To paraphrase Tony Robbins, the quality of your business life is in direct proportion to the quality of your communications. He may have been talking about individuals, but the same goes for businesses. Every business needs to manage its relationships, cultivate them, keep them healthy, keep offering value and maintain morale to be effective, easy right?
So, what are the resolutions we need to make as businesses to ensure that we keep on track?
1. I resolve to treat operations and communications with equal importance
Sue was a brilliant carpenter, who made beautiful furniture, but she only ever made her furniture in her own workshop and only occasionally did a piece of furniture leave the workshop, with its new owner sworn to secrecy. She never spoke to anyone about the carpentry, and no one ever saw her work, so Sue was rarely commissioned. Even if occasionally someone came by and admired her work, Sue was usually gruff or chased them away, as she enjoyed her privacy and hated interruption. Sue knew she was good at what she did, but she couldn’t understand the lack of business. Wasn’t it enough that she was brilliant?
As Sue became more unhappy that she couldn’t earn a living, she became more desperate as the bills mounted up. Finally, the pain of poverty overcame the desire for privacy. She researched and read and then realised – that she was not communicating. She threw open her doors to visitors, arranged for displays of her furniture in local venues and forced a smile every time someone spoke to her. Little by little the orders mounted. Happy people left her workshop with fine furniture, and in time, Sue learnt to share their happiness. Business thrived and so did Sue.
2. I resolve that our communications will be an authentic reflection of our business or organisation
Jack has a car workshop in an old beat-up shed made of corrugated iron, and he is handy with a wrench. He’s got a few old wrecks that he’s got running again and wants to make a go of a business. His friend Brian advises him to get online and start spreading the word about his work to get business in. Jack hires Bob to create a Facebook page and a website. He decides that if the website looks like a beautiful, immaculate workshop, with rows of perfectly ordered spanners and sockets, and parked up are shining 1930s Mercedes and Bentley’s – that’s the kind of image that will bring in business. Jack is imagining what customers might want to see.
“Jack is imagining what customers might want to see”
So Bob buys some pictures and puts up the website and starts posting on facebook. They come up with the strapline, ‘Classic Cars lovingly restored’. The first three customers arrive at the garage. Jody takes one look at it and turns right around again. Arthur looks into the garage, sees a rusting 1980s Skoda in the workshop, then leaves. Simon gets past the garage, the cars and speaks to Jack, “How many 1930s cars have you restored?” asks Simon. Now Jack could lie at this point and get deeper in, but he admits he hasn’t done any yet. Simon says he’ll give him a shot. Jack gets a month into the project, he’s struggling on a job he can’t do, with a customer who won’t pay a penny until he’s finished. Everyone is unhappy.
Why? Jack was not authentic. He tried to represent what he thought people might want to see, not what he was. The result was that people either turned straight around or if they used the business it was an unhappy relationship. The happy ending is that when Jack realised this, he changed his image and called his business “The Wreck Shack” and he built stock cars for racing around dirt tracks where wrecks are the only cars people use – his customers loved him and he loved the work.
3. I resolve to ensure strong foundations by creating and/or developing a Communications Bible
Robert and Sarah have a jewellery business, but they’ve been worrying about their website for two years. It looks dated, its got bad information on it, the old logo looks alarmingly like a poop emoji. They’ve got a young intern doing social media now, so at least they’re getting something out there, and the intern understands these platforms better than they do (they hope). How to solve this problem? They hire a creative agency to give them an all singing, and all dancing website that will wow the customers. They go through style selections, look at other web pages they like the look of, choose colour palettes, get an author friend to write some copy for the site. Finally they’ve got an upgrade and they wait for the rush of new custom.
But business stays the same, even declines a little. Why weren’t people responding to their flashy new website? All those tweets by the intern didn’t seem to be having an effect, or the photos she took of their jewellery. Their friends said the website looked amazing, so why wouldn’t it work?
“Their friends said the website looked amazing, so why wouldn’t it work?”
What Robert and Sarah didn’t do, was any foundation work. They needed to examine why it was they set this business up. If they’d taken time to consider it, they’d have realised that they set it up because they value craftsmanship, they value ethically sourced gems, they value cruelty free beauty. They want people to love these bespoke objects and treat them as heirlooms. Yet the design they’d chosen from other’s websites only reflected the values of other companies. They needed to define their vision and mission for the company, they needed to define their purpose and aims. If they had done this, they would have known what a great design for their business looked like. Without this work, they were just throwing mud at the wall and seeing what stuck. The intern was doing their best, but the photos were amateurish, more likely to turn custom away than attract it.
None of the communication was joined up. Design and visuals communicate just as much as text. In short, they had jumped to the tools without knowing why they were using those tools. If you asked a composer to write music for a film but they were never allowed to see the script or even know what genre it was, you would end up with the theme from the Lone Ranger over the story of Schindler’s List – a jarring mismatch. If you haven’t created your communications bible, you will also have mismatches right across your communications.
4. I resolve to find the stories that are the basis of exceptional communications
Joel has a charity, he set it up to make sure every sports ground, then every town centre and public building should have defibrillators easily accessible. He called the charity ‘Saving Heart”. Then Joel applied for funding wherever he could, but competition was intense and it was difficult to come by. He was becoming despondent chasing money that eluded him. Then one of the funders who had turned him down, Elaine, ran into him in a cafe and they got talking. Elaine apologised saying it was so hard to choose from between good causes, but asked him why he had been motivated to set up this charity in the first place – why defibrillators? Joel told her a story, a story about himself.
“Joel told her a story, a story about himself”
He had been a young up and coming footballer, with a glittering career ahead of him, having played at national level. Then one day in training he collapsed. He had a heart defect and his heart stopped. He died. Whilst his team mates and coaches desperately tried to revive him, a nearby paramedic was alerted to the emergency by chance. The paramedic was just heading back after a long shift and took a new route back to base, when he drove past the ground. Having been waved down he was able to take the defibrillators from the ambulance and save Joel’s life.
Joel would be dead but for that chance change of route. The only reason Joel was sitting talking to Elaine was because defibrillators were available when he needed them. When Joel had finally left hospital, his career over, he was not thinking about his terrible career-ending bad luck, he was thinking about his life-saving good luck, and he had a new mission. The story engaged and moved Elaine, so that she joined the board of ‘Saving Heart’. Together they secured funding and Joel moved closer to achieving his mission. Because of his story.
“The story engaged and moved Elaine, so that she joined the board of Saving Heart”
It is amazing how many times businesses and social enterprises will say to you, ‘my story is not important’. It is understandable, because many people might feel telling their story was somehow egotistical. Yet in fact, founders’ stories are what lend integrity to the founder. We rely on stories to give us that sense of cohesion. By omitting their stories, they may not only be missing a chance, but actually causing suspicion.
Don Valentine, the ‘Godfather of Silicon Valley’ and hugely successful venture capitalist says,
“The art of storytelling is incredibly important. Learning to tell a story is critically important because that’s how the money works. The money flows as a function of the story.”
Storytelling is what we build on top of our firm foundations, so those stories are honest, authentic, purposeful and powerful.
Have you prepared your business for 2018?
Take the communications quiz and give yourself a head start – you can find it on our homepage:
You can also read a Forbes article on the power of storytelling for business here