It’s good to talk – A simple guide to communication for small businesses

Brexit Planning

Talking about communication, or lack of it, I was once the Non Executive Director of a small company and observed a silent row developing between MD and Technical Director – by email…

Because the two men were only a few feet and one partition away from each other, and I was fifteen miles away, I called the MD – suggesting that they go out for a snack and a pint. Of course this defused the situation.

So let’s reflect on areas where it might be good to set aside smart communication methods in favour of face-to-face meetings or phone calls:

1. Staff communication

How often do you tell your staff what is going on and listen to their concerns and ideas? Or walk the office or shop floor?

‘I haven’t got time for that; I can just email them’. This devalues any sense of respect you may have for your team.

The former Chairman of one of the largest supermarket groups allocated one day every week to visit stores, talk to staff and customers, finding out what was going on. During his tenure, the business was hugely successful. No coincidence – he was a strong team player.

2. Communication with customers

How often do you talk to them directly and find out how satisfied they are with your service and product? Customers really value this sort of contact. It is what differentiates successful, proactive business managers from the crowd, who often simply claim that they haven’t got the time to call people.

I once called the main competitors of a particular client. It was amazing what I found out in a few short conversations – about the market, how the competition viewed my client, and about customer opinions also. How many businesses do this sort of check?

3. Talking to your service providers

How often do you talk to your bank for example? And do you encourage them to contact you? All too often, business owners/managers feel that it’s best not to say anything if the going gets tough. The reverse is true: bankers are usually delighted to learn that you are responding to the situation. They do not like surprises. Who does?

Recently, a client of mine was called to a meeting with his bank and was in a state of panic because he was suffering in tough trading. We planned the meeting, and the net result was that the bank extended his overdraft and provided emergency loan facilities. My client’s previous excellent track record made the bank more confident that he would pull through OK.

4. Talking to your suppliers

Some business leaders feel that they know their suppliers well enough and will happily seek to dictate terms to them, heedless of any warning signals.

Most importantly we should consider price negotiations: we know how heavy retailer pressure causes subtle reductions in quality as suppliers cut costs to preserve margin. The irony is that those same retailers introduce ‘premium’ products to fill the quality gap. The introduction of organic dairy products is a classic example. Besides that, consider the well-recognised inferior quality of meat and green-grocery products (compared to what you might find in, say, farmers’ markets at comparable prices).

It all comes down to good communication with business negotiators listening to what their suppliers say. We would all be more satisfied with supermarket product ranges if this happened more frequently.

Fundamentally, the responsibility for changing the communication culture rests at ‘The Top’. Why not start by encouraging phone calls as the first line of communication? The Company which communicates confidently and effectively will always be one step ahead of the competition.

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