How do you decide what makes for a compelling story about your company? Here are some tips based on our ghostwriting collaborations with entrepreneurs.
You have so many experiences as a business owner. How do you discover which ones are compelling enough to share with an audience in writing? Which ones will reveal something unique about you or your company, inspiring people to seek out you and your brand?
I spent over a year writing and editing stories for now-defunct BNET.com’s “Owners Only” section, ghostwriting stories for business owners about the problems they’ve faced and lessons they’ve learned as they try to make a living doing something they’re passionate about. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from collaborating with these fascinating entrepreneurs about what makes for a compelling story:
Hook them with a great opening line.
Business writing can be boring. Take a lesson from Charles Dickens’ classic David Copperfield, which begins, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” While you may not be able to keep up the momentum for 1024 pages, as Dickens did, try to follow his lead by starting with a sentence that will intrigue readers and ask a question that will entice them to read on.
If you don’t feel strongly about your subject, neither will anyone else.
For my first article, a local entrepreneur told me she’d like to tell the story of how collaborating with other businesses has helped her own business. When I called her for a follow-up, asking for more detail on her collaborations and what problems she’s faced with them, she was candid. “I can’t really think of any problems with that,” she said. “What I do have a problem with is finding qualified staff.” Just that day, one of her employees had quit, and she launched into an impassioned rant about Generation Y workers and the problems that she’s had hiring and retaining them. I switched the focus of the article completely, and the resulting piece has generated more than 80 comments. The comments aren’t all positive, but the story got plenty of people talking and weighing in with their own views—and as a business owner, getting people’s attention is exactly what you want to do.
Don’t be ashamed to admit to mistakes that you’ve made.
Success stories are boring without an element of conflict. To captivate readers, it’s important to reel them in with a moment of doubt: Should I have maxed out my credit cards buying equipment? Is the company going to run out of money? By sharing the darker moments of your business, you’ll show clients and potential clients that you’ve been through the wringer and come out the other side, making your business a force to be reckoned with.
Be specific and universal at the same time.
If you want people to pay attention to your story, don’t speak in vague generalities—share specific instances of what’s worked for your company and why. At the same time, be careful not to alienate your audience by making it allabout you. Be sure that the story you’re telling provides insights that your readers will be able to connect with their own experiences.
Be conscious of your audience in determining your voice.
Sure, you might get a little raunchy when you’re watching the Superbowl with your buddies—but that casual tone isn’t appropriate for the boardroom, and likewise, it’s not a good fit when you’re sharing your business’ story in hopes of attracting new customers. When you’re writing a blog post or preparing marketing copy for your business, it’s fine to show a sense of humor, but keep it all in line with the image that you want for your company.
If you’re a business owner, what other lessons have you learned about creating a compelling narrative?
(If you’re trying to write your company’s story and not sure where to start, drop me a line—maybe I can help.)
Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.