I often work with very small businesses, by which I mean businesses that consist of just one person working on their own. An enterprise that small can benefit from good Public Relations just as much as a global conglomerate, albeit using different methods and of course on a smaller scale.
The real difference though, is that when you are running a very small business you are the business, and the business is you. In a very real (and scary) sense, you are marketing yourself. When you are networking, meeting potential clients, or just talking to someone about what you do, you are representing yourself and the business at the same time. That makes it all the more important that you are careful to present yourself in the best possible way – the way that will be most effective from your businesses point of view.
I call this Personal PR, and it’s surprising how many business people neglect it.
Now, I do recognise that the persona we adopt when we are ‘on duty’ is not necessarily the same as when we are not in the public eye. What you do in the privacy of your own home is no business of mine – as long as nobody finds out about it of course. I am talking here about how you present yourself to your potential market, and to existing customers. You may be doing this in person, in letters, by phone, email, social media and so on.
In general you need to think about how people perceive you. It sounds easy but it isn’t – it takes a lot of thought and the ability to step back and see yourself through others’ eyes. It’s much easier the other way round: that is, if you are the other person. Would you invest a lot of money with someone who was personally scruffy and disorganised or seemed reckless? Of course not. Now think about yourself: what sort of person do you seem to others? When they read something you have written, what assumptions do they make about you?
It is a fact that thousands of business people are self-conscious about the way they express themselves. I know this from my own experience helping people with their Personal PR, because many of my clients have been in exactly that situation. They come to me to ask for my help in improving their writing or speaking skills, or both. They feel they are letting themselves down every time they open their mouths or write a sentence, either because of their accent, or the words they use, or because they are worried about a gap in their education.
The fact is that effective spoken and written communications are more important now than ever before, and nobody feels confident if they think they lack them. The good news is these are skills that can be taught, and at any age.
At least one whole generation seems to have gone though the UK education system without being drilled in the essentials of English grammar, spelling and punctuation. If you are one of these people, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, it just means that nobody showed you how to do it.
The same goes for good spoken English. It’s a skill and it can be taught, but first you have to acknowledge that you’re not as good at it as you could be.
Note that I am not necessarily thinking here about talking posh (which can itself be offputting to some potential clients). What I am referring to is the ability to present yourself – and your business – in an effective and appropriate way. Does the image you present to people match their expectations of your business? Would you feel confident in an airliner if you saw the pilot was wearing a tracksuit and a backwards baseball cap, and spoke like someone from TOWIE? Those are the kind of assumptions we – and your potential customers – make.
One final thought. I bet that if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you will have come across (a) someone else in business who you can’t believe is in business because they just don’t seem businesslike, (b) a website that is so awful that you wouldn’t think of making further enquiries, or (c) misspelt and generally badly produced publicity material. All these things will have put you off dealing with those businesses. Now think – what are people saying about you?