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The Authentic Guide to Epic Origin Stories

Beginnings are important. They are an entry point into a story, page one of an epic, and the first steps of any journey.

If you’re looking to build an audience, then tell your origin story. This is a powerful narrative with meaningful roots. Sharing it naturally leads to creating deep bonds with your engaged fans.

By revealing your origins, you show something real. These are the actual challenges you’ve faced—pits you’ve fallen in and dragons you’ve slayed on your odyssey. This is the ground you’ve walked on and the mountains you’ve climbed. These are exactly the types of adversities your group is facing and where the heart of a shared mission is found.

In your origin lies a direct connection to establishing authority with your people, as well as building a brand that they care about, trust, and value.

Rediscovering Your Beginning

Whatever the focus of your business, there is an interesting story about how you got involved with it.

If your business is focused on web design and offers tips on how to sell freelance web design services, wouldn’t your readers be interested in your background as a web designer. They’d want to know:

  • Where you got your experience, training, or education in the field.
  • Your story of overcoming your first major hurdles and breaking into the industry.
  • Who helped mold you along your journey and what resources were critical to your growth.
  • Your personal path and approach to the subject.

That’s right they’re interested. Whatever your niche, your story matters to your audience.

These are the very connection points between you and your fans looking to learn about the subject you know so well.

So, tell your origin story. Establish yourself as a character in your site’s story. Write about the core topics your blog covers while exploring your beginnings.

Publish a full series of foundation posts, as Joel Friedlander found useful for building his “book designer” brand. His Publishing Timeline covers the arch of his background in graphic arts, printing, publishing, and design. Over the years he’s found this story helpful in connecting to his readers, introducing himself to potential partners, and assisting in establishing his credibility in his niche.

In your origin story, explore the nuances of the challenges you’ve faced as you entered the field. There is epic material found here.

Condense this story down, craft it, and you may have a compelling brand story on your hands. One that will give an electric personal component to your business—helping you make a deeper connection with your audience long term.

Be warned: this may take some time and exploring. Don’t expect your origin story to emerge fully-formed in an afternoon. They require some digging.

Your Ground, Your Feet, Your Origin

Origin stories are real. They are rooted in your past. They come from the ground you’ve stood on. They are filled with the challenges you’ve faced and the lessons you’ve learned—difficulties your audience is equally likely to confront.

Your story is special, filled with insights and growth, and it should be shared. Your history is unique, but there is universal truth found there. Fill your origin story with the three elements it needs to come alive:

  1. Give your readers a reason to care. If you had to struggle to make it into your field. If you’ve fought for every inch of the knowledge and experience you’ve gained, this leads to an engaging story. It’s the fight through adversity that people love to learn about. Your audience will find a connection in their lives through your story of struggle.
  2. Tie your origin story to a villain. Who is your enemy? Stories are at their core focused on conflict. What does your business rail against. What problem do you focus on solving? What are the origins of this? Who has the villain been in your story and how has that evolved over time? Readers are drawn in by conflict, which makes for a powerful component of an origin story.
  3. Build your story through transformation. Stories are filled with the main character battling and struggling through a quest—evolving, transforming, changing, and growing with each challenge solved. If your readers walk away from your origin story feeling as though they can change also—they can slay similar dragons—then you’re making a positive connection with them.

Take these elements and root them in a story from your past—grounding it in something familiar that everyone can identify with and relate to.

Your credibility is found in this ground. This soil is your foundation. Your roots have strength here. They give you leverage. It’s where your business, your blog, your story will grow from.

Vulnerability, Missteps, and Failure

Your story is not a simple path from one point to another. There is pain along any difficult journey.

Whenever I travel by car, I barely notice the nature that moves speeding past—detail lost in motion. But when strolling or hiking all those natural details are so close, observable in high definition. In groves, you can pause, and take note of the points of pain in the gnarl of tree knots.

Tree knots are the support frame for branches. The knot itself is the point of strength where a branch grows out of a tree. Knots are exposed where dead branches have fallen. They show as the pocked wounds and knotty battle marks of a tree’s life.

Knots add character to old trees. The absence of a branch, and knotted scar left behind, imply a story of conflict and loss. Where are your knots?

One of the most powerful way’s to connect with your audience is to reveal your failures.

There are lessons to learn in failure. People relate to missteps because real people make mistakes. Don’t shy away from your faults when writing your origin story. They are a memorable part of your trek.

Sharing the story of how you failed in your niche at first—revealing this vulnerability is what people relate to. It makes the conclusion of success and overcoming problems all the more gripping. Success is often defined by a series of incremental failures—with progressive wins along the way.

Superheroes and Supercharged Legends

Legends are not build overnight, but rather require a good deal of time to develop.

Stories are crafted and recrafted. They are told and retold. Each telling building upon the last—creating mighty myths.

As you work on your origin story consider how it might evolve and what core it can grow from? Where is the strength in your story?

Let’s geek out a bit here. Superheroes have origin stories. Many are an important part of why fans love them.

I’m a big fan of Batman. He doesn’t have a supernatural power. His potential and psyche formed epically based on circumstances and choices he made in the face of conflict.

Bruce Wayne wasn’t born as the Batman. He witnessed the murder of his parents as a small child, which led him to swear revenge on all criminals, and forge an oath to fighting crime. Before he could become the Batman though, he had to walk a path of transformation. He trained himself both physically and intellectually before putting on the bat-themed costume in order to secretly fight crime from the shadows.

What is at the root of what drives you in your business? What led to your superhero-level commitment to your site? What compels you to help the people you do? What greater problem are you hell-bent on rectifying?

Look for the root of your commitment to your niche; your origin story is found there.

Your Origin Story is a Powerful Brand Story

As a solopreneur, microbusiness owner, or blogger you are a big part of your brand.

The origin of how your blog or online business got started, your background in the field you cover, your commitment and drive to your mission, are the components that make for a compelling brand story.

Let’s draw an origin story out of you. Michael Margolis, brand storyteller, advices getting a kickstart to your origin story by taking at least ten minutes to answer these types of questions:

  • What is it in your family or background that led you to create your business? What is the path you traveled to get here?
  • What makes your motivations authentic? Can you prove just how genuine you are? Why do you care so much about this topic? Where does this come from?
  • What are you railing against? Why is this so personal and important to you? What pain did you experience that you’d like to help people through?
  • Who are you doing this for? Why should they care?
  • What have you experienced that makes you a leader? What wisdom or insight guided you to create something better?
  • What makes you different in this niche? What in your past pushed you down the path you’re on?
  • What was the defining moment that matters to your mission? What is the point of origin when things changed?

For your origin story to resonate with your audience as a key anchor of your brand, it should relate to your mission—the purpose of what you offer—and connect with your audience on a deeply emotional level.

But keep in mind, there is no one way to tell an origin story. It can evolve into different structures:

  • Foundation. It could focus on why you founded your business or offer.
  • Personal. It could come from your family or personal journey, such as a childhood story of discovering the wonder of painting and now a mission to help children become little artists.
  • Underdog. Who doesn’t appreciate the story of the smaller, the less likely to win, the champions that came from humble beginnings? Think about the movie Rocky or the story of David versus Goliath.
  • Metaphoric. It could come together as a metaphor of growth, represented by the first seed you ever planted, turning into the business you run today.

Ultimately, tell an origin story that is relatable, revealing, and intimately tied to your business. Hook meaningfully into your past, and describe how it lead authentically to your current mission.

Compelling Origin Stories

Leo Babauta’s origin story is compelling. He teaches productivity strategies and minimalist practices for decluttering the chaos of your life.

His story is not one of overnight success. His blog Zen Habits documents as many failures as his successes. He details incremental steps he’s taken to improve his life, get more done, create interesting things, and live with more happiness.

Part of what makes Leo’s origin story so compelling is that he presents himself as a regular guy, who’s not a doctor, or trained coach, or the greatest athlete. But he lists a substantial number of accomplishments he was able to achieve with simple techniques in a short period of time, which is remarkable.

He promises and delivers techniques for incremental progress to his readers. What he doesn’t promise is bullshit or magic solutions. This story resonated with his audience, led to ZenHabits becoming one of the top blogs on the web, and one of my personal favorites.

You can look up some interesting corporate origin stories as well, like Nike’s humble origins of cobbling its first shoe’s together by hand. Making handshake deals in Portland, Oregon, while selling shoes out of the trunk of a car—well before becoming the powerful international brand that it is today.

My own creative business origin story involves me discarding everything I owned, making a definitive move to a South American beach where I starting working online—with little money in my pocket, but a whole lot of creative passion needing to come out.

These are the types of authentic origin stories that connect with real people. These stories have the imperfections that come from genuine experience.

The Evolution of Your Origin Story

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face with building a successful online business is connecting with your audience—developing their relationship with your site and brand.

People will trust you if you demonstrate credibility. You do that by revealing your motivations—why you do what you do. Show where your brand mission comes from with your origin story.

If you’re doing anything different with your business, then you’ll need to lead your audience through your offer. People first have to get to know you, and where you’re coming from, before they’ll consider signing up for your newsletter or buying from you.

Work on crafting your origin story. Write and publish a few blog posts and gauge the reaction from your audience. Reveal lessons you’ve learned from missteps you’ve made. Tap into your history. Share the part of you where your greatest passion for your topic comes from.

Let these stories out into the world and your brand’s origin story will emerge—and in time evolve into legend.

What’s your origin story? Share it in the comments. What were your first moves in your business? Where does your creativity and passion come from? What is the background of you stepping into your niche?

Graphic Credit: Compass designed by Márcio Duarte from the Noun Project.