building business relationships

4 Powerful Tactics for Building Business Relationships with Real ROI

There are lots of useful articles out there about building external relationships in business. There’s this one about building strong customer relationships by being authentic. And this one about how you’ve got to give to get. And this one reminding us that mutual trust is key to building business relationships.  

This is all to the good. Cultivating strong relationships outside of your organization is certainly part of a solid communications strategy. And don’t get me wrong—I love talking strategy over a cup of coffee with experienced professionals!

But with all of this focus on building business relationships outside of your organization, the importance of building strong internal relationships gets lost. So let’s talk about how building business relationships within your company can have real ROI and tactics for building these relationships across your organization.

Why Tactics for Building Internal Business Relationships?

At first glance, it might not be immediately obvious how building business relationships within your organization can contribute to developing messaging aimed at customers, investors, and other stakeholders. Isn’t communications the marketing department’s territory? But if we continue to think about external communications as belonging exclusively to marketing or PR departments, we miss out on a lot.

On a practical level, all employees are an important piece of your PR strategy. Strong, transparent internal communications tends to produce happier employees who are more likely to paint their employers in a positive light when talking to those outside of your organization.

How many times have you listened to a friend complain about not feeling heard at work? Or a family member express frustration about a supervisor not taking the time to ask for his team’s perspective on a project? How does it make you feel about the company he or she works for?

Not only can strong internal communication help keep employees satisfied and speaking positively about your brand, but it also supports short- and long-term crisis management. When you make a conscious effort to develop a culture of open communication, everyone, not just c-level executives, feel empowered and motivated to contribute to managing any crisis that could arise.

In addition, there is so much institutional knowledge within our own organizations that not promoting stronger internal relationships is like leaving money on the table. This really is one of the saddest aspects of the kind of siloing I see in many firms. The next time your department faces a seemingly intractable challenge, why not bring it up with others outside of your department. You might be surprised by the insights you gain from introducing a new perspective.

One word of caution though, if you pay lip service to the idea of building business relationships internally simply to make others “feel heard,” your employees will see right through to your true motives. Instead, you’ll want to develop an authentic internal communications strategy.

Here are 4 powerful tactics for authentically connecting across your organization:

1. Get out.

Get out of the office and get into the field. Yes, even if you are the VP of finance. Why? Building relationships across and down in the organization helps you better understand how your business works, key drivers, customer relationships, and competitive sensitivities from those who know it most closely.

Even if you feel that you have been doing well enough communicating with your immediate team and meeting benchmarks, there’s no substitute for getting your hands dirty. So plan to visit your main supplier and learn about their process. Sit in on a sales meeting. Schedule a tour of your top distribution facility and talk to the men and women who do the physical work to bring your product to market.

While you may be receiving feedback now from some of these individuals through other channels, how sure are you that the information isn’t distilled or even distorted by those serving as gatekeepers? Valuable information that can increase productivity and increase customer loyalty may be just a conversation away. So, get out into the field!

2. Bring gifts.

When you get out into the field, bring gifts. I’m not talking about corporate swag here. By gifts, I mean information and insight. Put yourself in the shoes of employees on the frontlines. Why should they care about what you do?

Remember that often those you need to connect with view the corporate office as the “ivory tower.” They see corporate as not being directly responsible for driving revenue and profit. Whether these perceptions are accurate or not, there is no doubt that the pressures they face are very different from the pressures you face. Showing sensitivity to these differences will be well received.

Here are some specific insights I’ve found useful:

  • If you’re publicly traded, give a presentation about how the market views your firm and how what they (the field team) do makes a difference to that perception. Tell them about how the corporate financials come together, why it’s important to have accurate financial planning, and how each business unit can play a role in the planning process.
  • If your firm is not publicly traded, bring competitive intelligence. Give a review of current corporate positioning and key market drivers. Often at the field level you have specialists and employees working shoulder to shoulder with the customer. They don’t see the forest. They are in the trees. So, bring the “forest” to them.

3. Tag Team/shadow.

In addition to sending executives out into the field, consider informally or formally bringing in others from across the organization to participate in traditional “corporate” activities. Pitch these as invitations to work on special projects and opportunities to learn a new side of the business.

For instance, either informally or formally, bring in someone different to shadow and participate in the development of your quarterly earnings process or the preparation for a large event. Ideally, they would be a part of the information gathering, materials development, executive prep, and final event (e.g., sitting in on an earnings call, traveling to an investor conference with you and your executive team, or attending the corporate event/trade show/etc.).

4. Widen the circle.

Develop relationships across the organization, for example, in other offices, sites, and functional areas. By the way, this tactic applies to all sizes of businesses in any industry. Open lines of internal communication by reaching out and offering to speak with their teams about your role or share what you see from the investor relations side.

To be a valued advisor in your role, no matter where you sit in the organization, it’s critical to understand how your organization works. This means having a sense for how the numbers come together; how services and products are delivered; how you, as an organization, engage with potential and current customers; how you manage the external view of the company, etc.

If you approach the above tactics with the goal of better understanding your organization and how the various moving parts come together to deliver high-quality results, you will come across as genuine. Your employees will respond to you in kind and your brand identity will come across as more cohesive.

At Audacia Strategies, we love the art and science of building business relationships. We know how to build a comprehensive communications strategy that combines external communications, such as grassroots social media efforts, with internal communications that lay the foundation for long lasting customer and employee loyalty. Our philosophy is that companies shouldn’t let any valuable resources go to waste.

Let our team help your organization with a strategy for building winning relationships that reward your time and effort. Schedule a mutually beneficial consultation today and let’s start building this relationship!

Photo credit: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

successful business growth strategy

Hindsight is 20/20!—Don’t Strategize for 2018 Without Revisiting the Lessons of 2017.

It’s a New Year, so we’re all busily strategizing for what’s to come. But to develop a truly successful business growth strategy, it’s also important to recognize the value of reflecting on the past. The wisdom here is captured by Henry Ford, when he says, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

I’ve always tended toward action more than reflection both in life and in business. This is both a strength and a weakness. It means that I have to remind myself not to jump into a new “shiny” project just because my enthusiasm for a current project is waning. So with all the exciting ideas bubbling up at the beginning of the year, it’s crucial for me to keep myself grounded.

And I discovered that the best way to stay grounded and focused in my successful business growth strategy for 2018 is to start with the lessons 2017 have taught me.

If you’re anything like me, this approach could help you too. Start by writing down the big lessons of the past year and then go back to your 2018 goals with the clarity of hindsight. You’ll be amazed at what you see!

Key Lessons of 2017

Here’s what I’ve learned and how some of these lessons are shaping my plans for 2018:

1. Preparation Counts.

I worked with several clients in 2017 who were ready to Fire. Shoot. And then, Aim. For companies poised to grow, this is always tempting. But 2017 confirmed for me that doing the legwork to develop a plan and identifying your target market, goals, and objectives really pays off. Rather than simply spraying your resources around and hoping that something “sticks,” this measured approach works so much better.

The clients who took the time to do the work saw results that aligned with their goals, whether that was introducing a new CEO, launching a new line of business, or even determining that it was NOT the time to move forward with a new marketing strategy.

That said, give yourself a break. Know that you do have to move forward and make decisions. Not every plan needs to be 50 pages, single-spaced with cross-referenced research. Yes, planning is key, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good enough. Sometimes we hide behind planning and we never get to the doing. Here’s where my tendency for action is a real benefit.

How do you know when it’s enough? When do you have enough in place to make the first step, the first decision, the first statement? Always remember that no plan is etched in stone. There’s something to be said about failing quickly, so get out there. Do a pilot, A/B test your message, make your colleague listen to that sales pitch. Take action!

2. Add Strategy to Your Schedule.

This is one important lesson I learned in 2017 and one thing I’m focusing on in 2018. My business coach, Kimby Berger, President of HerCorner, first brought this to my attention when she asked, “Is your strategy in your schedule?” That question has been echoing in my mind ever since.

Building time to strategize into your weekly schedule is one of the best investments in the long-term growth of your business you can make. Whether that means blocking time for competitive analysis every week, reviewing your Google analytics, updating your content calendar—whatever that is—put it into your schedule and protect it in the same way you protect client meetings.

Strategize with your clients too. Clients often resist “yet another weekly meeting”—I know the feeling! But the key is to make sure these meetings have a purpose. For instance, would it be beneficial to review benchmarking data, discuss social media strategy, make sure that everyone is on the same page with messaging around a new product? Going around the horn to hear from the team is important, but beyond that, make sure meetings have purpose relevant to a successful business growth strategy.

3. Say It!! Say It!!!

Fans of Back to School may recognize the reference to Sam Kinison, playing Professor Ferguson, yelling in the face of Rodney Dangerfield in the classroom. And while I certainly don’t recommend taking anything like that approach in a professional setting, we can all relate to the frustration of wanting someone to get to the point and just say what he means already.

The lesson then: say the right words at the right time in the right place. But not too many and not too flowery. Everyone can see through the B.S. So just say what you mean. Own who you are and what you are doing.

We are working with a great client who was trying too hard to be all things and to use all the buzzwords in their website. The result? It’s difficult to figure out who they are and what they do. Now we’re stripping it all down and taking it back to basics. Our mantra: Just say it!

This is part of the successful business growth strategy for Audacia Strategies too. In fact, it’s one of our core values: “Simple is Better.” You don’t get any extra points for using more words than your competitors. We say what we mean—simply, clearly. In business communications, straight talk is so much better than poetry.

4. Try New Things.

Another lesson from 2017 that is informing my 2018 plans, both in life and in business is a focus on stepping outside of my comfort zone to try new things—I’ve always been a yoga-pilates kind of gal, so I’m making an effort to try some boot camp-style classes. It’s not the least bit comfortable, but the mindset shift has been immediate.

If I can step outside of my comfort zone, you can too! Try some new tools and techniques. One of our clients is using short videos—think Carpool Karaoke—to introduce employees to key company initiatives in a fun way. It has been incredibly well received (hooray for fewer broadcast messages and more human discussions!).

Another client considered raising funds through an ICO (Initial Coin Offering)—they ended up not doing it, but they allowed themselves to go down that path before making the decision. In so doing, they received valuable feedback that has reshaped their successful business growth strategy.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I love numbers! So I know how hard it is to try new things when we don’t have strong data to back up the decisions we make, especially when we’ve got to convince other stakeholders to go along with us. And I know lesson #4 seems to contradict #1, but there’s nothing wrong with allowing some “unknown” into your plan. Identify your key “unknowns,” gather the data that you can, and just try. Without trying new things, you can’t open new channels, new markets, or even entertain new ideas.

Closing Thoughts…

The key to using the past to inform the future is to take the time to learn the right lessons and apply those in the right ways. Unfortunately, this is no easy task.

If you tried branching out into a different social media channel to build a new audience in 2017, for example, and you didn’t see the return you were hoping for, this doesn’t mean that social channel will never work for you. It may mean that this channel calls for a different strategy or a different technique for building your list. Before giving up on a strategy entirely, make sure you have fully vetted it. This could include consulting with relevant experts to check your conclusions against their experiences.

Creating a successful business growth strategy is a lot like cooking up a dish to impress your friends. When a dish doesn’t turn out quite right the first time, your conclusion probably shouldn’t be that the recipe is flawed. You’ll want to consider whether you followed the recipe exactly, whether you used the right ingredients, and you may even want to consult with the best cook you know before you abandon the recipe for good.

What lessons did 2017 teach you? Is a big business transformation on the menu for your team in 2018? Audacia Strategies can help you find the right recipe for staying on track with your successful business growth strategy all year long. Contact us today!

Photo credit: stockasso / 123RF Stock Photo

damaged goods

Damaged Goods: The Top Gun Problem and Crisis Communications

If you’ve been following our blog series on damaged goods and crisis communications, you have considered how to handle a firm or your company during a crisis. Hopefully, the probing questions and recommendations have convinced you that you need a crisis communications plan both for assessing the damage and for controlling the damage.

And just for good measure, in this post, we discuss one type of damage that can arise from poorly managing a crisis—damaged credibility as a result of over-promising. Let’s look at some examples of damaged goods and consider how to avoid over-promising during a crisis.

Damage Caused by Over-promising

As a successful professional, you’ve heard about under-promising and over-delivering. While we understand this principle intellectually, during the chaos of a crisis, our fight or flight defense mechanisms (AKA the lizard brain) can takeover and we’ll do or say almost anything to to change the narrative.

Here’s why over-promising is a really bad idea whether or not your company is in the middle of a crisis:

The Top Gun Problem: Consider what IR professionals like to call the Top Gun problem: “your ego is writing checks your body (or in this case, your business) can’t cash.” I received an analyst note the other day that should be exhibit A for companies that are considering over-promising and the long-term damage to credibility that can follow.

The analyst was discussing a new spin-off transaction lead by a CEO who recently completed another major spin-off in the same industry. Here’s what the analyst wrote:

“We think [Company A’s] management team set overly ambitious, inflated, and sometimes outright untrue targets during the separation…while [Company A’s SpinCo] is doing their best with the hand they were dealt, we think [Previous CEO of Company A] is setting up [the next SpinCo] and potential investors for a similarly hard road.”

Oof. Now that hurts.

In short, a reputation for over-promising can turn your company into damaged goods for future deals. Yes, this all goes back to the credibility issue we’ve talked about before. Keep in mind too that over-promising is one indicator that skilled analysts are looking for as they report back to investors. While it may not be a deal-breaker, over-promising can certainly impact your company’s perceived valuation.

How Not to Deal with Sucky Earnings: Or consider what might happen when a financial advisor, who after conducting several weeks or months of research finds a stock he believes is primed to deliver his clients tremendous gains. While he knows there are no guarantees in the stock market, all evidence points to nothing but growth, so his optimism is high.

If he tells his clients the stock should deliver 15 to 20 points of ROI over the next few months, but knows that 10 to 12 points is more realistic, he has over-promised. Now consider what happens if a crisis occurs and the stock only delivers 5 points or even drops because of an unanticipated supply chain issue. By over-promising he sets himself up for failure.

It can be really tempting in the case of sucky earnings to double-down and over-promise (again) in order to calm investors’ concerns. But over-promising in the first place has harmed your credibility and left the impression that your firm is damaged goods, so you risk digging yourself an even deeper hole if you continue down this path. Remember that nothing happens in a vacuum.

Of course, it’s important to recognize that we rarely have control over all aspects of a crisis situation. So there are cases where CEOs walk into a challenging situation and are forced to do the best they can with what they have. This is completely understandable. However, there is a difference between wittingly and unwittingly overpromising and this is precisely where honesty is a CEO’s best friend.

How to Avoid Over-promising During a Crisis

One of the best things you can do during a crisis is figure out how to avoid over-promising. If you keep the following 5 simple tips in mind, you’ll go a long way toward keeping that lizard brain in check.

1. Triage

During a crisis, not everything can be handled at the same time. Your credibility and how your company comes out on the other side depends on making crucial decisions about prioritizing different aspects of the crisis. When the building’s on fire, it does no good to worry about last month’s financial statements.

Over-promising can occur when teams try to fix an entire crisis by, for example, blaming the victim or scapegoating. Papa John’s recently found themselves in trouble for this when, during an earnings call, they blamed their slow earnings on the NFL’s controversial player protests. Essentially, Papa John’s was promising better earnings after all this “nonsense” ended—classic case of the Top Gun problem.

Triage is one area where hiring an investor relations professional with experience specific to crisis communications can make a huge difference. In the same way that medical professionals arriving on the scene of an emergency know exactly how to sort victims for the optimal outcome, the right professional can help you figure out which problems need immediate attention.

2. Be Transparent

Credibility hinges on performance. And during a crisis, your company needs to outperform expectations just to repair credibility and get back to zero. Repairing the damaged goods reputation is all about re-setting those expectations and re-building the perceptions that have been compromised during the crisis.

The perception of performance hinges on setting appropriate expectations. So, if investors are making demands that you know to be unreasonable, push back. It’s better to be honest from the get-go than to find your company in a jam later on.

Be honest and up-front about issues that you know could arise and get in the way of fulfilling your promise. This will allow you to control the narrative and address issues on your terms.

The goal here is to get to the point that you can set or reset rational expectations for corporate performance.

3. Continue to monitor the situation closely.

Once you have put out your official statement, the work of righting the ship is just beginning. Next you have to put the implementation plan in motion making sure that whatever promises were made actually are accomplished. The absolute worst outcome after a crisis is for a new crisis to develop as a result of mishandling the original crisis.

This is why it’s so important for your crisis communications team to continue to monitor the situation and make sure the promised milestones are being accomplished. If you run into roadblocks along the way, you’ll be in a good position to transparently (see #2) address issues and constantly adjust expectations.

4. Keep Internal Communications Open

This tip is key to making sure your staff or spokespeople don’t undercut you or each other. Unwitting over-promising can happen because well-meaning team members feel pressure to respond to questions from investors or media that they aren’t really qualified to answer. They may try to pass the buck to other departments or make promises on behalf of the whole company, which they don’t have the authority to offer.

It’s critical to maintain an open dialog within your company regarding what can and can’t be done, especially during a credibility crisis. CEOs also need to be mindful of making promises that put unnecessary stress on the entire team. Having strong internal communications is the biggest part of successful crisis communications.

Concluding Thoughts

When a brand experiences a hit to its credibility, there is a strong temptation to over-promise in an effort to deflect criticism or to repair its damaged goods reputation ASAP. But overcoming the appeal of over-promising and trusting your crisis communications plan is more likely to get you the results you’re after.

Follow the above recommendations and the only question left will be what to say when investors realize you’ve over delivered on your promises. Whatever you say, don’t leave the impression that you’re punching below your weight. Say that you always do your best and sometimes your best even surprises you. If you practice skilled crisis communications, your audience will remember how you delivered in the end and this final impression will replace the original crisis as the dominant perception.

Do you have a question about crisis communications? Want to get on our consultation schedule? We’re booking 2018 clients now. Start your year off right!

This is part 3 of our 3-part series on damaged goods and crisis communications. If you missed part 1 on damage assessment and part 2 on damage control, read them here and here. It totally counts as being productive!

Photo credit: andreypopov / 123RF Stock Photo

 

crisis communications

Damaged Goods: Control the Damage Before the Damage Controls You.

This post is the latest in our series on crisis communications and “damaged goods.” If you missed our first article, take a look back at our tips for assessing the damage (don’t worry, I’ll wait). Once you know what type of crisis you’re dealing with and how deep it runs, you will be ready to figure out how to control, or at least contain, the damage.

Of course, we can’t emphasize enough the need for a strong crisis communications plan. Truly, this series was born out of hearing too many horror stories from IR and PR professionals. In listening to those stories, it becomes clear that one of the most toxic beliefs in the world of communications is the belief that a firm is “crisis-proof.”

What’s the first rule of crisis communications? As soon as you think you’ve got everything figured out, that’s exactly when a crisis hits.

Crisis Communications and Complacency

Immediately following the economic recession, many companies, especially in the financial sector, were motivated to develop easily deployable crisis strategies. Since then, an attitude of complacency has settled in though. Too many firms, especially smaller companies and startups, are unprepared for an incident that could harm their brand, reputation, public image, and earnings. Think of your crisis communications plan and implementation team as insurance against the worst case scenario.

In the digital age, every crisis demands rapid assessment and real-time engagement with consumers. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle means every minute that goes by without an official response will be filled with public speculation. While repairing the damage later is not impossible, it’s certainly true that the quicker you can issue a statement, the better chance you have of controlling the damage.

Use Digital Tools to Control the Damage

This atmosphere is challenging for companies in many ways, but especially when it comes to framing the story or managing the narrative during the early stages of a crisis. Still, the same tools used to spread the damaging information far and wide can be used to stay ahead of the damage.

Here are some ways in which social media tools can be used to control the damage during a crisis:

Enhanced Situational Awareness: Social media platforms can deliver decision makers invaluable information about unfolding events that would have previously taken hours or even days to filter through. The next time you witness a serious breaking news event, such as a fire or serious car accident, try searching for it on Twitter. It’s likely that you will find photos, videos, comments, etc. about the situation. This is the exact information, your company will want to use to guide your team as you craft preliminary messages to push out to stakeholders during a crisis. Use these types of events to design drills for training your crisis management team.

Enlisting the Help of Tech-Savvy Advocates: In addition to getting immediate, on-the-ground access to unfolding events, smart companies use social media to mobilize supporters. For example, suppose a competitor is engaging in a smear-campaign against your firm (I know! Perish the thought). If you have a way to quickly reach out to subject-matter experts with technical knowledge who can jump in and help you direct the conversation, you will have a great opportunity to regain control, while discrediting the dishonest party. Brainstorm with your team about this as part of your crisis strategy.

Allowing for a More Agile Response: Corporations and larger organizations are often slower to respond during a crisis than their small counterparts. Many levels of hierarchy, as well as external counsel, may have to weigh in before an official response can be released. The result is often a slow response, a muddled message, a failure to take responsibility, or an inability to control the conversation.

Simply consider a few of the crises on Forbes’ list of the biggest PR nightmares of 2017:

  • United Airlines’ Removal of a Passenger.
  • Fox’s Firing of Bill O’Reilly.
  • Pepsi’s ad featuring a model leaving a photoshoot to join a protest.

And this list was published in May. Since then, we’ve had the Experian credit breach, as well as several career-ending sexual harassment and sexual assault revelations. Anyone of these events would make for an excellent case study in how not to contain damage.

What all of these organizations have in common is that they ended up behind the curve and in many cases still have not recovered. Instead, have an army of advocates waiting in the wings who can issue well-planned talking points to buy you more time before the release of the official statement.

Just as these failures to control the narrative run rampant among corporations, there are also trends that show up across companies who consistently plan and manage crises well.

Responding Well During a Crisis

In addition to leveraging the above digital tools to control the damage during a crisis, companies that respond well have some or all of the following traits:

  • A dedicated crisis manager or team that owns crisis communications tasks.
  • An up-to-date plan including holding statements, other types of crucial messaging, internal communications processes, digital strategies, rehearsed scenarios, and an identified spokesperson(s).
  • An engaged CEO who is media aware (and ideally, media trained for crisis situations) and understands how to connect with communities, elected officials, regulators, and media influencers.
  • Established internal and external relationships.
  • An investor relations team, community relations team, and/or public relations team ready to be deployed whenever an incident happens.

Dealing with a crisis in a way that can control or contain any potential damage requires a strategy with strong and focused messaging that can evolve with the situation. Success also depends upon having an experienced spokesperson and other company contacts with crisis communications expertise. In addition, coming up with well-developed scenarios about anything that could go wrong with your company will help you and your team prepare.

As the clock ticks down on 2017, we’re all looking forward in anticipation of using what we’ve learned to make life and business go better. Ultimately, good crisis planning, preparation, and implementation is invaluable for your firm and your stakeholders. There’s no time like the present to set things straight.

At Audacia Strategies, we help our clients navigate crises from anticipated market turbulence to unexpected earnings drops and everything in between. We have experience prepping CEOs and spokespeople for on-the-fly communications during a crisis too. We’re here to be your port during the storm. Contact us today and together we’ll figure out how to control any actual or potential damage.

Reg FD

5 Ways to Prevent Unintended Disclosure From Ruining Your Firm’s Holiday Season

As we head into the busy holiday season, it’s a good time for your annual reminder about Reg FD (i.e., the SEC’s Fair Disclosure Act). Take it from your friends at Audacia Strategies: You don’t want an offhand comment to your niece’s boyfriend over pumpkin pie to lead to a six-month cleanup for the legal team at your firm. Read on to understand smart preventive measures you can take.

Reg FD: Potential Liabilities

If you’re reading this article and you work for or with a publicly traded company, you’re probably already aware of Reg FD, but you may not be aware of all the potential liabilities that could result from violations of the rule. Here are some basic points to keep in mind:

  • Regulation FD is a fair disclosure rule, not an anti-fraud rule. This means that only conduct that is intentional or reckless can be considered a violation.
  • Both companies and individual personnel can be held responsible and be subject to SEC enforcement actions.
  • Such enforcement actions can include injunctions, fines, and obligations to disclose the violation.

For more information about Reg FD and the SEC’s enforcement of the law, check out this list of frequently asked questions. But always remember that nothing you read online, including this article, is a substitute for qualified legal counsel.

To avoid liabilities resulting from an executive or other individual acting on behalf of your firm, there are some preventive measures you can take.

1. Understand the Federal Rules and Regulations.

Simply speaking, Reg FD prohibits companies from selectively disclosing material information to analysts, institutional investors, and others without at the same time making the information widely available to the public. This rule reflects the idea that all investors should have fair and equal access to information that could influence their investment choices.

For example, when the story broke in September about the cybersecurity breach at Equifax, there was a question about whether senior executives had unfairly traded away shares in the company because of insider information. The executives have since been exonerated. A special committee found that the executives pre-cleared their trades making them without prior knowledge of the security breach announcement.

It is important for executives and all employees to be aware of Reg FD as well how it applies to your industry, your company, and their specific positions within your organization. Even if employees are required to go through HR training around SEC rules and regulations, they may not truly understand their responsibilities under the law.

Given the influx of holiday mixers this time of year bringing together a variety of stakeholders (i.e., CEOs and other executives, brokers, analysts, and investors), the risk of a violation increases. Does it make sense to ask Legal to present some do’s and don’t’s during a company-wide meeting coming up? Think of the headaches it could save going into 2018.

2. Review Current Disclosure Policies.

Now is also a good time to review your firm’s current disclosure policy and write a policy if you don’t yet have one. What is your process for disclosing information to analysts, institutional investors, other shareholders, and the public?

Evaluate that policy in light of Reg FD. Are there any gaps? Do you see any potential issues? Does this assessment suggest any obvious changes?

Once you have identified any potential issues, prepare and start following a comprehensive disclosure policy. Make sure to emphasize the severity and potential consequences of Regulation FD violations. This policy should be made internally available to senior officials, investor relations personnel, and anyone else responsible for speaking with analysts or investors.

3. Make the Written Policy Publicly Available on Your Website.

Reg FD requires that companies make material disclosures available to the public. When the SEC first enacted the law, they had a more narrow view of what qualified as “public disclosure.” However, in 2008, the SEC stated that putting information on a company website could satisfy Reg FD under certain circumstances. We encourage you or your legal team to check into whether your firm falls under these circumstances.

But regardless of whether your firm uses a website to make public material disclosures, your company’s own disclosure policies ought to appear on your website. Transparency increases credibility with investors and other stakeholders. Making your policies available demonstrates an institutional commitment to keeping all interactions on the “up-and-up.

4. Better Safe Than Sorry.

As for what counts as “material nonpublic information,” there is some disagreement among industry experts. But our advice when it comes to the SEC is always err on the side of caution. If you are tempted to talk about potentially material company gossip during the corporate dinner party, maybe find some juicy celebrity gossip to discuss instead.

If you want to really play it safe, take a “chaperone” with you whenever speaking to an analyst. This should be someone familiar with making determinations about materiality, who can listen for any unintentional disclosures that might trigger the need to prepare a Regulation FD disclosure and serve as a witness (for example, your Investor Relations Officer). Private meetings with analysts or institutional investors are particularly risky.

5. When in Doubt, Contact Finance and Legal.

If all else fails and you or someone on your team ends up disclosing something questionable, the next best action you can take is to talk to someone in finance and legal. The law itself is complex, so it’s wise to go over all possible violations with a lawyer specializing in SEC regulations.

Still, in many cases, the fix is simply to make the information in question publicly available within 24 hours or before the next opening of the market. Where you can get into more trouble is when someone tries to cover up a leak of information and it isn’t discovered until too late. This makes it especially important to ensure that your employees know the next best action to take if they happen to slip.

Now that you know the top 5 things you can do to prevent a Reg FD crisis at your next holiday party or Friendsgiving, you are free to enjoy the season! Want to know more about Regulation FD and how to speak your investors’ language? Schedule a consultation, contact us at info@audaciastrategies.com, or call us at 202-521-7917. We love to trade secrets over a mug of peppermint tea.

Photo credit: vadmary / 123RF Stock Photo

crisis communications

Damaged Goods: Don’t Let a Crisis Turn Into a PR Nightmare. Assess the Damage First.

Getting crisis communications right requires coordinating several moving parts. And because managing a firm through a crisis is no small feat, we thought it would be beneficial to break down the major elements in a series of blog posts. What follows are our top recommendations for dealing with “damaged goods.”

In this post, we kick off our series by discussing how to assess the damage. Next, we’ll look at controlling the damage (or at least containing it). And finally, we’ll talk about the long-term damage that comes from overpromising. Of course, during any phase of a crisis, it’s always smart to consult lawyers and PR experts as needed, who can help steer you through the chaos. Very often that external perspective provides invaluable guidance for crisis communications. Let’s dig in.

First, Follow Your Plan: Don’t shoot first and ask questions later.

Remember that assessing the damage during the crisis is the first step in crisis communications that you can’t take in advance. This means that in a perfect world, you would already have a plan in place for managing a crisis…well, okay, in a perfect world, you wouldn’t need the plan because you wouldn’t be in a crisis situation at all. But if we’re assessing the damage, we’re already in crisis mode.

At this point, you need to work your crisis management plan. The most important reason to follow your plan is that you want to avoid reacting without having the right information. Your plan should give you a roadmap to ensure that your crisis management team gets the relevant information to assess the actual damage and come up with a response that addresses its causes.

So, once you have your crisis management team, spokespeople, and holding statements at the ready, it’s time to go through the process of assessing the damage.

What does the assessment process look like?

Get to the truth (or something close to the truth)—ASAP!

Your #1 goal in the assessment phase should be getting to the bottom of the crisis as quickly as possible so that you can respond and show the public that you are in control.

PR experience and theory both suggest that a successful crisis response can be summed up by the following: be quick, be accurate, and be consistent. While proper assessment is crucial for accuracy and consistency, if you don’t take action quickly enough, accuracy and consistency won’t matter.

The ultimate goal of crisis communications is to control the narrative during a crisis. So don’t let perfection be the enemy of a speedy response. You should be ready with a statement within an hour after the crisis occurs. That said, DO NOT SPECULATE. Your response should be informed by the what you know, but don’t wait to respond until you have absolutely all of the facts in front of you. Ask the following questions:

1. What kind of damage are we dealing with?

  • Public Safety Compromise: When the crisis is about public safety, the public needs to know what to do to protect themselves. Write a press release and post on social media to get the information out quickly. Make sure to acknowledge people’s concerns and questions. And rather than arguing in public, engage in a measured and meaningful way with those who are affected.
  • Brand Reputation Damage: Figure out how much of the brand is affected by the crisis. It’s important not to over or underestimate the damage. Hearing a CEO say, “I’ll look into it” doesn’t do anything to start the process of repairing the damage. But hearing her say, “I’m deeply saddened by what occurred and I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure this never happens again” can go a long way toward regaining public trust.
  • Missed Numbers: Most of the time, stakeholders and the general public will forgive honest mistakes or unanticipated dips in earnings. This is not to say they will be happy about missteps that cost money. However, what they can’t often forgive are financial mistakes that end up looking like intentional deceptions. Be transparent about the circumstances and explain policy changes or business model changes that will help to avoid future financial missteps.
  • Executive Credibility Damage: This type of damage can be the most complicated to assess and can throw the firm into chaos. It’s important to acknowledge the accusations, allow any legal processes to proceed, and identify and explain cultural changes that will result.

Have templates and holding statements ready for each type of damage that is relevant for your firm. While your company’s initial response may not have much “new” information because it’s clear that a full investigation is needed to get to the real truth, your early response will help position you as a credible source of information and give you the opportunity to begin to tell your side of the story.

2. What relationship bonus points can you cash in?

Make a list of every resource you can think of that could help you assess and control the damage. Then make it a priority to contact anyone with whom you can cash in those hard-earned relationship bonus points. Keep an eye out for these sometimes overlooked beneficial relationships:

  • Traditional media can be your friend: While you may be tempted to avoid the traditional media and control the narrative by relying exclusively on your social channels, if you have contacts in the news media, don’t hesitate to contact them. Traditional media still matters and they will cover the story. Better to be up front and accessible than appear to be dodging questions and hiding.
  • Listen to your team first: It can also be tempting to be reactive, especially when your firm’s brand and reputation are on the line. But rather than firing off a tweet storm, talk to your PR team. They’ve been monitoring the situation too and are likely ready with language that you can use immediately. Strong internal communications are key during a crisis.
  • Seek legal counsel: Having strong relationships with people who understand the relevant laws that govern your industry can be a lifesaver in crisis situations. If you have a Chief Legal Officer or General Counsel, make it a point to engage with them. If you have external counsel, start building those relationships now.
  • Consider key stakeholders: Is your firm publicly traded? Make sure that you have a message for analysts and shareholders that is consistent with your media messages. Consider proactively reaching out to key shareholders and analysts to make sure that they have the appropriate public information. Could this event lead to regulatory or legislative inquiries? Make sure that your Government Relations team is engaged.

Every business, at some point, will have to deal with a crisis. Assessing the damage and using proven principles of crisis communications will determine the difference between a response that demonstrates your firm’s credibility or further damages your brand. Ultimately, when you know what went wrong, you can start the process of repairing the damage.

If you’re deep in the throes of crisis mode now, we wish you good fortune and hope to see you on the other side. Ideally though, if you see your firm on a collision course with a crisis, schedule a consultation with our team and let’s go to work to help you lessen or avoid the damage altogether. At Audacia Strategies, we use bold moves to conquer any crisis!

This is the first in a series of posts on crisis communications. Be sure to return to check out the rest of the series.

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value-based messaging

Want Increased Sales? Learn to Love Value-Based Messaging and Understand Your Customer Better.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 100 times: every company is in the communications business. And communications is key because successful businesses use strong communications to connect with prospects—enter: the concept of value-based messaging.

The benefits of value-based messaging are clear. The right message helps us connect more efficiently with potential clients and shortens our sales cycle. When you tell a consistent story and communicate your company’s values clearly, you attract prospects who identify with the problem you solve and value the solution you’re offering.

However, we’ve also seen companies make the mistake of focusing so much on articulating their own values that they forget to consider their customers’ needs. Without this all important “gut-check,” a brand’s messaging can feel at best, disconnected and at worst, downright narcissistic. Taking a broader understanding of value-based messaging reveals benefits far beyond connecting with prospects and making sales.

Follow the step-by-step process below to begin developing your brand’s identity, retain your most valuable clients, and become increasingly valuable the longer you work together.

Step-By-Step Process for Effective Value-Based Messaging

Value-based messaging is all about how well you understand your customer and her needs. Once you are clear about those elements, seeing your business grow is a matter of aligning your offerings with what your ideal customer needs and delivering on the promises you make.

So what is the most effective way to get to know your customers? It all starts with simply asking them.

Step 1. Discovery

During this stage in the process, your goal is to collect as much information as possible about your current customers, prospects, and competitors as possible. This critical step is the beginning of understanding your customer lifecycle and buying process. You will use these early conversations in building customer profiles.

  • Interview sales reps: Great sales reps know what questions to ask in order to get closer to closing a sale. Ask them about the easiest deals they have closed, as well as the ones that they struggled with. Ask them what message they think resonates with your customers. Ask them to list customers with whom they have the best relationships and who would be the best ambassadors for your product or serve.
  • Shadow sales calls to learn about prospects: Listening in on sales calls is a great way to gather information about potential customers. You can quickly learn about their challenges, what makes them buy, how they understand your product, as well as pinpoint their biggest sticking points.
  • Interview lost prospects and current customers: Interview your last 5 lost prospects, the last 5 customers you won, and 5 customers who have been using your product for at least a year. Send a quick email asking if they will spend 15 minutes on the phone chatting with you. If you need to offer an incentive, we’ve seen a $25 Amazon gift card do wonders.
  • Interview industry experts and analysts: Large corporations have access to full time marketing researchers who gather all kinds of useful data, which is hard for the rest of us to get our hands out. Our recommendation? Select a company who would be a great customer. Add them to your customer profiles. Positioning yourself as someone looking for expertise, reach out to them for an interview.

Step 2. Build Customer Profiles

When building customer profiles, industry, revenue, number of employees, and whether a company is publicly traded are important pieces to the puzzle. But when it comes to really understanding your customers in order to create a value-based messaging strategy, what you really need to know is what values and benefits individuals are looking for in a product or service like yours.

In order to get to the heart of the matter, create the following items for each customer profile:

  • List of daily activities
  • Goals and responsibilities
  • How does she measure success?
  • What are her biggest headaches or problems?
  • What role does she play in the buying process (decision-maker, influencer, user)?

Once this picture is clear, you can consider targeted companies and how your customer profile fits into the larger organization. Now you have your ideal customer profile. You want to understand the kind of companies you sell to, who uses and buys your product, what motivates them to buy, and what issues do they want to solve.

Step 3: Create Value Statements

Having gone through the first two steps above, you are in a great position to begin creating value propositions. Start with categories of values (or pillars), then create value statements for each category.

Example:

Value category: Revenues

Value statement: Reduce lost opportunities for increasing revenues by proactively monitoring website and email conversion rates.

The key when it comes to creating value propositions is to focus on actual values, not features of your products or services.

Step 4: Review

Once you have brainstormed value categories and value statements for each one, you are ready to review the messaging framework with your team. This can be a daunting task especially if you have dozens or even hundreds of individuals on your team. The easiest approach is to design a simple questionnaire to ensure that information remains consistent and well organized.

Here are some further tips for the review stage:

  • Identify the best members of each group from which you’re seeking feedback. For instance, if you have 30 inside sales reps, choose the best 5-7 to interview.
  • Create 2-3 rounds of interviews and make sure each round includes a representative from sales, from manufacturing, from sales engineering, and from the c-suite. After the first round, analyze and make adjustments to your questions if necessary, then again include representatives from each group.

This comprehensive approach allows you to get measured feedback across all departments. It helps you avoid interviewing your entire sales force. And it prevents you from making changes that are unacceptable to executives or won’t work with your product map or other strategies.

Benefits of Value-Based Messaging

Follow the above process and you will be in an excellent position to develop high quality, targeted messaging along the following lines:

1. Shape your value proposition to your customer’s needs.

When speaking with clients, investors, and other stakeholders, do you understand their challenges well enough to explain how you can help them? For example, suppose your firm sells consulting services, in addition to a software solution. How do you identify prospects who are in need of consulting services versus those in need of the software solution? Which current customers are likely to bite on a promotional offer for a service they aren’t buying from you now?

By shaping your value (or unique selling proposition) to your customers’ needs, you have essentially primed the pump for your sales team. If your sales reps understand how much it costs a prospect to adopt a new software product, they can shape the sale as a means of cost avoidance via reduced risk, lower long-term cost, 24/7 support vs. hiring another employee, etc.

2. Position your company as the expert in your industry.

The more often you help prospects and customers with problem-solving around their biggest challenges, the more likely your brand becomes synonymous with expertise in your industry. And after the research and interviews there is a good chance, you will have the goods to start creating valuable thought-leadership content.

Here’s another example: let’s say you work for a publicly traded company. How much does it cost (in time or dollars) your shareholders or potential shareholders to evaluate a new stock for their portfolios? If you understand their portfolio goals and evaluation process, you can explain easy ways to save them time in terms that will resonate.

3. Show how your product or service saves your client money.

Finally, understanding how much your customers spend on acquiring new clients or servicing existing clients, etc. will help you position your company as providing cost savings. If your product or service can save them money or help them increase the number of clients the acquire for the same amount of time or dollars, that’s a win and shows the value of their investment.

Keep in mind in all three situations above, while facts and figures can reinforce a point (we’ve posted about the virtues of numbers before), leading with them is rarely persuasive. If you want to connect with potential clients and investors, which is the whole point behind value-based messaging, it’s crucial to activate their emotions.

That being said, it’s also important to note that we’re not saying you need to be everything to everyone or that your broader strategic message should change when you speak to different customers. We’re suggesting simply that you understand their key challenges/goals and tailor your messaging accordingly.

At Audacia Strategies, we are masters at helping clients tailor their messages to resonate with key audiences. And you don’t need to worry about sounding like you’re pandering or fitting into a cookie-cutter mold of some company you never wanted to be. We are all about helping you find your strategic, authentic voice. Let’s discuss how we can collaborate with you.

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leadership success

Apply This One Behavior Change Today and See Big Results Tomorrow—Show Up.

This summer, I’ve had the pleasure and amazing opportunity to work with a stellar leader as he steps into his new role as CEO. His core message of leadership success to his team and employees? Show up.

How powerful, right? Show Up.

  • Don’t just lurk online or in the back of the meeting room.
  • Don’t smile and nod and then forget the conversation (the equivalent of a Facebook “like” or an Instagram “double-tap”).
  • Don’t walk by your coworkers without making eye contact like you would on a city street (heck, don’t do it there either!).
  • Do engage with your coworkers. Take a real interest in them, in their challenges, and in how you can work together.
  • Do take the time to get to know your team as people.
  • Do ask for help and offer help in return.
  • Do remember that work, life, being a human being is hard. We can’t do it (successfully) alone.

We all know what showing up looks and feels like when we encounter it in our lives, but let’s consider some of the specific benefits for leadership success and how it can apply to our communications.

How to Show Up InfographicBenefits of Showing Up.

We all know that actions speak louder than words in life and in business. This is what makes showing up and being present so powerful. Now, let’s focus on the benefits for your team and for you.

For your team…

Showing up empowers them to own their work. Having you there and feeling your presence gives your team an increased sense of ownership over their work. And by “there” I don’t necessarily mean that you must be physically co-located. Many of us work with geographically diverse teams and we have to lead, contribute, and coordinate in virtual environments. This makes it even more important to show up, check in, and maintain open lines of communication to achieve leadership success.

Of course, I’m not saying that you have to cyberstalk or hover over your team. If you make it clear that you are there to offer input when they have questions or concerns and communicate a willingness to receive feedback about what would make their work easier, that’s not being overbearing—that’s being supportive. By contrast, if you always forcefully intervene on your own terms, your team will get the impression that you prefer minions to honest team members.

Showing up gives you the opportunity to model professional behavior. Remember that your team watches you carefully for cues as to how they should behave around clients, executive leadership, investors, and even vendors. Is being on time to meetings and events an important part of your industry’s culture? Model the behavior.

Showing up encourages team work. When the leader of the team engages—really engages—the team is complete. It’s easier for everyone to work through challenges and sets the tone in the office for working together.

For you…

Showing up makes it easier to develop authentic relationships with your team. Regular team interactions create bonds. And tight teams are productive teams.

Keep in mind that interaction cannot feel superficial or forced. Authentic leaders know how to be relatable and in tune with their employees’ needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be pals with your team members to gain leadership success. You can maintain professional boundaries, while building strong relationships. Even if you can’t always deliver on employee requests, as long as you take the time to connect, human-to-human, and explain your reasoning, you will earn the respect of your team members.

Showing up makes it easier for you to understand individual strengths. If your only interactions with your team is during group presentations or meetings where there is time for everyone to prepare their remarks, you are only getting one narrow set of data points.

You learn much more about an individual’s strengths watching her work on a daily basis and make decisions on-the-fly. In the midst of a high pressure situation, it becomes clear who possesses leadership success qualities and who could use some additional training to really shine.

Showing up develops transparency in your team communication. Often, we can feel that we have to pick the “right” words or we can’t share the context of our decision making. But when we are part of a high-functioning team, that information isn’t just important, it is part of the daily conversation that enables team members to assess, prioritize and make clear decisions about the best next steps to achieve the team goals.

When it comes to demonstrating true leadership success qualities, the first rule is the most important. If you don’t show up, you can’t be present.

Show up. Engage.

It’s a simple concept but startling in its clarity and potential impact. I’m taking the challenge. I’m ready to show up. Are you?

This September only, Audacia Strategies is challenging you to show up and crush your 2017 goals. We’re offering 25% off of our most popular service, the customized market insight report. Hurry! There are only a few more days left for you to grab this offer!

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media monitoring

Does Your Firm Have a Communications Early Warning Strategy?

Nothing teaches us the value of media monitoring and early warning systems quite like a crisis.

As we sit glued to news coverage about hurricanes hitting the southeast and wildfires lighting up the skies in the west, we watch social media to make sure our friends and family heed official warnings.

Somehow, it’s a whole different story when it comes to corporate communications though. Here most of the focus seems to be on crisis management, rather than prevention. We’ve seen too many horror stories of firms that wait until they are in the throes of a serious crisis before they seriously consider how to manage their communications.

If this hits a little too close to home, no judgment! Check out our previous posts on crisis communications here and here for more tips on planning for and managing through a crisis. And once you’re back to smooth sailing remember that having a strong media monitoring strategy makes crisis management a whole lot easier.

Because it’s simply no fun to learn the hard way that having a strong media monitoring strategy reduces the time and energy an organization spends in crisis mode, let’s discuss how to use communications as an early warning system.

What to Watch

Before developing the right strategy for your firm, it’s important to figure out what you should be looking for. Today, let’s focus on three key audiences to consider when developing a media monitoring plan:

1. Investors,

2. Customers, and

3. Employees.

It’s important to remember that each of these audiences represents a separate, though potentially overlapping, audience. This means that your communications team will need to monitor different types of media and create different types of communications targeting each group. For example, you are likely to learn more from surveys custom-designed for each major audience segment, than from one general survey sent out to your entire email list.

1. Investor Relations Communications as an Early Warning Signal

When it comes to investor relations, the early warning often comes as much from what investors don’t say as from what they do say. I’m not saying you should try to read your investors’ minds, but media monitoring around the publications your investors read can help keep you in a “ready stance.” You may be surprised at what you can learn about investors’ desires by watching subtle fluctuations in the market and media coverage of the market.

The same holds for direct communications with investors. For example, you should have a sense for how your shareholder base will respond to your quarterly earnings and incorporate that knowledge into your earnings communications. If your CEO finishes a quarterly earnings  meeting and made some important announcements, but there are no questions from stakeholders on those announcements, that could be a sign that the information wasn’t presented clearly enough or that investors aren’t sure what to do with the information presented.

Investors aren’t known for being wallflowers. If there’s an elephant in the room, it’s best to face it head on, rather than waiting for someone else to bring it up. Listen carefully to the sound of silence.

2. Customer Feedback as an Early Warning Signal

We all know that listening to customer feedback is crucial for raising brand awareness. But often this type of communication comes too late to really be helpful as an early warning signal. Again, keeping a lookout for subtler hints about how customers are feeling about new products, a new marketing campaign, or a PR strategy is key.

Here, it can be helpful to consider your broader business ecosystem. What are the trade publications saying? Distributor channel publications? And, if your budget and time allows, don’t underestimate the power of focus groups before launching a major new initiative or product.

In addition, social media is probably the best way to get a read on customer perceptions in a more timely manner. But in order for this to be most useful, it helps to have a dedicated media monitoring team for social media.

Here are some items your social media team ought to take into account:

There is no doubt that social media complicates corporate communications. Although monitoring social seems straightforward, what constitutes “good listening” will depend a great deal on your firm’s particular strategy. There’s a big difference in public perception, expectations, and customer engagement with a brand, like Starbucks, that receives millions of mentions per day and with a regional brand that may only see thousands of mentions.

Also, keep in mind that your day-to-day social followers are not necessarily the same people who will come out of the woodwork during a crisis to put their opinions out there. While your media monitoring team’s goal should be crisis prevention, when crisis happens, it can be a relief to remember that the “instigators” involved may not be your regular followers and they may even use different channels from your regular followers to make their voices heard. This means your team needs to listen broadly to develop a well-rounded perspective.

3. Internal Communications as an Early Warning Signal

The final component of putting together a strong corporate communications plan designed as an early warning system is closely watching internal communications. While internal staff may not be as forthcoming with warning signals as the two groups above, there are important signs to look for here as well.

When we at Audacia Strategies work with a new client, it’s always interesting to gather information about the company’s culture. If morale is low, it can be difficult for someone on the inside to determine what’s really going on. This is where bringing in an expert team can really be of value. Quite often, the outside perspective helps companies catch issues early and make the proper adjustments.

Also, in many cases, internal staffing changes serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Data like sudden drop-offs in productivity, a decrease in retention among new employees, and an increase in whispering around the “water cooler” can be signs of bigger challenges on the horizon.

Media Monitoring Resources:

It’s important to budget for the right resources to meet your needs, but you can forget about trying to benchmark against others or buying the slickest new media monitoring software to hit the market. So don’t waste resources, while (simultaneously) being less prepared. Your best resources are a thoughtful crisis communications plan and a consistent practice of listening to your key audience.

That being said, there are several automated media monitoring systems available that could work as a first step depending on your needs. Still, bear in mind that even top-notch software won’t allow you to “set it and forget it.” Monitoring tools are incredibly helpful, but fallible. There’s no complete shortcut, but a thoughtful and strategic approach will help you prioritize your budget and your interactions.

Wrapping Up

Just as creating a game plan on the fly is not a roadmap to winning the 2017 US Open Tennis Tournament (way to go Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal!), creating a media monitoring strategy on the fly during a crisis is not a roadmap to communications success.

Companies with a record of successful communications know that media monitoring is a central part of preventing or at least, getting out ahead of any crisis. Our team is ready to work with you to develop the right strategy to create your personal early warning system. Let’s get you out of the path of your next communications crisis!

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business valuation

Don’t Sell Your Business Short! Find the Right Business Valuation and Sell Your Vision.

Imagine if a big shot investor walked in the door today and offered to buy your company. How would you respond? Would you blindly tell her to make you an offer and then consider whether it’s enough for you to retire? Or is your business valuation clear in your mind, such that you could seriously start talking numbers?

If you don’t know how to value your business, you risk being taken advantage of, even if the amount an investor offers sounds really good to you. One thing is for sure, the numbers don’t lie, so it’s important to know them or to at least know how to access them when you need to.

Whether you’re considering selling your business in the near future or simply looking for ways to increase your value, figuring out your current business valuation is the place to start. So, what do you need to know?

How to determine a business valuation:

If you are even a tiny bit familiar with the world of corporate finance, it will come as no surprise that there are several ways to value a business. There is a plethora of valuation metrics out there: EV/EBITDA, P/E, PEG.

Your finance team can help you decide the right valuation metrics for your business. However, basic business metrics are the building blocks of all valuation. Here is a short list of the metrics that will inform your business valuation:

  • The value of the business’s assets. Included here is whatever the business owns: any buildings, equipment, product inventory, patents, logos, and cash on hand. Your balance sheet should tell you the value of your assets. An investor or potential acquirer will ask to see your balance sheet – and the rest of your financial statements. Be ready.
  • Revenue. Many investors use revenue as a quick assessment of a firm’s value. A quick method they might use to estimate the value is to employ a revenue multiple. A revenue multiple is simply a calculation of the offered valuation divided by one year of revenue. For example, if you have $100M in annual revenue and your valuation is $1B, your revenue multiple is 10x. Benchmark multiples vary by industry. You should ask your finance team to research typical sales multiples in your industry.
  • Earnings. Of course, revenue doesn’t equal profits. Amazon is the most famous example of this. Despite revenues being through the roof, they have only posted a handful of profitable quarters. This is why earnings matter and why multiples of earnings may be a better way to estimate a business’s valuation.
  • Cash-flow analysis. Finally, revenue and earnings valuation are only a good way to value a company if you can prove they will remain steady. Changes in competition, supplier prices, and industry trends all affect earnings. It’s important to reflect these in your cash-flow projections to demonstrate the rationality of your narrative.
  • Nonfinancial considerations. The above techniques will help you value the financial side of your business. But, as we know, nonfinancial considerations also come into play. Any research you can do into potential investors’ portfolio, could help you get a better valuation. For instance, does the investor own other businesses in your location? Does she own similar businesses? Has she put the word out that she has always dreamed of owning a business like yours? You can use any of these intangibles to your advantage to influence the sale.

Beyond business valuation to selling strategy.

Once you know your numbers cold and you’re ready to sell, it’s time to come up with a strategy. Without taking the time to strategize, you risk letting fatigue or anxiety influence your decision. So make sure to take a deep breath and hold on tight to your strategy.  

Whenever I advise clients dealing with this type of transformation I recommend the following:

1. Take the time to get ready. Beyond getting your accounting, contracts, and legal documents in order (which you should absolutely do!), also consider how you talk about your business.

Do you have a clear, concise, and impactful elevator pitch? At this stage in the game, chances are good that you have this. But it’s good to remember that first impressions count now as much as when you’re first starting out.

If you can you introduce your business such that anyone can understand it, the first impression is that you have your act together and the rest of your business operations are equally well run. This is good!

Can you simply and easily explain your business model, competitive positioning, and prospects? Take the time to review your business model, market dynamics, and business pipeline. Look for trends—past and future. Again, the clearer your business model and prospects the easier it will be for a prospective acquirer to understand the current and future potential of your business and the better your opportunity to improve your valuation.

2. Look from the outside in. I often see business owners that are so caught up in running their businesses that they cannot see how their businesses look through the eyes of their customers, business partners, and—yes, valuation experts.

It can help to ask for external perspectives. Ask your employees (especially those who are customer facing), customers, business partners, community partners, etc. about their perspective on your business. Do not get defensive. This is an intelligence gathering exercise, think of it as nothing more or less.

Use the information gathered to help shape your clear and concise business messaging (see above).

If there are differences between the feedback and your perception (or your desired perception) of the business, consider a gap analysis to address any fundamental misperceptions. Here are some easy-to-use templates for getting started with a gap analysis.

3. Consider your promotion strategy. You wouldn’t sell your house without clearing the clutter, giving it a fresh coat of paint, and engaging a crackerjack realtor, right? Business valuations are similar.

Review your external face to the market (e.g., website, sales materials, business cards). Are they dated? Do they reflect your business in a positive light? Take the time to make your promotional materials work for you. Yes, this will be an added expense, but again, think of it like making cosmetic improvements to your home to get you to a higher price point.

If you have time, engage in a promotional strategy to raise the visibility of your firm and demonstrate market leadership and awareness. This won’t apply in the case where an investor walks in ready to write you a check, but that’s also not the most likely scenario.

By elevating public perception of your business, you improve your market positioning, customer awareness, and you may also increase your new business pipeline—all important factors as you enter into a business valuation.

The above is really just to get you started down the path of valuing your business. For a more comprehensive guide (complete with helpful valuation worksheets), see Jeff White’s How To Guide. Audacia’s CEO, Katy Herr was quoted in the article too!

And if all of this sounds completely overwhelming, take a step back and take a deep breath. Finding a business valuation that not only reflects your sweat equity, but also sells investors on your vision requires patience. Honor your hard work by taking the time you need.

Finding an expert who has been through it can make a big difference in your confidence level too. At Audacia Strategies, we can work with you to get your numbers straight and weave them into a narrative that reflects your complete business valuation. Let’s discuss your vision!

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