For Scale Up month at TechSPARK, author and communication expert Felicity Cowie explains the importance of being able to articulate your vision in order to scale. Get some proven tactics, which Felicity has tried and tested with some of the world’s leading organisations.
The irony is that most visionary people want to do rather than communicate about doing their vision. As a result, potentially incredible businesses massively underestimate the critical relationship between communication and growth.
The biggest threat to scaling any business is failure to communicate. The root cause of communication failure is guesswork. So you can only scale successfully if other people understand exactly what you do. And that depends on categorisation.
In order to categorise anything, all humans need answers to six questions. We all run these questions over incoming data all the time. Think of our brains as search engines and these questions are our algorithms to efficiently establish value to us. What you need to do is answer these questions in around 50 words, making it easy for your ‘audience’ to rapidly categorise your business.
To take this to the real world. It’s a common belief that it’s snappy email subject headers and media release headlines that compel journalists to cover a story. That is wrong. When I sifted thousands of emails and media releases, as a journalist on the main planning desk for all the BBC’s national and global news outlets, my eye went straight to the bottom of any email or release first. To the 50ish-word description of the sender’s organisation, what is known as a ‘boilerplate’. I wanted to understand the sort of source I was dealing with before I expended my limited time and brain energy engaging with any more information from any source. And I definitely didn’t want to bother my editor with information I didn’t feel confident about.
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The brains of investors, sought-after talent and great customers work in exactly the same way because they have lots of choice.
Give me the tactics!
Answer these questions to put together a 50ish-word description of your business which includes all your core information, enabling the elimination of guesswork and categorisation so you can scale.
#1: Who are you?
This is the easy bit. Start with your business name. No doubt. No frills. If your company name is nothing to do with what you do, that doesn’t matter, that gets sorted out in the next steps. If your name is an acronym, such as MGB, it is useful to put what that stands for in brackets alongside e.g. MGB (My Great Business). If you are yet to choose your business name it is worth considering something which describes what you do. But not critical.
#2: What do you do?
This is undoubtedly the hardest question for many businesses to answer in a clear and concise way. It’s the most feared question because it really forces a business to make a declaration of intent. People worry that this will limit their growth. It’s hard for pioneering businesses because there may not be existing language to describe and contextualise what they do.
Unfortunately, after ‘who are you’, this is the most important question to answer for categorisation. If you can’t be clear about what you do in a few words (aargh) then people will frown and go ‘nope don’t get that’ or, in some ways worse, fill in the blank with ‘did you mean this’ and insert whatever they think you do.
And that is the way to wasting time, money and potentially destroying a business because you now have people with expectations you are not going to meet or, if you do, then it’s at the cost of what you actually want your business to be. This is how businesses end up losing focus and exhausting their resources attempting to do things outside their expertise which others do better.
#3 and 4: Where and when?
This is your opportunity to show what qualifies you to be trusted, in other words this is where you give evidence that other people trust you. You need to answer one or both briefly, whatever it takes to most convince the world you are trusted and trustworthy here and now. Even if you are a new business you can do this with phrases like ‘MGB brings together experts with combined 20-years’ experience of ...’
#5: How we make it work
This is where you offer some proof that there is something tangible in your business enabling you to deliver the ‘what do you do’. This ‘how’ data is totally different from the realm of possibilities and how you might be able to do something. People need to trust you and your business first before they can take the leap of faith that you can customise or deliver something that doesn’t yet exist. And that you can do that better than anybody else.
And that’s it!
For those wondering where the ‘why question’ is - the truth is very few people care about why you do what you do or why you are in business. What the overwhelming majority care about is whether why what you do is of benefit to them. People will scan your 50 words thinking constantly ‘why should I care about this’. But if they can categorise you, then you have enabled them to think ‘hmm, why wouldn’t I care about this?’ And that’s got you to the next level of the conversation which is far easier because now you are connected.
Felicity Cowie is the author of 50 Mighty Words to Grow Your Business where you can read about these tactics in greater detail and with examples. She is a double Royal Television Society Award-winning former BBC journalist. Felicity now upskills early-stage companies by sharing proven tactics which she has developed whilst troubleshooting and firefighting communication challenges for world-leading organisations including Virgin Atlantic, Here Technologies, UCAS, NHS, FTSE250s.