4 Questions to Ask Yourself to Spark Your Core Business Story

There are a lot of marketing services that offer small businesses quick ways to gain followers and customers. Gone are the days of buying mass lists of Facebook likes, but there are still subscriptions that promise an easy fix to gaining your target market’s trust.

In reality, it takes a lot more than an app to get your target market to know, like and trust your small business. Instead, the brands that are winning at marketing are telling a compelling story about what they do.

Brands that consistently offer a clear, concise and memorable message about their product or service stand out in a crowded online market place where everyone is screaming for our attention.

Brands famous for telling their story well

Apple was started in Steve Job’s garage and then went on to totally reimagine technology. The goal was to make technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.

Friends in college started Warby Parker when one guy lost his glasses and couldn’t afford to replace them. They reinvented the glasses industry to make prescription eye glasses easy to produce and cheap to buy.

Nike, SoulCycle, Lululemon and so many favorite brands have stuck because users identify with their story.

Those brands that master the art of tapping into their higher purpose are the ones that really last. Take REI, for example. They sell outdoor equipment, just like so many other businesses like them. But what their customers are buying is a lifestyle of outdoor adventure. REI makes stunning documentaries about athletes that don’t even mention the store’s gear or products. On Black Friday, they actually close stores because they believe employees and customers should spend time outdoors, doing what they love on a day off work. Their social media message to #optoutside went viral.

Why storytelling is so powerful for small businesses

One vivid story is more powerful than the best PowerPoint slideshow ever created. That’s because storytelling is literally in our genes. As far back as mankind discovered fire, people have benefitted from the power of storytelling. In fact, anthropologists point to fire as igniting evolution. Not only did fire lead to a more calorie-rich diet, but communities were built around the fire at night–sticking together to tell stories (and not getting eaten by a sabertooth tiger). Masterful storytellers became leaders.

Scientists today have shown that telling stories literally connects brain waves. And anyone who ever sat around a fire at summer camp or on a camping trip doesn’t need to understand the research to intuitively understand the impact of storytelling around a fire.

4 questions to ask to spark your brand story

Now, if you’re thinking you just don’t have a compelling brand story, the good news is that you don’t have to be legendary to tell a good story. But do be consistent. Carmine Gallo offers four questions in The Storyteller’s Secret that every business owner should ask in order to get to the heart of the business story: 

  1. Why did you start your company?
  2. What does your company do? 
  3. What are you passionate about?
  4. What makes your heart sing?

This last one is the question that leads to the most compelling answer. It’s the higher purpose of why your business exists.

Sparking your story doesn’t have to be hard. But it requires time and space to think. This is why many successful brands will offer key employees a retreat together. It can be the reset button that gets everyone back to the heart of what matters. But, even if you don’t get a company trip to a resort, you can still try the following exercise. Take some time on a walk, run or find a spot in a quiet, creative space to think. Then, imagine what you would say if you were sitting among friends by a fire. (For me this is outside among mountains, but for you it might be around an indoor fireplace at a 5-star resort.)

Now, imagine telling close friends why you launched your business, why your organization exists and what your place is in it. You don’t have to be feeding starving children to matter. Does your product make someone’s day easier so that they have more time? Do you help people stay healthier? Do your services make people’s homes last longer so that they can create more memories? There’s a higher purpose to everything worth doing. Reach back and remember what’s yours and what makes your heart sing. This is your story.

Here’s my story: 

As far back as high school, I understood that my ability to articulate ideas in writing was the most essential skill to master. From college admissions essays to summer program applications, I attribute learning to write well as my key to doors of opportunity. It was why I studied journalism in college – not because I wanted to be on the frontlines of the news cycle – but because I wanted to hone the craft of storytelling.

Storytelling is what I did for five years straight at a local Chicago magazine, and storytelling across all media is what I mastered for 14 years as communications director at a private high school and in my freelance work.

But here’s what I found. Digital marketing today moves at record speed, and our attention span is at an all-time low. Small businesses and organizations are so busy in the weeds of online marketing tactics, that they’ve forgotten to focus on strategy. Most people who come to me are so overwhelmed with the tactics, that they’ve lost sight of the big picture. The story behind it all.

This realization, that so many businesses need someone to the heart of their story and to support them on how to tell it across digital marketing is what drove me to launch Sparkr Marketing.

No matter what you do, there is a story buried behind why you do it. Your story is your strategy. Everything else is just a tactic to tell that story.

One simple brand statement that sums up your story

Once you’ve developed your meaningful business story, you’ll need one simple statement that sums up what you do. Every great brand story considers the purpose and dream that birthed the company, and understanding what has brought you to this point and where the company is going is a strong place to start. This should be entirely focused on how you solve your target market’s problem.

Your brand statement considers what matters to your customers and the deeper purpose of your business. It goes beyond the money you want to earn and instead is driven by values. It explains how you improve the lives of those around you.

Try this formula: I/We ___________ (action) for ___________ (target market) in order to ___________ (solve a specific problem).

In the end come up with a story that describes a problem, shows you understand it and you are the one to solve it.

For example, here’s mine: I teach small businesses DIY online marketing to improve their businesses and their lives.

The most disappointing business loss is an idea that fails to connect to its audience not because it wasn’t a good idea, but because it wasn’t packaged as a great story.

So figure out your story and tell it well.

Why I Donate to the Nonprofits I Work With

By Wendy Margolin, owner

There’s this thing when you’re Jewish that you give back 10% to charity. Kinda like a tithe. Actually, exactly like a tithe.

If that sounds like a lot of money, it’s because it is. Until you realize that you lose nothing and have a whole lot to gain by giving it. 


True story: 

The first time I gave away a lot of my personal money was in college after a road trip with a campus organization. When they dropped me back at home, I decided to give a donation for gas. I’m so old that $40 was equal to a tank for each way, but in the end I decided to give $60. That was a lot of beer and pizza money. I left the car feeling pretty unsure UNTIL I got to my mailbox to find an unexpected check from my Papa. Good old Gramps had dropped $60 and a note in an envelope just for nothing. Coincidence? You decide. 

I’ve been happily giving charity ever since. I mostly work with small businesses, but for the nonprofits I coach, I always think they’re worthy. I give my 10% charity right back to them. I think of my Papa every time.

In addition to the nonprofits I work with, following are a few to consider this #GivingTuesday:

Charity: Water: Nearly 1 in 10 people worldwide live without access to clean water, and many of them walk hours every day to haul water you wouldn’t let your dog drink. $30/month provides one family with clean water. Access to clean water means education, income and health – especially for women and kids. 100% of your donation goes toward clean water projects because some really rich people cover all this organization’s overhead. Sweet!

Holiday Toy Drive: There are so many holiday toy drives this time of year, so be sure to give to at least one of them. My favorite is from my high school yearbook buddy, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, whose charity work on the side is just as impressive as her Netflix shows.

Make Every Vote Matter: Make Every Vote Matter is an apolitical, nonpartisan movement to promote the election of the president and vice president by popular vote. Currently, whichever candidate gets the most votes in your state gets all the Electoral College votes from your state (unless you live in Nebraska or Maine). That means that, if you didn’t vote for the winner in your state, your vote doesn’t matter to the Electoral College. MEVM is working to change that so that the winner of the popular vote becomes president.

Jewish United Fund: I started my career at JUF News, and I’ve been a big cheerleader ever since. There’s a reason Chicago has the best Jewish Federation in North America and that their Charity Navigator score is one of the best around. There are few I trust more to spend my charity dollars locally and around the world more wisely than JUF/JF.

Plan Your Small Business Online Marketing for 2020

Just because the New Year is around the corner, doesn’t mean you’re too late to get a jump start on planning your small business online marketing content for 2020. And, when you consider that many small businesses plan website and social media content on the fly, you’re pretty much a rockstar right now – waaaaay ahead of the game. So here we go 🚀

3 key steps to successful online marketing

Before you can plan your online marketing, you’ll want to be sure you’re reaching the audience you intend to serve. This means knowing who you are, knowing who they are and knowing the best way to reach them. Let me explain:

  1. Know your core story: We talked about this in an earlier blog. This is your 1-sentence practical and higher purpose explanation of what drives you in your business. Read here how to spark your core story.
  2. Know your audience: Knowing what your audience needs and what they value you for will help you determine what content you should create. Your goal is to provide your audience with exactly what they want so they feel like you are speaking directly to them. This comes from audience research. Read here how to conduct audience research and swipe my Google audience survey.
  3. Show up consistently: This means creating content every week on your website and then sending it out to your target audience’s inbox. On your social media channel of choice, you’ll want to show up nearly every day or more.

Choose Your Content Medium

Now that you’ve determined how to describe who you are and better understand what your audience wants, you can begin thinking about how to reach them. You have three choices for a content medium, and choosing one of them will depend on your preferences and how your audience tends to consume content. We will talk more in depth about the how to’s for each content medium in the future.

Blog: This, obviously is my content medium of choice. Blogging is a great way to consistently show up for your audience weekly and to keep your content easy to consume. If you enjoy writing, blogging is an obvious choice, but even if you’re only a mediocre writer, I still say go for it. Writing is like a muscle that improves with time. And there are a lot of tips and even online content writing courses that can help you improve tremendously. With time, writing gets so much easier, so put away your high school anxiety and try out this medium if you can.

What’s also nice about blogging, is that it’s really practical to refer back to other content within your blogs. Internal linking is good for SEO, but more importantly, it’s practical for your reader. I listen to podcasts on the go, and I often hear hosts tell me to refer back to episode whatever, and I’m just not going to stop my run to refer back to the one they mention. But in a blog, it’s as simple as a click to dive in more.

Video: Like blogging, video takes some getting used to, but if you’re able to practice getting comfortable in front of the camera, it’s a great way to churn out content quickly. There’s a whole range of what’s acceptable in video content, and you can grow with it as you get more experienced and comfortable. Video blogging can be scrappy, with just your phone, a mic and a ring light. Or it can be as crisp as a TV episode like, Marie Forleo’s Marie TV with a whole crew likely filming and editing it. If you show up on Facebook live or IG TV, you can skip the editing and just talk to your audience on the fly. Or you can pre record and try out some easy, do-it-yourself editing on a site like Kapwing or hire a video editor on a site like Fiverr.

What’s nice about video, is that it’s easy to recycle that content. You can start with the video, but then add just the audio to your website as a podcast. And you can write a blog to explain what’s in your video as well. Trifecta!

Podcast: Podcasting is a great way to show up weekly for your audience, especially if you’re comfortable talking to your audience but don’t love the idea of a video. Podcasting makes it really easy to showcase guests too because you don’t have to be in the same location to be on the show together. Guests can call in from all over the world to join you. With podcasting, it’s also really easy to create a blog post with each episode by writing some of your notes or even pulling and editing the the show transcript. Rev.com is a great tool for this job, for $1/minute, and there are others like it.

Once you have your content medium of choice in place, you’re ready to start batching content. I’ll be discussing content batching next week, so stay tuned. But in the meantime, start jotting down content ideas you come up with on the go and create a running list in your phone or on a notepad.