By Michael Alter
One of the great things about being a part of the Chicago business community is that we have access to some of the best business education institutions in the country. I was proud to be able to speak at a class on entrepreneurial selling recently at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The class happened to be discussing a concept that I’m not sure we focus enough on in our work or in promoting Chicago as a business-friendly place.
The idea that Clinical Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship Craig Wortmann was trying to get across is that storytelling is a huge part of being successful. In his book, “What’s Your Story? Using Stories to Ignite Performance and Be More Successful,” he contends that while we’ve made great use of technological tools, the most powerful tool we have is a story.
He talks about the way stories bring life and meaning to three critical aspects of business: leadership, sales and motivation.
It’s a good message for the young entrepreneurs out there. You can have a great business plan or an excellent product, but you have to be able to sell it and get people to believe in it. Whether you’re selling to customers, trying to lure investors or even trying to convince your spouse of the value and uniqueness of your business, it goes a long way to have a story.
And the story doesn’t have to be long. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s nice and crisp. An elevator pitch, if you will. Nowadays, sometimes a sound bite or a slogan is the best way to connect with people. You can’t take 25 minutes to explain your story. Your story has to be something more immediate than that.
I’ll never forget hearing a former CEO of American Airlines speak at a function about the challenges the carrier was facing at Dallas’ Love Field. He spent about 10 minutes explaining all of American’s nuanced positions — and we were all falling asleep — but he said it was hard to beat Southwest’s simple position (he paraphrased as): “We’re for free Love.”
So as you think about your business and how you want to communicate it to customers, employees and investors. Ask yourself, “What’s my story?” Chicago, as a business community, needs to do the same thing.
I applaud some of the measures the mayor has taken to reduce the red tape businesses have to cut through, but what is our story? Are we still “the city that works”? Or do we need to update that somehow? I’m still struggling with what exactly our story is about as a metropolis and a business center.
If you have a great story, I’d love to hear it. Drop us a note in the comments section and tell us how you connect with people. Or how the city should connect with entrepreneurs.
Michael Alter is president and CEO of SurePayroll, a small-business payroll services company based in Glenview.
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