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How Storytelling Techniques Can Jazz Up Your Business Plan


We've all encountered great storytellers in our lives -- people who charm, engage and hold their audience in thrall while they weave a great yarn. But storytelling techniques aren't just the realm of a Hollywood blockbuster or a story circle at the local library. They can help you write a business plan that hooks, enthralls and sticks in the memory of your readers -- likely the people in a position to give you funding.

Let's look at the main building blocks of great storytelling and where those techniques can fit into your business plan.

Story Pillar 1: Point of view

From Huck Finn to Boo Radley, distinctive characters leap off the page. The same is true of your business plan -- if you're able to tell your own story through it, the more likely you are to stick in the mind of the reader.

Spanx founder Sara Blakey's original impulse in developing her line of shapewear is the fact that she didn't like the way her derriere looked in white pants. Armed with a small amount of money and a personal conviction that her problem would resonate with millions of women, Blakely built the enterprise into a billion-dollar business. Her personal story has always been intertwined with her phenomenal success.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What about my background makes me uniquely qualified to start and run this business?
  • Who am I and what about my passions connect me to this business?

Where to use this: In the executive summary, the company description, and the management summary.

Story Pillar 2: Conflict

It's often said that conflict in stories can be broken down into just three categories: "man vs. nature," "man vs. man," or "man vs. himself." While it may seem a stretch, it's a useful exercise to think about where your business sits on the conflict continuum. In other words, if your business was the hero in a movie, what wrong would it be out to rectify? An external conflict or an internal one?

Dropbox is a service that allows you to use and access your files across devices. It makes a very simple promise to "simplify your life" by comparing documents on your computer to your keys. You wouldn't want to be without your keys, Dropbox seems to imply.

Your business will seize the imagination if it seems poised to solve some conflict, or "pain point" for its intended audience.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What problem does my business solve?
  • How does it make customers lives easier?

Where to use this: In the executive summary, the company description and market analysis sections.

Story Pillar 3: Coherence

"All stories have a beginning, middle and end," is a commonly heard adage. In these post-modern times, however, those components are not necessarily in that order. Regardless of how flashback-laden they are, stories typically follow a familiar pattern, rising in action toward an inevitable conclusion and resolution. The familiarity of this pattern is something we take for granted -- it's what helps us follow a story and recognize innovative deviation from the pattern.

Your business plan is the same way -- it must follow a familiar blueprint, but within that blueprint, you have the capacity to show both point of view and innovative thinking. Following the format will help strengthen your vision of the business, allow you to practice for objections, and even craft a killer elevator pitch.

Story Piller 4: Resonance

Joseph Campbell wrote the book Hero With a Thousand Faces to demonstrate just how enduring great stories are. They may change form -- as when the narrative from the Epic of Gilgamesh shows up on a Star Trek episode -- but they remain meaningful by connecting with the emotions of thousands across cultural lines.

With your business plan, you are also looking to connect with the need of a large number of people. The lesson? Make sure your know your audience well, and your business is likely to connect with their needs.

Surprisingly enough, YouTube didn't invent the video sharing social network. What YouTube did differently is it improved the backend technology that powered its network, meaning that it was easier for the end-user to upload and share videos. By approaching the problem in a new way, YouTube provided a service that caught on like wildfire among millions the world over.

Where to use this: in the market research and competitive analysis section of the business plan.

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