As a small business owner, you must have a communication plan. This plan should have an internal and external communication strategy. The internal communication refers to how you communicate with your employees. The external refers to how you communicate with your stakeholders (customers, vendors, etc.). Very often, business owners do not think to have a communication plan is necessary.
The lack of planning can result in disseminated misinformation. It can also prevent you from communicating with your employees during an emergency.
Creating a communication strategy doesn’t have to be a complex process. But it can be essential. Follow these fours steps and see it for yourself.
4 Key Steps to Create an Effective Communication Plan
Step 1: Turn Inward
Internal communication is about your employees. It helps create and promote a positive and productive work environment. They need to stay well-informed on any changes. These could be changes in products, services, or business practices. Let’s say you are preparing to launch a new product. Employees need to be aware of the launch date, the details of the product, and any other “talking points”.
Perhaps your small business has grown to the point of being able to merge with another business. To them, this growth could affect them. So it is important that they are aware and the process is transparent. Would you know how to communicate that sensitive information? This is an example of the importance of having an internal communication plan, even if it’s informal.
Step 2: Turn to Digital
If you don’t own an online business, but a place where your employees come and go, keep reading. Let’s imagine that your town or city is experiencing inclement weather. A blizzard or a hurricane. How do you communicate with your employees about closures? Do you have an emergency plan in place?
This information appears in the internal communication plan you should have. You may say, “well, I will send my employees an email anytime I need to let them know about something.” Email has become a staple of office communication. But your employees already receive enough emails, which could cause to miss yours. Consider newsletters, social media, and the intranet. Also, have a plan in place in case your city loses power. In which case, no digital strategy would matter.
This said, do not underestimate the power of in-person meetings and events. We have become accustomed to doing everything online. We forget that sometimes an effective way of communicating our message is face-to-face. So rather than sending a newsletter, consider an event that gets them away from their desks for a bit.
Step 3: Create a Calendar
While using different ways to communicate with your employees, try to do so consistently. Work with your Communications Department to establish a content calendar. This is to ensure that newsletters, email announcements, and staff meetings occur at regular intervals. If your employees know that, on the last day of every month, a newsletter circulates, they will know to keep an eye on it. If they are aware that the first day of every new quarter there is a staff meeting, they will keep it on their calendars.
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 as possible. Stay ahead of the rumor mill. This will help avoid misinformation and creating undue concern among your staff.
Don’t be afraid to make it fun! Employees should enjoy coming to work every day. You want to create an enjoyable work environment. Celebrate your team’s efforts and accomplishments. Include this in your internal communication plan. Whether it is formal or informal, remember to keep it consistent.
Step 4: Sing Out, Louise
Don’t think that when a stakeholder needs to be aware of something, they can just look at your website. How often do you think people are visiting your small business’s website? Besides to place an order, for example. What we want to say is that external communication is not always the same as marketing. It can be true that for your small business, that may be the bulk of your external communication efforts. Yet, even small businesses will have external communication needs beyond sales and marketing.
Common examples of effective tools for external communication 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 examples in which having an external communication plan is necessary.
Don’t neglect or fail to communicate with a clear voice to your stakeholders. When they feel that they are an important part of your small business, they will become loyal to your brand. This is part of enhancing customer relations.
Public relations also play a key role in affecting a business’s bottom line as much as sales and revenue. It will help you shape your public image to the community and your customers. Do you want to be identified as a small business with a strong philanthropic spirit? Are you donating a certain percentage of your revenue to a charitable organization? Are you participating in a work-release program? Then you will want to ensure that these initiatives are known by your stakeholders.
Technology plays a large role in the way we communicate with our stakeholders. While it allows regular dissemination of information, it can open up the small business for backlash. This takes form in the way of negative posts on Facebook, Instagram, or in the comments section of a website. How is your small business going to handle these incidents? This is something else you will want to include in your external communication plan. Don’t wait until it happens to consider how to address it. Nor you want to waste time, reacting to each case, when you could have a strategy already in place.
These are the basics on how to develop a communication plan, both internal and external. It is time to execute it, and stick to it! Communication plans are an organic document always subject to change. It is important to not deviate from whatever plan is currently in place: it could create chaos.
Remember this: communicate early and communicate with honesty.