‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens is perhaps one of the most loved Christmas tales of all time. Its timeless appeal resonates with us all - no matter what age you are, the concepts of past reflections, present challenges and future aspirations always hold some meaning, even if those meanings change with time.
So, in the spirit of Christmas, we’ve adopted the format for a series of blog posts that look at how these concepts can be applied to your business. Grab yourself a cup of mulled wine, don your worst Christmas jumper and settle in to enjoy the first instalment...
A simple question that isn’t always simple to answer.
Why did you start your business? Why do you do what you do?
Those feel like they should be easy questions, but the answers define everything you do. Do you want to build an empire? Change the world? Sell the best tacos in Edinburgh? Just make some money?
“Every single person, every single organisation on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organisations know why they do what they do… If you don’t know why you do what you do, and people respond to why you do what you do, then how will you ever get people to vote for you, or buy something from you, or, more importantly, be loyal and want to be a part of what it is that you do.” - Simon Sinek
You may not have taken the time to reflect on these questions, but the answers can be found throughout your organisation - in your staff, your premises, your products and your communications. The answers permeate everything you do. They shape your organisation. They define your brand. They influence your profitability. They determine your success (or otherwise).
Defining what’s important to you can give you and your business clarity and direction. Failing to do so could result in you becoming an inadvertent Scrooge (and don’t expect ghostly nighttime visits to help you change direction!).
Use hindsight to understand your story
Dwelling too much on the past can be a bad thing, but if you take the time to reflect on how your business came about, what mistakes you’ve made along the way and what wins you’ve achieved, then you can piece together a valuable story.
As a business owner you are well-versed in your story (you’re the central character after all), but consider that others might not be. Your staff, your customers or your suppliers may only be ‘peering from the outside in’ and as such only have a superficial understanding of the things that are important to you and your business. Of course, the day to day operations of your business still run well and (hopefully) everyone involved is happy.
Gecko's Client Services Director and Co-Founder, Mike Octigan is big fan of stakeholder engagement:
"As a business book addict The Commitment Engine was my favourite on the topic of employee engagement, clear and actionable strategies and tactics for anyone who runs a team or business."
But is there something missing?
It might be intangible, even imperceptible, but if you have a sense that things aren’t quite right, then taking the time to tell your story to the people who are involved with your business can be valuable. Or rather, it can increase the value of the things you are already doing.
Perhaps you are a family run business with strong family values, but as you’ve grown you get the sense that some of that has been lost. By spending time with your team to highlight those values and look at ways you can action them, you’ll then be able to help them become part of your story.
Or maybe you’re in a position where you’ve not had much luck with marketing suppliers. ‘Something’ just wasn’t quite hitting the mark. Using an external supplier can be tough as the starting point is always ‘peering from the outside in’. Chatting about your history - understanding your story - is a great way to start off that relationship. It helps inform the design, copy, targeting and messaging of a campaign, giving it all that little bit extra value.
Here's a testimonial one of our clients gave us. Does this sound familiar?
"We were completely disillusioned with web companies and online marketing. We had almost zero return with our previous partner after huge investment and were a bit lost. Gecko were the first company who didn't speak down to us or try to bamboozle us with jargon. Quite the opposite they made sure we did understand exactly what they would do, what it would cost and what returns we could expect. The clincher was when they explained to us that enquiries had to be relevant to our offering. Unbelievably this was the first company to realise this."
Your story influences how customers perceive you and this has a lot of value. It can lead to a deeper connection and better relationship, which can manifest lots of benefits - positive reviews, business referrals, honest feedback and it can also mitigate the damage from problems that occur as happy customers are generally more willing to give you some leeway.
Consider how Scrooge’s story affected the people around him. Being able to reflect on the past and act on what you’ve learned is a key skill that will help your business grow. Not doing so could be something that haunts you on cold winter nights!
It’s not an easy thing to do
While those ‘peering from the outside in’ have limited information to work with, your challenge is that you’re in the middle of your own story and are afflicted with information overload.
Even the most capable business leaders can struggle to articulate their story in a meaningful way. It can often be a lengthy process that focuses on intangible concepts that are difficult to translate into actionable items.
How many of you have spent time defining your “brand words”?
Great, so now you’re ‘transparent’ and ‘ethical’. What next? Tell your team to go be 10% more ethically transparent? The difficulty is that falling back on a process that is essentially a box ticking exercise lacks the authenticity and personality that the situation requires.
Instead, consider the things that were important to you in the past. Why did you start your business? What was your motivation? What did you do well? What mistakes did you make?
Note that we’re not talking about the problems your product or service solves. This isn’t about defining your position in the marketplace and how you stack up against the competition. This is just about your business.
The things that motivated you at the start and shaped your business as it grew are important parts of your story. These are the seeds you planted in the past, but they can also be seeds for the future too. Understanding these things can help bring your staff, your customers and your suppliers into your story so they can be part of it, rather than simply spectating.
Here’s what you need to do...
I’m certain while you’ve been reading this, a few things from your past popped to mind.
So here’s a little exercise - write them down. Make a list of your early motivations, aspirations and wins. How does the present compare?
In our next article, we’ll explore how the present can bog your business down and why planning for the future is simpler than you think.