Communication Skills for Startups

Startups have a lot on their plate. Startup to-do lists are burdened with business plans, accounting, paperwork, marketing, tech issues, financial issues, and more, often on a limited budget and with limited staff. It’s hard to know what to prioritize when there’s so much to do. With all this to worry about, one mistake many entrepreneurs make is to leave communication plans by the wayside.

Gregor Schütze, founder of Schütze, a positioning and public performance agency in Vienna, visited our first Skillshare breakfast of 2018 to discuss top communication skills for startups. Let’s take a look at some of the ways entrepreneurs should start setting up their communication plans.

Define your target audience

Before you even start actually communicating, you should define your target audience. Gregor asserts that you should have more than one target audience, and each form of communication should be tailored to that audience.

For example, you are going to communicate differently with your investors than your employees, and you’ll even want to focus your message a little differently to your existing customers compared to with your potential customers. When you’re coming up with a message, make sure you decide which audience you’re “speaking with” before you start.

Entrepreneurs often forget about communication with their employees, but, according to Gregor, it should also be considered a specific field of communication. It will be valuable in the long-run, and it’s unique from any other kind of communication (and is essential to treat it as such).

Decide which media to use

The type of media channels you go through is just as important as the message itself. You can write the perfect message for your target audience, but if you’re publishing it in a space that no one in that group reads, it won’t have any effect.

You should first decide whether you want to go through classical media (basically anything written by reporters) or new media (social media, online advertising, etc.). While things are certainly moving more towards new media, classical media nonetheless remains relevant for specific audiences.

When deciding on media to use, you should not only keep your target audience in mind but also your credibility. Gregor mentioned that research found that local newspapers have the highest credibility, but it still only makes sense to go through local newspapers for specific types of audiences.

Form a crisis communication plan (before a crisis occurs)

Having a crisis communication plan is more important than you might think. No matter how big or small a company is, lacking a crisis communication plan could be the beginning of the end if the worst happens. Having a crisis and dealing with it well can actually increase the credibility of your brand rather than ruining it, as long as you’re prepared in advance.

As outlined by Gregor, there are three aspects to having an effective communication plan:

  • Preparation
    Take the time to sit down and think about what the worst thing that could possibly happen to your business is. Plan every single aspect of how you would deal with that crisis occurring. Decide who would do what tasks (i.e. who would talk to the media, who would deal with investors, and so on). Ideally, this will never be necessary, but it will help everyone know exactly what they should be doing if the worst does happen to you.
  • Speed
    There is no time to spare during a crisis. You don’t get to take the weekend to think about it, because people will continue reacting during that time. There is no time to sit down and set up a plan; not responding for a while in the time of a crisis makes a company look disorganized at best, immoral at worst.
  • Credibility
    When discussing the crisis with the press, don’t say things that you think sound good. Say things that are true. Whatever you do, don’t lie about something — it could destroy your company’s credibility. Feel free to keep certain details to yourself, but whatever is said should be the truth.

Measure your communication activities

Some of these forms of media cost money (and at the very least, they cost time), so knowing how to use your communication efficiently will help you in the long run. As Gregor pointed out, paying 1 Euro for Google Ads is probably better spent than spending 1 Euro for an hour of PR — but then again, it also depends on your message and audience.

Every startup is short on funds, so being efficient with your spending is crucial. This is where measuring comes in handy. Whatever communication you can measure, you should. See if you can use a tracking code on any posts you have on other websites to see what the traffic looks like. Get acquainted with Google Analytics (a free resource) to start tracking conversion rates.

You can even track the results of communicating via classical media. If you want to try out a few new newspapers, publish in them one at a time. That way, you can better pinpoint which one actually led to the best results. In the end, it’s all about saving you time and money while achieving success.