As I go about meeting business people in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire I'm always struck by how complicated they believe effective communication is. I know this challenge is not unique to Peterborough based businesses alone. I believe effective communication is not as complicated as people think and it is certainly achievable. The results of effective communication are a steady stream of good quality and valuable relationships including leads, customers, colleagues, partners and suppliers. Surely, this is worth investing in?
Here are 8 key ingredients that SMEs should consider when it comes to effective communication for 2014:
- 3 goals — What do you want to achieve out of your marketing and communication? In order to be realistic about achieving your goals it is important that you distill a long list of goals down to your top 3. It's better to focus on your priority goals and do well rather than attempt everything under the sun, get overwhelmed and deliver nothing.
- 1 plan — How are you going to deliver your top 3 goals? This should be your road map. You can break it down into a medium term plan of 6, 12, or 18 months. Anything longer is not relevant because businesses evolve fast. Some things you consider important now may not apply in a few months time. Your plan must clearly outline who you are trying to communicate with as this will dictate the messages you need to develop and the communication tools you need to use.
- 1 schedule — It is also important to break your medium term plan down into a monthly, weekly and daily delivery schedule. This helps you and/or each individual involved know exactly what they need to be doing and when. Otherwise your effective communication campaign will slip... and slip... and slip...
- 1 good chef — Who is going to take the lead and manage resources like time, money and staff allocation? Someone has to champion effective communication from the inside out, doing what it takes to encourage buy in from other business leaders and teams. This is 2014 and people you want to build relationships with demand authenticity and value. Companies have to change their culture. To get the most out of the time, money and effort going into effective communication, the lead chef needs to spend time cultivating buy in, preparing, delivering, delegating and training people as required. As an SME every penny counts and effective communication can be money down the drain if not lead successfully.
- 10% budget — How much are you going to spend on achieving effective communication? Oh, this is a tricky one! According to general marketing theory businesses should spend 10% of sales if they want to grow and make an impact. I believe there is no formula. How much to spend on marketing and effective communication will depend on your sector, the level of competition, the needs and expectations of your audience and the level of impact you want to make in terms of your top 3 goals. If you want to grow, increase market share, get noticed or make a difference in some way then you need to be willing to spend something and allocate resources. Budget is necessary to pay quality providers if you are outsourcing, staff and training if you are managing it in-house and the right standard of systems and tools that will help you achieve effective communication.
- 1 website hub — Your website should form the credible hub which all other marketing and communication activity points to. If people hear about you, see an article about you, get referred, or anything like that - they will always go to your website to 'check you out'. You need to ensure that when they do, what they find makes them want to come in and experience your business.
- 7-12 touches — Most of you will have heard the saying that it takes 7 touches to make a sale. I think the same theory can be applied to marketing and effective communication. You need to be where your audience is searching. Depending on your business, your top 3 goals and your audience, these could be:
7.1 Website — In 2014, your website needs to be 'responsive' so that it works effectively on desktops, tablets and mobile phones. It also needs to link with your chosen social media channels and have carefully chosen and strong calls to action. Your website must have all the information your audience wants. This information must be really easy to find through clear navigation and hierarchy. Your website should be the centre of all your marketing and communications with everything else pointing to it. Your site should also point out to every other web presence you have.
7.2 Blog — Providing value is key to attracting interest and developing relationships. Spend some time researching what problems your target audience have. You can use the Keyword Planner in Google Adwords to do this. Then give your audience the answers to their problems. Help people by demonstrating your expertise through articles, guides, tips and FAQs.
7.3 Contribute to other websites — Carefully select other websites you can be a contributor to. This can help raise awareness about you and your businesses to new (but relevant) audiences and generate traffic to your website.
7.4 Articles in magazines —Traditional media is still a great tool for effective communication. In fact, having an article in a relevant magazine may be perceived as more credible because it has actually been selected for print!
7.5 Google+ — Many argue that the people they want to connect with are not on Google+. But Google+ is not necessarily about connected with your potential customers. It is about connecting with leaders in your sector and related sectors. In simple terms if you can build relationships with people on Google+ who share your content, this indicates value to Google. This will improve your rankings on Google.
7.6 YouTube — The second largest search engine is YouTube and YouTube is owned by Google. Videos are much easier to consume. Videos use multiple senses, helping people to more easily digest your message. Videos are also a great way to enhance your performance in search.
7.7 Linkedin — Most professionals are now on LinkedIn. I'm certainly not impressed with people who aren't! This social media channel is one that is likely to be relevant to most people in business and is where potential customers, partners, colleagues and suppliers are going to look.
7.8 Twitter — This is a great way to listen, research and share content via a conversational approach to communication.
7.9 Facebook — A great visual social media channel, used most successfully by BtoC (Business to Consumer) businesses. Facebook is also a great place to run surprisingly affordable, precise and measurable advertising campaigns.
7.10 Networking — This is about cultivating relationships offline and it goes hand in hand with cultivating relationships online. If your website and online presence is effective then you can connect with people you physically meet on your online communication channels. This allows you to continue to build relationships with people you have met online. Merging on and offline relationship building like this can be very powerful.
7.11 Speaking opportunities — Speaking at the right events is a great way to demonstrate your expertise and increase your credibility. Do it well by taking the time to prepare!
7.12 Exhibitions — Having a stand at the right exhibition can do wonders to raise your profile. But don't just go and stand there! Take the time to prepare what you want to get out of the exhibition, your image, pitch, data collection and follow up system. If this is too big a challenge, visiting an exhibition also has significant benefits. In our experience, we have improved our profile and got new customers, suppliers and partners just from visiting an exhibition.
- A touch of realism — Many people we meet are naive about what it takes to achieve effective communication. There is no miracle formula. Effective communication takes significantly more than a little sprinkling of 'fairy dust' and a little dabble here and there. Getting the results takes time, commitment, consistent effort and resource allocation. If you are realistic about what it takes to achieve effective communication you will reap the rewards and achieve your top 3 goals. Follow this advise and start an effective communication campaign for 2014 and it will can help you achieve valuable outcomes like growth, more sales, increased market share, a higher profile and more influence.
Here's to a super successful 2014! If you need a helping hand for your 2014 effective communication campaign then let's have coffee (on us)!