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How to Tell An Origin Story That Serves You and Your Business
When running your own company and representing your own brand, it’s important to tell a story. And so often the story told is too general or isn’t rooted in true experiences. These stories lack structure and aren’t actually about the person running the show. (Hint: That person is you.)
Before you can jump into a brand story or a customer story, it’s necessary for you to find a story that answers the question: How did you get to where you are now?
This is an Origin Story.
In the world of comic books, this phrase is used time and time again to let the reader know how a particular character (a superhero) gained their super powers. It’s a hero’s journey where the listener can learn about all of the obstacles and adventures that happened along the way.
Despite the “How To” in the title of this article, there is no template for telling a great story. The good news: Beyond it needing a beginning, middle, and end, great stories take all shapes and forms. Stories can be physical, bizarre, visceral, uncomfortable, long, grounded, and hilarious. Give yourself permission to tell it however you want to tell it, so long as you are speaking your truth.
Photo by Joanna Nowak
Here are some tips for finding and sharing the life experiences that have impacted you personally and professionally.
Dare to share. There’s a natural inclination to separate the personal and professional. Don’t be afraid to share the parts of yourself that go beyond the blazer. Recently, when working with a client on the Origin Story of her consulting business, she shared that she spent a year living in a convent and a year in beauty school. Both of these things came up casually in tangential conversations. However, when we explored the stories that went along with those life experiences, they ended up playing a huge role in how she got to where she is now. The more we can communicate the full, 360 degree version of ourselves, the more our audience will be able to connect.
This is not your entire life story. Your Origin Story is not every moment of every day from the moment you were born until now. Find the small moments that transform into big stories. Think back to a time when everything started to make sense for you. Or a moment where everything went horribly wrong and it forced you to set off on a new path. The stories that stick with us are usually the best ones to share.
Work backwards. If you are feeling overwhelmed while brainstorming your Origin Story, break the story prompt into two parts: Where are you now? How did you get there? You might have more than one answer to each of these questions. That’s OK. Think of it as Choose Your Own Adventure. You might have two different stories that take you to the same ending. Play with both and find the one that resonates with you the most.
Showcase your Superpowers. It’s easy to doubt our stories and downplay our accomplishments. There is the worry that if we share too much of ourselves, including what we’ve achieved, we run the risk of sounding like we are bragging. In an Origin Story, our superpowers usually arise from action or conflict (whether internal or external). If you bring your audience along for the ride and share both the positive and negative moments that led you to your great feats, then the risk of judgement and assumption dissipates. Storytelling is a path to understanding.
Have fun. Tell the stories that you want to tell. If you find you are answering the story prompt in ways that make you feel less than or nervous to share your story, then continue the search. You should never tell a story that you aren’t proud of. There might be real life moments within the story that you aren’t proud of, but usually we tell those stories because we love who we are when the story ends. You can also have fun by playing with your story structure and digging in to the humor of everyday life.
Be the main character of your story. Brené Brown says, “When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling.” Your business’ story begins with you. If you are in business with other people, each person should have their own Origin Story. This will only strengthen the mission, vision, and values of your whole company.
Hillary is the founder of Tell Me A Story, a company that supports you and your stories through artistic guidance and educational practice. She is also the producer and host of the narrative storytelling podcast Rashomon.
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Sell is a 4-letter word: How to drop the “S-bomb” and get paid for it
Letting Innovation Be Your Guide
For Tamara Keefe it all began with a $2 hand-crank ice cream maker. Growing up poor in southern California, she would watch wistfully as other families stopped for ice cream every Sunday after church. Tamara yearned to partake in the weekly tradition, but it wasn’t until her mother discovered an at-home churner at a garage sale that they were able to enjoy their own DIY ice cream ritual. That family activity quickly spiraled into a neighborhood gathering, and from then on, ice cream became synonymous for Tamara with the notions of home, family, community, and childhood. It brought her joy and a sense of belonging, and now she’s spreading those ideas at Clementine’s, the first and only microcreamery in the Midwest.
A destination that’s all about the experience of creating memories through happy ice cream, Clementine’s boasts all-natural, decadent flavors of naughty (boozy) and nice (alcohol-free) ice cream.
Known for dreaming up all the flavors herself and her trade secret process for infusing wine, spirits, and locally brewed beers into her boozy ice cream creations, Tamara is an innovator like no other. In this Brazen interview, we explore innovation as an entrepreneur – from products to strategy and even funding.
When you first started, where did you see your company headed? Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?
Initially I had romantic notions of opening one ice cream shop, having a baby and having her grow up around the shop and keeping it all very simple. Little did I know we were creating something truly unique and different that needed to grow and have a life of its own. It’s also ingrained in me, I create brands and grow them, it’s in my DNA. In 10 years, we will be a national brand and have shops across the USA.
How have you deviated from your original plan? Has anything stayed the same since day 1?
I haven’t really deviated from the plan but I definitely course-correct all of the time. My strategy over time has gotten more refined.
Do you create goals for yourself or your team? How do you measure and define success and how far are you willing to go to succeed?
We definitely set goals as a company and individually. Goal setting is key and keeps you on track and accountable to yourself and your team. Success defined changes over time, as I grow and the company grows, the bar gets set higher and higher. But at the end of the day, I still own my destiny and get to have breakfast with the man I love every morning!
How do you generate new ideas? How important is innovation in your business?
I am constantly inspired and get new ideas, and opportunities everywhere. Travel is key for me especially as I develop new flavors. Clementine’s is known to some as a 15-minute vacation, so bringing great flavors from around the world and a unique flavor perspective is key. Innovation isn’t something that the ice cream industry has typically embraced. So those of us who do it are changing the game for sure. Our trade secret process for infusing alcohol into ice cream up to 18% is causing major waves and causing the competition to try and innovate to keep up with us.
How do you view strategy? Do you have some examples of tactics you use to look at the big picture and work “on” your business (vs. “in” your business)?
To begin with we have an actual strategy and marketing plan that we execute against. All activities come from that. From production of new flavors, to market specific PR plans, and targeted store openings.
How long do you stick with an idea before giving up? When do you know that it’s time to pivot? Can you give us an example of a dead-end strategy or a time you had to pivot?
We stick with an idea as long as it’s working, progress is being made and the team feels comfortable with it. An example where we pivoted would be when we were trying to participate and sign-up early for a big food hall coming to St. Louis. The management kept changing the contract and pushing back their timelines and we just didn’t feel they were above board and honest, so we bailed on that project and signed a lease for another store opening in downtown next year.
You come from a corporate background. What was the biggest lesson you took from corporate America that has made you successful as an entrepreneur?
My keen understanding of the interdependencies of a cross functional organization and how they are tied, and dependent on one another for success. Additionally, having been raised in a diverse and culturally aware environment allows me to work with and appreciate all kinds of people. Talent is everywhere if you look.
Clementine’s recently expanded to a second location. Congrats! How did you know you were ready to expand? As other entrepreneurs think about expansion, what questions should they ask themselves first?
The never-ending 4-hour lines out the door every night was a good indicator that we needed another location! Expansion was and is very natural for us. As long as people keep asking us to open more stores and patronizing us then we will continue to do so. Expansion is tough depending on what your goals are. Thinking through the cost to expand, the bench required to execute it, and your personal sacrifices are all important considerations.
You’ve recently received some alternative funding from a program to support woman-owned businesses. Where should other female entrepreneurs look for funding opportunities like this and how can they be most successful when applying?
I am 100% self-funded however I did get accepted into a highly sought-after special program for female entrepreneurs created by Goldman Sachs. Looking for programs that fit with your goals is super important, by the very nature of what you are doing and support your seeking will align you with various programs out there.
A food industry veteran with over 25 years of experience in corporate America, Tamara Keefe, puts both her work and family background to good use, dreaming up all the flavors herself at Clementine’s. All of the small-batch ice cream is handcrafted at their 5,000 square foot state-of-the-art FDA certified ice cream kitchen in St. Louis. Many of the candies, sauces, cakes and cookies that go into the ice cream are also made from scratch, and ingredients are always traceable; but the distinction between Clementine’s and other ice cream shops doesn’t stop there. Known for her exotic food creations, Tamara sources from all over the world, and tapping into local resources. Signature flavors like Tommy’s Toffee Butter Brickle (based on Tamara’s mom’s recipe) and Maple Bourbon (for the adult crowd) contain dairy from local rBst- and hormone-free, grass grazed and pasteurized fed cows, and about 50 percent less sugar than most ice cream, letting the unique flavors shine through. They also have a trade secret process for infusing wine, spirits, and locally brewed beers into their boozy ice cream creations at up to 18%. This all results in ice cream perfection from cow to cone.
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