Feb 26 2010

12 Secrets Of Effective Business Communication

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By Alyssa Gregory

The ability to communicate, and communicate well, is one of the biggest factors in business success. You could be an excellent designer, but if you’re unable to promote your services and communicate effectively with clients and colleagues, your potential is limited. The principal areas where communication is essential include:

  • Pitching potential clients,
  • Client meetings,
  • Customer service,
  • Face-to-face networking,
  • Marketing your business

Pitching Potential Clients

When you freelance or own a business, your livelihood depends on your ability to sell your services. You need to be able to convince prospects that you are the best person for the job, and the communication secrets in this article will help you do this successfully.

pitch-services
Image by Mart1n.

1. Ask the Right Questions

Part of selling your services is being able to understand the client’s unique needs. You can do this only by asking questions that get to the heart of the challenges they are facing. Once you have a clear understanding of the problem that the client needs to solve, you can pitch your services as the best possible option for the client, outlining how you will meet their needs.

For example, when I am contacted by a prospective client, I have them fill out a website requirements document that poses various questions to help me better understand what they are looking for in a website. Some of the questions I ask are:

  • Describe the nature of your business.
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What is the background on the project? (Is it brand new? Has it already begun?)
  • What are the goals and objectives of the project?
  • What is the timeline for the project?

2. Communicate Professionally

Your professionalism can win you contracts, and your communication skills add to the complete package. Take time to proofread all emails prior to sending; use a business email address with a proper signature; answer the phone professionally; and speak articulately and competently at all times.

While my email signature has evolved over time, below is the general format I follow, which has worked well for me:


Name
Company | Website
Email | Phone number

Client Meetings

Client meetings, even those that take place over the telephone, are an integral part of every successful business. Follow these tips to make your meetings as productive as possible.

client-meetings
Image by murielle.

3. Schedule and Prepare Thoroughly

We’re all busy these days, so scheduling your meetings in advance ensures that you and your clients have an adequate amount of uninterrupted time to speak. Once your meeting is scheduled, take time to prepare an agenda that outlines focus points and sets a structure. Sharing the agenda for the meeting gives both you and the client an opportunity to fully prepare.

Because you may not be using the same calendar or scheduling program as your client, confirming the date and time of your meetings in an email and sending a reminder and the agenda the day before is good practice. If you are unsure how to format an agenda, plenty of templates are available for free online.

4. Speak, Pause, Listen

When you have several topics to tackle, rushing through them to get all of your ideas out may be tempting. But this causes confusion and makes the client feel that their input is not important. Slow down, and remember that communication is a two-way street. Establish a give-and-take that allows both parties to have their say.

One way to become a better listener is to limit or eliminate distractions during your conversations. That may mean closing your email client, turning off the television and closing the door to your office. By doing these small things, you ensure that the client has your full attention, and they will sense that, too.

5. Follow Up in Writing

While you may be taking notes during phone or in-person meetings, the other party might not be, so follow up after the meeting with a written message, giving an overview of the discussion to make sure you are both on the same page. Summarize what was agreed, repeat questions that were raised and outline the next steps and responsibilities for both parties.

In addition to sending your notes, invite the other party to give their feedback on what you have sent. This way, it becomes a collaborative document and not just one person’s view.

Customer Service

Your clients want to feel that they are your priority. You can make them feel so by providing exemplary customer service. Try these communication-focused actions to improve your customer service.

customer-service
Image by Oreckel.

6. Ask for Feedback

One way to maintain long-term relationships with your clients is by keeping open lines of communication. This means asking them for their input on how things are going and how they feel about the service you’re providing. This can be accomplished by inquiring at the end of a project, during day-to-day conversations or through formal surveys. The format matters less than the actual act of it, so work it into your business and fine tune as you go along.

When conducting surveys, use an online service that tracks responses for you. There are several online services that should give you enough functionality to conduct client surveys. Here are a few worth checking out:

7. Address Problems

If a client is unhappy, don’t ignore their complaints. Ask them why they are unhappy and what you can do to fix the situation. The longer you wait to bring it up, the worse it will get. Addressing the issue and being accountable when appropriate puts you on the path to resolution. And your willingness to face the problem head-on tells the client that you care about the project and their satisfaction.

If a client complains about your turnaround time or responsiveness, you may need to create a more formal project plan to clarify expectations. A working document like this can also eliminate some of the uncertainty regarding responsibilities and keep everyone on track.

8. Try a New Format

If a problem with your client stems from miscommunication, try a different method of communication. If you have been handling everything via email, schedule a phone call to see if that clears things up. After the call, you can summarize the conversation in an email to the client, which will give you another opportunity to get both of you on the same page again.

Today, so much communication is done via email that the opportunity for major miscommunication is almost inevitable. A rule of thumb is to limit your email to one screen-full (i.e. above the fold); anything that requires more space than that should be handled by phone. This should help you avoid some of the pitfalls of relying on email alone.

Face-to-Face Networking

Networking events, conferences and other face-to-face opportunities can take your business to a new level. These tips focus on helping you get the most from in-person networking activities.

networking-event
Image by trublueboy.

9. Communicate Confidently

Be confident and use body language to support that confidence. Shake hands firmly, smile and make eye contact while communicating at live networking events. Don’t forget to bring business cards to hand out to everyone you meet, and remember to relax and be yourself.

Before heading out to a networking event, practice introducing yourself to new people to gain confidence. Working on your introduction with someone you trust and asking for their feedback also helps.

10. Prepare an Elevator Speech

An elevator speech helps you make the most of a first impression, while making networking situations easier and more productive. Be prepared with your speech and ready to answer common questions about your business and what you do. Practice your elevator speech ahead of time so that you are relaxed and comfortable with introducing yourself.

Your elevator speech should last no longer than 30 seconds and should convey how your product or service solves a problem for your target audience. An elevator speech could go something like:

Have you ever gotten completely lost on a website because the navigation was inconsistent, confusing and disorganized? What I do is redesign websites for small-business owners who need a stronger, more coherent online presence. By learning as much as I can about the company, I create a strategic plan for reinventing an existing website to be more functional and user-friendly.

Marketing Your Services

Whether you market your business online, in person or through traditional advertising, communication is key to brand awareness. Here are two secrets to magnify the impact of your marketing across the board.

writing
Image by ralaenin.

11. Be Responsive

A big part of marketing is being available to your target audience and following up when necessary. If you market your business through social media outlets—including Twitter, Facebook and blogging—watch for and respond to comments, questions and especially complaints. And when you are contacted as a result of offline marketing activities, respond quickly and professionally.

Plenty of recent examples on Twitter show how certain brands have been slow to respond to criticism, hoping it would die down, only to see it spin out of control. Also, when you do respond on social media websites, keep it professional, and avoid confrontation because that would only spread the fire.

12. Write Well

You can’t successfully promote your business if your marketing copy is not clear, concise and action-provoking. If writing is not your forte, consider hiring someone to help you craft copy that attracts potential clients, generates interest in your services and motivates potential clients to action.

To strengthen your writing skills, start a swipe file of marketing copy that you like and have found inspirational. Read through it and make notes of what you like in particular and what pulls you in. By making this a frequent exercise, you should be able to learn what makes good copy good and bad copy bad.

Your Turn to Weigh In

Being a tolerable communicator and an effective communicator is the difference between being good and great at what you do. If your design skills are up to par with your competition’s, then strong communication skills can put you ahead. Strengthening your communication skills is worth the time and effort, and you may be surprised by how much you benefit from more polished and professional interaction.

What do you think? What impact has communication had on your success? How have you improved your ability to communicate with clients and colleagues?

Related Reading

About the author

Alyssa Gregory is the owner of avertua, LLC, a full-service virtual assistant firm. She has a passion for supporting small businesses, and provides business tips, advice and news through her business blog, the Small Business Idea Generator, and as a regular contributor on SitePoint.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @alyssagregory.

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About the Author

The jungle is alive: Be it a collaboration between two or more authors or an article by an author not contributing regularly. In these cases you find the Noupe Editorial Team as the ones who made it. Guest authors get their own little bio boxes below the article, so watch out for these.

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Comments and Discussions
  • Ryan, 26 February 2010

    Good article! A lot of useful tips. Thanks for taking the time to write it up!

  • Greta, 26 February 2010

    Good stuff. Dealing with clients is one of the most difficult parts of freelancing for me, and I’m always looking for good tips to smooth the process.

    Most of my potential clients come from word of mouth of satisfied customers.

    • Mahendra, 17 March 2010

      Right Greta….Satisfied customers are always a great source of new customers.

  • Amberly | Web Designer, 26 February 2010

    Excellent topic. I have to say “Elevator Speech”

    It’s important to think about effective communication, rather than just jumping into it.

    • amir gul, 11 June 2011

      i also agree with u

    • Abrar, 05 July 2011

      Agreed

    • Tam, 30 June 2013

      The key to win new client is to satisfactorily serve the existing client…key points listen to your client, think of their expectation and deliver them…….
      No situation is difficult if you plan it through to the end….

  • Brian Jones, 26 February 2010

    Another great article – thank you for the post! This will prove pivotal for freelancers in the making such as myself.

  • Modern interiors, 26 February 2010

    Very good tips, and all true… especially the face-to-face networking!

  • SCMIND, 26 February 2010

    Very helpful article. This is a very good guideline to follow. I have implemented many of these steps in our own business. Thank you for the post!

  • raved, 26 February 2010

    very nice :)

  • Alyssa Gregory, 27 February 2010

    Thank you for all of the comments! Although much of the article is pretty commonsense, I think many of us (me included!), tend to underestimate the importance of communicating effectively on a daily basis.

    My biggest challenge is being consistent with asking clients for feedback and then implementing it into my business activities. What’s your biggest communications challenge?

  • Sasha Baksht, 27 February 2010

    Nice article. Listening to your client is extremely important.

  • Peach, 27 February 2010

    Great read. Very well written. Great guideline for a starter like me. Thanks for sharing.

  • Robin, 27 February 2010

    I would also encourage you to include your address in the signature. Also, make sure it is on the bottom of every email. I would rather scroll through it 15 times, then not be able to find your phone number to make a quick call to clarify something.

    Great article. You’d be surprised how commonly these “common sense” suggestions are not followed. :)

    • Fuad Abrhams, 08 July 2011

      Great Read!! well presented

  • vapor king, 28 February 2010

    Great article I am going to make my employees read it.

  • cooljaz124, 28 February 2010

    Yeah ! Thanks for the write up !!! Excellent one

  • Kuroi Kenshi, 28 February 2010

    Great article!

  • Marco Barbosa, 28 February 2010

    Great article indeed.

    Shut up and listen to the client. And be yourself, always.

  • Urviho, 01 March 2010

    Good one :) Thanks

  • Yoni R, 02 March 2010

    Outstanding article! Thank you.

  • Shin Dragich, 06 March 2010

    I truly enjoy this blog. Discovered it on Google and you put up some great information. Look forward to the following post.

  • Thanks for share!

    And don´t forget to use a template cuestionnarie!

  • Nitin Singh, 30 March 2010

    very nice Post!
    I really appreciate and admire the information you are offering in this post.
    Really helpful article.
    Thanks for sharing

  • Deepa M Bhatnagar, 15 April 2010

    Very good and readable article. Great tips for a successful business.

  • Orville Abundis, 29 April 2010

    Excellent post, thanks. The blog just got a new permanent visitor.

  • Teodoro Vicari, 15 May 2010

    Anyone who has been to AA meetings and discovered the prevalence of individuals coming to their knees in petition to their Higher Power, mentions of “GOD” and Our Lords Prayer recognizes that AA is a faith set on spirituality – just like Christianity.

  • Fritz Fruchey, 17 May 2010

    I had a little trouble understanding right away, but I think I get what you’re saying now. Thanks!

  • Eric, 17 June 2010

    this is good general advice. I would also say that it’s important to be able to gauge the working style of your customer and to make adjustments accordingly.

  • Dipty, 18 June 2010

    The 12 secrets are very usefull…..these helps for successful business and communication.

  • pascal, 26 August 2010

    your information is the most thankful to me. be blessed.
    how can i get other from human resource management?

  • julian, 31 August 2010

    I found this articel very usefull. Thanks

  • ambrose, 08 October 2010

    Thanks so much , your tips has broaden my thought immmensely.

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  • Amresh kumar Pandey, 31 October 2010

    I had a little trouble understanding right away, but I think I get what you’re saying now.I would also encourage you to include your address in the signature. Also, make sure it is on the bottom of every emailI would also encourage you to include your address in the signature. Also, make sure it is on the bottom of every email.Dealing with clients is one of the most difficult parts of freelancing for me, and I’m always looking for good tips to smooth the process.

  • ducnt, 30 November 2010

    Excellent :) thanks

  • Jaye Puleio, 27 December 2010

    Despite being on vaca last week I did a lot of business development and got a TON of work done!

  • Joe Abraham, 29 January 2011

    Good and helpful write-up. Thanks.

  • lee, 24 March 2011

    thanks 4 ur article

  • Shawna, 09 April 2011

    These are great tips, like you said, a reminder of the common sense things we sometimes forget. I especially like Elevator Speech idea. It is smart to be prepared instead of stammering when you may only have a few moments to talk.

  • kashif khan, 09 May 2011

    its very thank for this

  • these tips are of great importance not only for students of business badministration but also for teachers and businessmen.
    thanks.

  • John Easton, 09 June 2011

    I think these are great tips, it’s good to read tips on how to be more successful so you can realize the things that you aren’t doing.

  • ishwar, 20 June 2011

    well.. its so nice that you guys come up with such great points. the thing that might be considered is adding some more elaborate points on other areas of business communication too… thanx

  • TahirYasin, 01 September 2011

    Thank you

    Good tips
    to win business.

  • Mayambala Arnold, 11 October 2011

    It’s great i din’t know that there useful articles to me like this one “i love it”

  • Erma, 26 October 2011

    Great article! Thanks for sharing your tips.

  • Robina Ali, 01 November 2011

    Most of these tips were in my head anyway, but as i am totally new and about to start in business i wasn’t sure if they were the right ways of going ahead. So now my instincts match the expert advice, i will go ahead.

    I paticularly like the idea of the “elevator speach”, i often wondered why buisness professionals were so quick and easy to the point, now i know it’s practise.

    Thank you so much for the blog/info.

  • Mancho Anthony, 14 December 2011

    Iinteresting tips for those of us aspiring to become businessmen.Thanks for sharing the knowledge. keep on

  • fkei, 31 December 2011

    Cool article
    I love it

  • arjun, 18 January 2012

    nice article it helps me alot

  • Hassan, 26 January 2012

    Great article, I’ve used these tips and it definitely helped my work flow run smoother.

  • ssdpa, 30 January 2012

    Oh dear it is blessing of God for the people like me who want to make money at home….

  • Syed Tanveer Hayat Chitrali, 19 February 2012

    The article is attractive and productive, though it can be made more comprehensive and useful.

  • ssdpa, 20 March 2012

    Thank you for a nice blog and creative thinking buddy.

  • Alisa, 25 April 2012

    Thanks a lot for nice article! A really informative one! Agree with you with all the points! Good job ;-) Maybe you will find my post concerning Business Etiquette at my website an interesting one.

  • Anas, 28 April 2012

    Thanks and very useful tips.

  • Melissa, 20 May 2012

    Great article filled with helpful information for business owners!

  • Mildred Khalayi, 22 May 2012

    Good article, thanks for the advice.

  • Kat, 25 July 2012

    Great write-up! Communication is definitely the key to success no matter which type of business you are involved in. I work as a Virtual Assistant and have found that much of my own success comes through the feedback and follow-up when a job is done. Adding that little extra bit when I finish a project almost always leads to the client being even happier and much more willing to recommend me to others. Don’t be afraid to ask for a recommendation, a link to you/your business or a testimonial you can use later.

  • mihratu temesgen, 18 August 2012

    this makes me effective . thank you .

  • Ntakiyiruta, 06 September 2012

    this article is very helpfull in the business thx.

  • CBD, 08 September 2012

    This is the best article for business owners. Alyssa Gregory you have done it again. I have been in a conference related to this topic an let me tell you that I have learn more reading your article. This is pure gold for business owners: To understand the client’s unique needs, professionalism, prepare an agenda that outlines focus points, communication is a two-way street, follow up after the meeting with a written message, customer service,Feedback, Address Problems, Face-to-Face Networking. This key points in not well practice by business owners. Well done Alyssa.

  • cjs, 05 October 2012

    South America,

    Excellent ,efficient and so very applicable.
    Everyone studying Communication, especially at an Institute for Applied Sciences,needs to be familiar with these facts.Thanks for the article.

  • Nagvendra Singh Parmar, 05 October 2012

    Hell Alyssa

    Thanks you so much for doing the great job of knowledge sharing. Article is very helpful.

    Thanks you so much again.

    Advocate Nagvendra Singh Parmar

    India 0009987898168

  • swaroop reddy koppula, 08 October 2012

    the people who are dealing with clients can have a excellent stuff here.
    thankyou for providing us the valuable information

  • cleon, 18 December 2012

    great,am going to share this with my sales team in our coming meeting

  • Nina, 23 January 2013

    Great article,will surely help

  • Whitney, 30 January 2013

    It helped doing my assignment. Thanks.and great article

  • Wagumisi, 25 February 2013

    Great Article, has inspired me greatly with my teaching and learning profession, thanks.

  • esther hassan, 01 April 2013

    Nice one.

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