storytelling

BEC Story #3: Space To Grow

One thing I love/hate about running a business is when problems you thought you solved reappear (or sometimes more accurately, decisions you thought you had already made and were done with). For example, once upon a time had an office… until we needed another office.

Problem: After four years in business, Breaking Even got an office. And when we were two people and our income was at the level it was, that office was very functional. When we (the business) needed to increase to three and four people, I hired a part time, two hour away friend (telecommuting) and worked with a subcontractor (also who would work remotely). Then one day, I thought how helpful it would be to get us all in the same room for a day. So I started calling around.

I wanted someplace private (a lot of the local banks have conference spaces but they don’t feel like you can really close the door and be undisturbed… unless you were having a meeting with a bank employee of course). I wanted someplace nice. I wanted someplace with good internet. I didn’t need to pay hundreds for a banquet hall for a weekend wedding; I wanted six hours of peace and quiet in a nice room with a table, some chairs, and the internet.

As I tried to make a list of amenities writing this, I realize more of what I wanted was for my coworkers to feel a certain way. I wanted them to feel taken care of. Relaxed. Inspired. Happy. Productive. Engaged. Warm.

I ended up renting a hotel ballroom. When I walked in, I smiled. In this relatively large room with a crystal chandellier was a small table (big enough for four people) with four water glasses in the geographic center of the room. And nothing else. I chuckled because it looked cute and a little absurd. And I wondered how many other people needed what I needed at least sometimes. If we were going to work well together, we needed a room we could all fit in.

I had done a pretty exhaustive search of office spaces in the area.  I’ve seen about 20 total offices in my community and much of what I looked at years ago is still on the market now.

Why? Remember the feelings I wanted my coworkers to have at the retreat?  These spaces exuded none of that. And if we were going to make a change, I like changes to be ‘onward and upward’, not ‘lateral and with the same issues.’ Plus, a new office space was not going to be able to fulfill our meeting needs anyway, even if we could get past weird smells, a lack of natural light, or lack of parking options for our clients.

Solution:

Honestly, a bigger office would have been a lot less work than opening up a whole new business. But in these stories, you may know hard work is one of the qualities I value and try to cultivate.

The idea of a coworking space has been rolling around in my head for almost four years. Since I heard of the concept, I loved the idea. It makes a lot of sense for an entrepreneurial community like the one I live in to have something like this, not just for Breaking Even Communications but small businesses operating out of homes, coffee shops, and libraries as well as bigger firms who did work in the area but didn’t have office space nearby (contractors, engineers, etc.)

Opening Anchorspace was part selfish-we needed more space. But I truly believed that the solution to our problem could simultaneously be beneficial to the community, so why not help others while we were at it?

So I wrote a business plan, did cost projects, worked with a career counselor, worked with an intern on market research, secured a space, painted the space, furnished it, had security cameras installed and a few other upgrades, and opened Anchorspace in less than a year. My coworkers in the meantime picked up my slack at Breaking Even so I had not only the time but the brain space to deal with this very big idea.

Values demonstrated: Open to ideas of others, community minded, hard work, teamwork, resourcefulness, going with my gut (intuition maybe?)



How could this story be improved?

If you’re emotionally attached to something, have someone else write it. Problem is, when you are very emotionally into something, it’s hard to step back and make it interesting. Like in this story, I didn’t tell you we opened and had no customers for three months. Or any of the other small and big struggles that would have made it more interesting and relatable. I’ll admit this, I’m a writer and I paid my friend to write my bio on this website. What comes across is something much more balanced and less weird than it would be if I wrote it. This is why most magazines have journalists interview authors. Authors could write their own story… but it’s just not as good somehow, especially for that emotional stuff.

Take credit. I think as a woman in particular, I tend to not take as much credit for my accomplishments as I should. I remember in college doing well in something and hearing myself say, out loud, that what I did was nothing, not important, anyone could have done it, blah, blah, blah. Actually, I had worked hard. I had earned that grade. I told myself that from now on, when someone gave me a compliment, I would simply say, “Thank you.” I would take the credit for the work. In saying, yes, I made Anchorspace happen, I am not taking away anything from people who helped. I am just taking ownership of what I did. I saw a problem we had, zoomed out and saw we could help others, and took a harder road than a lot of people would have taken to get there. So yes, I’m going to take some credit for that.

Epilogue: I’m really struggling to write these stories. In other words, if you’ve taken our story challenge and our struggling, please know I am too!

Previous Stories:
BEC Story #2
BEC Story #1
Original post about why we’re doing these stories.

Ten Stories: What Would You Say?

When I was 25, I read ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ As a huge fan of the self help genre, and I was in a bit of a career crossroads, so it was the perfect read.

But when I saw how many exercises there were, I only did some of them.

One of the ones I did was writing ten stories about challenges/problems I solved. The criteria were that it didn’t have to be at all work related, just situations that happened and how you solved them. The big idea was within these stories, you’d identify transferable skills and things you not only could do but probably liked to do.

Note: You can pick up a copy of this book but Page 8 in this Google Book version for teens explains it pretty well: https://books.google.com/books?id=cBQBGnBNnPkC (I just found the adult version from 2009 but I have apparently reached my viewing limit so if you find a better source for this, do link it in the comments!)

My first thought was: Ten stories, really!?! That’s so many.

But I’m pretty obedient, even to books, so I went along.



One story was about how, at a moment’s notice and almost nothing in the fridge, I produced an amazing meal.

Another was about how I got double booked for a meeting but made both parties happy.

I have to go in my files for the rest, but none of the stories were long but they started with a problem and ended with a solution and starred me.

Once the stories were written, I was supposed to look for transferrable skills in them. And in doing it for ten stories, you begin to see patterns.

(Note: I wrote three stories then got hung up. Once I realized they could be small, I somehow got unblocked and finished… so if you find yourself similarly annoyed after three, keep going.)

In making this month’s theme ‘storytelling’ at Breaking Even, I thought of how powerful this could be if we translated it to businesses. What ten stories about your business could transform your marketing or help you establish a mission statement or identify core values?

Small stories leading to big ideas? It’s definitely happened before… and it could happen for you.

Buy ‘What Color Is Your Parachute’ On Amazon (Note: This is an affiliate link)



Once Upon a Brand

One of my favorite parts of Mad Men was when they have their brainstorming sessions for a client. A group of people sit around trying to come up with an idea for a print ad, commercial, or tagline. Without being necessarily overt about it, they go through the questions that marketers today ask: who is this for? What problem do they have, and how does this product/service solve it? And, the big one: How do we show them rather than tell them? It all boils down to determining the best story to tell. Clearly this is a watered down summary of Mad Men and I really need to learn how to separate how real life stuff works vs how they happen in the movies, but it’s what comes to mind whenever I think about brand storytelling.



People love stories, and are more likely to remember a story they’ve heard than a statistic (unless it’s really crazy). Exchanging experiences with others is one of the ways we express empathy, which creates a bond among people.

In marketing, it’s a useful way for brands to connect with customers (past, present, and future). It doesn’t always come in the form of selling a specific product- it’s typically much more subtle than that. In fact, storytelling from brands does something a bit more subtle by carving out a place for themselves in our hearts. With storytelling, it’s important that we show rather than tell, so here are 4 brands that know how to spin a decent yarn:

Cheerios. The all-time best example I can think of as part of Cheerios’ story is the one where the Grandmother is talking to the baby in the high chair who has a bunch of Cheerios in front of her. This story shows a few different things in fell swoop. First, you see the cross-generation component- an elderly woman and a very young child, enjoying the same food. Then there’s the family element, when Gram is mapping out where all the different family members live in relation to each other via Cheerio. There’s also the use of an adorable child clearly getting frustrated that it isn’t actively consuming any of the cereal yet. It all ties in with the narrator at the end saying that Cheerios is “just part of the family.” Yeah, it’s pretty heartwarming.

 

GoPro. One of the interesting parts of GoPro’s story is it’s use of User Generated Content. Most of their marketing simply shares the cool things their users are doing with the product. In doing so, GoPro as a brand mimics what their products do- act as a vessel for people to share their own stories. This also makes their product accessible to a wider variety of people. When I think of people who would frequently use a GoPro, I think of skydivers and mountain climbers- generally adventurous people. Watching the various marketing material from the brand challenges this belief, since they show a high volume of normal, everyday people using the equipment for normal, everyday things. Below is a video from their YouTube Channel of a family enjoying some t-ball in a local park (no stunts or crazy air-born maneuvers):

 

 

Lego. Creating a story using video footage is great, but what about a feature length film? Some would argue that the Lego Movie is an example of brand storytelling (especially this article from The Sales Lion), and I’m inclined to agree. The movie is all in Lego form, but it isn’t an over the top “buy our product” movie. It’s a pretty genius move all around. The movie inspires adults and children alike to reconnect with that imaginative, creative part of ourselves. Legos are all about what we make of them, otherwise, they are just plastic blocks that really hurt when you step on them. Creating a movie that inspires this creation gives the customers an added affinity for the brand, and the product itself.

 

Netflix. I love this commercial because it’s a display of self-awareness on the brand’s part. It flips the whole man running after a woman about to board a plan scene, and people are able to laugh a bit at themselves- Netflix knows that we all share passwords in weird, convoluted ways (like brother’s roommate’s ex-girlfriend stuff), and that we’ll go through great lengths to get a Netflix password but not much else. In other words, it’s a relationship worth fighting for.

 

Whether you sell products or services, or work for a mom and pop store or a giant corporation, there’s always a multitude of stories you can tell. Notice in Mad Men, no one is trying to tell the story of the whole company; they show small vignettes and over time. These messages contribute to the company’s overall story.

Rather than trying to tell a big story about your company, try telling 10 small stories and look for a unifying theme. Ideas:

  • Your most interesting ‘regular’
  • A conversation you overheard in the breakroom
  • An interesting item on the boss’ desk
  • An innovative way you’ve seen a customer use your product
  • The first customer your business ever had

In telling small stories, like all the examples above, you’ll see they actually help show bigger things, like values and ideas, in a more memorable format. 

This month, we’ll be talking a lot about storytelling. If you subscribe to this blog, you’ll get our posts about it.

What’s your story? Take some inspiration from some big brands to think about yours. And here’s hoping some of these blog posts can help along the way!