If you’re wondering how to tell your small business success story, or even whether or not you have one, we’ve got good news: You’ve got one, and it’s good! Below we cover the key themes of small business success stories, and guidelines on what to include in yours so it resonates with your customers, partners, investors, and more.
How Do You Create a Business Success Story?
Telling your business story is a great opportunity to remind yourself what makes your business unique, and what you love (you still love it, right?!) about the entrepreneurial lifestyle. Your brand story is a human story and a living history that reflects and informs your current and future mission, vision, and values. As a first step, think of what makes your small business special—and successful.
To get your own brainstorm started, here are popular aspects of small business success stories. Most successful small business stories showcase how the business embodies one or more of these themes:
- Persists, Despite Obstacles
- Sometimes a brand story is about challenge after challenge. It’s a story of grit. Your small business success story should proudly include mention of the fails the informed your next steps.
- Did you know? A full 25% of entrepreneurs fail at least once at their small business before succeeding, and it takes It takes about three years for their business to begin supporting them financially.1
- Pivots and Adapts
- Embraces technology that makes sense for the business
- Embraces hybrid, flexible, or remote work environments for employees
- Updates or changes the business plan based on results and learning
- Identifies Market Gaps and Fills Them
- Examples of market gaps include farm boxes, meal delivery, home-based auto service or bike repair, “glamping”, ecotourism, or Airbnb’s.
- For an example of how to tell your story in business as a short-term rental entrepreneur, check out our Small Business Highlight: 12 South Carriage House.
- Pursues Innate Passions, Interests, and Values
- Examples include the backpack maker Osprey® (check out this Osprey Sportlite™ 20 Recycled Nylon Backpack), which does one thing: designs and manufactures high-quality outdoor backpacks.
- Another example is the tumbler maker MiiR® (learn the Miir brand story here).
- Think of non-profits, and makers of eco-driven products that contribute to cleaner air, cleaner water, and self-sustaining smaller communities.
- Does Not Assume Established Brands Are Effective Brands
- Consider, for example, Tom’s of Maine. In 1970, Tom Chappell took out a $5000 loan to launch his company. to make sustainable soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste free from added chemicals. The company grew to compete with legacy brands such as Crest and Colgate.
- Leverages Social Trends
- Examples include sustainability, commitment to community, or slow living.
What Do the Best Small Business Success Stories Include?
Consider including some or all of these 5 areas to ensure your small business success story provides the juicy content that will engage your audience.
1. Why and How You Started
When you’re crafting your origin story, remember that it doesn’t have to be glamorous or passion-driven. (Think of your small business starting point as a birth! Usually not so glamorous, and most often starts with a cry and a lot of unmet needs.) Successful companies sometimes start by accident. It is often the entrepreneurial spirit of the leaders or team that infuses energy into the endeavor. You may have inherited a small family business and determined to modernize it in order to keep it afloat, and then low and behold it started to take off and have a life of its own.
2. Struggles and Mistakes
The word “relatable” isn’t just a trending word bandied about by talent agents and P.R. teams. Mistakes make us human. Share them! Include what your assumptions were and what you learned as a result, about all areas of your business including missed opportunities, operations snafus, hiring and employee retention, business partnerships, and more.
3. Customers Behind Your Small Business Success Story
Ever notice how award winners take special time at the podium to thank their fans–those who saw the movie, bought the record, read the book? Do the same with your own award-winning performance as a small business.
- Share common ground with your customer by describing the pain point your company seeks to address. For instance, if you started a laundry service that doesn’t lose clothes, share an anecdote about your own experience with laundry services that they can relate to, like missing socks are getting someone else’s hoodie instead of your own.
- One of the secret sauce ingredients of a small business is that it lives closer to the customer, unbarricaded by a team of sales people speaking on behalf of the folks behind the curtain doing the work; not removed from the customer by middlemen. Each story you share about a customer reminds them (and you!) that they are the reason for your season of success.
- Share how early and ongoing customer input lead to changes, corrections, and growth. Everyone loves an underdog, so don’t be shy about sharing how angry customers made you better. We’ve all made mistakes, and we’ve also all played the role of “angry customer”, so letting this result in a win-win creates loyalty all around.
Small business success stories include wins. What were some of yours?
- Speak of getting out of debt, figuring out how to reach your target market, or tweaking a prototype to make it better, faster, cheaper.
- If you’re engaged in partnerships or venture capital, share that journey. If you gave up some of your company ownership to gain venture capital or were acquired, share how you maintained your company values. An example of the latter is Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which started as a small business and is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever. Ben & Jerry’s maintained and expanded its commitment to social justice and related causes and positioned its acquisition as an opportunity to have even more influence in the areas that matter most to the founders, the brand, and the customers.
5. Definition of Success
Define what your small business success story looks like so customers can be part of your journey and feel proud to support it.
- Many small businesses want nothing less than to grow from local bookstore to national chain, from funky clothing boutique to global fast fashion brand.
- Maybe you’d like to increase operational efficiency so you can pay employees more, contribute to causes you care about, or explore related product or service areas.
- Maybe your goal is to retain all employees for at least five years, or add technology that enables team members to work remotely or outside standard business hours.
When customers know your dreams, they’re more likely to cheer you on as you achieve them.
Final Thoughts on Your Small Business Brand Story
If you’re in the small business game and are still vested, engaged, and growing, you probably know this: Almost every single problem has a solution. Finding it requires looking at the current state, imagining a better state, and backing (or stumbling, or strategizing) your way from Point A to Point B. This perpetual movement informs the makings of your small business success story. Enjoy the journey.