So often small businesses neglect the importance of being able to effectively communicate to employees, which is internal communication, and stakeholders (customers, vendors, etc.), which is external communication. Perhaps, as a small business owner, you do not think it is necessary at this stage, or you cannot envision a time or situation in which having a communication plan or strategy would be necessary. The lack of this planning can result in misinformation being disseminated or information not being communicated in a timely manner in the event of an emergency or otherwise urgent situation. Perhaps you hear words like, “communication strategy” or “external communications” and think that this has to be a complex, formal process; that does not have to be the case.
Internal communication is dedicated to creating and promoting a positive, productive work, while additionally ensuring that employees are well-informed of any changes in products or services, or business practices. If you are preparing to launch a new product, employees need to be aware of the launch date, the details of the product and any “talking points”. Perhaps your small business has grown to the point of being able to merge with, or acquire another business. This is information that will be important to your employees, while also keeping in mind that your employees will understandably be concerned about how this growth affects them. As such, how to best communicate that information and the process by which you go about doing so is another example of the importance of having, however informal, an internal communication plan.
Then Turn to Digital
Additionally, let’s imagine that your small business is not an online endeavor, but rather you have a physical location to which employees travel to and from. Now, let’s imagine that your town or city is experiencing inclement weather such as blizzard or hurricane. How do you communicate with your employees any business’ closures, etc? With an internal communication plan, of course. Your knee-jerk reaction may be to say, “well, I will just send my employees an email anytime I need to let them know about something.” Certainly email has become a staple of office communication, and as such, your employees probably already receive enough emails that it may be easy for yours to create more clutter. Consider newsletters, social media and intranets as additional digital means of executing your small business communication plan, but do not underestimate the power of in-person meetings and events, too.
We have become to accustomed to doing everything electronically that we may forget that often times the most effective way of communicating our message is face-to-face. Beyond that, rather than sending out a newsletter, congratulating your employees on their hard work and celebrating the acquisition of another company, do you not think they would enjoy an event that gets them away from their desks for a bit?
In utilizing various platforms to communicate with your employees, it will be important to also communicate consistently. Work with your Communications Department to establish a content calendar to ensure that newsletters, email announcement and staff meetings are occurring at regular intervals. If your employees know that on the last day of every month, a newsletter is circulated, they will know to keep an eye for it. Or, if they know that the first day of every new quarter, there is a staff meeting, they know to manage their calendars, accordingly.
Keep in mind that as much as we want to believe otherwise, people talk. It will be important for you to communicate any upcoming changes, as early and as honestly as possible, to ensure that you stay ahead of the rumor mill. This will help ensure that misinformation is not being disseminated and creating undue concern among your staff.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to make it fun! Surely, you want your employees to enjoy coming to work every day, and you want to create an enjoyable work environment. That can be included in your internal communication plan. Let these efforts celebrate each other and your team accomplishments. However, formal or informal you choose your internal communication strategy to be, just remember to keep it consistent.
Sing Out, Louise
Perhaps you think that if there is anything about which your stakeholders (customers, clients, vendors, etc.) need to be aware, they can just look at your website. How often do you think people are going to your small business’s website outside of placing an order, for example? Perhaps you think that external communication is the same as marketing. That can be true, and for your small business, that may be the bulk of what your external communication efforts entail. However, even small businesses will have external communication needs beyond sales and marketing. Common examples of effective tools for external communications include:
- Direct mailings
- Email blasts
- Social media updates
- Press releases
First, it will be important for you to be clear on the need. Are stakeholders confused by the details of a discount? Are you implementing changes to your terms and conditions? Are you discontinuing a certain product or service? These are just a few examples of times in which having an external communications plan, outside of marketing efforts, will be necessary. Remember, just as your employees do not want to be neglected or feel as though things are not being effectively communicated to them, nor do your stakeholders. When your stakeholders are made to feel as though they truly have a vested interest in your small business, it will generate brand loyalty and enhance customer relations.
Public relations also play a key role in effecting a business’s bottom line as much as sales and revenue. Paying attention to this will help you shape your public image to the community and your customers. Do you want to be known as a small business with a strong philanthropic spirit? Are you donating a certain percentage of your revenue to a charitable organization or participating in a work-release program? Then, these are initiatives which you will want to ensure are effectively communicated to your stakeholders.
As technology has played a large role in changing how we communicate with our small business stakeholders, allowing for faster and more regular dissemination of information, it also opens up the small business for backlash in the way of negative posts on a FaceBook or Instagram page, or in the comments section of a website. How is your small business best going to handle those incidents? This is something else which you will want to include in your small business external communication plan, as you do not want to have wait until it happens to consider how it should be addressed. Nor, do you want to waste time, reacting to each case, when you could have a strategy already in place.
Now that have the basics as to what you will need to develop an effective communications plan, both internal and external, it is time to execute it, and stick to it! While communications plans, just as any other strategy within your business, should be viewed as an organic document and always subject to change, it is important to not deviate from whatever plan is currently in place as it could only serve to create further chaos.
Lastly, don’t feel as though you need to communicate to every group of stakeholders all at once, if that is not necessary. Examine which groups may have the most immediate and positive impact on your business and target them, first. From there, perhaps you can then focus on a group with whom your communications have been somewhat lacking. Creating internal and external communication plans may seem like a daunting task, but it does not have to be.
Communicate early and communicate honestly.