Entrepreneurs tell stories. They tell investors about how their business model is unique; they convince consumers of their products' benefits, and they advertise online about how their brands will disrupt the whole industry.
However, there's just one story that entrepreneurs must never forget to tell, as it's arguably the most important one for their business to succeed: their own personal story. "When you tell your story, it reveals your values," says Brian Hardwick, head of messaging and activation for Enso, a Santa Monica, California-based creative agency that's built campaigns for brands such as Google and the Gates Foundation. "When you connect that to a larger shared value, you really give people a reason to believe in you."
With a team of 30, Enso aims to help brands amplify their impact on industry and society overall. One of the company's projects was the launch of Google Fiber in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2012, for which Hardwick and his team asked individuals to describe how a faster Internet connection would help area residents. The campaign was called "Let's do this for Kansas City."
Coming from a background as an advocacy strategist in political campaigns--he helped Al Gore found and build his organization to fight climate change--Hardwick can't be more bullish on personal storytelling. He thinks crafting a powerful backstory, as politicians often do, is also essential for entrepreneurs to market their brands. In an interview with Inc., Hardwick gives his top advice for how to become a better storyteller and thus a better leader:
1. Open up about your past.
A good story is not a replication of your résumé or your LinkedIn profile, but instead it should include details that people can't easily spot simply by Googling you. Maybe a childhood memory can connect to what you do now. At age 12, Mark Zuckerberg programmed an instant messaging service that his father used in his dental office. Sharing that part of your story makes you more relatable.
2. Find commonalities.
Carefully think about how your story can be connected to all of the people you are sharing the story with. Good stories resonate. One example that Hardwick gives is that most entrepreneurs will probably have a moment when they find themselves standing at a crossroads, wondering if they should go for the safer solutions or risky paths. Find the common moments and tell your own unique stories.
3. Pull from childhood lessons.
College seemed to be a starting point of many stories. What about all the colorful years before then? Hardwick suggests that you should think about all of the people who have influenced you since your childhood, and what you have learned that helped you make all the choices along the way. Never neglect the lessons that your parents or even your grandparents taught you; there are always some shared values in those words.
4. Tell your story to everyone.
Don't wait to tell your stories until The New York Times agrees to interview you. The media will most likely never interview you unless they have heard of your story from someone else first. The best way, Hardwick says, is to tell your story to "everyone"--that includes employees, customers, and business partners. Word of mouth is probably the best marketing medium for a touching personal story.
5. Don’t rely too much on social media.
Though Twitter and Facebook can be useful to market your products, they may not work that well when telling your own stories. Of course, Hardwick says, social media to some extent reveal your values, but your story will be most powerful if you can tell it in person.
6. Keep it short.
Think about your personal story as a special pitch about your company. You have to keep it short and right to the point. Hardwick suggests that typically you should keep your story under five minutes.
7. Don't be shy.
When you start a company, people are naturally going to be curious about background. They'll want to know what inspired you to go out on a limb and start a business, as it takes considerable guts to do so. They'll also want to know whether your history confers qualities that can help you succeed in business. Don't be shy. After all, you are part of your brand.