Finding your business inciting incident and telling a great story


10th August 2021


Leigh-Ann Hewer

Reading time

4 minutes

When telling your business story, it’s easy to get bogged down in the detail. After all, your company might very well be your life’s work and the outcome of a 20-year career build-up. The harsh reality, however, is that very few people will care about that part.

At least not at first.

When writing your business story (for awards entries or website copy etc) you can’t waste time with backstory, and certainly not in your opening. Novels don’t start with backstory (at least they shouldn’t), they start with action. Spark. They start with the inciting incident.

And your business story should too.

What is an inciting incident?

The inciting incident is an event in a story that upsets the character’s status quo and begins the story’s movement, either in a positive way or negative, that culminates in the climax.

(Joe Bunting, 2018).

Essentially, the inciting incident is the moment in time that sparked change. The moment you made the choice to start your business. It may have been floating there in the back of your mind for a while, you may have been ‘uming’ and ‘ahing’ for years, but the inciting incident is when you decided, yes!

Your business story should start there. Why? Because that’s the fun part! That’s where the action begins and the story hooks the reader in. It makes them care about what happens next. It’s not to say you can’t mention your 20-years of experience prior, but rather that it can come later when you have a tight enough grip on the reader’s attention.

How to find your business inciting incident

The inciting incident of your business will often come shortly after discovering a problem you noticed that your business solves or facing some kind of issue yourself. It should be a moment captured in time, the moment you solved the problem. The moment you said enough was enough and linked your business to the solution.

Really, paint a picture for your readers and keep things as simple as possible.

For example, our client, Jessica Heagren, founder of That Works For Me, saw that talented women in senior positions were struggling to find flexible work after having children, so she created a flexible work platform to solve this problem. Her inciting incident was when a friend of hers called in tears one day on the brink of going bust. Her underqualified finance resource had miscalculated her cashflow. Jess asked why she didn’t have a CFO and she said she was too small and didn’t have enough work for someone that senior. So, Jess said, “Why not recruit a Mum who’s done it before at a really senior level but only wants a few hours’ work each week?”

Ping! Light bulb moment. Spark. Inciting incident.

Remember you’re writing a STORY

If you were writing this as a piece of fiction, you would start there, wouldn’t you? There’s a rule in fiction that the inciting incident should happen as quickly as possible (within the first three chapters at least, if not the first page!).

It can be tempting to see creative writing and business writing as separate things. But, as a children’s writer and PR, let me assure you, you really shouldn’t. I learnt that the hard way. Think about your business story like you would any other story. Think about its structure; the beginning, middle and end, the hero’s journey, the character arc. If you’re not hugely familiar with these terms, I would say it’s definitely worth learning a bit about them. There are tons of great resources out there. Here’s one to get you started.

Focus on the why instead of the what

It can be tempting at times to put ‘professionalism first’ when writing about your business. You want to validate and justify your expertise and experience and provide evidence for why the business works. The thing is, writing your business story shouldn’t be like writing a longhand version of your resume.

Writing your business story has to be fuelled by passion. That’s not to say professionalism goes out the window (we can’t make bold claims with no supporting evidence). But we can focus on the why, instead of the what. The why is usually what makes the what more interesting.

Writing is a real passion of mine. I love words and sentences and I love how they all come together to make us feel something. Remember to start with the inciting incident, focus on the why, and evoke a feeling, and you’ll have yourself a great business story.