Writing Your Business Narrative

by Jarie Bolander on November 29, 2009

People love a good story. We gravitate to stories because they are easy to understand and if told well, stick with us. Narrative is a powerful tool to tell your business story, without all of the complexity of a business plan. People tend to have a difficult time starting a business plan or even a pitch because the ideas rattling around in their grey matter are just not cohesive. Throw in the desire to get the business off the ground or fund it and most people just give up.

Writing a narrative about your business is the first step in formulating those random thoughts into a story that you can tell prospective investors and employees. It’s also a great way to get past the anxiety of looking at detailed rows and columns of numbers that really won’t make sense until you formulate the genesis of your business.

First Things First

Before getting started on your business narrative, you need to brainstorm or free write. Doing this allows your brain to get geared toward creating a good narrative. So, before you move on, do one of the following exercises:

Exercise #1: Free write for 15 minutes, without stopping , about your new business idea. Just write. Don’t edit. Don’t correct spelling. Just write about it.

Exercise #2: For 15 minutes, brainstorm all the words and phases you can think of about your business. Write them all down on a piece of butcher paper or record it.

Now that your brain is primed, it’s time to start structuring those thoughts into a narrative. Take another 5 minutes to circle or underline the main themes, words, sentences from the exercises about. These themes will be used to answer and expand upon the questions below. To better illustrate the process, I will build an example narrative in parallel along with you.

Question 1: Name Your Business

Naming your business is the first step in making it real. This is the main character of your story and the name should reflect the attitude of the company. Look at the items you circled in the brainstorming session. Are there any recurring themes or words? What jumps out at you? Try and incorporate that into your name. Spend 5 minutes to name your company.

Business Name: The Daily MBA

Question 2: Describe What the Business Does

Be as specific as you can when it comes to describing your business and what it does. The more specific the better. Being too general will defocus your efforts. Use action words or phases that are easily understandable. Try to refrain from fuzzy words or muddled concepts. Again, make it simple.

What The Daily MBA does: The Daily MBA is about helping new entrepreneurs and managers navigate the complex world of business  Through relevant posts and topical discussions, The Daily MBA provides a fresh perspective on the day to day hardships that face entrepreneurs and managers.

Question 3: What Makes the Business Special?

Like any good character, your business needs to have that something special that resonates with readers/customers. This description needs to be written with vivid words that conger up feelings that people can relate to. Even though it’s a businesses, that personal touch will make it memorable.

What Makes The Daily MBA Special: The Daily MBA is written by a practicing manager and entrepreneur who knows first hand how painful it can be to start and manage a business. His unique perspective allows for readers to connect with his point of view because he can empathize with their plight. The Daily MBA style is also informal and comes across more like a mentor or friend than a stodgy professor.

Question 4: What Market Does the Business Address?

Understanding your market space is vital to a successful business. Markets are complex, so it’s best to be as specific as possible in choosing what market you will address. You don’t have to be formal about it or even know the correct buzzwords. Just simply describe the market that your business addresses.

Markets Addressed: The Daily MBA addresses the management and entrepreneurship education market worldwide.

Question 5: Who Are Your Customers?

Customers are an important part of your marketing effort. You need to reach them in order for them to purchase your goods and services. The best way to think about this is to describe your ideal customer. Ideal customers may not exist but they are a great way to focus your products and services to customers that come close.

Customers: The people who read The Daily MBA are either in business or want to start a business. They have a natural drive to create products and services and tend to seek out advice. The ideal customer for The Daily MBA would be the new entrepreneur or manager that wants to start a business or manage their group better.

Question 6: What Customer Pain/Benefits Do You Cure/Provide?

Most customers only buy something they need (or want). These purchases are usually driven by solving a problem or curing the customers pain. These pain points are what drive your customers to seek out your products or services.

Customer Pain Solved: The Daily MBA provides a comprehensive resource that answers the questions entrepreneurs and managers have while also giving them a step by step way to succeed. Too often, new entrepreneurs and managers don’t have good mentors or resources to answer their pressing questions. Schools do provide some instruction but this is mostly theoretical.

Question 7: What are Your Long Term Business Goals?

It’s always a good idea to look ahead a bit to see where you want your business to go. When doing this, be pragmatic and realistic. Don’t assume your next gig will be as big as Facebook or Google. Rather, look at what you want to achieve and set realistic goals. These goals can be one, two or five years out. Whatever it may be, put it down.

Long Term Goals: Within two years, The Daily MBA will be garnering 10,000 unique visitors a month, generating $5,000 dollars in revenue per month (via ads and related book sales) and be ranked as a top entrepreneur and management advice site.

Question 8: What Resources/Actions Are Need to Achieve the Goals?

Now that you have a long term goal, you need to figure out what it will take to achieve it. This may be getting investors, developing products or services or hiring staff. This is critical since without some idea on how to achieve your goal, you will flounder.

Resources Needed: To achieve our long term goals, The Daily MBA needs to apply Inbound Marketing techniques to get found. Part of this strategy will be to guest blog, be an active part of the entrepreneur/management community, publish topical books, develop seminars, produce at least one original post per week and provide three to five commentary posts per week on topical business posts outside The Daily MBA.

Question 9: Summarize Why You Will Succeed

It’s always best to end with a summary of what the reader just read and come to some resolution. This pulls the narrative together and allows the reader to leave satisfied. The summary does not have to be long or fancy or even original. It can just be a compact synopsis  of what you just said.

Summary: The Daily MBA is all about helping entrepreneurs and managers thrive in the chaotic world of business. It’s a content rich site that provides a needed resource for entrepreneurs and managers. Through original content, community stewardship and topical books, The Daily MBA will achieve upwards of 10,000 unique visitors and $5,000 in revenue per month within the next two years.

Assembling The Narrative

Now that we have the pieces (or bones) down, we can assembly the bits into a flowing narrative. To do this, you need to read your pieces again and edit them for grammar and content. Once you have something you think is pretty good, read it aloud to see how it sounds. The way the written word sounds is a great way to refine your voice. If it sounds weird, then it will read weird. You also want to ensure that it actually sounds like the way you talk. It’s okay to be informal as long as it’s clear and communicates your vision.

Once you have gone through the pieces, the next step is to assemble them together. Start with question #2 and string together your pieces into paragraphs. In the end, you should have between 3-5 paragraphs. Now that you have your business narrative, you can start to fill in the details and refine what you want to achieve. The narrative will be your anchor during the business planning process. It will provide the focal point when your plan starts to get messy or you stray from your desired objectives. Good luck.

Example Business Narrative: The Daily MBA

The Daily MBA is about helping entrepreneurs and managers navigate the complex world of business  Through relevant posts and topical discussions, The Daily MBA provides a fresh perspective on the day to day hardships that face entrepreneurs and managers. It is written by a practicing manager and entrepreneur who knows first hand how painful it can be to start and manage a business. His unique perspective allows for readers to connect with his point of view because he can empathize with their plight. The Daily MBA style is also informal and comes across more like a mentor or friend than like a stodgy professor.

The Daily MBA addresses the management and entrepreneurship education market worldwide. The people who read The Daily MBA are either in business or want to start a business. They have a natural drive to create products and seek out advice. The ideal customer for The Daily MBA would be the new entrepreneur or manager that wants to start a business or manage their group better. The Daily MBA provides a comprehensive resource that answers the questions entrepreneurs and managers have while also giving them a step by step way to succeed. Too often, new entrepreneurs and managers don’t have good mentors or resources to answer their pressing questions. Schools do provide some instruction but this is mostly theoretical.

Within two years, The Daily MBA will be garnering 10,000 unique visitors and $5,000 dollars in revenue per per month (via ads and related book sales) and be ranked as a top entrepreneur and management advice site.To achieve these long term goals, The Daily MBA needs to apply Inbound Marketing techniques to get found. Part of this strategy will be to guest blog, be an active part of the entrepreneur/management community, publish topical books, develop seminars, produce at least one original post per week and provide three to five commentary posts per week on topical business posts outside The Daily MBA.

The Daily MBA is all about helping entrepreneurs and managers thrive in the chaotic world of business. It’s a content rich site that provides a valuable resource for entrepreneurs and managers. Through original content, community stewardship and topical books, The Daily MBA will achieve upwards of 10,000 unique visitors and $5,000 in revenue per month within the next two years.

Special thanks go to Joe Malo at Jan Medical for his insights and discussion about writing a good business narrative.

Additional References

Jason has a great post about questions you should ask if you are thinking of starting a business. This lends itself nicely to a business narrative and you should try and include the answers to Jason’s questions as well.

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