What’s your story? Telling one is good for business

Telling stories.  Turns out telling stories is not just for children.  It’s good for those hunting for a job and it’s good for those starting a new company. According to this New York Times article, telling stories–rather than facts–is what will get you the job or resonate with people who you ask for money.  Telling a story is a way to show that you are “compelling, unforgettable, funny and smart. Magnetic, even.”  Telling a story is a way to show the world what makes you so special. 

So, you need to have a good story ready at hand when you go to pitch yourself to investors or try to get a bank loan.  And you need to be able to tell it well.  It’s a skill that can be learned, according to the authors of this article.  Consultants are now offering classes in story-telling and researchers have honed in on the hallmarks of the best stories that resonate with people.  A compelling story should have something close to this formula–which if you studied literature or writing might look familiar to you: Act 1, scene setting; Act 2, rising action; Act 3, the turning point; Act 4, the falling action; and Act 5, the denouement or release.   There can be fewer stages or more stages, but in general the best stories all follow this pattern and, where business is concerned, seem to result in sales. To tell a good story, we need to just tell it, not analyze it, explain it or judge it first, according to one expert.  It’s when we over-think things that they fall flat on the listener.  So, how to think about your own business story? “It’s about balancing your personal story — incorporating your values, tying it together with a vision of the future, and telling how investors can get involved and also benefit themselves.”

Finally, here is a short list of tips:

  • Know who your audience is
  • Have a beginning, middle and end. (That sounds obvious, but people often forget that.)
  • Use concrete details and personal experience
  • Don’t self-censor.
  • Don’t try to memorize a story so it sounds rehearsed. It’s not about perfection. It’s about connecting. 

CLIENT PROFILE: Intrinsyk medical devices poised for growth spurt

NH SBDC is celebrating its 30th anniversary by highlighting just some of the many small business  clients we’ve had over the years. 

When three men decided to take their combined medical device expertise and strike out on their own, they discovered a bit of a learning curve was involved.  Starting from scratch was a bit different than working for somebody else, it turns out.  

Paul Fueller, Tom Gannon and Jim Booker together turned to Hollis McGuire of the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center in their desire to start a medical device design and manufacturing firm. She, in turn, connected them to many more resources across the state that would eventually enable their start-up that officially launched in July of 2013 in Salem, New Hampshire.

Today Intrinsyk is busy preparing to bring one of its products to its first sizable market and it is generating its first sales, facts that will move them to another stage of growth and development.

Instrinsyk’s products are designed for the diabetic, blood sampling and clinical-care markets. In short, their first devices are designed to make needle sticks safer and more efficient. They have a long-range plan to branch out from that niche.

“When we got involved with Hollis, in our planning stage, we got the cream of the crop,” Tom said. “She reviewed our business plan, our marketing plan, all of our data. She identified our weaknesses and really, really helped us beef up the plan to be ready to present it to investors.”

Then, Paul says, Hollis “started name-dropping”. By that he means she started listing all the organizations in the state that could be helpful to Intrinsyk and its mission.  One of the first was a group called Next Level Now, a Portsmouth-based firm that provides financial management and strategic advice. Through that organization, Intrinsyk had the services of a Chief Financial Officer, which proved invaluable, enabling the partners to put together a package to present to investors.

Intrinsyk recently took part in an international medical trade show in Dubai, where they demonstrated their device that helps take blood samples from newborns up to age one-and-a-half. The blade-type device is more comfortable and efficient than a needle-stick would be at that age, plus it produces enough blood for accurate samples and involves quick-healing time for the child. Visitors in Dubai “wanted it yesterday,” Paul reports. Two active clients came from that trade show and shipping begins in April or May of this year.

Soon the company will be needing professional office staff and distribution employees, and that’s been their goal all along, to bring some jobs to the Salem area.

“We hear from Hollis often and I send her quick updates now and then,” Tom explains.  The sales they’ve now generated will require that they obtain some bridge funding, to fill the gap between manufacturing costs and actual revenue received.  “We have no problem taking guidance from others like Hollis at this stage,” Tom says. “We owe a lot to the SBDC and the connections they’ve helped us to establish.  It’s been extremely helpful and we’re very grateful. I just can’t say enough about them.”

Public relations for small businesses

Just because you own a small business doesn’t mean you have to pay big bucks to promote it. Even a small company can take steps to communicate your message to the world effectively.

First, be ready.

Don’t pursue a public relations strategy until your product or service is ready for prime time. If you don’t find the weak points, customers and the media will.

Tailor your message for the intended audience.

Start by knowing what you’re selling, to whom, and why. (See The Five Breaths Test to get you started.) Then shape that message depending on whether you’re talking to a customer, an investor, or the media.

Determine your approach.

Depending on your target market, you might use different PR approaches: newspapers, social media, public events, and so on. Don’t take a shotgun approach, but pick a few avenues to start and target the intended audience as closely as possible.

Get everyone on board.

Make sure your staff knows what your message is and that they are behind it. It only takes one uninformed staff member answering a media call to lose or botch potential press coverage.

For more on developing a PR strategy for your small business, see this article by Infinitdatum.

Take the Five Breath Test

David Brenner, president and executive director of the Innovation Park at Notre Dame, developed something he calls “The Five Breath Test” for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Can you sum up your business idea in five statements, each of which takes one breath? Here are the five questions you need to answer with those breaths:

What is your idea?

State it as clearly as possible, without jargon but with passion.

Who needs it?

Explain what problem it solves, which should point directly to a target market.

Why they should want it from you?

Determine what makes you different from your competition. What gives you a competitive advantage that you can sustain over time?

Why now?

Spell out the factors that make this a good idea right now. Has something changed or developed in the market that makes it timely?

How you will make money?

That’s the bottom line, for you and any investors you might attract. Be realistic about the potential returns.

If you can answer those questions, you can move on to the next step of an in-depth marketing plan, as spelled out in our worksheet “Developing a Marketing Plan” and our online e-course “Crafting a Business Plan.”

PARTNER PROFILE: The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship

NH SBDC is celebrating its 30th anniversary by highlighting just some of our many small business clients and  partnerships we’ve had over the years.

From the earliest days of the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship in Keene, back when it was “just” the Hannah Grimes Marketplace, it has partnered with the Keene office of the NH Small Business Development Center.  The two organizations staged workshops and events together starting in the late 1990s, and today share clients and bounce ideas off one another, according to Hannah Grimes director Mary Ann Kristiansen.

Rich Grogan, NH SBDC’s regional director in Keene, has office hours at the Hannah Grimes building on Roxbury Street in Keene, where the clients of Hannah Grimes routinely seek his advice as they begin or make plans to expand or change their businesses. His main office is located at nearby Keene State College.

The Hannah Grimes Center educates, supports and helps in the development of successful entrepreneurs in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire.  Their programs include a small business incubator space, educational opportunities, and other business development opportunities. It oversees the Hannah Grimes Marketplace, a retail store selling only local products.

“When someone comes in our door and says they need a particular type of help, we send them to Rich and vice versa,” Mary Ann says.  “They’re a go-to resource whether it’s someone with a marketing problem, a financial problem, just anything—we send them to Rich and we feel really confident that they’ll be treated well and be helped. And it’s free and it’s amazing.”

Rich and Mary Ann have collaborated on finding topics for workshops and on presenting. In the past the NH SBDC Keene office and Hannah Grimes facilitated an Angel Investors group at the center.  Mary Ann has worked with four regional directors now and says, “They’ve all been extraordinary to work with,” she said. “I’ve always been very impressed by them and the training that they have.”

Grogran says, “I have a partnership with the Hannah Grimes Center in the truest sense of the word; we make each other better.

“We enjoy working together. We’re on the same page about how to build our local economy through small business growth. Everyone at Hannah Grimes is doing this work because they want to; they know that to be successful is to help others realize their own success, and that is a tremendous atmosphere to be a part of,” Grogan says. “The energy that has been created by the Hannah Grimes Center around entrepreneurship is infectious, and I’m thrilled that SBDC is a part of creating that energy.”