A little girl puts a table in her front yard. She sets out glasses and a big pitcher of lemonade and ties a few balloons to the back of a chair, letting them bounce in a breeze that provides only a little relief from the summer sun.
If you walked by and saw her engaged in these preparations, what would you assume? You might think she was setting up for a friend’s birthday party. You might wonder if she was getting ready for a teddy bear conference. But if you see her hang a big sign on the front of the table that announces, “Ice Cold Lemonade, just $1.00!” the mystery would be solved — you know that this little girl is embarking on an entrepreneurial venture.
Her business may be very small, but the size and scope of a business does not exempt it from the fundamental laws that govern all entrepreneurs. Every entrepreneur must create exactly two things: an offering of products and services, and communications that describe that offering. Without an offering and communications that clearly define it, there cannot be an exchange of value. Even something as simple as the exchange of a glass of lemonade for a dollar requires an understanding of what products and services are available and what a customer must pay for those products and services.
The offering consists of the full range of products and services your business provides. Most entrepreneurs start with a pretty clear idea of what they want to offer, but they may not have refined that offering to appeal to different audiences, determined the best way to deliver each offering, or found a compelling way to communicate how the offering fits into the broader marketplace. But in today’s world the answers to these questions have become the difference between success and failure.
Modern consumers can choose from an endless variety of products and services. We can buy them online or over the phone or in a traditional store, and we can easily compare prices, features and options. We also have access to an enormous amount of information about businesses and their offerings. We can read what a business says about itself but we can also read reviews and see photos provided by people we’ve never met. A fundamental change has taken place: the consumer is no longer limited by what the entrepreneur chooses to offer or what she says about her offering.
With all these options, how do we decide what to buy? For most of our purchases, what we know about the offering makes the decision possible. We may be interested in the lowest price or a certain set of features. We may want convenience or personal service. Each business tells us what to expect, and we make a decision based on that information. In a world of endless consumer choice, your communications define your business and separate it from the competition; they tell people what to think about your offering and provide the rationale for a purchase.
Your communications will attract some customers and turn away others. They will generate feelings about your business. They will communicate your values, and define your place in the market. Today, developing the right communications strategy is as critical to entrepreneurial success as developing the right offering, and it must be developed in the same way.
Building communications infrastructure is not unlike building every other part of your business. For example, one of the first tasks of every business is to create accounting systems to collect revenue, pay employees, purchase inventory and track customers. Every employee will use parts of this accounting infrastructure in the tasks they perform as a regular part of their jobs: they turn in expense reports, make sales and buy supplies with the different accounting tools they’re given.
In the same way, your business must build communications systems that will be used to communicate what you’re offering to everyone you do business with. Your communications infrastructure includes the words a waiter uses to describe the lunch special, the website that a support person refers customers to, and the brochures a salesperson hands to prospective customers. On this site, we’ll use the word “communications” to describe everything that conveys information about your business: everything heard, seen and felt by every person who interacts with your company in any way.