Relations: Antidote for Small Business Failure
Kelly © Copyright 2003
When small businesses fail, the wreckage
is often assigned to undercapitalization, among other mistakes. Seldom is
failure attributed to a lack of effective communications that might have
modified the behavior of sales prospects in a positive way, thus averting
In my view, raising money for new businesses is a skill best left to others,
but smart, aggressive communications is not. As the entrepreneur, you cannot
rely on your financing source to create the broad public exposure your business
needs if it is to survive. Ideally from Day 1, you must take the lead in
this vital effort accepting the fact that good results come only after careful
planning and implementation of a realistic and workable public relations
Before you achieve real growth and prosperity, your target audiences must
not only become aware that your company exists, they must be motivated to
take action. Doing something about how your business is perceived means a
well-planned public relations program that can reach, persuade and move those
prospects to action.
At the root of it all, is a simple truism we all know but tend to forget:
people act on their perception of the facts. If the small business owner
is to have an effect on those perceptions, he/she must deal with them promptly
So the question for you, Ms. or Mr. Small Business Wannabe, is, have you
thought about some of the unattended perceptions out there that could nudge
your fledgling business closer to bankruptcy than success? Perceptions that,
if left unattended, may well result in actions that run counter to those
you and your banker may desire?
If sales prospects are unaware of
your product or service, you will not get them as customers.
And if those customers dont
remain convinced of the value of your product or service, you lose them.
If employees believe you dont
care about them, productivity suffers.
If a minority person believes you
discriminate when you dont, a host of unnecessary problems may
If community residents dont
perceive your business as a good place to work, you have employee hiring
and retention problems.
If insurance carriers perceive you
as a bad risk, they dont provide the business coverage you need.
If journalists are suspicious of
your motives and you dont convince them otherwise, you get bad
If business people believe what some
competitors say about your firm, that joint venture you want so badly may
not come about.
And, as you grow bigger, if government
regulators believe your products are not completely safe, sales will almost
certainly be negatively affected.
Obviously, small businesses have
limited resources. Still, there are certain cost-effective activities you
can undertake to reach them. And considering the survival nature of this
topic, while some expense is involved, you may wish to research nearby public
relations professionals willing to partner with you during the early days
of your enterprize.
Together, you may move in this direction:
First, rank your external audiences as to importance. For example, #1 customers;
#2 prospects; #3 employees; #4 local and trade media; #5 your local business
community; #6 community leaders, and so forth.
Second, as time permits, interact with members of each audience and jot down
their impressions of your business, especially problem areas.
Third, prepare tailored messages that not only provide details about your
product and service quality and diversity, but address problems that surfaced
during your conversations.
Fourth, consider the most effective means for communicating each message
to each audience. This may include everything from simple meetings, briefings
and news releases, to media interviews, facility tours and special promotional
How will you know that your efforts are changing perceptions for the better?
Over time, you should notice increased awareness of your business, a growing
public perception of the role your business plays in the community; and,
of course, growing numbers of prospects.
Such results are tracked by speaking on a regular basis with people among
each of your key audiences, by monitoring print and broadcast media and by
interaction with key customers and prospects.
Remember what is at stake nothing less than the survival of your
So, keep an eye on whats most important, and remember that people in
your community or marketing area behave like everyone else they take
actions based on their perception of the facts they hear about you and your
And that means you must deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions
by reaching and persuading them to your way of thinking, thus moving them
to take actions that lead to the success of your business.
About the Author:
Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks about the fundamental premise of public
relations. He has been DPR, Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin
Corp.; VP-PR, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of
communications, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press
secretary,The White House.