In my line of work I get the opportunity to work closely with entrepreneurs and start-up development organizations. My company oversees communication skills curriculum for entrepreneur training as well as runs workshops for entrepreneurs and small business organizations. Each year the titles of the workshops may change slightly but the core values taught do not. Smart business people know there is great benefit in developing or improving an organization's internal and external communications, so they ask themselves "what are the essential communication skills to learn?" Unfortunately we cannot cover them all in one article, but we can take a big bite out of the problem today, and you can further assess your personal and team communications for homework!
Now, to the point, to be a successful entrepreneur I believe you must be able to:
1 – Make a winning first impression – every time. As self-employed entrepreneurs we must network constantly. Every person we meet, by chance or by appointment, could be our next client or lead us to a big partnership or deal. We all judge a book by its cover, so it’s important that your first impression is a great one. If you need to hire an image consultant, do it. If you need to learn the art and science of small talk and first impression management, then hire a coach, attend a workshop or buy a book. The self-employed are not allowed to have an ‘off-day’ as so much of our income depends on our first impressions, over and over again, as we build up our database and word-of-mouth referrals.
2 – Speak well in public. For the most part we cannot avoid speaking in public. We have to give pitches and mini-presentations to banks and possible investors, we have to run team meetings, we may need to give keynote addresses, run information seminars, etc. If you are shy or uncomfortable speaking to groups, on stage, on TV or into a microphone, it can damage your corporate communications and your brand image. The best way to improve your public speaking and presentations is to study that scary world, get help, and get back on the horse whenever an opportunity arises. Read books and blogs from experts, take training or coaching, join a local club where you can practice, and do not shy away from opportunities that knock. the best way to get over this fear is to keep doing it, and every time try to improve some part of your game. It is true that you cold delegate this public speaking responsibility to another member of your team or fellow company partner, but where is the personal growth in that? I thought entrepreneurs were gutsy?
3 – Persuade, influence and sell. It is funny how many entrepreneurs hate the idea of selling, when in fact our start-ups would go nowhere fast without marketing and sales. We sometimes think that salespeople are slimy con-artists, when in reality a really great sales rep is highly interpersonal and very empathetic. About 5% of them were born that way, but the rest studied effective communication skills with books, classes and mentoring, and let's not forget practice. Entrepreneurs who do not come from a sales background have to get over the old negative stereotype of sales as a dirty word, and realize that we are all in sales as entrepreneurs. Study up on tactics in sales, influence and psychology, and try a few phrases out. Use confident language; let people know your credibility, sell them on how they can avoid some sort of 'pain' and move towards 'pleasure' when they follow you. Display logic to help seal the deal. Most purchases (if not all) are emotional, and logic is used to justify the decision to buy. Be confident and clear, but do not go too far. No one likes a bully, and no one likes over-the-top cockiness. Be calm, cool, confident and in control. You might be surprised at how fun it can be, and how effective. Remember it is not only about selling your product or service. Being a persuasive leader will definitely come in handy at those team meetings!
4 – Handle difficult people smoothly. The fact that we are self-employed does mean in theory that we can pick and choose good clients, and get rid of the trouble-makers. But if you can’t handle difficult people, i.e. people who are stubborn, see things differently, hard to sell to or hard to work with etc. then you are going to end up having a very small client base and only a few people you can work with. Learning how to manage conflict and disagreements is essential as you expand. Rule number one: it’s nothing personal. Get over your ego, develop great active listening skills and empathy, and deal with the core issues and emotions. You will turn enemies into friends!
5 – Manage people. The definition of interpersonal skills could be the ability to manage people in a friendly, fair way without alienating them. People management skill is essential and makes you a better boss. Think of a boss you previously worked for that was great. How did they speak to you? What was their tone and their body language like? Did you feel listened to and respected?
Now think of a previous boss, partner or manager that was terrible (in your humble opinion…). Ask yourself the same questions for them. Don’t be that boss.
6 – Read people accurately. Observe their eyes, face and body language. Do not ignore your intuition. Ask questions and actually listen for the answer, but even ask yourself if there is more to the story than the surface communication. Quite often there is a lot of ice underneath the water of an iceberg – 90% actually – and in our communications the statistics are often comparable. Listen for what people are saying and try to determine what they really mean, and what emotions, core values and hidden messages are behind or 'underneath' their words. Reading body language and people in general is not an exact science, but by trying, you will force yourself to be in the moment, pay attention to people properly, and develop your intuition. Need help? Pick up a book on body language. Just don't expect it to be 100% accurate with everyone all the time. That statistic is for TV shows.
7 – Communicate with confidence. If you don’t (seem to) believe in yourself, your company or your product, then why should anyone else? Getting your message out there is important, and you must instill confidence and trust in your partners, investors and soon-to-be customers. Choose strong words that show clear decisions and avoid wishy-washy phrases. Use a strong but calm speaking voice, and speak at medium volume and medium speed. A confident person is never in a rush you see. And your body language should be open, engaging, and well-rooted, like a palm tree. When you speak about something you are passionate about and/or have great knowledge about, it should be easy to tweak things to make you sound like a wonderfully confident and competent business leader!
I hope this short list of what I deem essential communication skills for entrepreneurs to master has started the self-assessment and team assessment process with you. For homework write down how you rank yourself or your team on these 7 business communication issues. You may want to hold a meeting with your fellow business partners to discuss them, and where you can improve. In reality there are more than 7, of course, but this is a good start to getting you focused on the importance of excellent communication in start-up business and will help you grow as an entrepreneur. And if you need mentoring, coaching or training, seek it out. Whatever the cost, it will pay you back in abundance as you grow your business. Good luck!
To your success!