Everyone has a story to tell and in our story, we are the hero. There is a Native American proverb, “Those who tell the stories rule the world” which is something that is true of every culture. Stories are central to our communication, our education and our entertainment, and we often overlook just how powerful they are.
Stories have proven effective for learning because they connect, unite, and stick indefinitely. They build familiarity and trust by helping the reader enter the story and respond as if they’re one of the characters, making learning easier for them.
Because of stories, people end up on different paths. Some become artists after hearing tales of different visual geniuses, others become hotshot lawyers after being moved by people who demand justice, while some, including myself, aspire to become the very person weaving them together.
Stories can shape who we are, how we live and even the career we choose. My journey to be the content director of Story League was built on stories, in fact, I’d go further than that, stories have shaped my life. As a kid, I was drawn into stories and from there I went to TV, radio, and on to journalism where I got to chase cutting-edge stories around the world. I told stories and packaged them in different ways, bringing me to the stage, raising hell in the political world, and now offering a solution to brands that want to tell their own stories and make big connections.
My journey has been tumultuous and exciting, and it’s not ending anytime soon.
Wowed by storytelling from a young age
In 1992, my grandpa sat me, my brother, and my cousins down and regaled us with stories of his time in the war. He told us of the brutality of the war prison he’d survived where he was fed only one grain of rice a day and how he’d chiselled through the bamboo bars with a rock to escape. It was so grisly and farfetched and he had such a stellar way with words— we were all hooked.
My favourite of his stories was how he got shot in the chest with a cannon—and survived. I was in complete awe. For all his heroics and his bravery, my grandfather was knighted by the queen, an honour that I couldn’t keep to myself. In show and tell at school, I relayed all these stories, much to the excitement of my classmates.
When well told, like my grandpa’s stories were, they become multi-dimensional; anyone listening, reading, or watching them can jump in and live that moment for themselves. Stories and heroes create instant connection and rapport.
After that, I started telling my own stories. I became someone else every day and acted out stories in the backyard. Sometimes I was a deadly ninja, other times a high-speed dirt bike racer, even a (toy) gun-toting Clint Eastwood. I would create characters, figure out their storylines, and strut around like them, to my parents’ delight (as evidenced by all the pictures and home videos).
It wasn’t until I actually looked up my grandpa’s service record that I found out everything he told me was made up, but it didn’t matter by then, that hero stuck with me and it was something I replicated, even as a kid, telling my own stories about the hero I was.
The veracity of these stories aside: My grandpa helped me learn something I kept close to my heart ever since: Stories are powerful and the good ones will last a lifetime.
Stories are how we communicate, encourage others, and remember the detail. Storytelling became the centre of my life and would influence the different paths I took as an adult.
The next Russel Crowe, John Laws, or Leigh Sales
Several years later and spurred by my natural inclination to bring characters to life, I decided to be an actor.
Although I had a few onstage and TV appearances here and there (if you remember Steve Smart from Neighbours, that’s me), unlike the Hemsworth brothers or Russel Crowe, I didn’t quite make it to Tinseltown. After a couple of instances of being cut out of the final product, I decided that neither the stage nor the spotlight was my cup of tea, so I left drama school to become a radio broadcaster.
At Snow FM, I found that summers were boring but whenever winter came around, it was loads of fun because we were in the heart of the Blue Mountains snowfields. Being a radio host meant I had to keep things entertaining with my back-and-forth with on-air guests and I figured out that engaging questions led to fantastic stories and conversations. This was especially true with local business owners, whose stories helped humanise their brands.
It was nice being somewhat of a local celebrity, the free drinks were probably the best part, but that small-town fame would ultimately work against me. Feeling threatened by my popularity and knack for making connections, a senior broadcaster did everything possible to make my life miserable, with great success. Eventually, I decided to abandon ship and find a new home for my talents. I headed to Goulburn.
Goulburn proved to be an interesting place for radio. Being home to NSW’s highest security prison and the police training academy, the place had some rough spots, which I discovered first hand when I got myself cornered by a few strongmen for making polite conversation with one of their ex-girlfriends—but what made it all worth it was the broadcasting job.
I was broadcasting stories from all kinds of people and having profound and inspiring conversations. Good stories were all around me. As much as I loved it, over time my talents outgrew celebrity gossip and “top 40” segments, it was time to spread my wings and tell my stories of my own. I turned my sights to journalism.
Back in Melbourne I enrolled in Deakin University as a mature-age journalism student and breezed through my classes. During my course, I got the opportunity to go to Prague to study European politics, which I loved.
I was in my element as a journalist and later hunted down cutting edge stories for The ABC and The Age and travelled wherever the stories were going; Kuala Lumpur, Glasgow, Manila, there was no report too complex or too far from home.
I couldn’t stay there forever though, it wasn’t hard to see that the industry was dying a slow death, one it couldn’t recover from. It was time to move forward.
By that time, I’d become more politically motivated. I was tired of the things that were happening in government and I thought, maybe I could make a difference. I called up a politician I’d interviewed when I was doing radio and he was kind enough to give me advice about starting a career in politics.
Not allowed to think for himself… a political and corporate drone
Political staffer culture was suffocating. I was a staffer myself, being a media advisor, but the other staffers working behind politicians were entitled out of their wits. All these younger people born into wealth felt they had some god-given right to political power; no credentials, no expertise, just the money lining their pockets. They were spoiled, incessant in their climb to fame, and were delusional thinking their names were on the ballot to be the next Prime Minister just because they had a hand in putting things together.
I was frustrated with the approach of sending out media messages without any story or feeling behind them, getting the same flat public reaction. It was my role to advise the party on how to best package their communications but I was often met with disagreement.
During the Rudd, Gillard, Rudd era, I watched the party destroy itself all the way from the opposition. After helping the Opposition win government, tired and disheartened I took on a corporate media role.
Outwardly, the corporate environment embraced progressiveness and was supportive of growth and uniqueness, but it was just for show. Behind the scenes there was a firm hand of micromanagement and copy-and-paste strategies, treating their employees as nothing more than lackeys for upper management.
I had great ideas and suggestions for how to make things better, which didn’t fly at all well in a corporate environment, where someone was always in my ear, telling me what to do and how to think. I hated what I was doing, but it gave me my big breakthrough: I could see what these big businesses were lacking and how they could be addressed.
With a whimper and some imposter syndrome, the business ideas kicked off
After the election-dust settled, I set up Real Media Management with the aim to train politicians who either refused to connect with their audience or just didn’t know-how. I noticed that a lot of them failed to humanise themselves in their messages to the public and didn’t know how to use storytelling to do it.
I roped in a videographer and interviewed politicians, using my radio questioning skills to showcase a different side of these politicians, one that seemed more real. They weren’t all out-of-touch, high-and-mighty, money-hungry suits (just some of them), when caught off-guard, they became just as much an everyday person like you and me.
It did okay, but it wasn’t really a business and finding the consistent market was tough, it was just a little too niche.
So, I entered eConvo, an online service that aimed to teach international students English, with high hopes with a friend I’d met in a previous gig. She became a mentor of sorts to me, as she’d launched and sold a business previously. I looked up to her for her experience, up until she disappeared and stopped getting in contact. It was disappointing at best and disheartening at worst to lose someone I’d regarded highly—but I moved on.
As I was contemplating a new job over a beer (or two), I realised that I needed to do something that didn’t feel thankless (like the corporate job I had) or directionless. I wanted a career where I felt fulfilled at the end of the day and gave me a sense of achievement all while benefiting others.
It dawned on me that I knew how to write, there’s a podcast studio I can access, and I have videographers I can trust to bring on board. It was a huge jump, but with my wife’s support, I put everything in place and decided to put together my very own business: Story League.
Story League was actually an idea that came out of my dismal days at corporate. The company used an agency to write blogs that I was supposed to lightly touch up for publishing, but the blogs they sent were so awful I ended up completely rewriting them.
Things weren’t glamorous at the beginning, I had no real idea what I was doing, but I knew great content and how to deliver it well, unfortunately, that didn’t always sell. Even though I got a fair bit of interest, the prices weren’t what people expected.
I was flailing around and seriously started to lose interest in the business myself until I met Tristan Wright, founder of Evolve to Grow. Tristan was (and is) a business coach and my good mate, specialising in helping business owners become more efficient so they can spend more of their time on the important things.
We got on from the start, even after he emailed me an introduction video and I replied with a critique of all the ways he should have shot it better. He saw my drive, despite me being rough around the edges, and could picture my success better than I could. We saw that we could offer each other services that would help the other so I took on his coaching services and he decided to use the content I provided for him.
Excitable, naive (maybe even stupid): The decisions that cost me more than $30,000
Early on, when I was still establishing Story League, I got into a contract deal that went south fast. I was supposed to be exchanging content and digital marketing expertise for their services (which I needed) but they changed their minds midway and asked for $16,000 instead. Being green, I just copped it and didn’t push back. Tristan was not happy with my decision and told me off for it. Suffice to say: Get things on paper or else it’ll bite you in the butt.
Another wrong turn I made was taking on a “solution” for my staffing but the other party was constantly getting the numbers in their invoices wildly wrong and refused to acknowledge it. I’d try to contact them but it was always deadlines or emails that went unanswered.
Imagine my surprise when I was sent a five-figure invoice out of nowhere—all to be paid by the end of the week. After months of not getting answers of any sort, I was suddenly saddled with this huge bill. It sparked a frustratingly long back-and-forth where they finally conceded that they were wrong, but still demanded part of the payment.
Situations like this can really trip up any new business owner or even sink a business. These two roadblocks have been massive headaches and almost discouraged me from continuing on because of the stress. I did push on despite them, treading more carefully and listening closely to what Tristan had to say.
Just like an SAS soldier, it was resilience that got me through
My patience and resilience were tested over and over, but I chose to keep on keeping on. It wasn’t an easy road, but I kept my grandpa’s stories in mind, the hero he created who survived a cannon to the chest and I pushed through to survive my own war.
Any business startup can’t expect money to pour in right away. Every one of us has to tough it out in the beginning and put up costs until the clients come in. What a lot of people don’t know is that I wasn’t making a cent.
I made sure my staff got paid, but I was depleting all my savings to do it. My wife’s steady income saw us through. Her support and our constant conversations around Story League kept me going. We agreed that I would see it through, no matter what.
Even though it wasn’t working out, I still felt that Story League was the right thing to do and I was affirmed by small signs here and there that I was on the right track. So I strapped myself in and pushed forward. Resilience matters when it comes to any aspect of work, not just starting a business, and that resilience would pay off later on.
Smashing through the chains that bind
I was finally able to put my imposter syndrome to bed and believe in my abilities and the success of my business. Identifying solutions came together slowly but surely, and we shifted our focus and our pitches from the slow-going and difficult corporate market to small-to-medium enterprise (SMEs) where we started to gain recognition and get good results. Corporations took too long to respond and were too difficult to work with consistently, SMEs had the money to pay for our services and had the most noticeable changes when it came to the before and after snapshots of their content.
Once we got the ball rolling, I knew I needed to gather a strong team. I introduced social media, graphic design, and content strategies as part of our packages, making our services more enticing and offering a stronger solution.
With the help of my team, I was able to overcome that voice that told me I had no chance.
Now, a couple of years, mistakes, wild invoices, and plenty of stories later, we’re seven people strong and still growing. We’re telling stories for clients and consistently managing more than 30 content creation deadlines per month across blogs, videos, social media posts, polls, you name it. Our voice is propelling other businesses and changing the game for them, all with the power of storytelling.
The Story League mission
At Story League, we aim to build your brand so you can influence your audience, convert your readers, and ultimately boost your profit. We provide you with content that tells your brand’s story and attracts your target market with the solutions they need and even some they didn’t know to look for.
Doing this equips them with answers to their questions and makes your brand a worthwhile and trustworthy source. Once you’ve earned their trust, you become someone they can depend on and your products or services will be seen as legitimate offerings that have consistent results, thanks to high quality, consistent content.
This is how we’re best placed to help you. I bring all my hard-earned lessons to the table to humanise your brand by telling your stories.
Ultimately, Story League services can:
- Boost your influence – By getting people to understand your story, you will take steps towards becoming a household name.
- Build your online audience and brand awareness – Making your brand stand out online brings you a bigger audience and more recognition.
- Generate online leads – More people watching your videos, seeing your website, listening to your podcasts, and reading your blogs means more people reaching out and enquiring about your business.
- Convert leads into loyal customers – People are more likely to buy from brands they trust. Consistent, quality content that is personal and revealing removes walls and shows your business as human, therefore trustworthy.
- Increase your profit – More customers mean more profit, and more profit means more resources for your business to continue to grow and thrive.
Storytelling is a powerful tool that can move people. Just think of photographer Brandon Stanton’s Human of New York (HONY) project. It started out as an endeavour to photograph native New Yorkers but changed when Stanton decided to interview his subjects and collect their quotes and anecdotes.
Everyday people started sharing parts of themselves to strangers online, opening up about tragedy, victory, or simple truths that resonated with thousands of others to the point of a movement of assistance, support and charity and changing beliefs and opinions for the better.
Stories give not just a face, but heart to a circumstance, so anyone encountering it has an emotional response and connection, that can have big impacts and large ripple effects.
Most of all, stories inspire us. We can be inspired to be better, to be stronger, to keep going, just like my grandpa’s stories inspired me with a strength that will last a lifetime.
No matter what comes next I’m going to keep rolling with the punches as each chapter evolves because my story and Story League’s story is definitely not over. We’ve come a long way, but still have the best chapters to go.
So tell me, what’s your story?