Think back to the last time you gave your “elevator pitch” and told someone what it is that you do and what your business is all about. If you’re like most people, you froze for a moment like a deer in headlights and then tripped all over your words trying to find just the right ones.

Is that because most of us don’t know what it is we do? No, of course not. We just don’t know how to communicate it effectively — we end up pulling facts out of the air and rolling them into a ball every time the question comes up.

Why not take the time to create a memorable story that you can tell, and that those you tell can tell to others? It doesn’t have to be a long story — in fact, the shorter, the better — but it does need to have all of the main components of a story. And since most of us haven’t given that much thought since high school, here’s a refresher course.

Every good story has:

  • A Hero. Obviously, right? But what most businesses get wrong is that they think they’re the hero. The hero is the customer, the main character of your business’s story, not you! Think about how your story changes when you consider the customer the hero. Would you use others-centric language when telling your story? Would you think about your customer differently? Would you think about yourself differently?
  • A Problem. Every hero has a problem, be it internal or external, but the secret to remember here is that connected to every external problem is an internal problem. Sure, your hero may have dirty air ducts (external problem), but the reason they need them cleaned is that they’re concerned about their children’s health and want to be good parents (internal problem). Think about the problems your hero has and the real reasons they need and seek out your help. Consider the underlying internal problems and the emotions associated with them so you can better craft your story and make it resonate with those you’re telling it to.
  • A Guide. That’s you! You’re the Yoda who’s been in your hero’s shoes (to some extent) and knows what needs to be done to resolve the problem. To be an effective and trustworthy guide, you have to have two things: authority and empathy. If you have one, but not the other, your hero isn’t going to take your advice or follow your lead. 
  • A Plan. The plan is what you offer the hero to help them with their problem. In it, you need to address the negative emotions the hero is dealing with; reassure him that you get it and that the plan can work; show him what’s at stake if he doesn’t take action; and show him what success looks like if he does follow the plan. This is where the story shifts — you’ve guided him through the plan and let him know what action he needs to take. You’ve done your part and now it’s all in the hero’s hands.

So, now that we’ve covered the basics of storytelling as they relate to business, how can we translate the framework into an elevator pitch? Let’s use Spark Marketer as an example. Let’s say a stranger comes up to me on an elevator and asks, “What does your company do?” I might say:

Service business owners (hero) strengthen our communities and provide important services to all of us. They’re good at what they do, they just sometimes need a little help online, which is where a lot of customers are looking for them (problem). Spark Marketer (guide) builds optimized websites and does ongoing marketing, so they can be found by those who are looking for them, where they’re looking for them (plan). We really only exist to help service businesses reach their ideal customers and achieve the level of success they dream of for themselves.”

In this elevator pitch, we’ve described our hero, their problem, and our plan, and we’ve shown that our plan has and can work. We’ve established both authority and empathy as the guide, and shown what success looks like if the plan is followed (more customers). Now, we could probably do a little finessing to make it a bit more memorable, but we’ve got all the basic elements of a story here, so we’re off to a good start.

Have you ever taken the time to translate who you are and what you do into a compact elevator pitch using the basic components of a good story? Challenge yourself! It’s well worth doing and will give you the clarity you need to tell your story quickly and effectively, and those listening the clarity to repeat it. So take a few minutes this weekend to try this exercise!

What About the Unspoken Elements of Your Story?

A quick additional note on story. Have you thought about all of the unspoken elements of your business’s story? Like:

  • Your Email Address – When you have been in business for more than six months, and are not using an actual company domain email address to communicate with your customers and vendors (, you are telling a story about how you don’t know if you’ll be in business in another six months, so why bother? You are communicating loudly that you think being unprofessional and less-than-polished is an acceptable standard for your organization. Is that really the story you want to tell?
  • Your Logo – Your brand mark is a memorable visual story that tells a lot about your company in a single glance. It should take someone less than three seconds to see, read, and interpret what they are seeing in your logo. Your visual story needs to be simple, concise, and memorable, even when viewed on the side of a truck, at highway speeds, during rush hour. Logos with more than two or three elements going on are usually forgotten. Avoid obscure symbology or cleverness, unless you want to explain to every potential customer what your logo means, when you could be using that time to tell them how you can actually help them.
  • Your Uniforms and Trucks – Cleanliness is its own story, and it’s an important one when it comes to local service businesses. A clean, well-maintained truck gets noticed. So does a dirty one, but only one leads to new business. Similarly, a professional uniform communicates a job well done, even before the quote is accepted. A well-branded, well-maintained fleet and crew speaks volumes about your business.
  • Your Phone Manners – I am amazed at how many local service businesses don’t give a hoot about how their business phone is answered – IF it is answered at all! The way you choose to answer the phone will set the tone for the rest of the relationship with your customer and give them a preview of your story. Get it right and you’ll get a chance to receive a standing ovation. Get it wrong and your customer will never even set foot in the theatre.
  • Customer Testimonials & Reviews – This is the part of your story that you don’t get to tell – your customers tell this part for you. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that theirs is a minor role in your production. No, theirs is the lead part. It’s the most trusted, most authentic, and improvisational storyline you have working for you. From a marketing standpoint, it could be argued that, in the end, your business is nothing more than the story people tell about you when you aren’t in the room. And while you cannot script it or write it, you exert an enormous amount of influence before the final draft gets handed in. How? In the experience you deliver to the customer.

These are just a handful of the ways people take in the entire narrative of what it will be like to do business with you. These critical details tell your audience whether or not your business is going to be a blockbuster hit or a box office flop. They let the audience know if there will be a happy ending or a tragedy. They indicate whether you will be showing up on the scene as the hero or the villain.

If you take the effort to get these little details right and clarify your story, then your well-crafted website and the beautifully written marketing messages begin to work in concert with and amplify all that you are doing right in your business. All together, they will do the job of telling the world that you are one of the rarest things in the world of business – a truly good story.