Market Noise and the Need for Relationships

I recently tried to explain to my eight year old daughter why she could not always have everyone's full attention all the time by drawing five lines across a page that represented her immediate family's daily life, from getting out of bed to returning there at the end of the day.

Each line zigzagged between points that represented tasks from the mundane... getting dressed, having breakfast... to the more significant... going to school, going to work... and the one-off... collecting the car from the garage, Granny coming to stay and so on. By the end of the day the five lines of her parents, her two siblings and herself looked like a tangled knot of string. I pointed out that in all of us trying to achieve all of these tasks through the day, while each task on its own was simple, when you put them all together and multiplied by five it became complex - and inevitably not everyone could be focused on fully all the time. She seemed to get it (at least until she felt ignored again!).
The same issue (and the same feeling of helplessness) besets small businesses, but one hundred- or more-fold. We know that we have a great product, we are entirely committed to serving our customers with more attention and care than anyone else will, and we work harder (often for less) than those in large organizations do; certainly we are risking more as the entrepreneur does not get redundancy pay if the job fails and yet still has to pay off the bank loan they started the business with. Despite all this, the meagre budget that most entrepreneurs have available for marketing is rarely enough to make more than a bleep amongst the noise going on all around them. As my daughter would say "it's just not fair!"
It is not - so we have to act clever to make a bit more impact. Our customers, our potential customers, not to mention our suppliers and our work colleagues all have their individual task lines through the day, and the effort of trying to get them to co-incide to our benefit, by visiting our shop or site, or answering that phone call or mentioning us to someone is hard, and the complexity of life means the probability of that co-incidence is low. With a big brand the chances are easier, but entrepreneurs by definition do not start with big brands to attract attention.
The good news is that today's world is vastly more connected than ever before, and social media presents an opportunity for the little guy to be part of the conversation on a much larger scale than was previously possible; the bad news is that everyone else is trying to make their point on social media too - and it takes a lot of time to stay engaged with your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, LinkedIn groups and all the rest.
There is no silver bullet of course, success in business is the result of messy compromises, choosing the right battles to fight and let's not forget, not a little luck of being in the right place at the right time. Facebook in reality was not much different to MySpace but Mark Zuckerberg was just in a better place at a better time than Tom Anderson and Chris de Wolfe, timing can be everything.
The solution, as I pointed out to my daughter, is team work. We get things done better in the family when we help each other out and work together. The same applies to small businesses, we need to leverage our 'klout' to make noise out in the marketplace. Find businesses that are in the same sector but not directly competing with you. We at IEDP cover the executive education sector for senior managers in large corporations, while our focus is on the top global business schools, much of our growth and market presence has come through collaboration with publishing companies that like access to our content and audience - and reciprocate; similarly much of our early penetration into the corporate world came through relationships we built with consultants who benefitted by association from our links to the business schools and introduced us to senior professionals in large organizations so expanding our network.
Bill Clinton won his two Presidential campaigns on the phrase 'it's the economy, stupid' and very nearly lost his Presidency due to an 'inappropriate relationship' - I would suggest that for small businesses it is the other way around, success will be built on 'appropriate relationships' and probably lost on a 'stupid economy'!


Roderick Millar - Co-Founder and Managing Editor of IEDP | Developing Leaders Roddy has managed the editorial content and direction of IEDP since its inception. He oversees the development of the website and has helped design and launch Developing Leaders magazine. He also manages the financial aspects of the business. In 2000 Roderick took over as editor of the original International Executive Development Programs directory from Philip Sadler CBE, the former Chief Executive of Ashridge Busines...

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