By Chris Olsen
It starts when we are young professionals entering the job market. We create a “story” for ourselves based on what we think the “right people” want to hear. The story focuses on academic achievements—test scores, grade point average, class ranking, number of college admission offers. It becomes our resumé or business bio with employment dates and job titles. We share that story over and over, adjusting and building on it as needed to impress a potential school, employer, partner, etc. Here’s the thing: The basic business bio is not your story at all.
Take a look at your LinkedIn profile. It’s the epitome of a basic business bio. It highlights all the basics—your education, the jobs you’ve held, perhaps a few glowing recommendations. But it barely scratches the surface of what makes you uniquely you. Think about times you’ve scrolled through the LinkedIn profile of someone you’ve never met. After reading it, did you feel a genuine connection with that person? A LinkedIn profile is beneficial in many ways. And a laundry list of stats does provide some insight about the person behind the profile. But there is one big difference: A basic business bio is focused on your WHAT and not your WHY.
Clarify Your WHY
Your WHY is your purpose, your values in action, your North Star. When you’re off track, your WHY points you in the right direction and keeps you moving forward. Getting clear on your WHY empowers you to pursue your purpose, to live your WHY and to honor your calling.
We all have a WHY. It’s not always evident, but there are signs throughout our lives leading to this essential piece of your story. Clarifying your WHY is a process that involves exploring your upbringing, values, personality, strengths and the people and events that influenced where you are today. If you’re just getting started, create a list of your top 10 values. Focus on values you live by rather than those that are aspirational. This Values in Action Tracker activity helps you narrow your list by identifying the values that show up in your day-to-day life.
Next, look for connections between your core values and specific people or causes you’re passionate about supporting in your profession, your business, your volunteer efforts, etc. For example, two of my top values are empowerment and education. My social enterprise supports women business owners. When I connect those values and the people my business serves, my WHY becomes clear: empowering and educating women business owners. This Tiny WHY Statement activity helps to quickly articulate your WHY.
Tell a New Story
Once you know your WHY, confidently communicating it in a Whyography connects you with others who believe in what you stand for. This is especially important for entrepreneurs. More than ever, consumers are using their dollars to make a difference; they’re supporting businesses that are aligned with their values. The same is true of investors and employees.
A Whyography is far from basic. Rather than a list of highly edited facts with lots of shiny marketing language, a Whyography communicates your journey in a way that’s raw, real and relatable. It articulates the problems you’re solving and the difference you’re making (or hope to make) in the world. A Whyography combines the art and science of storytelling with the power of purpose to recognize what it took to get where you are today.
Two essential tools for mastering the art of storytelling are a timeline and story arc. Before you begin writing your story, map out pivotal points in your journey using this Whyography Journey Map. Challenge yourself to look beyond what’s listed on your LinkedIn profile. Focus on defining moments with a clear connection to your WHY. A story arc like this Whyography Framework helps you pull it all together by outlining the path of your story.
While a key ingredient in a Whyography is your WHY, its secret sauce is the science of storytelling. Research shows you can build a lasting connecting with your audience by stimulating multiple areas of their brain—basic bios simply don’t do this. Start your story with a big moment. Aim to engage all the senses as you share the details of your journey. Learn more in this Brain on Stories video.
Decide to Lead with Your WHY
Are you satisfied using a basic business bio to show the world WHAT you do—or are you ready to connect with others who care about WHY you’re doing it? Are you content serving customers who are driven by consuming commodified goods and services—or are you ready to build a community that respects your approach and rallies around your mission? Are you comfortable with the status quo—or are you ready to get the resources and opportunities you deserve? You get to decide.
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.