If you’re an entrepreneur running a startup, you have a lot on your plate – budget sheets, rent payments, product distribution, customer service – yikes! Your priority might not be building a foundation for effective communication, but now’s the time to get started! Here are a few recommendations to build effective communication strategies for your startup.
Make smart decisions about social media. You’ve probably thinking that as a startup you need all the free resources you can get. So you might be tempted to start a YouTube channel, a LinkedIn business profile, a Twitter account, a Facebook page and why not join Instagram, MailChimp and that thing the kids are using, SnapChat! Hold up. Who will manage all these accounts? Will you have the time and resources you need to make them awesome? If not, cut back. Ask some of your best customers how they want to hear from you. If you already have a good personal network, can you cross-communicate in some channels? Select what you think will drive the most customers to you, and ditch the rest. If your business isn’t visual, don’t start an Instagram page. If you don’t like using Twitter for yourself, will you do it for your business? If you’ve already started all these accounts, review which ones have the fewest connections and which ones take the most time to manage. For effective communication, you may need to sacrifice some free options, because time isn’t free, and neither is social media.
Don’t forget customer service. Too often, customer service ignored as a sales issue, instead of being slated as a smart piece of your communications plan. If someone complains on your social media page, that’s a communication problem. If someone leaves your business feeling they weren’t helped, that is a break down in communication. Someone who is unhappy, even if they never say so in a public forum, needs better avenues for communication. Consider customer service training for your staff – even if you’re just a small group without a storefront. Building in time for training will help you retain staff, and excellent service will bring back customers. You should also consider how to best meet your customers where they are now. Can you add texting as a way to quickly respond to customers? Is the instant message help desk the best option? If an official training isn’t within reach, do some online research and sit your team down to discuss what strategies the groups should implement.
Ask for help. I’m currently reading Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, and one of my favorite quotes is, “Almost every important human encounter boils down to the act, and the art, of asking.” So remember, asking is an art. It’s worth practicing so you can do it with grace and passion. Never be ashamed that you need help, but ask with a plan. Do you have a friend or colleague with a strong social media presence who will post about your business? Can you offer your product or service for free and request reviews and feedback? Do you know someone with strong leadership skills you can ask for advice? Can someone make a referral or introduction that you need? This does not mean asking everyone for free stuff. Just because you have a friend who happens to be a designer doesn’t mean they should create your logo for free. Remember you want to be valued for what you offer, and so does your network. Take a few minutes to think this one over before jumping in. Offer to share items for them in return, cross promote their business and write positive reviews for others whenever you are able to do some honestly.
Don’t forget your team. If you have a team, you need an internal communication strategy for them. How often should you meet? Are you listening to their concerns? Do you have a way for them to quickly and effectively bring their concerns to you? Are you wasting their time in too many meetings? Do they need more or less autonomy to get their work done right? Start by talking to your employees about their work styles and if they are happy with the current environment. Ensure that, if there are public announcements made, policy changes or breaking news about the company, they always hear it from you first. No one wants to read about their own company in the newspaper and think, “when did that happen?”
Talk to reporters. Use media relations and get to know your regional business reporter. The media loves new stuff, so promote new products and offers to them. Give tours and sit down interviews, but do so professionally. A misspelled word in your headline is enough to have your email pitch deleted. Too many pitches and you’ll be put in the auto trash box. Before you pitch something about your business to a reporter, ask these questions:
- Is this new and different from any previous news that they covered about me?
- Do I have visual elements like photo or video?
- Is this something I would generally read in the newspaper?
If you’re not sure your announcement is truly newsworthy, consult a professional PR person. They have the experience to help you tell your story and gain more media interest.
The most effective communication strategy is to write down your communication strategy. I know it seems silly, but having a written plan, even a 1-page list of bullet items, to review on occasion is essential. Put together your ideas, prioritize your next steps and set a calendar reminder to review your plan. This will help you keep an effective communication strategy updated and on track. Next year you’ll be better prepared to measure your results and set bigger goals.