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As Clear As Mud

The organization that can master effective communication will immediately gain an advantage over much of its competition.

Undertaking the incredible journey of launching a small business or nonprofit carries with it the buy-in of being willing to embrace diverse disciplines and to learn new skills. Preconceived notions of how to do whatever it is that constitutes the organization’s mission will be intensely challenged from day one of operations. The entrepreneur who is genuinely poised for success will have the humility to admit that there is always much to learn, as well as the determination to learn everything necessary to bring the business into its fullest potential.

Building a platform for growth will always require striking a balance between the investment of capital and the full utilization of what’s already at hand. Buying every conceivable piece of the latest technology might seem like the perfect catalyst for launching the business forward, but with every new slice of tech comes a massive learning curve and the expense of untold hours of study and experimentation. Technology for technology’s sake is never a guarantee of innovation, and what was promised as the answer to every problem may sneakily evolve into being the biggest problem of all.

Conversely, eschewing tech due to expense or apprehension instantly plunges the business into the position of potentially being viewed as outdated or irrelevant. Adopting that stance will create a fresh set of challenges completely unrelated to the basic demands of the business. The longer an organization remains stubbornly entrenched in the processes of its past, the more apt it will be to lose focus and initiative for moving forward. When the day inevitably arrives for the business to suddenly be confronted with the reality of its lack of development, a desperate “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality can suddenly overpower everything else.

The happy medium in all of this is the level plane of acquiring the necessary tools to remain functional and competitive while also employing creative problem-solving within the boundaries of what’s already at hand. It’s very much in that context that small businesses and nonprofits need to examine one of the most basic components of their operations – communication. The word itself has been used to the point of being nothing more than a cliché, but the organization that can master effective communication will immediately gain an advantage over much of its competition.

Internal business communication is the first hurdle to overcome, as no enterprise can ever hope to be a success if there’s pandemonium in the ranks. Being able to convey critical information to all staff in a way that’s timely and relevant will reduce waste, minimize unnecessary complications, and foster a climate of collaboration between team members. Applying this same intentionality to the communications crafted to other businesses, vendors, and colleagues will yield a similar positive outcome and help to position the organization well in its local community and marketplace.

This is all well and good, but the unfortunate truth is that the main area in which communication tends to break down is between the business and its clients or customers. Beyond the basics of scheduling appointments or remitting billing for services, many small businesses and nonprofits tend to drop the ball when it comes to maintaining open and transparent communication with the people they’re serving. A failure in this area can paint the business as trying to be aloof and superior, and that kind of damage can be difficult and time-consuming to repair.

The good news is that intentional and interactive communication with clients and customers doesn’t require a massive financial outlay and can bring positive results further down the line. Whether through verbal or written means, investing the time and effort to craft what you’re saying to be clear, concise, and relevant has to be an ongoing priority. The commitment to honing and maintaining the clarity of your organization’s message needs to trickle down through every facet of your business, from the mission statement that defines why you open your doors each morning, through the policies that establish the boundaries of your operations, arriving finally at the procedural structure for carrying out your daily work. Failure to take communication in your business seriously will inevitably lead to you saying what you say in a way which is “as clear as mud”.

Nothing is more frustrating for the patron of a business than having to try to decipher poorly written instructions as to the customer’s role in the services being provided. Even if the level of service is excellent, unclear guidance will immediately erase any positive feelings the customer would’ve otherwise experienced. An important mindset for the business owner to maintain is that you can’t presume that high-level descriptions of what your customer or client is expected to do will be effective. Not only are such unclear directives apt to create frustration and confusion, but they instantly drive a wedge into the middle of what otherwise may have been a positive customer experience. Whatever parameters you operate within, never expect someone else to just intuitively know what they are.

If you could ask a customer or client in that situation as to why they’re frustrated, their response might be something along the lines of, “I’m not your employee!” Be intentional to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it would be like to navigate your processes if you had no inside experience. Trying to oversimplify something for the sake of not wanting to burden the customer with too much information can actually bring the opposite result. If someone is struggling to understand what you’re asking them to do in order to initiate one of your business services, in the long run you’ll probably end up wasting more of their time as well as yours.

What is clear and obvious to you is probably that way because you’ve invested hundreds of hours into developing and utilizing it. Expecting a random stranger who happened upon your website in a Google search to just “get it” is as naïve and unrealistic as could be. Even if that dismissive attitude doesn’t drive the customer away, it’s likely to immediately put them into a defensive stance that’ll do little toward making them feel like you’re truly partnering with them to deliver your service. If you take an honest look at the communication in your business and see a little bit of mud, determine to spend the next month finding ways to sweep it away forever.

What you have to say is important – just make certain that you care enough to always make it clear to the people you’re serving.


Do you want to get a deeper perspective on the overall health of your small business or nonprofit? If so, visit and enter your email address to download your free copy of the PDF, “Taking Your Organization’s Temperature.” Also, be sure to visit us on our YouTube Channel for tips, insights, and guidance on how you can truly do smart work in your organization.

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