Storytelling for startups

As you might have spotted from the gap between posts – or from the content of my last post, recent weeks have taken me on the road much more than at any time in previous weeks.

I often find that there’s useful downtime to be had when travelling away from home, and when perhaps unexpected delays open up some time with nothing obvious to fill it.

It was in one of these gaps that I got to thinking about storytelling and how important it becomes to businesses very quickly.  Over recent months, my own small startup has come out from behind closed doors and launched new features and new sites into three different countries.  The upshot of all this is that our team have been on the road a lot more and so good communication is key to keeping everyone pointed in the right direction.

With this in mind, as a team we’ve scheduled a couple of days this week to get together away from the office and take a look at where we are at the mid-year point and make sure that we’re all clear on where our overall strategy is heading and the course corrections that we’ve made so far this year.  I’ve struggled to work out how to convey complexity and depth of what we’re doing in a way that’s easy to share across out team, but found some help by looking at how brands use storytelling to weave together a compelling narrative out of a complex topic in a way that helps us to make sense of it.  I’m really pleased with how this has turned out so wanted to share it here now that my team have taken a look – the idea here was to recap with the team on the key highlights of the last few months and at the same time to convey the feeling of what it’s been like.

Feedback

In today’s world, we’re constantly asked for feedback.  Today I got three separate emails from companies I’ve dealt with recently asking if I could take a few minutes of my valuable time to give my feedback, but my recent experiences leave me questioning how often we’re really prepared to take feedback on board.

Take another example from today.  A recruitment agent that I’ve used for a recent appointment was in touch and asked “if I had any feedback about the way they’ve handled the appointment”.  My experience with them was overwhelmingly positive, but there were a couple of wrinkles that lead me to offer pointers as to how things could get even better.  Unfortunately when I offered these, what I got in response was a justification of why the person had done things the way they had.  I’m not saying I was right, but what’s the point of asking if you’re not going to listen.

And it goes beyond asking for feedback too, something as simple as incorrect signage, when highlighted to a team member of staff, could be instantly corrected, or could (as in my local “cafe in the woods”) be left in place to confuse each subsequent customer.

When selecting teammates, I look carefully at how they respond to feedback, and I am always on the look out for how I could do better.  Even if I have information which the person giving the feedback doesn’t have, there’s only one way to ensure that you’ll get vital and useful feedback in the future, and that’s to accept it graciously and see how you can really improve your business.

Big Brother or Big Problems?

Great feature last week on BBC Radio 4’s Money Box Live about small businesses in general and with a discussion around “getting paid” in particular.  I was left wondering why some large businesses insist on very long credit terms from small businesses whereas others acknowledge the reality of working in a small business.

Leaving aside the dubious legality of deliberately paying late in breach of terms (and this from companies that use “fair trade” logos as a part of their business), I wonder if this tells us something about the companies in question.  If Fujitsu can deliver its margins and maintain its balance sheet whilst paying everyone on time, why should other companies which won’t (or can’t) claim the same numbers.  It’s a fair assumption that given free credit, many businesses would be performing better than they currently are, so businesses that pay late are telling us not only that they’re prepared to break their obligations to others, but also their own success is partly dependent on this bad practice.

For the full programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b047zrks

Independence Day

“It must be great to be your own boss you can just… [insert flight of fancy]”

Over many years of running my own business, it’s been one of the most common things people have said when they find out that I decided to set up on my own.

Of course in a way they’re right.  As our cousins across the pond know, and are celebrating today, there are many reasons why shaking off the mantle of “having someone telling you what to do” can be a welcome relief, and bring a great sense of freedom.

But every entrepreneur needs to know that the downside of not having anyone to tell you what to do is … well … there’s no-one there to tell you what to do.   And that freedom, can be the freedom to get things very wrong indeed.

Of course, having a boss isn’t really that different from running your own show: whilst there’s no “one” person there telling you want to do, your responsibilities and opportunities are right there for you to see: Which sales lead to call?  No-one to ask about that, so it’s your responsibility to decide.  Which project needs your attention most urgently?  No-one to assess and determine that but you.  Which team member most needs your time and care? Only you can figure that out.

So does not having a boss simply mean that you’re more exposed to all those asks, all those responsibilities?  Why take that on if there’s the opportunity to line up a “boss” to sort through the “to do” list for you and tidy things up?

For me it comes down to how I see the world.  I am responsible for deciding what’s important – what I care about – what I’ll do next and what will be left un-done.  I always value the input of others, but I’m responsible for my life, so I don’t need a boss to make those decisions for me.

If you run your own business, perhaps you feel the same way?