How Startups and Small Businesses Can Discover and Share a Powerful Backstory

How to Tell Your Backstory

“Those who lead inspire us. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves.” These thoughts from Simon Sinek in his popular TedTalk tell us not only about ourselves and why we choose specific products, but it reminds us that as entrepreneurs, we have the opportunity to create a connection through a powerful backstory.  

Sharing a narrative that compels action, triggers a behavioral response, and delivers an authentic experience can feel like a hefty task. By ignoring how crucial your origin story is, you limit opportunities. People want purpose. They crave passion and want to see themselves in your brand.  

Startups and small business owners that open up about their core values, motivating factors, and journey demonstrate the sincerity and transparency that many brands lack. In return, their customers relate, connect, and engage. Learn how to improve your business relationships by developing and communicating your unique backstory. 

Your Personal Backstory is Essential to Building Relationships 

In a world where our customers and investors extend across the globe, we need to capture their attention and quickly develop emotional investment. Selling a fantastic product, developing a solid marketing plan, and sharing testimonials from your biggest fans will certainly generate sales.  

But, those alone won’t create a sustainable business and a loyal client base. As Jeff Ernst, principal analyst at Forrester Research, says, “Business buyers don’t ‘buy’ your product or service, they ‘buy into’ your perspective and approach to solving their problems.” Your backstory is the framework that encourages customers, investors, and staff to buy into your purpose. When done correctly, you create a unique and lasting bond.  

Starting with the “why” behind your story creates a layer of trust. With consistency, that trust adds to your credibility. Furthermore, developing a personal narrative early on helps you direct the conversation about your brand. There’s a reason why people still share stories about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, starting Apple in a garage, or how Blake Mycoskie’s journey led him to found TOMS. These narratives drive brand loyalty.  

Traits of a Compelling Backstory 

  • Driven by your personality 
  • Shareable by everyone 
  • Simple to understand 
  • Evolves over time 
  • Describes purpose 
  • Relatable to your target customers 

Ways to Develop an Engaging Backstory 

Regardless of how your backstory begins, it’s essential to understand your audience. Although you may feel your tale has universal appeal, there is no part of entrepreneurship that doesn’t benefit from a human-first approach.  

By observing and interacting with your audience, then analyzing data, you’ll have a solid foundation to get the creative juices flowing. Once you know who needs to hear your story, then it’s time to discover what events in your life influence your decision-making, drive your passion, and ultimately led you towards entrepreneurship. Like Sinek says, start with the “Why.” 

  • Why does your business exist? 
  • Why did you choose this industry?  
  • Why this specific product or service? 
  • Why do you care about your mission?  
  • Why do you do what you do with passion? 

Brainstorm Your Timeline 

Backstories don’t need to be told in chronological order. But, a timeline helps you discover significant events for use in your narrative. Start by mapping out different years of your life and highlighting negative and positive guidepost moments. Use brain mapping tools to ideate and build out your story.  

Build Your Narrative 

Each backstory starts with a foundation of persuasion, which Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman call the five foundational building blocks in their book, The Elements of Persuasion: 

  1. Hero. You, your product, or your brand. 
  2. Antagonist. A problem or force pressing against the hero.  
  3. Awareness. The turning point, your “aha” moment. 
  4. Transformation. Successful resolution of the problem. 
  5. Passion. How your unique interests and traits tie your story together. 

In a personal narrative, the hero (you) works to overcome an antagonist (problem). While doing so, you define your mission and ways of measuring your progress. Your story hits a high point with a moment where you realize you have the answer. During transformation, you resolve the problem. Lastly, your passion connects you to your audience and molds your future.  

Structure Your Backstory 

Whether you’re telling a rags-to-riches story or highlighting your journey through tragedy, captivating narratives have a distinct beginning, turning point, and ending. Structure the narrative of your backstory in a way that builds suspense and holds your audience’s attention. While there isn’t necessarily a wrong way to write your story, every tale requires four essential elements.  

  • Relatability 
  • Novelty 
  • Fluency 
  • Tension 

Share and Promote Your Backstory 

There’s a good chance you’ll come up with multiple stories to tell. You’ll want to repeat the above process for each of your target audiences and tweak your backstory accordingly. This doesn’t mean changing your history. Instead, it’s about shifting your focus on what’s relevant to your intended audience. Your strategy for storytelling should encompass numerous platforms and formats. Consider these ideas when sharing your narrative: 

  • Lose the jargon. Forget about technical terms and acronyms. Immerse your audience in your story with simple messages.   
  • Add imagery. Showcase vulnerable moments and build trust with images that support your story and attract attention.  
  • Create videos. Provide a glimpse into your life by sharing videos of authentic moments with your clients and stakeholders.  
  • Use data visualizations. Turn blocks of text into data visualizations so your audience can watch and interact as your story progresses.  

Use Storytelling on Your Website 

Dump your text-heavy “About” page on your website. You want your gripping tale to intrigue and inspire your readers. Consider adding photos, interactive content, and videos that describe your journey and exhibit your excitement.  

Develop Thought Leadership Content 

Get clients, investors, and employees emotionally invested in your brand by sharing thought leadership content that generates discussions, yields familiarity, and fuels passions. Communicate your backstory across multiple platforms by: 

  • Sharing thought leadership content on LinkedIn. 
  • Posting articles on Medium. 
  • Blogging on your business and personal websites. 
  • Writing for trade magazines. 
  • Guest posting on authoritative sites. 

Get Social and Direct the Conversation 

You can share your origin story through a series of tweets just as easily as you can by chatting at a tradeshow. Learn how to break down your narrative into bite-sized chunks to fit various scenarios. Then, practice writing and speaking these lines in person and online.  

For the best results, tell your story on social media using the stories option on Facebook and Instagram. Go live and engage followers with a streaming video. Interact with others in your industry by adding value to online conversations on channels like Reddit or Quora, where you deliver valid insights, not a sales pitch.  

Help Your Audience Tell Their Story (and Yours) 

When people feel a connection to you, believe in your purpose, and see a part of themselves in your story, then they want to share that feeling. That comes in the form of written and video testimonials and user-generated content. Reach out to your followers. Don’t be afraid to ask for genuine stories about how your narrative inspired or encouraged your clients. When you engage and help others, the favor will be returned.  

Gain Trust With a Powerful Backstory 

Every business owner and leader has a compelling backstory, and that narrative drives what we do throughout life. By learning how to leverage your story, you can develop incredible relationships with your customers.