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Why The Best Entrepreneurs Are Good Storytellers

Paul Oberschneider created a $200m business without industry expertise because he could tell a good story.

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Paul Oberschneider created a $200m business without industry expertise because he could tell a good story.

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Why The Best Entrepreneurs Are Good Storytellers

Paul Oberschneider created a $200m business without industry expertise because he could tell a good story.

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The popularity of National Storytelling Week, which ran for its seventeenth year from 28th January–4 February 2017, bears witness to the enduring appeal of a good story. Whether there’s a happy ending or a twist in the tale, people want to hear stories.

Stories make people think outside their own experience; and they can inspire people to action too.

Back in the 1990s, I’d been fired from my job on a Wall Street trading floor and was just emerging from my six-year struggle to recover from drink and drug addictions. I wanted a fresh start, or at least a new chapter to my own story, so had secured a place at business school.

On a whim and with only $400 to my name, I flew from New York to Tallinn, Estonia for a vacation before I faced the hard work of studying. I arrived in a city where I had nothing and knew nobody. Yet 18 unexpected years later, I’d created real estate businesses worth $200 million with offices spread across Central and Eastern Europe.

I wasn’t a real estate expert, I knew nothing about the local market and I hardly even spoke the local language. But I had a vision, and I could communicate my vision in the form of a story. By telling my story with passion and conviction, I inspired a great team of other people. Without them, I couldn’t have made my vision a reality.

You need to make your thing someone else’s thing. If you people are going to be prepared to work long hours, give it their all, and overcome tricky obstacles for you, you need to share your story and your passion effectively.

That is why really successful business people are often great storytellers – they inspire their teams and their customers. These five steps can help you achieve the same success:

Aim high

Don’t be afraid to aim high. To persuade others, you need to make them believe in something that is original, different, new, bigger or better. Crucially, you must genuinely believe in it yourself.

Think of yourself as an architect planning out a huge building project – if you don’t communicate your plans to the builders with commitment, they aren’t likely to follow you with much confidence. Don’t allow self-doubt to undermine your success.

Write it down

A written plan is the first place in which you see your ideas become reality. You may feel silly writing out business ideas in grandiose ways, cutting out pictures and mapping things out that don’t exist yet. But writing is action, and it can turn fantasy into reality.

When you finally do manage to get your idea down on paper, your plan remains in your subconscious, and while you’re not looking, it will find a way to keep developing and improving. The process of writing is invaluable when it comes to cementing your vision.

Simplify it

Reduce your story to its essence, so that you can explain it easily to others. Write it out in less than fifty words, and use pictures – this helps to ensure that the way you envisage it working will be the way others do too.

All the best business ideas are very simple at their core, so reduce your vision to its skeleton again and again. If your story is too complex you risk confusing people or losing their interest altogether.

Sharing your vision with other people is critical to building the right team of employees, investors, and consultants. Your story’s appeal is also key to drawing customers in to buy your service or product.

Refine as you go

We all know people who talk about the great things they’re going to do: but very few of those people take the time to actually draft their plan, let alone try it. Once you’ve conceived, planned and drafted your plan, it’s time to let go of perfectionism.

By sharing the story you’ve created, in a bid to make it reality, you already have a huge advantage over those who put off and procrastinate taking that first step.

Of course, obstacles are going to get in your way and you will have to think on your feet and keep revising your plan. When I started my first company, I had no idea what I was doing.

I was flipping small-scale real estate developments but I finally found the formula that worked. I then got my team to buy into the vision of where we were going, and every time we hit a roadblock, we went another way. But we kept on.

Listen to your customers

If business is flagging and you need a boost, what are you going to do to rekindle enthusiasm for your story? You can’t control changes in customer response to your product or service over time, so you will need to stay on your toes and listen to how they’re responding to you.

Like a pilot shifted off course by weather and wind, you need to course correct. When you respond to conditions, making tiny adjustments as you go, you have a powerful vehicle to help get where you want to go.

Paul Oberschneider is  best-selling author of new book, Why Sell Tacos in Africa?, published by Harriman House. For more information or to download four free chapters go to www.pauloberschneider.com

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Why The Best Entrepreneurs Are Good Storytellers

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