Do you sometimes feel like you are alone on an island and the only way to communicate is by placing rolled up messages on faded parchment into bottles and throwing them out into the ocean, hoping for a decent response?
When you build your business, it can be really lonely. You have to devote so much of your time, effort and headspace into creating success, that it can sometimes feel like you have forgotten how to interact with other people. Working with team members, communicating with suppliers, talking to customers – these seem to be monumental tasks, but also not the absolutely critical skills to prioritise when you are just trying to keep the right pace in your business.
When you grow to a size where you need to start bringing in the help of team members, it can be frustrating when they are unable to do the work the way you want them to – and it feels easier to just do it yourself. So, to just get on with it – to just keep the business moving – you knuckle down, sweep away the faults of your team environment, and continue on your journey. You haven’t really changed the way you work to adapt to this new business size.
Additionally, at this size, communication with your customers becomes a lot more complicated than when you were just your own little island trying to shout out about your product. Often, you just end up shouting louder to try and be heard by more people, which comes at the expense of the clarity of your message.
While the approach of just working harder at what you’ve always done might keep the business ticking over in the short term, you not only run the risk of burning yourself out, but you may also be missing out on leveraging the power of your team and your market, which holds you back from greater, longer-term, sustainable growth.
If you learn how to build strong and free flowing bridges, you can leverage good communication to ensure your business is a wide-spread and connected archipelago sending out radio signals rather than just your lonely island that’s trying to throw thousands of bottles out into the ocean.
Here are some ideas that have cropped up in recent business coaching sessions that may help you streamline your business’s internal and external communications.
Internal Communication: One Thing You Can Start NOW
A client once said to me: ‘I wish I could grow my business without having to hire anyone’. To them, the idea of finding new employees, providing them with training and managing them as a team sounded exhausting, time-consuming, complicated and entirely unappealing (even with our streamlined 4-hour recruitment process).
Our clients tell us that they hesitate to hire because they do not want to waste time constantly firefighting. They tell us how they wish they could align their team’s focus with their own focus when it comes to business matters – because these are so frequently maligned.
If you have felt the same, know that you are definitely not alone and, fortunately, this usually requires a reasonably easy fix to get a powerful team working well: improve communication.
There is one simple intervention that I think every business owner with a team of more than 2 can do in order to improve internal communication. That is to introduce formal, and well-run periodic team meetings. These should be scheduled, structured and focused meetings that your team know about ahead of time and are prepared for.
This gives them an opportunity to quickly address issues that need to be addressed not only with yourself (so you don’t become a got-a-minute boss) but also with other team members.
Not only that, it also ensures that each week, everyone on your team has some idea of what others on your team are doing – which ensures that everyone has a wider scope for their work and do not get stuck in a demotivating silo-type work environment.
Internal Communication: How to Implement Formal Team Meetings
There are 4 key points to consider when you are arranging your team meetings.
- Purpose: Why have you scheduled this meeting? What focus will it take, and what do you want to get out of it? This will help you maximise useful time during the meeting.
- Agenda: What do you plan to discuss in the meeting? You might want to tell the team about this ahead of time so that you can get the most out of it and so they can also add items to the agenda if they have things to bring up.
- Time: How long is the meeting going to last? Sitting around and having an informal chat is unlikely to help move the business forward. Set a time limit and put a check in place to make sure you stick to it.
- Attendees: A huge mistake is including the entire team in every meeting. Think carefully about who is actually needed so you are not wasting the time of employees who could be spending that time on something more useful, maybe. This requires careful consideration because sometimes your team members may not feel like the meeting is relevant, but they will, in fact, benefit from being there. You should make the final decision on this: in the end, it is you and your business that is paying for your employee’s attention and time. Use that resource wisely.
Internal Communication: What Type of Team Meeting Should You Hold?
Not all team meetings are made equal. Different meetings serve different purposes – so think carefully about the format of your meeting and align it with the purpose. The kinds of meetings we suggest to our business coaching clients are:
- Daily check-in meetings: These should last between five and ten minutes and should help give managers an overview of immediate actions for the day, and help team members bring up any pressing immediate issues impeding their work.
- Weekly meetings: These are tactical meetings that focus on the current operations and allow both team members and managers to highlight priorities, and for you as the leader to ensure that the priorities are still aligned to optimise growth.
- Monthly meetings: These should be more strategic than tactical and should focus more on the wider goals and progress metrics. Typically, these meetings will have fewer people and be more targeted to particular teams or departments.
- Quarterly meetings: These are most important for taking a giant step outside the business to assess it from afar. These should be in-depth, long meetings where you celebrate wins of the previous quarter, and set the larger, business-wide strategies for the coming quarter. Doing this ensures you align everyone in the business with the longer-term goals so that they remember what their day-to-day operations should be ultimately contributing to.
You must remember that you will be much more able to run a large, powerful business when you have more than just your will-power and expertise alone to pour into it. A good team should mean that you are working with people who are as smart, if not smarter, than you. When you effectively systemise and manage good team meetings, you can leverage that collective intelligence to take your business further than you even imagined it could go.
The frequency and format of your meetings will largely depend on where you are in your business lifecycle and the kind of culture you have fostered. And as you transition from a smaller to a larger business, you will find there is a critical balance to be maintained with regards to how often you should have meetings and how important they are. Where in massive corporations fewer meetings are more productive, in small and medium-sized businesses you may find that more frequent meetings are exactly what your business needs to progress quickly and with precision.
And that’s where having a business coach can be invaluable – I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have helped dramatically improve productivity simply by seeing that the frequency of team meetings wasn’t quite right for where a business was currently at.
External Communication: Your Marketing Message
If you are trying to constantly throw bottles into the ocean hoping that your customers are going to find them, you will struggle to ever achieve the kind of growth that you have the potential to reach.
If you are a bit fuzzy on who you are supposed to be communicating with, or how those people best like to communicate, you are highly likely to send out confused messages to your customers or worse, not reach your customers at all.
Having clarity about who your customers are and what they respond to is the first and most critical step to providing them with relevant and consistent education about how you can help them.
Do you know who your target customer is? Not your target market mind you (target markets don’t work!) – your target customer. Simply saying ‘interior designers in London’ is actually NOT specific enough.
As we regularly tell our clients, marketing is often thought of as 1:many. However, what marketing really is, is 1:1, many times.
Define how you would communicate with one individual customer (your ideal customer) – know that person inside out and know exactly the words you need to say to them – and then replicate this so that you talk to your entire audience in an extremely personal way.
External Communications: Define Your Marketing Avatar
A simple way to determine your target customer is to create a marketing avatar. Our Avatar Creator Toolkit is how we help our clients to do this for themselves (you know your customer best – you are the best one to define the Avatar).
Identifying your marketing avatar is quick and easy, and makes it so much simpler to develop your business’s ongoing communication strategy. It also helps make it clear to your team who your business is selling to and how you are selling to them so everyone is on the same page and is sending out the same message.
As some general rules of thumb, your marketing avatar should:
- Like your business.
- Be easy to reach out to.
- Be receptive to marketing.
- Have a relatively short sales cycle.
- Buy from you repeatedly.
- Be profitable to your business.
Once you have clearly and precisely defined your marketing avatar, you can use this information to write relevant content and decide which communication channels to use.
You should be where your target person is. If they mainly connect with brands on social media, for example, then social media is where your strategies should be focused. If they are the kind who are surprised and delighted by something coming in snail mail, then focus your strategy meetings around how to best leverage a direct mail strategy. If they think a message in a bottle is actually quite exciting, then figure out how to systemise sending out those bottles to them!
By taking this systemised and considered approach, you can stop using a haphazard method of tossing those bottles out and letting the tides hopefully carry your message to them. In doing so, you can drive your business forward more efficiently and effectively.
Business owners who focus on streamlining their internal and external communications are much more likely to find that their team is happy, their growth is consistent, and their customers are satisfied.
You may still wish to retreat to your island from time to time, but as long as you establish a secure network for communication across the other islands – and with the wider world – you can participate in a network of minds, and truly transform your vision of a larger business into your reality.