I was recently at a lunch talk by Angels Den founder, Bill Morrow, in which he enumerated the five simple questions that business angels ask of early-stage businesses looking for funding.
Number one (which 31% fail on) is: “What do you do?”
Yes, three in ten business owners are unable to explain what they and their business do for a living, without descending into jargon, techno-speak and fine detail.
The thing is, if you can’t summarise in a simple elevator pitch to potential investors in your business what it is you do, how on earth are your customers going to figure it out? How much business are you missing out on, because you fail to communicate adequately the benefits of dealing and trading with you?
When I ran my marketing services agency, clients tended to pigeon-hole what we did in terms of the first job we did for them. If it was sales promotion work, we were a sales promotion agency; if it was design of communications materials, we were a communications agency; if we ran a sales incentive, we were an incentives agency. Extending our sphere of activity beyond that first project was always a challenge, however we communicated our ‘offering’.
This was brought home to the business directors at a sales training weekend we ran for all our customer-facing account handlers. The trainer asked everyone to stand up in turn and give an elevator pitch for the business. And everyone, including the three directors, stood up and said something different.
Whether you’re a one-man band or a multinational conglomerate, if the key players in the business do not take time to sit down and thrash out a clear statement of what the business does (and what it does significantly better than its main competitors), and who its core business prospects are, there is little chance of communicating your wares effectively to your key markets, whatever channels of communications you use. Take time to sit down and work out exactly what it is you do, in less than 20 words.
In terms of weeding out poor use of English, I would say four things:
1. The tendency to say it doesn’t matter, because 80% of the population are ignorant anyway, is both arrogant and ill-conceived: the 20% who do know better are very often the decision-makers or in positions of significant influence.
2. Even if you can’t right the inadequacies of a late 20th-century education, you can employ people – whether freelance or on the staff – who do know the difference between “Eats shoots and leaves” and “Eats, shoots and leaves” (a book, incidentally, which should be required reading for all).
3. If you can afford to, employ a professional copywriter to produce business descriptions that sell, in terms that your target markets will understand.
4. At the very least, find a competent proofreader/editor who you can rely on to run through the most important elements of your marketing communications (website, brochures, advertising) and key sales presentations to prospective clients.
In other words, take it seriously, and do something about it.