Friday, 10 January 2014


We all want to achieve more this year in our businesses. Communications and marketing is generally conceded to be an important aspect of building a business. And everyone recognizes the benefits of planning.

Yet few of us actually sit down and document any kind of plan for the communications and marketing aspects of our businesses on a regular basis. Especially those of us who lead small businesses that run lean. You know who you are. Your accounting, HR and marketing are all done by one person.

And yet what you may not realize is that communications planning could be the crucial missing piece in your bid to take over the world.

Luckily, despite what some marketing gurus would have you believe, it doesn't have to be complicated.

As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s difficult to actually take over the world if you don’t have a plan for getting there. And if you want anyone else  to know about it, that plan certainly needs to include marketing and communications.

Have you considered what the final vision looks like?
Do you understand the incremental steps it will take to help you achieve world domination?
What is your timeline?

See? Planning is important.

Nevertheless, many of us meekly go forward, incrementally improving (or not), slowly going nowhere of consequence for lack of a plan.

So let’s change that and get you a communications plan.

I have seen a lot of people and businesses struggle with where to start with planning. In fact the word ‘planning’ can conjure images of spreadsheets, facilitators with fancy presentations, sweaty brows and heated debate.

But the fact is, a plan is just this: Simple steps to get you where you want to go.

It doesn’t have to be on a spreadsheet or documented with graphics and bound in leather. It can be written on your pillowcase mid-tryst for all the presentation matters. You just need to be able to understand it in the morning.

A plan can’t happen without at least writing a few things down. So I’m challenging you to this: Block off an hour for yourself and see how far you can get through the following list of 8 steps to a communications plan. Try not to be a perfectionist, just get the ideas down on paper and you can refine later once it’s all there in front of you. Okay? Okay.

Step 1: What exactly are you trying to achieve?
Picture your end result. Maybe your goal is related to income or maybe you want to grow your audience and influence. Identify solid numbers and paint a picture of what it will look like. Some experts suggest even describing how you feel when you get there and what you’re wearing, so if that works for you, go for it.

Step 2: When do you want to achieve it by?
Give yourself a date. Is it this year? 10 years from now? Whenever it is, it’s important to identify the time horizon so you can create appropriate short-term goals. If you want to take over the world by the end of the year, for example, you better get cracking. I’d recommend considering your 10 year goals but also making sure you have a goal for a year from now and focus on that.

Step 3: Who are your target audiences?
Based on your goals above, make a list of the different types of people you need to reach in order to achieve your goals. Ask yourself questions like if I’m going to sell my widgets worldwide, who are the kinds of people who will buy them? There might be a few different kinds of people and organizations in your audience list, the variety will depend on the reach of your product or service.  Narrow it down to a manageable size (this will depend on you and your team). Maybe focus on some this year and try a different set next year.

Step 4: What do they need to hear?
What is the actual message that you are trying to get across to each audience? Some of this you know intuitively, others might need to be researched through existing clients or other channels. This is where your knowledge of your industry and audience can really come into play. For example, if you are trying to improve your audience and “knowledge leadership” as it is often called, your audience will need to hear evidence that you are an expert in your field, that you have useful information to share, that what you say is important to listen to.

Step 5: How will you reach your audiences?
Beside each audience come up with a few different ways you might contact them. Does it involve a sales team? Direct mail? Email marketing? Newsletters? Billboards? Online ads?Highlight the two or three that feel the most doable, or the most impactful. It’s good to have some that are easy to achieve to help get you moving, but sometimes an investment of sweat or money is required for more noticeable results. If you don’t know what will work you’ll have to take an educated guess and just try. Or speak to clients (or potential clients) about what works for them.

Step 6: Make a list of action items with a time commitment attached.
It can just be a list. January I will research 20 companies I think need my services. February I will call each of those 20 companies and set up meetings. I will post two new blog posts every month. Etc. Do this for each of the audiences you listed, trying to spread your actions more or less evenly so you don’t get overwhelmed. Once the early legwork is done, in building your lists of contacts, you may just need to commit to regular messaging to keep your followers engaged.

Step 7: Measure.
How many opens do you get on your newsletter? How many times are your blog posts shared? Did your direct mail return as many inquiries as you expected? Make sure you create ways to measure every activity (more on this later). Many communication tools come with their own measurement tools, so there are no excuses for not measuring your efforts. Plus, then you can show your friends how effective you are!

Step 8: Adapt and revise as needed.
Nothing is set in stone. Review, revise and try again.

Everyone’s plan is structured differently, and that’s okay. What’s important is that it’s something you believe in and can make progress on, and that you are committed to.

So off you go now, it’s time to get even greater.