5 Communications Mistakes Startup Entrepreneurs Make
When you’re just starting out, there are myriad hoops to jump through and barriers to jump over. There also are mistakes to avoid. Here are 5 common communications mistakes you should avoid:
1. Complicating Your Product/Service Description
As an innovator and entrepreneur creating new products and services, your challenge is to communicate your ideas memorably and clearly, to a broad market of strangers who don’t have the time or desire to become technical experts. The good news is that entrepreneurs do it every day and you can, too. The key is to simplify.
Simplify does not mean dumbing down. It means clarifying. It means losing all traces of jargon. It means stepping outside of your expertise to distill (versus condense) complex concepts into an accessible set of talking points and a narrative that fits the situation and the audience. You can use rubrics such as an elevator pitch outline along with analogies, examples and data points to clarify, but it helps to recruit a coach or proxy who tell you if your message is coming through. [Get advice on how to develop messaging]
2. Embellishing Yourself, Your Business or Your Offering
Your product or service could change the world, but your credibility and reputation determine if you get funding, land marquee customers and attract/retain the best employees. I take it on faith that you wouldn’t intentionally lie. But, beware of the gray areas – dropping names, making inferences, engaging in hyperbole, inflating prospects, and over-promising. It can be a tough line to walk between optimism and exaggeration, here’s a simple rule: if it’s not true, don’t say it. Be especially careful about mentioning names or citing relationships, and never do so without a heads up and permission from the other person. Your integrity is the foundation of your business.
3. Not Knowing Your Audience
It’s a given that you’re wearing a dozen hats at any given time. Employees, customers, investors, media and partners will have different interests, preconceptions and concerns that you have to take into consideration to deftly communicate. That means that one-size doesn’t fit all. Spend some time getting to know what your key constituencies care about so they can “hear” you. Reach out to mentors, peers and subject matter experts for help. [Get tips for learning about your audience and developing messaging with them in mind]
As an example, something as mundane as relocating your office can trigger strong responses or assumptions. Employees and the media may be thrilled with the prospect of expanded and upgraded workspace, while investors will be concerned about the bottom line and customers may care most about convenience. Know who you are communicating to and what’s important to them.
4. Talking Too Much
Talking too much is often a symptom of being nervous, being over-eager, or being unprepared, so take a deep breath and relax. Whatever the cause, if you are doing all the talking, you’re missing a huge opportunity to listen. If you aren’t listening, you aren’t hearing the cues, insights and questions that help you be successful. To make sure your dialogues don’t become monologues, keep an ear tuned for “listener fatigue.” Talking too much can inadvertently turn into SAYING too much – revealing more than you should in a given situation.
5. Taking All The Credit
And one more thing: With all of the responsibilities that come with a startup, it’s easy to forget how important team members, mentors, supporters and others have been, especially as the company gains momentum and succeeds. Buck the trend by regularly and publicly sharing credit whenever you can.
Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be much more likely to cut through the clutter and get your message heard by investors and other valuable partners. [Get more start-up communications tips]
Monica Doss is the Greensboro Partnership’s vice president for accelerators and special programs. She previously worked for the Kauffman Foundation, as senior adviser for entrepreneurship strategy and development at the Piedmont Triad Partnership, and executive director of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development.