actually listening and don’t want to connect just for what they can do for you.

2.     Either end the message there, setting the stage to possibly see them again around town—you’ll be surprised at how many people you run into again at another event—or invite them out to a cup of coffee or lunch to continue your conversation and see how you might be able to work together.

3.     Connect with this person via LinkedIn. Leave a note to introduce yourself along with the connection request. Say that you met this person at a networking event and would like to connect. It’s a nice reminder, and more cordial.

Scared to start my own business connection request

You won’t connect with every person. But for some, you will, especially if you are genuine in your approach. And then you might find people who become both a client and mentor. People who will let you call them randomly just to ask a question about something that you’re worried about, because they’ve seen you in an authentic light, and not just as a businessperson.

Eventbrite

Networking is useful, especially early on. There is a quote by the late tennis legend Arthur Ashe, who predated the Williams sisters by about three decades. He said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” This is what Eventbrite was for me, the start. Eventbrite is a site that lists events. It lets you search by topic, city, and date, and then organize by either relevance or date.

Look for networking events that have to do with entrepreneurship or the business industry you are in. The site will list events based on your chosen search criteria.

 Fear of entrepreneurship Find your next experience

Fear of failure in business atlanta networking events

I attended a handful of events through Eventbrite. I met many people who helped me answer questions I didn’t know how to answer myself. I also had a few difficult moments as well, but overall, the Eventbrite experience was positive.

One event organizer connected me with her accountant. Another entrepreneurial couple met with me to share advice on starting a business. In exchange, I wrote content for the Eventbrite page of an event one of them was hosting. Another person I met became my first PR client. I also see some of these people from time to time at local events in Atlanta’s startup community.

Even if it seems random, events on Eventbrite can connect you to people who can help you with advice, or who can also become a customer. It will take you just deciding to attend events to meet people.

Friends and Family

It’s a sad fact that not everyone’s family is supportive of their entrepreneurial endeavors, or friends for that matter. I’ve been lucky to mostly have people close to me I can trust, and you learn who that is after a while. The people close to you can be a great source of support.

The benefit of having friends and/or family support is that each person you know has a particular strength. One friend might give great business advice, and one family member might offer emotional support. These people are already a part of your inner circle, and likely have expertise in different areas that could be helpful. So if you are fortunate enough to have a parent or parents who are encouraging, or a friend to call, take advantage of the “built-in” network that you have to share fears or questions, and continue moving forward.

Note: Working with a mentor can support you and help you face your entrepreneurial journey with more courage. If you want to learn how to find a mentor you can trust, click below to download our free ebook.

Click To Get Instant Access To Our Free Ebook, the “Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide On How To Find A Mentor”

Use Expressive Writing to De-stress

Along your journey, you will collect many stories, from your origin to how you overcame obstacles to lessons you’ve learned. These stories differentiate businesses from one another, and that can be empowering for a founder. What if I told you that you can use writing about them as a way to de-stress and get through the difficult moments of entrepreneurship?

The Power of Expressive Writing

Writing can be used to take information and find meaning within it, and function as a type of “brain dump” to help you move forward with only the most useful information. The specific type of writing that can achieve this end is referred to as expressive writing.

Expressive writing explores life’s difficulties as a way to find meaning in trauma. According to the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, some of the long-term effects of expressive writing include “greater psychological well-being” and “fewer stress-related visits to the doctor.” This writing can also be applied to entrepreneurship to reduce worry and anxiety.

So, you can essentially use writing as a way to relax and deal with your experiences. Journaling is one way to do this. But as an entrepreneur, you can take this idea one step further and create content that is just as expressive, but also serves as a tool for your startup or business.

An Example of Expressive Content

A blog post by business coach Denise Duffield-Thomas really inspired me to create a piece of content based on my own experience in the trenches of entrepreneurship. I hope that you can use it as a learning tool as well.

Denise outlined her first year as a business coach in a 4,200-word blog post. As a woman entrepreneur, she irreverently refers to herself as Lucky B, sometimes with an expletive. I know the style isn’t for everyone, but I still find her blog posts worthwhile. This one in particular is a good example of expressive writing.

(Source: Blog of Denise Duffield-Thomas)

Denise Duffield-Thomas shares challenges she faced, lessons she learned, and things she did well as a new entrepreneur. This post is also a good example of expressive writing because she was transparent about the stressful moments and obstacles she overcame to nonetheless have a profitable business after one year.

This piece of writing chronicled her entrepreneurial journey up until the point she wrote it, serving as a marker as she continued to move forward. This kind of content can do the same for other business owners, helping you to breathe deeply and release anxiety in the process. Here is how.

How to Use Expressive Writing to Confront Your Fears

In creating expressive content, you can either write for an audience of one by journaling, or publish a piece of content such as a blog article or ebook, and potentially help others in the process.

Journal Writing

To journal, you simply need pen and paper, or an electronic format (i.e. laptop, desktop, tablet, smartphone). I keep my thoughts in both physical journals and documents saved on my laptop.

Write your thoughts as they pertain to your startup or business, and don’t censor them. Give yourself permission to express the complexity of your experience: stressful elements, fears and worries, obstacles you have overcome, and successes. By writing out these thoughts, you purge yourself of the energy of the stress, and you can also find observations from your experiences that are worth keeping.

Published Content

Publishing your expressive writing has the same impact as journaling, but can also benefit more people, which, according to research noted in Psychology Today, can help a person better deal with stress. And it’s another way to connect with your audience and peers.

Should you decide to do so, you can draw from past experience writing school papers, like personal narrative essays. You can also find online content that resonates with you, and emulate it in your own words. But do not plagiarize. It’s just plain wrong, and it’s a good way to destroy your reputation and maybe even get sued.

Here are four tips for using expressive writing in content such as a blog article or ebook:

1. Choose a topic based on your experience. Write about your entrepreneurial journey rather than another topic that might interest you that you lack experience in. Even if it is a negative experience, if you learned from it, you have authority on what you’ve done. You are the expert of your story—share lessons from this place.

2. Use first person. Again, this is your narrative. Don’t be afraid to speak from your point-of-view and use “I,” “me,” “we,” or “our.” You are sharing your experiences and what you’ve learned with a potential audience.

3. Use “you.” You’re writing with the intention of an audience reading what you write. Just as I’m speaking to you on this blog post, you should do the same in most cases when you write on a public format.

4. Use your voice. Things like double negatives are generally off limits, but you don’t have to keep things formal. You have the license to speak conversationally and in a way that helps you connect with your audience. So whether you use a colloquialism such as “Mmmkay” versus “Okay,” or a quote that resonates with you, you don’t have to shy away from writing in a style that allows you to best express your message. For example, this ebook below shares lessons that most anyone can learn, but I start with a quote from the author and poet Maya Angelou that speaks to me. This expressive piece of writing has earned me guest speaking opportunities and now podcast interviews. Here is the intro:

 Fear of failure in business a few words from the author

5. Use examples. Include case studies, customer success stories, or data about how a specific action worked for you. The examples and data serve as a metric, or way to measure your impact. Metrics prove that you have really grown. They can also give proof that you have gained ground, and give an added boost in trusting that you are going in the right direction.

Writing a part of your entrepreneurial story can be like taking a deep breath and exhaling. Use it as a tool to give yourself permission to feel the weight of the journey, and then release it, whether you share with others or just yourself.

Get Some Cash Flow

I recently picked up part-time hours at a tutoring center to make sure that I have a steady cash flow to take care of general life expenses. I’ve found it stressful when I’ve had to pay for something and a client is late on a payment. In fact, much of my fear of entrepreneurship has been attached to money—whether I’m making enough to live, and, dare I say, live well.

So in addition to making sure I have the right measures in place to counteract some of the challenges I’ve had around cash flow (requiring a deposit, charging late fees, easy online payment), I bring in additional income as a tutor.

I don’t think you should be ashamed to pick up extra work or do side gigs to make sure you can pay rent or a phone bill as you grow a consistent stream of income from your business. While it might not be as “sexy” to build a business while working at a coffee shop, bartending, or tutoring, this path is valid too.

So if this section resonates, I think that finding a side gig is sometimes much easier than finding your ikigai, building a network, or developing a business model canvas.

One way to find a side gig is to create one. Do you have any random skills or expertise in a particular subject? If you play an instrument, you can give lessons. But side gigs are everywhere—restaurant host, bartender, tutor, dog-walker, piano instructor, babysitter.

You can also call places up to see if they are hiring for certain roles, or if you want to continue with your entrepreneurial inclination, create flyers to email to different places that can use your services. I’ve done both.

I think that this tip is one of the biggest secrets for helping me to worry less. If your cash flow is growing but doesn’t support you entirely yet, a side gig can offer the financial support you need to place your best foot forward in building your business, while still paying your bills.

Note: Working with a mentor can support you and help you face your entrepreneurial journey with more courage. If you want to learn how to find a mentor you can trust, click below to download our free ebook.

Click To Get Instant Access To Our Free Ebook, the “Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide On How To Find A Mentor”

Conquer Your Fears, Trust Your Journey

Entrepreneurship is filled with many unknowns. You never know 100% if an idea will work. You might not be sure how to find more clients. You might ask yourself, “What should I charge?” Or, “how can I raise my rates?” You might also wonder how to cover expenses as you steadily build. I’ve asked myself all of these questions. Maybe these are things we all have to confront at some point. Regardless, not being able to pinpoint an outcome can lead to fear of failure in business and worry.

There are a number of ways to attack a feeling of anxiety head on:

  1. Focus on understanding your motivation (ikigai) and how you will manage your business (Business Model Canvas).
  2.  Build your network, or tap into the one that you already have.
  3. Use expressive writing to tell an aspect of your business’s story.
  4. Supplement your income with a side gig.

These four tips have allowed me to find calm in the midst of things, lessen my worry, and continue moving forward. I believe they can help you do the same.

I now turn the mic over to you. If you’ve dealt with worry or fear in entrepreneurship, how do you confront it and continue to move forward while still trusting in your journey? Comment and share below.

The 6 Business Storytelling Elements You Can Use To Fire Up Your Startup Growth

Look, I get it. You’re in the middle of launching your product. You’ve poured your heart and soul (and most likely a painful amount of money) into your new creation, poised to be released unto the world…

And here I am, one of those artsy-fartsy marketing types telling you that no matter how great your product is, if your business growth strategy lacks a good story, it’s all for naught.

Storytelling? You’re building a business, not writing the next Harry Potter!

It’s understandable if you roll your eyes a bit. Go ahead. I don’t mind.

The thing is, human nature is human nature. And human decisions, for better or for worse, are led by emotion, not reason. As in the feels, not the thinks.

If you’re launching a product to be bought and used by human beings, you need to consider the story that your customer wants to tell about themselves—and what story your product tells about you.

If you want your business to thrive in the long term, your top priority should be satisfying your target customers’ craving for a well-told story, and you can do this by applying six key elements into your branding and marketing.

Not convinced? Just look at these folks: the Edwards family.

 Business storytelling what story your product tells about you the Edwards family

Source

You’d never know by looking at them that they are the creators of one of the most successful Shark Tank-funded products of all time.

Who would have thought that these nice, wholesome Utahns would be the founders of Squatty Potty, or that Squatty Potty would go on to make over $30 million in sales?

I mean, it’s a footstool to help you poop better. Is that a $30 million idea?

You freaking bet it is—as long as the story inspires your target customers’ sense of curiosity and excitement. Behold:

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The Edwards family were a bit skeptical when quirky marketing agency Harmon Brothers pitched them the marketing strategy idea: one that involved unicorns pooping rainbow ice cream and a crazy amount of cheeky humor.

Sure, it’s a little out there, but it also tells a clear, concise story about why you need this product, in a way that’s compelling and makes perfect sense.

So they took a $250,000 gamble on producing the world’s weirdest YouTube ad. And man, did it pay off. The YouTube video has been viewed 34,226,384 times, and those views led to a buttload of sales.

In addition to becoming multimillionaires, the Edwards have changed the way millions of people poop. All because they trusted the power of a good story to inspire people to give their wackadoodle product a try.

And if they can sell a pooping stool to the masses using the art and science of business storytelling, you can sell your life-changing product, too.

How can you harness the power of story for wildly successful startup growth?

For that, we’ll need to explore some key elements of storytelling that directly translate to your business values, positioning, product development, and marketing strategy.

Want to grow your business with storytelling? By the end of this journey, you’ll have the wisdom you need to create your own epic tale of startup success.

Business Storytelling Element #1: The Theme or Purpose

Business storytelling to crush your enemies gif

What the story is about; a philosophy, a message, an idea at the heart of a story. 

The theme represents universal principles and truths that we recognize, regardless of the plot of the story.

Example: Harry Potter is a story about the power of love versus the love of power.

Notice the above statement doesn’t mention Muggles, wizards, or Hogwarts. The theme of Harry Potter could very well be the theme of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or even Yertle The Turtle

Why is having a theme important?

A theme gives you central idea around which to build everything else. It gives you a driving force to guide your decisions on what to include in your story, and what not to include.

How does this translate to growing my business?

In business, the theme of your story reflects the core values, purpose, and principles you use to guide your operations, product development, and growth.

When you build your business growth strategy around your central theme, it will help you avoid common startup founder pitfalls, like cramming too many features into a minimum viable product.

Case Study: Burt’s Bees

Here’s the theme that drives natural skin care company Burt’s Bees:

Business storytelling theme that drives company Burt's Bees

If you look at the core values represented in this purpose statement, you’ll see a theme:

“We look after our own.”

“Our ingredients are…simple, natural, and responsible.”

“The Greater Good.”

They’re telling a story about the power of dedication, responsibility, simplicity, and big-picture thinking. So when it comes to launching a new skin care or cosmetic line, the folks at Burt’s Bees have a guiding vision that will keep them focused on the purpose of their product—and will get it to market faster.

Click Here To Get Free Instant Access To 28 More Proven Marketing Strategies For Startups!

Business Storytelling Element #2: The Hero, or Target Customer

Grow your business with storytelling Let's go save the world gif

The character whose journey the audience cares about the most.

Most protagonists are trustworthy and likable, although some might come off as scoundrels to other characters.

Example: Moana is the daughter of a village chief. She lives on an isolated island and has always yearned to sail the ocean, despite her father’s warning that no one must go beyond the shallow waters of the reef.

Why is having a hero important?

The protagonist is the proxy for the audience, the one they can empathize with. There’s a neurological phenomenon that happens when you listen to a story: your brain reacts like it’s actually experiencing the events. A relatable protagonist is the key to making that happen.

How does this translate to growing my business?

Your customer is the hero of the story you’re telling with your business idea. They’re the one on a journey.

Your product is a tool the hero can use to get closer to accomplishing their mission in life, whether that mission is providing a safe home for their family, attaining a certain status, exploring the world, or helping people in need.

When your business is customer focused rather than product focused, you’ll not only discover the messaging that will most appeal to your customer’s emotions so they’ll buy, you’ll also discover opportunities to provide your customer with more features and products to get them where they want to be.

That’s why every new customer-facing venture needs to start with a persona, or customer avatar. It’s an essential tool to understanding who your target customer is, what they most desire, what they struggle with, and how your product can best help them overcome their struggle.

Case Study: Testive

College admissions test prep program Testive came to me for copywriting help because they had reached a plateau in terms of customer acquisition. When they first started out, they created a website with the vague notion that high school juniors and seniors looking for ACT and SAT practice tests would be their main customers.

Before Customer Persona: Targeted to high school students

Grow your business with storytelling Before Customer Persona by testive

But after digging into who was actually buying from them, we discovered that it was the parents, especially mothers, who were making the decisions to sign up for their paid test prep coaching program.

So after doing research into the main reasons their current customer base was buying from us, we distilled their main customers into three distinct personas—all moms, all with different motivations for seeking help with their kids’ college test prep.

Business storytelling customers personas donna deLay

Business storytelling customers personas bonnie beckham

Knowing precisely who our target customers were and what circumstances led them to purchasing a coaching plan shaped everything we did next in the brand repositioning and website redesign project.

After Customer Persona: Targeted to parents seeking three different kinds of results.

Grow your business with storytelling After Customer Persona testive

The result? Testive’s marketing director tells me they’re watching their sales skyrocket as they see more qualified leads requesting consultations. In fact, they just added three new members to their customer success team to keep up with the new business coming their way.

Business Storytelling Element #3: The Mission, or Job To Be Done

Grow your business with storytelling climbing cat gif

The short-term and long-term goals of the protagonist.

The mission is what the hero wants to accomplish, both within the events of the story and beyond.

Example: Bruce Wayne’s short-term mission is to rid Gotham of criminal elements like The Joker. His life’s mission is to finally avenge his parents’ deaths so he can feel a sense of justice in an unjust world. 

Why is a mission important?

If your hero doesn’t have a mission, they might as well just hang out in their parent’s basement rent free for the rest of their life—or until their parents evict them.

How does this translate to growing my business?

What your customer is trying to accomplish in a given circumstance, or “job to be done,” is essential to creating and selling a product that is relevant to your customer’s life. Knowing your customer’s short-term job to be done while offering a solution to their long-term job to be done makes the difference between a tire-kicker and a customer for life.

In a 2016 article forHarvard Business Review, Harvard Business School professor and innovation expert Clay Christiansen said, “Innovation can be far more predictable—and far more profitable—if you start by identifying the jobs that customers are struggling to get done.”

When companies use a jobs-to-be-done approach to delivering value to their customer’s needs at a functional and experiential level, their growth accelerates in ways they rarely anticipate.

Watch Christiansen discuss how he helped a fast food company boost milkshake sales by applying the jobs-to-be-done technique.

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The thing is, figuring out what your customer wants isn’t as simple as asking them point blank. Your discovery process should involve more than a customer survey—it involves observation and in-depth conversations that may go beyond the scope of the use case you want to understand.

What will your customer hire your product to do?

Here’s a step-by-step introduction to this approach, with a downloadable Jobs-To-Be-Done canvas from innovation consultant Tony Ulwick that will help you identify your customer’s mission.

Business storytelling Jobs-To-Be-Done canvas 

This tool will help your product and marketing teams discover:

  • What group of customers to target for growth
  • What job the customer is trying to get done
  • All the steps that comprise the customer’s job-to-be-done
  • Associated consumption, related and emotional jobs
  • The customer’s desired outcomes (needs) associated with getting the core and consumption jobs done

Click Here To Get Free Instant Access To 28 More Proven Marketing Strategies For Startups!

Business Storytelling Element #4: The Obstacle or Pain

What stands between the hero and their goals, and what’s at stake if they fail to achieve their goal.

Every great story has some kind of conflict the hero must overcome, whether it’s an internal conflict like Hamlet’s struggle to have the courage to avenge his father’s murder, or an external conflict like Chuck Noland’s battle to survive on a deserted island in Cast Away.

These conflicts can only happen if there’s an obstacle preventing the hero from accomplishing their quest. Obstacles can come in any form: another person, a hero’s lack of skills, a physical structure, natural events, illness, poverty, even time itself.

Why is the obstacle important?

The purpose of the obstacle is to create increasing tension, which sustains the audience’s attention and helps them to reach that state of transportation where they physiologically experience the events of the story.

How does this translate to growing my business?

Your customer may see an obstacle, but as an entrepreneur, your job is to turn your customer’s obstacles into business growth opportunities. When you demonstrate that your product is in direct response to their pain, you win your customer’s trust so they will buy with you.

How can you identify your customer’s pain? By having real-time conversations with them

When Drift co-founder and CEO David Cancel founded his first software company, Performable, he didn’t have enough budget to hire customer support staff. So he asked his engineers to take shifts answering customer support calls. The engineers argued that talking to customers would take away from their maker time, but they reluctantly started answering the phone.

The customer conversations not only had a drastic impact on their front-end relationships with customers (who were delighted to speak with a person who actually made the software), but also their rate of back-end innovation.

“There was one specific thing that I was trying to get the team to do, and no matter how I positioned it and what kind of drug deal I tried to run, they were not buying it and they were just like, ‘No, you don’t understand. It’s so difficult. It would take forever to do this,’” Cancel said in a recent interview for Hotjar’s podcast, The Humans Strike Back.

“Then, all of a sudden, I saw that thing done in a matter of hours and I asked one of the engineers, ‘How did you do that? You told me it was going to take a long time,’ and they said, ‘Well, I heard from three customers today about this thing so I just figured out a way to fix it,” and that was the light bulb moment for me.”

This knowledge led Cancel to developing a customer-driven methodology where every step of product development and business growth is related to how it solves the customer’s problem.

You can download Cancel’s book, Hypergrowth for free on the Drift website.

Business Storytelling Element #5: The Plot, or Strategy

How the hero confronts and overcomes the obstacles so they can succeed in their quest.

Once you’ve established the theme, hero, mission and obstacle, you have the foundation upon which you can build your plot. The plot, in essence, is the sequence of events leading to the hero’s ultimate success (or sometimes, failure) in achieving their mission.

Why is the plot important?

Most plots follow one of a few basic frameworks. Turning that framework into a compelling, engaging story that people immediately connect with depends upon the four elements discussed above, along with a captivating setting and a cast of intriguing secondary characters.

How does this translate to growing my business?

The plot directly reflects your marketing strategy: the role you play in your customer’s life, how your product will aid in your customer’s journey, and how you will communicate this to your customer.

How will you get them from point A to point B? The plot is the customer experience you’re selling.

Here are some common plot frameworks:

The Underdog

Grow your business with storytelling come for me gif

The hero sets out to defeat a force bigger than them that threatens them and/or their homeland.

Examples: David & Goliath, The Neverending Story

Outdoor brand Patagonia’s marketing strategy follows The Underdog framework. From their 2011 “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad campaign to suing Donald Trump for “stealing public lands,” they’re picking a fight with consumerism to protect wild places. All of their messaging invites their customers who care about the environment to join them in this battle.

Grow your business woman with hour glass

Another, polar opposite (and some say dangerously irresponsible) example of The Underdog marketing strategy is the NRA, which pits responsible gun owners as against the growing forces of the “liberal elite” who seek to take their guns out of their cold, dead hands. Nearly every bit of content from the NRA is a call to action to fight on behalf of gun rights.

Rags to Riches

Business storytelling harry potter letters gif

The hero who starts out at a disadvantage realizes their full potential, against all odds.

Examples: Harry Potter, The Little Engine That Could

Nonprofits and social enterprise companies often use the Rags to Riches plot. Microfinance company Accion, for example, gives people living in poverty a chance to build wealth. Scholarship search app Scholly offers a hand up to underprivileged students by making the scholarship application process easier.

The Quest

The hero and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way.

Examples: The Lord of the Rings, Moana

Many B2B SaaS companies sell The Quest plotline, in which they are the companion to the customer’s journey toward a specific goal, like increased sales or more efficient inventory management. Their product is often positioned as a scarce object that makes their journey possible. Some examples are Forecastly, an inventory management platform for Amazon sellers, or customer messaging platform Intercom.

Voyage and Return

Business storytelling Alice in wonderland gif

The hero gets transported to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses, returns with experience.

Examples: Alice in Wonderland, Cast Away, The Odyssey

If you’re offering an experience in which your customer will come away physically changed or with new knowledge, be it a spa day, a vacation, personal training, a conference, coaching services, a mastermind group, a course, or a business incubator, you’re selling the Voyage and Return plotline.

I recently rewrote the copy for the FemmeQ leadership summit using the Voyage and Return concept. Another great example of a campaign that beckons the customer to join the voyage and return changed is this campaign from the rural Alpine region of Graubünden, Switzerland.

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Click Here To Get Free Instant Access To 28 More Proven Marketing Strategies For Startups!

Will Your Startup Live Happily Ever After?

Ultimately, storytelling for business growth offers a way to stay true to your values while keeping your customer at the center of every decision you make, from your product development through your marketing strategy and customer support.

When people see that you’re doing everything you can to deliver meaningful value to them, they’ll continue to buy from you, so they can see the story you’re telling become a reality for them.

And when that happens, you’ll realize the story you’ve been seeking to tell about yourself: the one about the entrepreneur who had an idea that changed lives for the better.

The End.

What story is your business telling? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll offer feedback and advice!

The Local SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon: A Competitive Advantage for Clients

Posted by MiriamEllis
Photo credit: Michelle Shirley
What if a single conversation with one of your small local business clients could spark activity that would lead to an increase in their YOY sales of more than 7%, as opposed to only 4% if you don’t have the conversation? What if this chat could triple the amount of spending that stays in their town, reduce pollution in their community, improve their neighbors’ health, and strengthen democracy?
What if the brass ring of content dev, link opportunities, consumer sentiment and realtime local inventory is just waiting for you to grab it, on a ride we just haven’t taken yet, in a setting we’re just not talking about?
Let’s travel a different road today, one that parallels our industry’s typical conversation about citations, reviews, markup, and Google My Business. As a 15-year sailor on the Local SEO ship, I love all this stuff, but, like you, I’m experiencing a merging of online goals with offline realities, a heightened awareness of how in-store is where local business successes are born and bred, before they become mirrored on the web.
At Moz, our SaaS tools serve businesses of every kind: Digital, bricks-and-mortar, SABs, enterprises, mid-market agencies, big brands, and bootstrappers. But today, I’m going to go as small and as local as possible, speaking directly to independently-owned local businesses and their marketers about the buy local/shop local/go local movement and what I’ve learned about its potential to deliver meaningful and far-reaching successes. Frankly, I think you’ll be as amazed as I’ve…


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