The economic crisis that began in 2008 has emphasized that the true engine of a healthy economy is the vivacious small enterprises created and driven by people who dare to dream. These people go on their own to follow opportunities when fear is the global markets’ common denominator. In the Czech Republic, in line with global and European trends, all eyes have turned to creating and supporting emerging businesses. The word “start-up” has become so overused and abused – pretty much like the word “coaching” – that many reasonable business people, investors, mentors and politicians developed an allergy to it. And this is just the beginning; with a large amount of public funds being prepared to be poured into the start-up segment, more surprises lie ahead of us, be they positive or negative.
A refreshing goldmine
For professional communicators, the startup segment is a refreshing goldmine. When my friends in the South Moravian Innovation Center (JIC) invited me to speak about media relations to their start-up crowd, I was happy to oblige. More than a business opportunity, being in the startup community was like plunging into a river after a really hot day: a start-up entrepreneur myself, I had finally found other people with dreams and willingness to make sacrifices in order to follow them. So refreshing! As time went by, my experience with start-ups deepened. I started to observe differences among various start-up communities; I also started to become more realistic in distinguishing between a business idea and an already functioning business case. In almost all instances, communicating professionally was a tough nut to crack for the technology-driven start-up entrepreneurs. They know they need to communicate, but have no idea – and often no budget – for communication. What to do under such circumstances? Here are a few observations I gathered from the position of mentor, adviser and PR representative of Czech start-ups.
Clarify your expectations
I have never been more grateful for having gone from journalism into entrepreneurship in 2010 than when I speak to a start-up entrepreneur. It’s like: “I know what you’re talking about. Been there, done that.” This is why communication advisory usually turns into business management advisory – from PR we end up talking naked figures: how much money do you want to make with this project? Clarifying your expectations may be hard from the beginning, both in terms of economic figures and communication. However, taking time to define and quantify your expectations is the right thing to do: how can you know you have arrived at your goal if you have no idea where you’re heading in the first place? I haven’t mentioned “define your expectations” by accident. Particularly in terms of communication, speaking the same technical language is essential. Branding is not the same thing as marketing, public relations and media relations; content marketing and brand journalism are quite different concepts; social media communication and online advertising will also require different approaches and tools from your company. The most important thing when you consider communication is to clarify the answer to the question: “What do I want?” Then make sure all your team members have the same definition of terms for the way to get there. Only then is it safe to get down to work.
Follow the client
That’s why I love communication: It’s common sense. Who will bring you money? Your client. How does your client communicate when he’s considering, searching for and using your product? What channels are your customers using to get informed, share experience and recommend products and services similar to what you have to offer? These are the channels where you must focus your resources. For a start-up, the question of strategic resource management and getting more with less is crucial. It’s the same in communication: follow your client, understand his communication behavior and focus your resources on the channels that build awareness, inform, convince and improve user friendliness for customers. That’s it.
Repeat success and learn from mistakes
Entrepreneurship is the fastest growing-up school I have ever attended. Yet, growth comes only when you acknowledge the facts and try to learn from experiences. Doing the same thing over again and expecting different results is the best definition for madness, as Einstein said. Whatever you do and brings results, do it again. Keep good track of the outcome of your actions and just do whatever works again and again. On the other hand, dare to be honest with yourself. There isn’t one single entrepreneur who hasn’t made tons of mistakes. For some, FAIL reads as First Attempt In Learning. So, don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes and take action to correct them. It’s part of being an entrepreneur, and it’s a part of who we are. We have so much more to achieve in terms of communication for start-ups on the Czech market. As stated above, failure is part of the process – and we will all: investors, advisers and the government have our share of learning in the next few years. Yet, with concentrated efforts from the business community, hope emerges that the kids of today’s start-up entrepreneurs will live in a world where daring to follow one’s dreams will be a more natural approach. For that it deserves all our investments, including pain, failure and loss.
By Cristina Muntean