I have a great story to tell, I’ll admit it.
I came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation. I landed in Birmingham with nothing: my four brothers and I lived in poverty, and I had to scrap for everything. I worked on my father’s allotment from the age of five; I dropped out of school, and I was dishonourably discharged from the army. I trained as a chef, talked my way into the BBC, brought Gordon Ramsey and James Martin (amongst others) to the small screen, and then became the UK’s first and only black farmer – a title I still hold today.
I was handed that name, rather than presented myself in that way – for that’s what my neighbours called me. So that’s what I called my business when I launched it nearly 20 years ago – The Black Farmer. We now have products in all the major supermarkets, sell direct to consumers online and operate an incubator for small brands.
The big business theme that has come to the fore over the last couple of years seems to show no sign of slowing. That theme is the rise of ‘purpose’. High street banks, investment behemoths, retailers, and businesses from all walks of life are investing huge sums of money to improve their purpose proposition. From climate change targets to gender wage gap commitments, big businesses are clearly as passionate about being known for being ‘good’ as they are for delivering a good service or producing a good project.
And this is no bad thing, of course. In fact, it is encouraging that consumers are clearly driving this demand. But what can entrepreneurs learn from this?
The short answer is that authenticity is key to any sense of ‘purpose’. Big businesses are no longer faceless, or soleless, they’re not as ruthless as it looked like they were going to be in the ‘90s and at the turn of the century. And because they are conscious of the power of the narrative, they respond to stories – to people. Entrepreneurs need to spend as much time preparing their story, as they do their finances, if not more so. Otherwise big businesses will not engage.
Storytelling can improve sales, can create a brand to engage with, allow investors or possible partners to truly understand the journey the business is on. At The Black Farmer for instance, we receive hundreds of pitches for investment and support. And while some have fascinating products, or impressive sales forecasts, without a good story to tell, we will not invest.
According to analysis by the Centre for Entrepreneurs, nearly half a million new businesses were launched during the pandemic in the UK – an increase compared to the same period the previous year. The sad reality is that most of those will fail. Those that will succeed will be the ones with the interesting story to tell. And the most important thing is – everyone has a story to tell. If you’ve made the decision to become an entrepreneur, you definitely do. Everyone has a personality worth sharing, and personality is what makes a success.
Business is like dating or making friendships. You end up with someone who brings strength to where you may be weak. It is impossible to determine what you need and how to grow if you don’t first know how to tell your story. Entrepreneurs must be more than an idea, or a product, they must be able to demonstrate where they come from, what they believe, what makes them tick. Investors nowadays invest in stories; those who have a strong one will make the cut.