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Create Small-Business Story for Happy Ending

CHICAGO ( TheStreet) -- Small-business owners are used to juggling responsibilities. Depending on the day, they might have to be a financial analyst, marketing visionary, conflict-resolution expert or even the office handyman.

Now you can add another title: storyteller in chief.

If writing isn't really your thing -- relax. You're not expected to be the next John Grisham. But part of being an effective leader means crafting a compelling story about your business, a reason customers should seek you out and employees want to work for you.

Small-business owners should take a lesson from established companies in telling their "story." Hermes, for instance, tells a story of Old World luxury and craftsmanship.

Certain companies have instantly recognizable images associated with their brand. Patagonia stands for active outdoor adventure with an eco-friendly bent. Hermes promises Old World luxury and craftsmanship. Chuck E. Cheese is all about boisterous -- at times earsplitting -- family entertainment.

Such clear identities are more important than ever, no matter the size of your business. With social media taking an ever more important role in spreading the word about your company, a well thought out and compelling story can be the thread that ties together the messages you send consumers, whether through an email newsletter or a Twitter feed.

Jennifer Escalas, associate professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management, says stories are appealing because they connect to the way people naturally process information. When you ask someone to tell you about their life, they don't just rattle off a list of unrelated events; they make connections between what they've experienced.

"We structure everything in our lives as a narrative, with a beginning, middle and an end," she says. "A brand story differentiates you and can guide your marketing communications."

So what makes for a good brand story? For many entrepreneurs, being a small business is their story. They're the little guy, working hard to survive in a tough economy, but never giving up. Don't forget: Americans love a good underdog story.

Other small businesses have family stories. Maybe it's the story of a grandparent who immigrated in search of a better life. It could be the story of siblings who have worked together since they were teenagers. Customers who associate your business with strong family ties will root for you and want to support your success.

Interestingly enough, a story doesn't have to be true to be compelling and meaningful. A fictional story can draw in customers as well, as long as it rings true to life. Does it make sense? Does it have characters people can relate to? Does it correlate with real experiences?

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