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I'm a consultant and advisor  for social enterprises - using business to change the world.

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How Storyboards Help Entrepreneurs

How Storyboards Help Entrepreneurs

Storyboarding Your Business

As part of my workshops and consultations, I often hand entrepreneurs the whiteboard marker or give them a sheet of butcher’s paper, and ask them to draw out their customer journey.
In all honesty, this is met with resistance 100% of the time.
But only for a few seconds.
I’ve usually gone first, and they’ve seen my crap drawings.
“If he can do it, I certainly can”.
The marker is liberating, because it lets you communicate visually rather than verbally.
It helps you understand your own business in more detail, reveals hidden opportunities and improves the quality of your pitches.

One of the best places to start is with a storyboard – a series of rough drawings that show a customer finding and experiencing your brand.
By sketching a series of 5-8 scenes, we can understand how a customer discovers your business, how they investigate their options, who they interact with, how they make a purchase decision, what impact your brand has on their life, and if/how they decide to come back.
Storyboards massively improve four facets of your business:

1. They improve your Customer Journey
Customer Journey Mapping is a valuable process, in which you describe how a person experiences your brand (for better or worse).
My favourite tool for your first draft is the 5 E’s of Customer Journey, because it’s a great amount of simple.
It forces you to define the moment a customer is Enticed by your brand, the moment they Enter your store/office/site, the Engagement with your team and your stock, the moment they Exit your store/office/site, and the decision to Extend the relationship in the future.
What’s wonderful about this process is that it describes what happens today, while simultaneously revealing areas for improvement.
This will spark all sorts of ideas of how to attract, serve, delight and retain customers – all because you were forced to think it through in specific detail.
It also lets outside eyes offer suggestions, both of hidden opportunities and hidden risks.

2. They improve your financial models
When working in Excel, it’s easy to forget how your business actually works.
We’re tempted to use round and flattering figures, making all sorts of assumptions about customers, their preferences and their future behaviour.
Storyboards allow us to compare fantasy with reality, and get a better sense of where our customers are coming from, how they make decisions and how much they spend.
This is great for your costing model too – storyboards remind us of the essential ingredients that have to be budgeted in, as well as the costs that are not essential to our customer’s satisfaction.
We can create more accurate estimates of what it costs to acquire and retain each new customer, as well as identifying opportunities to improve financial performance (e.g. nudging a return visit, guiding customers towards higher priced packages, finding scalable ways of delighting people, etc). 

Sketching Storyboards.png

3. They improve your pitch
A lot of entrepreneurs focus on telling the technical truth about their industry and business, but this goes over the audience’s heads.
We don’t understand your coded language or your broad statistics.
What we understand are stories – specifically stories about one person and how their situation changed.
Storyboards are a great way of describing who your customer is, the path they walk, the way they feel and behave along the way, and the resolution they reach.
A useful framework to follow for your storyboards is the STAR approach to storytelling:
Situation – the setup of the story
Task – what you/your brand saw had to happen
Action – what you did
Result – what happened in the end.
This system is great for job interviews; when someone asks you to “tell me about a time when you…”, these four cues help you set the scene, explain your contribution and highlight the difference it made.
The same goes for pitching to an audience; set the scene, explain what you did, show the difference it made.
e.g. how a new suit helped someone land their dream job, how an accountant saved a client $3700, how a training program healed a community rift, etc.
This prevents you from making vague promises or taking credit for things that were out of your control, and instead highlights what you can do for customers in the future.

4. They help you design new ideas and business models
Long-time readers will know my preference for using tools like a Business Model Canvas to map out new opportunities, and storyboards are a neat complement.
Whereas a Business Model Canvas describes an organisation and its responsibilities, a storyboard zooms in on a customer, their world and their actions.
It costs you almost nothing to sketch out a storyboard for a customer/business/experience that doesn’t yet exist, all it takes is your imagination (and a good beverage).
It’s a great way of answering a “What If?” question:
What if Nike ran a restaurant?
What if a school ran in two shifts each day?
What if the dentist was a place of relaxation?
What if customers never had to visit a post office again?
What if we made our store twice as friendly?
What if we personalised our customer’s experience?
What if we partnered with…?
What if we wanted to charge 3x more and still be a bargain?
The what if question is a prompt, and the storyboard is a structure that helps us think creatively.
It gives us enough structure to think through the question in sequence and detail, but doesn’t restrict or taint our thought process.

Starting A Storyboard.png

Getting Started
A storyboard requires no expensive materials – only a writing implement and a clean surface.
It does require you to put your insecurities aside for a second, but these can be brushed away with a simple “sorry for the rough drawing” as you explain who’s in the picture.
The books that helped me were Show and Tell and Back Of The Napkinboth by Dan Roam.
These are a great encouragement, full of examples of how to draw complex relationships with simple dots, lines, emojis and shapes.

My suggestion is to focus on the who, the actions and the “So What?”.
The who – using a face, stick figure or shape to represent each of the different parties.
The action – using lines and arrows to show who moves/does something.
The “So What?” – using a modified version of the first scene to show how the situation has been resolved or improved in some way.

Over time, you become less apologetic for your drawings, and can instead focus on strengthening the quality of your ideas.
You’ll also find yourself asking other people to draw out their ideas for you.
If you’re still looking for a starting point, you can try one we use in our sessions: try drawing out your morning routine over 6-8 panels…

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