Why you might need a communications plan for your business
When starting a new business or transferring a business, there are common terms that you will hear, such as when developing a business plan, planning a business lifecycle, or even choosing the right brand colours for your business.
What gets less attention is creating an effective communications plan. Here is what you need to know to organise a communications plan as a fundamental aspect of your business growth:
What is a communications plan?
A communications plan essentially outlines how you will promote the message of your business to the wider community. It may also be called a marketing or branding plan, but communications implies a diversity of approaches to reach different audience types using different mediums of communication.
What also discerns a communications plan from, say, a branding plan is that it incorporates existing customers/users into the strategy to grow your goodwill as a business.
A communications plan goes beyond what your immediate strategy may be for growing brand awareness and your customer base, to include a strategy for how your communications will evolve as your business evolves. For this reason, it is important to develop a communications plan at the same time as you develop a business plan and an idea of your business lifecycle, as these will inform the types of communications strategies you might want to utilise once you have a strong customer base on which to lean.
Why you might need a communications plan
It may not be necessary to develop a communications plan if you are in particular forms of business. For instance, you may simply apply the strategy of promoting good word-of-mouth if you plan to develop a highly localised business. This is a relatively simple communications strategy as it rests solely on the quality of the service and/or product that you provide the community. Word of mouth is still the most effective of communications strategies for any type of business. However, even if you are a local small business, you may want to have some rudimentary form of strategy for even the most basic of communications strategies, such as outlining how many times per year you might do a letter drop in the local area to promote your business, or other word-of-mouth activities such as sponsoring local events or communications materials (newsletters, local papers).
Larger businesses, (20+ employees) will benefit from drawing up a more comprehensive communications plan as it will give you a structure on which to assess the influence of your branding activities and base the evolution of this on solid data rather than guesswork.
How to develop an effective communications plan
The key to developing an effective communications plan is to make it flexible. This means it must account for the future development of your business and not lock you into specific modes of communication (i.e. only building your social media platforms as a sole source of communications and forgetting the future need for other forms of communications).
To develop a communications plan:
- Assess your objectives from your communications (eg. is it simply awareness or do you want to see immediate sales from various types of communications?)
- Separate various communications activities (i.e. social media, letter drops, networking, sponsorship, newsletters, advertising, events, pop ups) into their various costs, both financially and in terms of the time involved in these activities. Knowing what resources these activities requires will help you prioritise them according to your objectives.
- Note down how you will measure success of your activities (how will you collect and analyse data for your communications) and which activities are best suited to analysis.
- Produce a timetable once you have prioritised your communications activities. Knowing how long they will take you to perform you can then set them out in a timetable.
- Evaluate what activities can be automated as much as possible. For example, certain social media activities (Twitter) require time and significant input for you to develop personal connections on the platform. They can’t easily be automated. However, there are social media tools that allow you to schedule posts well in advance so that you can save time later on.
- Note down how your communications activities may evolve with your business. For instance, once you have established a regular customer base, will you diversify your communications to be less locally focused and instead look towards other markets (such as through social media and paid online advertising). Your communications plan may also evolve if what you offer as a business changes, such as if you start to supply your services/products online, this then shifts your communications to an online focus. Knowing your business lifecycle will help identify when you will implement various communications activities.