The art of conversation – communication as an essential skill

This is the third of five articles written by Springwise and brought to you by UPS.

For new business founders beginning to find their feet communication is an essential tool to equip themselves with. This encompasses everything from good working relationships with co-founders and employees, to engaging in regular conversation with customers.

1. Communicating with your user base is important, of course, but business founders should be avoid simply bombarding users with information. A high number of social network followers does not automatically translate into loyal customers. David Hillier, founder of Donate Your Desktop found this when building up his company’s online social profile. ‘I think the biggest mistake we’ve made so far was to expect that social media exposure alone would build a giant user base. Facebook and Twitter are amazing connectors but people’s attention can be quite fleeting when they’re using them. For instance, we had 1500 likes on the site at the same time as we had 200 users.’ It is important to start a conversation with users, rather than just a loudspeaker type model, where messages are sent out into the online world with no means of gauging how they are being received by the user.

2. A willingness to learn from others can also be invaluable in informing your business model. There are likely to be many people out there who have either gone down the road you’re taking, or who are currently embarking on the same journey. These people can offer advice and tips, or give you a chance to share ideas with them. Max Marty, founder of the boat-based entrepreneurial community Blueseed, relies heavily on his communication skills to bounce his ideas off others who are in a similar stuation. ‘Whether it’s connecting with other entrepreneurs and exchanging ideas, finding new people to work with, or finding investors, connecting with like-minded helpful hard working intelligent people is key.’

Seeking help from others around you should never be shunned. It can be tempting to rush into getting a business off the ground but taking a step back, consuliting with others who are in a similar position or who have relevant expertise, can be invaluable. Ben Greene, founder of the Farmery, agrees: ‘I think if I had taken the time to speak with more experts and pursued mentors then things would have gone much more smoothly. I’ve learned that experience is priceless and any chance to gain wisdom from someone else should always be sought after.’

3. Communication can also be key in keeping you motivated. Running a start-up can be a lonely task if you don’t have a co-founder and you can start to doubt your judgment without any feedback. Conversations with your user base can inform your future decisions, as well as spur you on to keep improving and developing your brand. Founder of women’s fashion site, Mode-sty, Zahra Aljabri says that her main motivation comes from ‘the emails I get daily from women thanking me for starting Mode-sty. They, like myself, are fed up and frustrated by how difficult it is to find a fashionable and conservative outfit without the couture price-tag. I am always encouraged and grateful that thousands of women know that I have them in mind.’

This positive feedback is especially crucial when you are trying to convince a certain industry to change the accepted way of thinking, or of doing things. Zahra’s feedback from her customers has given her the confidence to pursue her aim despite feeling that it contradicts the majority opinion in the fashion industry. ‘Fashion is one of the oldest industries and it can be hard to convince people to change their ways even if the alternative you are proposing is better. So it has been a long trust-building phase where we try to show respect to the industry while trying to gently question the status quo.’

Perhaps the clearest explanation of why communication is key in business life comes from Jonas Gam, co-founder of the playground technology game Son-X Octavia. ‘Be kind and sincere and you will find help from many people, all the people you need to succeed. And understand when you succeed it was a team effort that got you there, not you alone.’ Without a good network of supportive or knowledgeable people it is easy to fall at the first hurdle. No man is an island, and this rings particularly true for entrepreneurs embarking on a risky and exciting career journey.

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