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Where Stories of Good Companies Begin

I’m standing on so many shoulders I can’t count them. My parents. My teachers. My brother and sisters. My pastors, youth leaders, bosses, wife, God, smart people like Roy Williams and Tim Miles, and everyone who’s come before them. So many have given the wisdom of their experience to me so that I don’t make the same mistakes that have scarred, marred or killed them. Sometimes I forget how many things I haven’t learned. How to begin a story is one of them.

 

Tim Miles makes me angry sometimes. He’s so freakin’ good at writing ads and creating campaigns for businesses. Now he’s written a book about his experiences as a gift to business so that they can become a “Good Company“.  You can download it for free today, and you should.  So I did.  In the first few pages I realized I need to change my presentation of “How to Write Stories that Make People Buy What You Sell.”  It’s that good and that powerful.

 

Here’s the part that smacked my face with a 2X4:

 

Daddy’s Fool-proof, Sure-fire, Rock-solid, Lots-of-hyphens Storytelling Formula

Answer these questions.

1. Who’s your story about?

2. Is anybody with them?  Who?

3. Where are they going?

4. Why?

5. Is there a bad guy?

6. Who?

7. What’s in their way?

8. Why?

9. How do they get around it?

10. How do they live happily ever after?

Go ahead, try it.  Tell me you couldn’t write a great story following that formula.  Oh, and tell me also – isn’t that pretty much strategic planning?  Couldn’t you use it to simplify the problems facing your business?”

 

You see now why Tim makes me angry.  In 38 words and 11 questions he taught me how to write stories that make people buy what you sell.  My presentation takes about an hour and a half and didn’t include how to begin your story, until now.  Thanks, Tim.  No, seriously-with-no-sarcasm, THANK YOU, TIM MILES.

 

So let me tell you how and why this list of 10 (really 11) questions should impact your business (or your story writing, if you prefer):

 

“1.Who’s Your Story About?”

If you immediately thought of yourself, you might write a great story, but it will be one that will interest very few people.  Your business doesn’t exist to serve you.  It exists to serve your customers.  Your ads won’t be remembered by anyone unless they see themselves reflected in the pages of your business.  Think about the problems they face.  What makes them frustrated with every company in your business category?  Once you can answer those questions, you can build a character or make a company with values, flaws and dreams that other people will like. That’s where all great stories and businesses start.

 

2. Is anybody with them?  who?

Think about the people on your team, the resources in your corner.  What are their names, their capabilities, their characteristics?  How do they benefit you?  How do they hinder you?  Do they add something that you don’t have?  Are you telling people about the things that make you a great business?  Wizard of Ads partners call these “unleveraged assets.”  Most business owners overlook a couple of their company’s good qualities because they see them every day.  So make an inventory of the treasures and people in your story.  You might need to hire me or one of my Wizard of Ads partners to help you see what you can’t.

 

3. Where are they going?

What’s the goal of your adventure?  If you’re in business, this should be a measurable and achievable goal.  You’ll know it’s measurable if you can put a number to it.  You’ll know it’s achievable by considering the strength of your competitors.  Write it down.  An outline helps everyone who writes stories.  Without it, your unstable emotions, not your best hopes and dreams, will determine the road your story follows.

 

4. Why?

What’s motivating you (or your central character)?  Is it just your own desire or does it benefit others?  Where did that motivation come from?  Why does it drive you?  Answering these questions gives the central character depth.  The only wrong answer here is refusing to ask the question.  Characters and businesses have flaws and mixed motivations.  They only damage you as the storyteller when you don’t choose them consciously, because they’re painfully obvious to everyone else.

 

5. Is there a bad guy?

If you’re writing a story, does it have a villain, or does your central character simply wrestle with himself?  If you’re in business, do you have mean competitors, or are you all alone in your category, fighting the universe and yourself to breathe something new into existence?

 

6. Who?

Now tell me about this villain.  How scary strong is he/she?  Who are your business competitors?  Are they strong at all?  Are they better than you?  Do they have a weakness?  What motivates them?  Star Wars would have stayed as forgettable as Corvette Summer had it relied on Luke Skywalker instead of Darth Vader to carry its dramatic weight.  The more believable and powerful your bad guy, the more your audience will resonate with your central character’s struggle to win.

 

7. What’s in their way?

What’s holding your business back?  Are people not calling you or walking in the door because they haven’t heard about you or because you’ve been writing weak ads?  That problem can be solved with good advertising.  Do your phones stay silent and your store remain empty because they have experienced your business, and they’ve chosen to go somewhere else?  Good advertising will only make that problem worse.  At least now you know the demons you have to kill.

 

8. Why?

Be honest about what got you to this position.  Harry S. Truman had a block of wood on his desk, turned to face him, that said, “The Buck Stops Here.”  No matter how many other people had done him wrong or made mistakes underneath him as President, he took responsibility.  You’re a business owner who dreamed of making a difference and leading people to a better future.  The buck stops with you.

 

9. How do they get around it?

Now that you’ve taken responsibility.  Write down how you plan to change, to overcome the problems keeping your business from the goal you started to achieve.  Then again, if your market share is between 30% and 50% of your business category, that’s an obstacle that no one can move, not even with an ad budget as big as Coca Cola’s.  In that case, you need to open a new location or start another business in a different category.

 

10. How do they live happily ever after?

Stories that simply say the words “happily ever after” bore everyone who reads them.  Tell me the details of a life that’s worth living.  Plan out the systems and results that will have your employees skipping their way through a work day.  Schedule celebrations when you reach milestones so that everyone knows you’re on the right track.  You’ll find yourself living the happily ever after before you’ve even reached the measurable goals you set for yourself.

 

A Final Kick in the Pants

So often we begin by doing whatever makes us feel most comfortable, not what’s most important.  As a consultant, my brain often begins firing off creative ideas the moment I meet a business owner.  That’s the easy part for me.  Listening, researching, testing, being patient; these are the things that make me uncomfortable.  Is it the same for you?  Do you have a different weakness?  Have you been limiting yourself to doing business the way that feels most comfortable instead of the way that actually works?

 

Tim Miles learned the lessons he talks about in Good Company from experience.

 

“As a criminally overworked ad writer for a group of radio stations with hundreds of clients, Tim Miles was crafting more campaigns every month than a Madison Avenue ad man will create in his entire career…  Can you imagine a more perfect laboratory?  Could there be a better classroom?  In terms of real-world experience, Time was 200 years old before he was 30.”

– from Roy Williams’ forward to Good Company

Climb up on someone else’s shoulders and get a better perspective.  You’ve already read your way to the end of this post.  Now go and read Tim Miles’ book.  It’s free.  You have no excuses.

The hard work comes when you decide to put them into practice.  But you’re not someone who avoids doing things just because they’re difficult, are you?  Of course you’re not!  I see courage in you to admit what’s held you back and make your story better.  I’m doing the same thing with my own presentation.  Let’s do it together.

 

Your friend,

Peter.

 

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