Why storytelling is important for business success

Paul Oberschneider discusses the power of storytelling and creating a vision for constructing a brand, building confidence, and getting funding.

In 1992 I boarded a flight from New York to Tallinn, Estonia. I arrived in a city where I knew nobody with just my last $400 in the pocket of my jeans, so at that point I certainly didn’t have starting a business on my mind. However, over the course of the next 18 remarkable years, I managed to build real estate businesses worth $200 million with 35 different offices spread across Central and Eastern Europe.

My background was as a Wall Street floor trader. At that time I knew very little about the real estate industry, I knew nothing about the local market and I barely even spoke the language. However, I was an entrepreneur, and when I came up with a vision for what I wanted to achieve, I was a able to tell a story in a way that inspired a good group of people to help me make that vision a reality.

Whether you’re trying to get a start-up off the ground or you’re leading a more established business, you can only really go from ‘good’ to ‘great’ by inspiring others. That is why so often you find really successful business people are great storytellers – they share their passion and it inspires their teams and their customers.

Excitement is contagious, so being a good storyteller is the key to making your thing their thing. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone, however, so here are some tips for how to achieve it:

Dream big

Don’t be afraid to have a big goal. If you are really are going to inspire others, you need to conjure up and make them believe in something that is original, different, new, bigger or better.

Crucially, however, you also must genuinely believe in it yourself. Think of yourself as an architect planning out a huge building project – if you didn’t communicate your plans to the builders with commitment, they aren’t likely to follow you with much confidence.

The sky really is the limit, and you are capable of more than you have ever even imagined, so don’t let self-doubt undermine your success.

Write it down

Some people may feel silly writing out business ideas in grandiose ways, cutting out pictures and mapping things out that don’t exist yet. You may worry that friends will think you have wandered into dreamland, but it works, and there is long history of successful leaders who have proved it.

Writing ideas down is a powerful tool; it may be the most powerful tool of all. I try not to talk about any of my ideas until I’m ready. Writing is action, and it takes the idea from your mind to the paper. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. Next time you have an idea, try writing it down, and you will find that it’s not easy at all. Most people don’t do it properly, or they simply give up.

Once you start to write, all kinds of things happen. When you finally do manage to get it the way you want it on paper, your brain has gone through an amazing process. Your plan will remain in your subconscious, and while you’re not looking, it will find a way to manifest itself. When you write, you will be one of the few people who actually take that critical step, and this will be to your advantage.

Writing and storytelling are powerful tools and key skills for anyone who wants to build a company. You are telling the story of the future success of your business, so make it exciting!

Refine your vision

All the best business ideas are very simple at their core, so try to keep re-writing your vision until you can explain it in a way that others can understand quickly and easily. People have short attention spans, so you need your idea to ‘click’ in their minds quickly or you risk confusing them or losing their interest altogether.

Being able to share your vision with other people in this way will enable you to build the right team of employees, investors and business partners. Such clarity will also be what ultimately persuades customers to buy your service or product.

Just do it…

Actions speak louder than words. We all know people who just talk about things, holding court in a bar or at a party talking about their great ideas, but very few of those people take the time to sit down, pen in hand, sketch it out, and then actually try it.

Every journey starts with a single step, and the people who do take that step have a head start over everybody else. By giving it a try you can quickly to see what works and what doesn’t, learn from your mistakes and make adjustments to get the model right.

When I started my first company, I had no idea what I was doing. I was flipping small scale real estate developments but I finally found the formula that worked. I then got my team to buy into the vision of where we were going, and every time we hit a roadblock, we went another way. But we kept on.

Of course, the path to your vision is never going to be a straight line from A to Z. Inevitably, obstacles are going to get in your way and you will have to think creatively, be flexible and keep revising your plan. You will keep getting new information and advice, and your circumstances will change every day. However, with a clear vision of what your end goal is, it will be much easier to overcome the challenges, and if you can tell a good story you can inspire others to help you find a new path to your goal.

Paul Oberschneider is an entrepreneur, angel investor, speaker and the author of new book, Why Sell Tacos in Africa?, published by Harriman House.

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