In the last two decades, we’ve watched society transform with the evolution of technology and access to information. Transportation, communication, commerce, food, business, education…every industry has evolved more rapidly than ever before.
A generation ago, words like “startup” or “solopreneur” weren’t even part of our vocabulary. The majority of entrepreneurs or small business owners were local businesses, often with brick-and-mortar locations. The rest of the workforce worked in jobs that often provided healthcare benefits, pension plans and steady employment for decades. People worked and planned for retirement, with two weeks of vacation days allotted each year.
If you launch a business now, you can apply and receive a business license, put up a website and get business cards printed in a day.
While it’s easier than ever to start a business, the number of small businesses that fail remains dismal: according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% fail in their first year, and about 50% of small businesses fail in their fifth year.
When it’s so quick and easy to start a business, when it’s no longer so expensive to manufacture prototypes to test ideas, when connecting with people is instantaneous, when you can learn anything whenever you want, wouldn’t you think people would have better success with business?
If time, money, connecting and education aren’t the problem, what else could it be?
I think the problem is that, even though things in the world around us are improving, something inside of us is not: our communication skills.
Communication, more than just speaking to one another, is defined as “the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.”
With so much communication happening around us in every moment, it seems to me that the amount of information that we receive, understand and respond to without distraction is decreasing.
If you’ve started a business in the last 10 or 15 years, you’ve no doubt been inspired by the opportunities to reach your market cheaper, faster and easier than ever before. But if you find yourself surprised that it hasn’t happened as easily as you thought, you’re not alone.
I’ve been working in online marketing since 2008, and have personally worked with hundreds of hopeful entrepreneurs ready to make it big by attracting customers through blogging, Google and Facebook ads, email newsletters, membership sites, social media, YouTube, etc. These are all viable strategies, and they continue to evolve with opportunities.
But, again, with these fantastic tools at your fingertips, none will do you any good if you aren’t great at communication.
The inspiring thing about this is that communication skills are something you can improve — without risk, and inexpensively! What have you got to lose by investing a couple months studying how to be a better communicator? It’s an opportunity with virtually no downside and exponential upsides.
What if you started by experimenting with new strategies for connecting with people for one week? And when you do connect, what if you tried a new approach to communicating?
For example, let’s say you’ve launched your own business and have grown enough that you’re overwhelmed. You need help. But maybe you can’t afford a local employee yet. Or maybe you aren’t comfortable hiring someone and becoming a boss. Maybe you’re not sure exactly what to have them do yet. So you keep doing it all yourself, knowing you’re at your limit but not being able to move past it.
Now you decide to take this as an experiment with improving communication skills, because you have nothing to lose. What if you listed a few basic tasks that you could outsource, and connected with a local college to find an intern to work with?
You could approach it as an opportunity for you both to learn from one another, gain experience and build a greater system as a result. Starting with a few hours a week, it could fit your budget and be easier to adjust to delegating. You could create a 3-month internship to start, taking the pressure off of both of you to be perfect. The intern’s enthusiasm and fresh ideas could inspire you, and you’d end up with expanded communication skills as you mentor them and organize your business tasks.
Let’s take another example. Let’s say you have a product or service that you think is valuable but you can’t seem to get traction finding new customers. You try Google and Facebook ads, you put up signs…nothing seems to bring in new business. But you know that once you talk with someone, you can interest them. How can you get the phone to ring?
You decide to experiment with improving your communication skills, because you have nothing to lose. What if you tried connecting with new people by starting a YouTube channel where you taught about your area of expertise? By sharing information, you’d attract people interested in your market. You could offer product reviews, suggestions and tips, tutorials, case studies, interviews with experts, etc. With the approach of offering education and value, you’d learn to share your product or service ideas in a new context. Your communication would be received differently than it would as a sales pitch from an ad.
In a world where connecting and doing business in the world outside of us is easier than ever before, perhaps the greatest opportunities lie in shifting what’s inside of us.
In the few moments it would take you to make a social media post for your business or order a new run of business cards, could you experiment with communicating in another way?
Could you mail a card with a clip of an intriguing article to a favorite client? Could you make a 60-second video on your phone asking a new prospect about their goals and how you could help them with it? Could you plan a small dinner party with two colleagues you think should meet each other?
Improving your communication skills is an investment with the potential for massive ROI — in your business and your life.