Why entrepreneurs are storytellers

Richard Branson sitting in a chair writing and smiling
Image by Virgin.com
Virgin Galactic
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Published on 9 February 2016

Today, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you also have to be a storyteller. Of course, it is no use being a good storyteller if your product or idea is rubbish. But it is not enough to create a great product; you also have to work out how to let people know about it.

I have always loved stories, whether reading books, hearing tall tales from friends or listening to words of wisdom from my parents. Ever since I started in business with Student Magazine, I have been fascinated by the intersection between storytelling and entrepreneurship. I realised very early on that the entrepreneurs who make a difference know how to relate to and interact with other people.

Young Richard Branson smiling

It is easier to be a storytelling entrepreneur now than at any other time in history. Thanks to technology platforms and social media, there are so many more ways to connect to people. I used to rely on creating a splash and making the front pages to launch our companies and promotions. Now, while the written press is still important, there are a multitude of other methods for reaching potential customers.

Storytelling is a great way to get your views across, highlight how you and company are different to your competitors, and also to work out new ideas. I often find a subject I’m pondering becomes a lot clearer once it is down on paper – it’s one of the reasons I blog so much.

Interestingly, storytellers also have to be entrepreneurs in the modern world. As we highlighted on a few recent Virgin Podcasts, the publishers of today need business nous to succeed. As Dan Kieran, who went from being a best-selling author to the CEO of an award-winning publisher, said: "The hunger, the bloody-mindedness, the vision... you don’t find that in spreadsheets. You find that in who you are. Running a business is the greatest self-improvement exercise you can ever go on. Every weakness you have will be put under a microscope. You either deal with it or you crack."

In a meeting with other business leaders recently, I jotted down the following words: “The ability to tell a story will help build trust. Always tell the truth, always be transparent. If you do an interview, make sure that your staff can say to other people ‘yes, that’s the way our company is run’.”

Another note: “Who do we touch as companies? We touch our customers and our staff. We have to win over our customers and our employees in the most honest way.”

And one more: “Storytelling is as old as the campfire, and as young as a tweet. What moves people is someone who is credible.”

People can see straight through storytelling that is false, staged or cynical. It has to come from the heart, not just the head.