20 Apr LTFF Blog – The Huge Mistake Entrepreneurs Make
By Ashley Van Horne, Chief Communications Officer
At the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, we are hands-on with entrepreneurs every single day. Whether we are working with budding entrepreneurs in the Tulsa StartUp Series pitch competition, culinary dreamers in the Kitchen 66 Launch Program, future business moguls raising money through Kiva or food innovators preparing their spaces in Mother Road Market – not a day goes by that I don’t have a least one discussion with someone about how their business concept is coming along. Throughout all of these interactions, I’ve realized that I see a very common, major problem with entrepreneurs – you are not talking about your business enough, to the right people, in the right way.
When starting a business, an entrepreneur lives in an all-encompassing, overwhelming world packed with choices, choices, choices. Filing for an LLC and handling legal paperwork, determining price points, building a business plan, thinking about HR or staffing, identifying brick and mortar space opportunities, etc. are all important, crucial decisions. In dealing with all of those nuts and bolts, I’ve seen that suddenly things like social media, creating a website, speaking with the press, and talking about a marketing strategy start to slip by the wayside. The logic seems reasonable at first – I can’t market a business that doesn’t have an LLC (or a solid pricing structure, a seasoned staff – fill in the blank). While this is true, I’d like to present the other side of that argument to you today. You can build the greatest business in the world, with the best profit margins and the smartest business plan – but if nobody knows about it, you’re not going to be successful.
I argue that communications is just as crucial to your business’ success as any of the other aforementioned items. A solid communications plan affords you so many benefits that can directly translate to business success. It allows you to control the narrative about your business. In a world where business success can be largely shaped by public opinion (Yelp reviews, social media commnets, etc), going on the offensive and telling your story on purpose gives you a chance to tell the public your story THE WAY YOU WANT IT TO BE TOLD! If you haven’t started working on a strong communications plan, here are three steps that you can take to get yourself pointed in the right direction.
- Make friends with the media. This is the area where I see most entrepreneurs missing the mark. Let me put it super simply. The media’s job is to tell stories. One of their main functions is to help you tell your story. While occasionally someone from the media might seek you out, more often than not, they cannot tell your story if they do not know who you are. We are so fortunate in Tulsa to live in a smaller, tight-knit, friendly media market. Do your research by paying attention to the writers/reporters/media outlets that write/report about similar topics or similar businesses to yours. Reach out to them and schedule a time to have coffee or a phone call to discuss your business, your entrepreneurial journey, and what makes you unique. Offer them something like a free sample of your product or a free meal from your restaurant concept. Follow up with them and check in even when you don’t need something. Cultivating and maintaining these relationships from the beginning means that you’ll have people in your pocket to call when you’re making big announcements, hosting big events, or making big strides in your business down the road.
- Practice, practice, practice your message. Another common thing that I see with entrepreneurs is that because you live/eat/sleep/breath every detail of your business, sometimes, when someone walks up to you and just says, “Hey, what’s your business?” – people flounder trying to succinctly and completely tell their story. You should be able to tell your story (including what makes you unique) in one minute. Your story should include what your businesses is, what it does, who you are, and why this business or your story is unique. You need to nail this one-minute pitch down, and then practice it literally 1 million times. I’m not kidding. 999,999 times is not enough. Having a pitch that you know like the back of your hand equips you to be able to speak about your business anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Which, let’s face it – we live in a world where anytime, anyplace, anywhere something can happen. Having this pitch nailed down will also get you started in the practice of developing consistent messaging about your brand, which will be helpful when you start talking with the media, creating marketing materials, and training staff (who will also need to talk about your brand in the exact same way).
- Be consistent, creative and authentic on social media. I’m certain that I don’t have to waste word count convincing you of the power or importance of social media – we all get it. If you don’t have platforms set up, at the bare minimum set up a Facebook and Instagram page. Don’t even finish reading this post – just go do it now. Be consistent. If spending time daily doing social media isn’t in your wheelhouse, look into scheduling programs like Hootsuite or Buffer. Block out a 30-minute window on Monday mornings where you can create & schedule posts for the entire week. Be creative. Nobody “reads” on social media anymore. Explore creative ways to incorporate photos, and more importantly, videos into your social media. Think about the things you like seeing on social – what things make you stop and pay attention? Lastly, be authentic. Decide what your voice is and stick with it! Are you cheeky/boundary pushing? Corporate? Mom-friendly? Funny? Be who you are and have fun with your brand. Social media isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to show a “peek behind the curtain.” Give everyone that authentic, #reallife realness.
Those are just three easy ways that you can start implementing a communications plan and see immediate results. Again, I urge you to view communications as a non-negotiable time commitment in your week. Don’t let it slip by the wayside. If you just put in a little bit of time and effort by making friends with the media, practicing your message, and being consistent/creative/authentic on social media, you can be leaps and bounds ahead of fellow entrepreneurs that don’t bother. Happy communicating!
Last year’s Media & PR panel for entrepreneurs at 36 Degrees North