1. Be human.
The dictionary definition of a company is simply “a number of individuals assembled or associated together; a group of people.” or “a number of persons united or incorporated for joint action: a publishing company; a dance company.” (bravo dictionary writer for choosing those two types of company)
Every company is made up of real, brilliant, amazing, tasty and sexy people and doing business with them is a very personal and human process. Your company’s strength is always its people, so hiding them and their work behind safe corporate imagery and safe corporate language immediately puts you at a disadvantage.
To work with companies you need to establish trust and integrity, and they are two human traits that no product, website or data can instil. You might have sensational products and data, but they are always designed, built, delivered and supported by real people, so you must always put your real people front and centre. This isn’t just a cuddly HR philosophy, this is a hard-nosed commercial reality.
Working with companies is just like dealing with consumers — they’re just people who happen to be spending someone else’s money.
Ay, there’s the rub. Someone else’s money.
2. Your reputation is everything.
No one spends other people’s money without consultation.
Usually a lot of consultation. Most of it invisible. They’ll check you out and ask around — both offline and online — and they’ll talk about you and discuss you behind your back and you’ll have no way to be involved in that invisible consultation. You have to let your reputation stand up for you, especially through the long chains of decision-making that go with spending corporate cash.
Does your reputation say that you’re a safe pair of hands?
What does your reputation look like to Google or to Facebook or to Twitter or to LinkedIn? TripAdvisor? TrustPilot? Which? CheckATrade? The Bath Evening Chronicle? The Economist? The FT? The local Chamber of Commerce?
What do the bloggers say and what are they writing in your industry’s trade press and in the specialist forums? What do they say down at the Masonic Lodge, on the golf course and in the WI?
Your brand is what they say about you when you leave the room. Your brand is a promise, and great companies keep their promises…. Your brand is not your logo and your ignorable mission, vision and values buried deep on the ‘about us page’, your brand is your reputation and that’s everywhere.
So stop thinking about building your brand (to most people that’s just an impersonal badge) and start thinking about building and maintaining your reputation.
Your reputation is entirely built on how you go about your business. A snazzy website and worthy white papers are worth nothing if your customer service sucks and your products blow.
Your reputation is how humans judge a safe pair of hands for their company’s money.
3. Everybody in.
Your reputation is far too valuable to be left to the marketing department. Nowadays your reputation is in the hands of everyone in your company.
Nothing works unless everybody is in on the plan and are all doing their bit with verve and excellence. The marketing team can devise a killer strategy, and production can build a market-leading product, but unless everyone from the board to the warehouse are united by a clear purpose and go about their business as if they alone are the vital cog in the machine, everything is wasted.
There can be no silos and no departmental pecking orders; no teams can be working in isolation. Everyone must be united and understand that enthusiasm is infectious and excellence doubly so.
Simon Sinek said “ If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money, but if they believe what you believe,they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”
So everyone needs to know, very clearly what you believe and why they should want to come with you.
4. Make plans.
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
If you don’t have a clear and realistic plan no one can hope to know where you’re going, so the first question should always be ‘where do we want to go?’ And once you know that you can make a map to get there.
It needs to be written collaboratively and written down. It doesn’t count if it is sitting in the head honcho’s head and it doesn’t count unless it takes in everybody. What role will the accounts department play and what do tech support have to do? You can get it all down on two sheets of A4. No more.
If you want to grow your company in any way, I’ve found that it’s best to make a plan in three simple steps; know, know and be known.
You have to know yourself — what’s our real proposition and why will our tribe come with us? This is the brand rock upon which you can build your reputation.
You have to know your audience — who are they, who will make the decisions, where do they work, what do they like and how do they want to hear about us? Who holds the cash and what will it take for them to hand it over willingly?
And you have to be known — how do you ensure that your reputation precedes you? How do you get the right messages to the right people at the right time in the right way?
Finally make a calendar — who is going to do what and when — and a budget. Then just stick to it.
The internet is littered with short-cuts and hacks to instantly get what you want and to avoid the slog, but all of them have to admit that any success takes time and damn hard work. Alas there’s no substitute, so it’s all the more important that you love what you are doing and your team loves it too.
Don’t think it happens any other way.
5. Never ever be boring.
To end back at the beginning, it’s so important not to be boring. Natural human enthusiasm is irrepressibly infectious, but bland boredom spreads even faster — but not in a good way.
None of us really are boring, we’ve all got fantastic tales to tell and skills to share, so naturally we want to do business with like-minded people. Just because you sell insurance or mercantile credit doesn’t mean you can’t be witty, sharp and a bit different.
I’ve written before about the curse of boredom, and I can see no excuse for being boring just because you work with companies. There’s no need to hide behind a bland armour of clichés, jargon and doing the same as everyone else.
Name your favourite business or business leader and I’ll have a hundred quid on the fact that they’re neither clichéd, nor boring. They’re probably all rebellious renegades.
I like noisy music and saltwater so I embrace my inner surf punk. It may have put a few straight-laced squares off doing business with me, but I’ve ended up working with some truly amazing people. My kind of people. The kind of people who are never ever boring.
If everyone on your team works to a simple plan, stays utterly human, guards your reputation with relentless excellence and rejects boredom at every opportunity, you’ll find that working with companies is really rather fantastic.