How true is it that all you need is one new idea?

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It’s often said that all you need to get yourself out of a pickle is one new idea. But how realistic is this? It may be a series of new ideas that you need. You might come up with a new idea and it may not be accepted. A brilliant new idea might be ahead of its time. Take the MP3 player, for example. It wasn’t until the Apple iPod that digital music players became popular. An MP3 player had been introduced years before but hadn’t taken off.

One needs to be sceptical.

Not cynical, but sceptical.

Even if you come up with a new idea, it’s not really worth anything unless it is implemented. Implementation requires determination, hard work and resources. Unlessyou develop an idea and take it you all the way through implementation all you have is an idea.

Your idea willl need to be tested in a small market pilot to see if it really has what it takes. It’s no use placing all your bets on a new business idea only to find out that it doesn’t have market demand or, even worse, it is rejected because of falls shor, it is too new or it has something missing. Testing can require time and money. But there are low-cost ways to test.

The point is that new ideas can hold potential value but they need to be materialised before they can work for you. Until your new business idea is developed into a project with a specific plan for its implementation, testing and commercialisation, your new idea is nothing more than an idea.

Also remember that new ideas take three times longer to action than you think and cost twice as much as you envisage.

If you come up with a new business idea, then give it all you’ve got but remember to do your homework before you get too excited about its potential.

When your back is against the wall

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It’s something that happens all of us. Sometimes it’s not something we can stop or prevent. It can happen several times in life.

What do you do when your back is against the wall?

It’s a difficult time. You are filled with various emotions and at the same time you have to think of your future. You may have feelings of guilt, betrayal, low self-worth and difficulty in coping the hand with the hand you are dealt. You go around with a sick feeling in your stomach that won’t go away. Everyone you talk to – family and very close friends – doesn’t seem to understand what you are going through.

It’s not easy when the world seems to be whirling.

You’ve got to give yourself time; time to let your emotions settle. Staying calm in a crisis is a survival skill. If you panic, you are unable to think clearly.

Sooner or later, you will start to begin to form a plan to change your circumstances. If it s is an income or business related issue, you will need to come up with new ideas, new approaches and new concepts. Even if you don’t like it, you have to force yourself to face the challenge and think differently.

Possibility thinking helps you to begin to turn things around. If you look outside of yourself, you will be able to see opportunities. Some of these opportunities you may be able to pursue, depending on your level of skills, previous experience and resources. Resources are a very important thing and sometimes we forget about the resources we already have. You may have a good support system at home. You may have saved money in a cash kitty that can tide you through difficult times or help you start something new. It’s difficult when you have to deal with developing a new opportunity and at the same time you lack the basic necessities of life.

When one door has closed, other doors are sure to open. When you have moved out of difficulties or a difficult period in your life, you may look back and realise that the misfortune that you experienced was actually a blessing in disguise.

Responding to an offer

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Life is full of surprises. One day you’re going along minding your own business and then out of the blue someone comes and makes demands on you in the form of proposals.

It’s the cut and thrust of life. There’s nothing you can do about it.

People will approach you with proposals, sometimes tentative proposals. They will gild the lily and make their proposals sound good. But is it in your interest?

That’s why it’s important to know how to respond to an offer. The first thing is not to get emotional if you can already see that whatever the person is proposing is not in your favour or interests.

Yes, I know it’s difficult to handle emotions. The way people treat people leaves much to be desired. But all I can say is you have to find a way to manage your emotions.

Next, mull over the offer or proposal. Get down into it and see what the other person’s interests are. They wouldn’t have come to you unless they wanted something from you – and usually at your expense or if it concerns value to save them money and still get what they want at the lowest possible price.

The person who made the offer is going to pull out the well-worn Win-Winv cliché. But don’t believe in soft talk about win-win outcomes (do so if you wish — you may be a believer in the tooth fairy or magical thinking). Win-win is rare.

If you are able and you don’t like their offer, walk away.

If you can’t walk away — because the other person has some hold over you or your livelihood — then interrogate their proposal. Before you act, think about what experts you can bring into help you assess their offer. Do you need a lawyer, business expert or a financial planner, for instance?

Beware the pitfalls in counterproposals — don’t make unnecessary concessions to their unfavourable terms. Your counter proposal should not let them off the hook but be realistic and assertive.

Be friendly, know that others are human beings with their own agendas, trying to extract as much out of you and giving away little. But be careful in what you agree to. Reflect, get expert opinion (if you need to) and then act.

Learning from the true masters

Luisella Lissoni

An Italian art school master was saying how when he learnt his art in the 1960s and 1970s he studied under a master for 10 years.

It made me think about where can study business and other fields today. Business school education abounds. But the “masters” are often people who have never run their own business. They are not hands-on practitioners of the art of business.

When I was starting out I learnt the business of publishing under the guidance of a small independent publisher. It was a three-year stint but the lessons learnt about business and craft were invaluable.

These lessons on working hard and smart have stayed with me for the rest of my business career. The main thing I learned is to be proactive. Another lesson: possess the necessary confidence to do what it takes whether it is in a new field, a new subject or new undertaking. But most of all I have learnt work ethic.

In years gone by trade and crafts people were apprenticed to a master who was running a small business whether it was a school, workshop or enterprise. These days opportunities like this don’t exist, except in some specialised areas.

Moving forward, I have learnt under “masters” or seasoned specialists in the country where I live, the United States and the United Kingdom. I spent a week with a master practitioner in the UK learning and working and then after the day settling down for a cold one at a restaurant and continuing to discuss the work and learning from the day.

In recent years I was fortunate to learn and study and practice in a specialised business field under a long-standing professional, who is the leader in the field. His teachings have provided a jumpstart to my entry into the profession and the support of excellent professional colleagues and associates.

After practising for more than 40 years in one specialised business field, I am providing young people and others with the tools, techniques and learnings that I have accumulated. The greatest joy is the fulfilment of seeing people grow as they are guided to seize the opportunities that are still available in a turbulent, disruptive world and can help them shape their livelihoods with meaning and purpose.

Communicating with heart

I’ve received my fair share of emails where the sender is angry and rude. Sometimes they copy in others and let go with a diatribe. It seems strange that the sender of an email doesn’t pause to think what they are sending and how it will come across.

Where is the courteousness that is required in human communications? Just because their communication is done on a screen and they can hit the send button, does that give them the right to be obnoxious, aggressive and belligerent?

Dale Carnegie, the author, lecturer and speaker, said that if you want to attract bees, give them honey. He was talking about having a pleasing personality. In fact, a pleasant, friendly personality is one of the cardinal characteristics character traits that a successful business person, whether a small business owner or a manager of a large operation needs to have.

What are the underlying causes of all this tension. It seems to be that it relates to the stress levels in society and the workplace. People can justify their rude behaviour because they want to get things done, and get them done quickly. 

There are erroneous beliefs: that if you are a nice person, warm and have heart, you will be trod over. The person who is considerate, courteous and calm, shows a lot more strength of character than does another person who is an aggressive loudmouth venting off hot air whether it be verbally or in their written communication.

When people send you rude emails or are rude to you in person, you have two choices: do nothing or confront them but in an unemotional and calm way. It takes strength of character to tell another person what you don’t like about their communication (not about them so they can save face) and would they refrain from repeating their behaviour. 

There are also specific techniques and approaches that you can use to make your communications more friendly and warm. Communicating with heart in business requires that you learn specific techniques that change the way you communicate with colleagues, suppliers and customers. Will it cost you a lot of money to learn and acquire these techniques? Not really. It’s not about the money. It’s about your tolerance for taking other people’s abuse day in and day.

Some people might say that you can’t change behaviour and perhaps they are right. All you can really do is to work on your own sphere of influence and build and grow your own character .

Could the celebrity radio presenter handle working in the unglamorous world of a small business? Welcome to hell’s kitchen

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Small business ownership is glamorised by radio presenter celebrities and other self-anointed small business experts. But do they have what it takes to own and run a small business?

I know a man in his 80s, who has severe shingles, still goes to work and stands behind his cash register every day. When he goes to the back of his store to get something, he shuffles in pain. Why does he do it? He tells me despite his agony, working in his business keeps him alive.

Working in a small business means you can’t be afraid of hard work, long hours and physical labour. You’ve got to be present in your business all the time otherwise things can go wrong – money suddenly disappears from your till, employees slack off and go outside for numerous cigarette breaks and social media catch ups on their cell phones.

Then, in an environment plagued by criminals, there is the danger of losing your life.

And what about the rewards? You’d think that small business owners are doing fabulously because they run their own show. Most often it’s not the case. They don’t have the benefits of life-long employment, pensions, medical aids and free and subsidised housing like public officials, for example.

No, it’s tough work.

But at this stage you may be saying there must be upsides. Of course there are. The much vaunted freedom to do your own thing. The harder you work, the more you earn. Security of employment if you keep a watchful eye on changes in your market place and demographics in your local community or business-to-business market.

In environments where officials view small business as a necessary evil, something to extract the lifeblood out of , milk dry or crush, small business owners face their biggest challenges. There are small business owners working in hell’s kitchen where their livelihoods, assets and lives are at the mercy of others.

Wanna join them?

Perhaps the celebrity radio presenters and their too-eager-to-say-the-right-thing celebrity expert guest commentators should spend a day working in a hard-core small business and get a taste of what it’s like.

Customers come first in marketing communications research

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The Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation, Peter Drucker, said, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” This quotation puts the customer first in everything you do including marketing communications and marketing communications research.

We need to look at how our company or organisation communicates with customers. What are the messages that you are sending to customers overtly or covertly? What communication channels are you using to engage potential and existing customers? Do your communications have the purpose behind them to create a customer, in other words make a sale? The reason this question is so important is because without a sale you don’t have a customer.

If you look at the turbulent economic and business environment, we know that customers have changed dramatically in the past years. Today customers have all sorts of demands on them and with pressures on costs and savings as well as performance, they want to make the right decision for their business.

Let’s face it, potential customers receive many marketing communications from various companies, competing for their business. Potential customers want to deal with people they can trust and are reliable and consistent.

In years past, companies would communicate with customers through trade magazines, listings in various directories, marketing events and presentations at customers’ premises. What has changed?

While the Internet has brought about digital marketing communications, and some of it very well targeted to specific potential customers, the need for face-to-face communication has increased. Potential customers want to speak to real people. They want to be “educated” on new trends, new technologies, automation of processes, and ways that they can make money or save money.

They don’t want sales and marketing people to talk down to them or talk over their heads. They want courteous communication that respects them and their intelligence. Companies promise fast and efficient service but how many practice what they preach? Potential customers are sensitive to service while considering purchasing a product or service. They feel pressurised and manipulated when salespeople push the upsell and try to overload them.

Marketing communication research can help you identify what your customers want, which communication channels they prefer and what marketing communications are effective and ineffective. For marketing communications to be effective, research is required in these areas:

– Message content. What is your company communicating to customers and what do potential customers want?
– Marketing communication channels. Which marketing communication channels are you using and which ones are the most effective with your existing customers and potential customer base?
– Market research. What are the trends in your market? Is your market growing, declining or flat? Where are the opportunities?
– Value proposition. Your communications communicate the true value of what you are offering. Is there something that you are missing that would attract potential customers?
– New markets. Here we are talking about new potential uses for your product or service. Could your product or service cater for unmet needs?

Marketing Communications plays and important role in helping to make your marketing more effective. It also helps you maximise what you are spending on marketing and gives you an indication if you are under spending or overspending. Very few businesses have potential customers clamouring at their doors asking for their product or service. In a competitive, crowded marketplace, your company and its products and services need to stand out and help to create and keep customers.

Lessons in internal communication research

Cape Infanta Sunrise. Watercolour by Chesney Bradshaw

When I started my first job in a company years back, the communications environment was different, very different. I remember being a young person in my early 20s and the senior managers would in those days not even greet youngsters. There was almost no internal communication. If you wanted to know how the company was doing, you had to get hold of a hard copy of the annual report. Communication happened of course but that was in your own section or team.

How things have changed. Today we have Internet. It has brought about many communication channels including text messaging, social media, online-video (YouTube) and video conferencing.

You would think that communication today is far better, far more freely flowing. However, is this really the case? How does a young person entering the workforce view and experience the level of internal communications such as I experience as a young person starting out?

The content of the messages these days still leaves much to be desired. Often you find that companies communicate human resources policies, new appointments, departmental changes and perhaps large sales orders. Some content is trivial where even salespeople making presentation are recorded in internal communications. There is something missing – and what is it?

Real communications, communications between human beings face-to-face and in small groups takes place but communication like the formal internal communication channel is one way. There is no real dialogue, discussion about trends and change and the need to transform and adapt to a dynamic, turbulent business environment. Feedback mechanisms are feeble or non-existent. Suggestion boxes stand empty. Access to higher levels of management – for new ideas, suggestions and improvements – are only found in the top new companies such as the large Internet businesses where speed of communication and feedback loops are vital.

You might think that the new media channels such as corporate social media are active. But go to these social media platforms and see how few people are commenting and contributing. One social media platform is replaced by another thinking the cause of problem is with the social media channel rather than the organisational culture that facilitates effective communication.

This brings me onto the important topic of culture. Unless the corporate culture is open and supportive, internal communications will have difficulty flourishing. It’s one thing, for example, to say that your culture is innovative and dynamic (five, corporate the) and quite another we knew sit down in a pause area on years’ old couches all worn out and the only communication you see are posters on compliance, company missives and internal systems. What sort of impression does your company create when employees walk into the entrance? How do employees communicate in your company. What channels are most effective? Is “corridor talk” the main platform for communication when top management keeps employees in the dark?

A good start to improving internal communications is research. Some of the areas of research that can be looked at include:

– Message content. What is being communicated and is it relevant to employees? Does it motivate and inspire?
– Communication channels. What internal communication channels are most used in your organisation organisation? Are these effective? Should they be replaced?
– Corporate culture. What is the prevailing culture in your organisation? Is it the desired culture or the nature of your organisation?
– Innovation. Does your internal communications culture support and encourage innovation? Does your organisation view innovation as important for doing business in the present circumstances and in the future? Has your organisation responded to the innovations in the environment or is it lagging behind?

Companies may be reluctant to spend money on research but it would be far less costly to do so than waste money by throwing it at ineffective internal communication. Design of an internal communication audit is not something to be taken lightly. It is a comprehensive view of what communication is happening in your organisation and its effectiveness. It is not an internal communications survey, no better than a readership survey that asks surface-level questions.

Effective internal communications research involves consulting engagements, identifying the problem spots, engaging with management and various participants in the organisational communication subsystem. The problem is that there are not many internal communication consultants around with the knowledge, experience and skills required to assess and recommend changes.

If you are serious about improving your internal communications in your organisation, then it’s important that you do a thorough and comprehensive search and find an internal communications consultant or a credible research company. Avoid selecting some academic who only knows the theory about business. Instead go for a person who has worked at various levels in companies, deep in the trenches, in the bowels of beast so to speak, understands internal corporate communications and research and has the intellectual firepower to handle such an assignment.

The trouble with management communication

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The ability to communicate effectively may be the number one management quality, some experts believe ¹. Leaders must understand how to use communication
strategies to build their teams and organizations to achieve departmental as well as organizational objectives.

Managers are producers of communication messages and recipients of communication from top management via various communication channels.

There are three main areas of management communication:

– Communicating one to many
– Communicating to small groups
– Communicating one to one

How effective is management communication today?

Managers work in increasingly challenging environments. Business conditions are disruptive and ever changing. Managers need to communicate with different generational levels. Messages have to be tied into corporate strategy, being mindful of corporate and external politics. Further, messages must be simplified so that many recipients can quickly grasp and understand meaning. Messages need to be linked to new concepts of change. While feedback via social media can be almost immediate within organisation structures feedback mechanisms are difficult and not always trusted. Receiving and handling feedback from employees is not an automatic skill but requires training.

Other questions for management communication are:

– How well equipped are managers for their communication tasks?
– How familiar are managers with the various communication channels?
– How effective are managers in crafting messages?
– How often do managers communicate?
– How effective are managers’ messages?

Without a clear and exciting communications strategy, linked to company strategy, it’s difficult to be effective. Messages need to have a clear purpose and ultimately be commercially orientated – motivate, inspire, generate action – all towards company’s objectives.

When the size of an organisation increases to a certain level, management has to deal with mass communication. By this is meant communication from one or a few to many. An organisation with many employees in different locations can’t communicate with everyone at the same time. This is why electronic communications is more evident via platforms such as Skype and internal video conferencing facilities. As soon as you communicate from one to many through channels like this, communication has new challenges – messages become impersonal and feedback becomes even more important.

Much time and money is spent on management communication but often not too much is known about how effective communications are. This is why it’s important to research. Research can help to determine the cost effectiveness of present communications and identify gaps as well as strengths and weaknesses. Research can help to identify communication that isn’t working and should be stopped and replaced with better forms of communication.

The main areas where research is required in management communication:

– The effectiveness of messages and content analysis. Are messages being produced in an interesting and impactful way?
– Communication channels. Which communication channels are working and which aren’t? What do the recipients of management communication feel about the way they are being communicated to?
– Frequency of communications. How frequent or regular is management communication? Are recipients receiving too much communication (unlikely) or are they receiving too little (likely)?
– Feedback mechanisms. What feedback mechanisms are available? How effective are they?
– Corporate culture. What is the prevailing corporate culture? How is the corporate culture supporting or hindering communication? What needs to change?

These are just a few of the areas that need research to determine the effectiveness of communication in a company. Recommendations would include what needs to change in communications and how as well as the resources and training required.

Management communication is challenging but it holds exciting possibilities for change given proper research and an understanding of what is working, what isn’t working and how to correct the situation for better results (and be more cost-effective).

¹ An Increasing Usefulness for Managerial
Communication Research on the Main Topics of

Reginald L. Bell
Prairie View A&M University
Deborah Roebuck
Kennesaw State University,

Why corporate communication falls short

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Corporate communication has come a long way over the past three decades.

This is how I saw the industry when I got involved in the mid-1980s:

  • Most communication was one-way, in other words, top down.
  • Marketing communication was there but it was not as professional as it could be.
  • Management communication was also one way with little or no feedback.
  • Crisis communications hardly existed.
  • Media relations was effective, especially where media people were plucked out from real editorial jobs and had a keen sense of media requirements, what makes a news story and how to angle the public relations objective. These practitioners were worth their weight in gold.
  • Communication channel research was basically non-existent.
  • Research (message, channel and audience analysis) was low – only the largest of companies were looking into what they were communicating and how effective it was.

The world has changed. We are living in a turbulence, disruptive environment. Speed of communication has become almost instantaneous.

The new order is political on many fronts. International politics and national politics influence corporate behaviour and culture. Important issues like people with disabilities in the workplace, gender equality, transgender rights and diversity, energy consumption, energy efficiency, the environment, carbon emissions, natural resources depletion, and even workplace wellness influence companies today. The old sabre rattling from the left against capitalism continues with capitalism continually striving to become more acceptable.

Amidst these modern day challenges, is corporate communication responding strategically and effectively?

I think the first place we could start looking at research. How much research goes into the effectiveness of communication? We are not talking here about obligatory or mandatory communication required by stockholders and other key stakeholders. We are talking about two-way communication or, simply put ,dialogue.

Let’s face it: all communication in corporate companies is commercial (to make money or save money). Think about it:

  • Communication to shareholders has a commercial value – don’t communicate and see what will happen.
  • Management communication has the purpose to motivate and encourage management which commercially means to make them more effective producers.
  • Internal or employee communication is commercial. Take away all the smooth phraseology from HR departments and what you’re really left with is messages to motivate, inspire, warn (yes, warn, especially in today’s compliance environment, which is good), inform and in the most ambitious of companies, to engage.
  • Marketing communications is certainly commercial but how much marketing communication done creates new business? Millions are spent on marketing communications and does it bring any in any new customers, new orders, sales? It’s a similar thing with corporate advertising, also known as brand advertising. What contribution do these general, feel-good advertisements achieve? They are not measured. Some will argue that brand advertising has a different purpose and does not contribute to directly to sales but overall enhances the environment for sales to take place. Believe what you want. Direct marketing, on the other hand, measures performance down to the last cent on the mailer. Research shows what direct marketing communication can achieve in sales.

Much needed today is research in the areas of:

  • messaging
  • internal communications
  • marketing communication
  • management communication
  • communication channels
  • communications strategy

We will end it here and come back later to these areas of research that are sorely required in corporate communications and motivate an argument for each area of research.