Storytelling for Small Business: Create a Killer Business Description that Sticks with People | Beth Mueller | Skillshare

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Storytelling for Small Business: Create a Killer Business Description that Sticks with People

teacher avatar Beth Mueller, Discovery + Story

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Class Intro


    • 2.

      The Power of a Core Story


    • 3.

      Discovering Your Story


    • 4.

      Write Your Messy First Draft


    • 5.

      Making It Sticky


    • 6.

      Four Common Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them


    • 7.

      Adapting Your Story for Different Situations


    • 8.

      Your Class Project


    • 9.

      Parting Thoughts


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About This Class

You are probably asked all the time what your business does -- do you like your current answer? This class is for small business owners or entrepreneurs who are passionate about the services or products you provide but don’t consider yourself a writer. In this class, we’ll leave the usual boring list of facts behind and walk together step-by-step to apply basic storytelling principles to craft an engaging business description that will stick with your customers. By the end of this class, you’ll have a clear, concise go-to core story to use as the basis for copy on your website, social media channels, when networking, and elsewhere.

Download the PDFs referenced in the class here:

Meet Your Teacher

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Beth Mueller

Discovery + Story


Stories are powerful – I knew I wanted to be a writer when I got goosebumps after my second grade teacher read us Where the Sidewalk Ends.  Since then, I earned a degree in teaching creative writing and published my own work. I also have a marketing degree and have combined business strategy and creative writing to help companies communicate for more than a decade. My newest adventure is Discovery + Story, where I give free resources and tips to help small business owners take their communications to the next level. Check it out at

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Level: Beginner

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1. Class Intro: Hi, there. Welcome to the Storytelling for Small Business Class, creating a killer business description that's going to stick with people. By the end of this class, you are going to have your go-to business description that clearly and concisely explains who you are, what you do, and the value that you bring. This core story is something that you're going to be able to adapt or copy on your website and social media profiles, your email campaigns, and it'll become the basis for your elevator speech, so that you have a great response when someone asks you the question of what do you do. That's just to name a few. This class is for small business owners and entrepreneurs, people who are passionate about the services and products that you provide, but you might not have a lot of experience with storytelling or copyrighting. If that's you, then I'm here in to help. I've been working with companies and individuals for 15 years and I'm very passionate about helping small business owners develop and share their stories. I can't wait to help you. In this class, I'm going to walk you step-by-step through the process. We're going to brainstorm potential story leads, we'll write a messy first draft of your story, and then edit it together to make it sound amazing, and awesome, and authentic to you. We're also going to make it sticky, so make it something that people are going to remember. I'll walk you through the step-by-step and I'm here to help you if you get stuck or if you have any questions. So with that, let's dive in and get started. 2. The Power of a Core Story: Awesome. Why do you need a core story? Well, first of all, what I mean by that, so it's my term for your default basic, go to description for your company. A lot of times we see really factual information here from companies. It's very dry, it's very boring. You know it serves a purpose, but if you think about how many times you describe your company, this is actually a huge opportunity for you to stand apart from your competition and make yourself really memorable. Why a story? Well, humans are hard-wired for stories, we love to hear them, we love to tell them, and we tend to remember things better when they come to us in story form. In this class I want to help you figure out how to write a story for your business description. My approach to develop this is really to boil your story down into those key elements that make you unique and what is going to resonate with your customers. Then we want to make sure that we're making it memorable. We want to stick out in people's minds this way, even if they don't need your product or services now, they're going to remember you in six months or a year when they do need you. Then once we have your story, we want to figure out the best way to adapt it, so that no matter what situation you're in, you're going to have this go to description to share with the world and all of this as to get the results that you want and grow your business. I'll explain to you later in the course, but it's going to be much easier for you if you start your copy from this one single source. Your core story is really meant to guide all of your other content that you need to create. That's great because more than one in five small business owners say that finding time to market their business is actually one of their biggest challenges. By doing this work now in this class, you're going to save yourself time so you can spend it on other parts of your business. In the next module, we're going to dive into discovering what makes you and your business unique. This is going to become the foundation for what we're going to use to build your story. In the meantime, take a minute and go to the project section of this class. I have included a couple of downloads there for you, and those are going to help you follow along as we go in the next couple of modules. Once you've done that, join me in the next lesson. 3. Discovering Your Story: Great, welcome to our next lesson, which is all about discovering. This is about gathering info and it is meant to be fun. I have included as part of the class a PDF called Discovery Phase 25 Thought Starter Questions About Your Business. I want you to go through each of these questions and jot down notes. These are questions about how you started your company and the people involved, what differentiates you from your competition? They're meant to help you brainstorm different potential elements for your business description. Really have fun with this. Include anything and everything that comes to mind. You never know what's going to spark an idea later on. The second critical step in this discovery phase is to identify your target audience and the key take away that you have for them. This is really the place where you want to start any storytelling exercise that you do, and it's going to guide everything that we do moving forward. For your business description, your key audience is probably going to be either customers or investors if you happen to be a startup. Your goal for your business description is going to be to learn more about your company and do one of three things; hire you, buy your product or invest in your company. Now we have to figure out what the main message is that's going to accomplish this goal. To do that, you're going to go back and look through your answers to those 25 questions. What are the things that you think are really going to convince your audience of that goal? We want to focus on those elements. Within those which one, two, maybe three are the most important or the most compelling? It's really about prioritizing and figuring out what is going to resonate with your target audience. Once this part is done, we're going to step into the next lesson where we're going to put all of these pieces together into a story format. 4. Write Your Messy First Draft: Great, so let's dive into writing our messy first draft of our stories. The idea here is just to get something down on paper or screen. Don't worry about making it sound great right in now, we're just want to make sure we get that right in info in there. Most stories are structured the same way. They start with a main character who has some kind of ultimate goal in mind, and they go on a journey to get there. On the way, good but mostly bad things happen to them, and then there's an ultimate tension or a point where everything seems lost. Then ultimately, there's some kind of resolution. You can apply this to really any genre of movie, romantic, comedies, thrillers, etc. We can actually also use the same basic story structure to write your business description in. Your main character is going to be one of two options. Either your customers, or an investor, or you. But my asterix with making the story about you is that this only works if you're willing to show their vulnerability. If you make a story about how amazing you are, you're just going to turn people off. Set another way, your story is about either the people who need your product or service, or about the people who started the company, or who work there now. As we build our story business description, we always want to keep in mind that goal that we have for it. We want your target audience to want to learn more in order to hire you, buy your product, or invest in your company. Here are some examples of how other companies have done it, and ways that you might be able to adapt, or might make sense for your company. The first one is the expert story, and this story highlights your credentials and why you are uniquely able to help customers do whatever it is that you do. A good example of this is Jeni's Ice Cream. If you're not familiar, Jeni's is an artisan ice cream company based in Columbus, Ohio. Here's how they give the story of their founder. Jeni has been making ice creams professionally for two decades. Right away they tell you how long she's been doing this. Before that, she studied art, worked in a bakery, and had a serious hobby blending perfumes and collecting essential oils. This is a great way to add some senses. Write and talk about perfume, essential oils right away, that gets you thinking about smells, and it makes a little bit more tangible to the person that's reading mass. It also highlights that there is a lot of different and out of the box areas that she's applying to the work that she's doing. Jeni founded Jeni's Splendid Ice creams in 2002. Her ahead-of-the-trend-vision using whole ingredients and dairy from grass-pasteurized cows, rather than synthetic flavorings and commodity ice cream mix. That's talking about how they're differentiated from their competitors, coupled with inspired flavors sparked the artisan ice cream movement more than a decade before it will become a top food trend. Jeni is a James Beard Award-winning author, two cookbooks, and has been recognized by Fast Company as one of the most creative people in the business. In this example, it's always great to include any kind of awards you've received, any kind of specialist training, recognition from other companies. Anything that comes to mind that again, reinforces your credibility as the expert in this area. We also have the, 'My company is going to change the world' story. This is usually an inspirational story and focuses on the ultimate end goal. How great our customers' lives going to be once they have whatever that result is. Technology companies tend to do this really well. One of the examples that I will share with you is from Google. First of all, I include a photo which is great. Each time we can add more the different senses into our stories the better. You actually will be able to see a picture, helps paint that picture in the person's mind as they're reading this. It actually takes you on the journey. The Google story begins in 1995 at Stanford University, and they were considering Stanford for grad school, was a student there was assigned to show him around, by some accounts, they disagreed about nearly everything during that first meeting. But by the following year, they struck a partnership. Working from their dorm rooms, they built a search engine that use links to determine the most importance of individual pages on the World Wide Web, and they called this Backrub. They take you through whole history of how they did this and what they wanted to do, and then again, they reinforce what their ultimate goal is. The relentless search for better answers continues to be at the core of everything we do. Today, with more than 60,000 employees and 50 different countries, Google makes a hundreds of products used by billions of people across the globe. From YouTube in Android to smart box and of course, Google Search. Although we've ditched the Lego servers, and added a few more company dogs our passion for building technology for everyone has stayed with us, from the dorm room to the garage and to this very day. Again, reinforcing this idea that they are trying to change the world through technology, and make information accessible to everyone. Another way is the humble beginnings store. If you have a huge challenge that you face when you launch your business, this could be the way to go. Again, you don't want to focus your business description on how great you are, but if you have a story that people can relate to, go ahead and tell it. A great example of this is Pat Flynn, the man behind the website, Smart Passive Income. He talks in here about how he started his company. Says, "I'm a family guy in my early thirties who learned about passive income because I had to. Like so many other people, I'm on my Plan B career." You can see, like so many other people, he actually says that in there, he is actually trying to connect and relate to people who are looking for a new career. "I graduated from college with an architecture degree and went to work for an amazing architectural firm as Job Captain. I was thriving in my career and had no plans to leave it, but there are some parts of life we can't control. The downturn in the economy hit my industry hard. In 2008, just a few months before my wedding, I was laid off from my job. This could have been a terrible time in my life, but it wasn't. Thanks for a little website I had built on the side to help me study for an architectural exam. In the days before my job ended, I found a way to turn that website into an income stream, and the process changed my life." This is again inspirational. You hear his story, but you're not jealous of what has become today, you are just relatable, you feel like, oh, if he could do this maybe I could do this. In the problem solver story, you illustrate for your customer how much better their life is going to be as a result of your product or service. An example of this that I find really interesting is I like a couple of things about Rover's website. First of all, at the top of it, they include a really short one-sentence description about who they are. First of all, they call it about the dog people, which I really like. You don't necessarily have to include your company name if you want to describe yourself in another way. They fit a lot of information in one sentence. Founded in 2011 and based in Seattle, Washington, Rover is the nation's largest network of 5-star pet sitters and dog walkers. It's very simple and clear and to the point, and then when you scroll down, you get a little bit more of that story. Again, this problem-solving idea, they incorporate an impressive amount of challenges that their target audience might be facing, and position themselves as the solution to that. Whether you need an in-home dog boarding, pet sitting, dog walking, or day care, Rover connects pet parents with dog parents who'll treat their pets like family. Rover sitters are your rainy-day-dog walkers, your everyday-belly-rubbers, your tug-of-war players, your middle-of-the-night-pee-breakers, because we get it, your dog is family, and when you can't be there, you can trust us to keep your dog happy, healthy, and sweet as ever. It continues on, I won't read the whole thing. But again, this is just including a lot of different challenges and the reasons why people would need a dog-walking service and positions them as the experts in doing that for them. Now it's your turn. When we think about actually incorporating those into your story, you had to think about first your main character and setting that scene, and remember the five senses whenever you can. If there's a way to incorporate visuals for sights, again, smells, anything like that, that's always going to make your story more compelling and memorable to the reader or the person who is listening to it. Secondly, you want to describe the journey. Describe what the goal is that you or your customers want to accomplish. Talk a little bit about the obstacles and challenges and then, the perfect way to overcome those challenges is probably going to be your product or service. You want us include the resolution, so ideally that's the end-state that the customer is going to have as a result of your product or service. Then lastly, you want to include your call to action. In a business description, this is going to be to learn more about you. You can do that by including your URL, come visit our website to learn more, maybe it's connect with us on Twitter and give your candle or whatever social platform you want to use. Maybe it's give us the columns, set up an appointment, whatever it is for you that you want people to do to learn more about your company. Then since this is a business description, there are some things that you probably want to include in there. Your company name, which is pretty obvious, but just want to make sure. You want to include what you do and actually spell out what the service or product is, who you provide it for, so who is your end-user or target customer. Where you're located, if you have employees including the number is always a good idea, and then whatever the way to connect with you is. It's time just for you to start writing. Again, don't worry too much about what it sounds like in that first draft, just make it really messy and just try things. See what sounds authentic to you. It's always going to be easier to edit something, than to stare at a blank screen or a page. Then once you had that first draft, keep going. You want to keep working at it, try different things, make it sound like you. You want something that captures your tone and your culture and your vision for the company. Then in the next lesson we're going to talk through how we make it super memorable. 5. Making It Sticky: Let's talk through how we make your business description sticky. The key to making your story memorable, is to make sure that it has two things, emotion and personality. For emotion, you want your target audience to personally connect with what you're saying. So ideally they see themselves or someone they know in your story. By nature of being a story, you probably already have some of this in there, but it's a good time now to go back and do a double check. So read through what you've written and see if you can add anything else to amp up the emotion just a little bit, but still make sure it sounds authentic to you. One of the best examples of this, is Gillette's razor. If you have not already watched their video, I totally encourage you to check it out. I'll include the link in the download section in the resources section of the class. They showed one story of a father and a son where the dad had a stroke and that his son helps to care of him. They explained that there have been 4,000 razors designed, but so far none have been specifically designed for a caregiver to shave someone else. It's incredibly powerful how they lay out the story and very emotional, while still being really appropriate and relevant to the business and the brand. With personality, you want to make sure that you're using your own voice. Don't make it sound stuffy or corporate. This is especially important because the story should be the basis for your elevator speech, and how you answer the question of what you do. It needs to work both written and out loud. Take a few minutes to look at what you have written and see if you need to revise that when you say it out loud. When you're ready, come on back. In the next lesson, we're going to talk about a few common pitfalls people fall into in writing and how you can avoid them. 6. Four Common Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them: Now we have that messy first draft on, and then we went back in to add some emotion and personality to it. We now want to make sure that we're editing it to something that sounds really awesome. There are four common mistakes that I see people make with their business writing. We're going to walk through each of these now so that you are not one of them. First thing I want to cut out the jargon. Just use simple words. If you told your story to a kid or your grandma, would they be able to understand it? If you can do that, then you have a powerful story that's going to stand out from the rest of the pack and really be memorable. Secondly, we want to avoid repetition, so without realizing it, we often repeat the same word or phrase, particularly if we're describing the product or service that we provide. A good test is to read your story backwards to catch those repeated words. Remember that a thesaurus is your friend, it'll help you come up with another way to say it or maybe spark a different idea. Variety is going to keep your audience engaged. Third, you want to remove words. I know I told you to incorporate a lot of details to paint the picture and you still want to do that, but we want to make sure that we're also keeping it short and sweet since it's our business description. The goal is to entice your target audience, to contact you to hear more massive than the entire story. A tip that I try to think about is whether I can fit the story onto a post-it note or in one social media post, and this really forces me to prioritize and stick to the most compelling point in the story. It leaves the rest for the longer version on your website, if you want to incorporate there. Four, we want to use simple sentences. Each sentence should have one distinct dot in it. If you combine too much into one sentence, you're making your audience decide what's important and you don't want to leave that decision up to them. Instead, make your points clear and simple. Use short sentences. If you need to use five commas in the sentence, it's probably too long, so break it apart or cut out some of those details. What do you do if you get stuck? I get that writing doesn't come naturally for everyone and this editing stab can be the hardest for people, but I am here to help. Upload your draft to the project gallery and I'm happy to give you my thoughts. I'm hoping that you comment on what your fellow classmates post as well. We all have our own experiences and voice and we can offer suggestions to help each other build really great killer business descriptions. That's it for this lesson, short and sweet. Go back to look at your stories and make sure that you're not falling into one of these four common mistakes, and when you're ready, join me in the next lesson, where we're going to talk through how to adapt the story for different situations. 7. Adapting Your Story for Different Situations: Congratulations, you have a killer business description now, this should become your default, go to description whenever you need to explain why your company data. That's the secret sauce. It helps you present a consistent message and it also saves you time because you start here every time we need to write something new. But this format or length isn't always going to work. So you're going to have to adapt it. You can shorten what you've written into a tagline. Maybe take a phrase or a sentence from your story that really captures your main message.Then This you can incorporate into your business cards, your email signature, your social media profiles, everywhere. You can also add details, examples, and really blow it out into longer copy for your about us section, your website or in your business plan, or maybe incorporate it into your professional bio. You can take a look back at your answers to those 25 thought starter questions from the discovery phase for inspiration, and what you can add to illustrate the point that you're trying to make. By the way, those also make really great proof points to tailor your message for a specific audiences. So for example, if you have one group of customers that really care about a particular aspect of your product or service, you can play that out when interacting with them. So one example of this might be if you're talking to customers who you know is really important that you're a good corporate citizen, that's very important to them. Then you want to mention maybe one or two specific details on volunteer work you do, or a product donations you made, or maybe how you work with different suppliers to make sure that they behave responsibly, whatever it might be for you. You can also turn your business description into a brief 30 to 60 second pitch that you want to use that networking events or maybe a shorter version that you want to use when you get the question, so what do you do? The possibilities are really endless and you should really have fun building out your story for the different situations. I'd love to see what you've put together. So upload it to the project gallery. That's it for this course. Up next, I'm going to walk you through what your class projects will be. 8. Your Class Project: Class project time. So your class project is to complete your story with proof points using the template provided. I'm in the download section of the class. Now, if you followed along as we went through the course and you should have it pretty much done at this point. Go ahead and upload it to the project galleries, so that you can get feedback from myself and other students taking the class. Remember, if you get stuck at any point or if you have questions, I am here to help you. So reach out to the discussion board or send me an email, and let me know what I can do to help you get to the end. I cannot wait to see what you guys came up with and learn more about each of your companies. 9. Parting Thoughts: Okay guys, just a couple of parting thoughts. You guys did it, way to go. I am so excited that you now have this killer go to business story that you can use to get more attention for your services and your products. This is really the first step in sharing your unique story, so that you can clearly and concisely communicate the value that you bring, who you guys are, and what you do. So thank you for taking this class. I am so excited that you went on this journey with me, and that you shared your work with me. I would love if you would take a minute to leave a review for the class and let me know what you thought about it, and also please keep me posted as you start to incorporate these into your different communications and marketing campaigns. I hope that you had a lot of fun in the class, and I hope you have even more fun as you start really exploring how you could use this with your business.