Neem Pillai from the IACT19 Committee sat down with Benjamin Maclaren, IACT16 alumnus and current Community Manager of Entry29 and the Renewables Hub, to chat about the role communications play in entrepreneurship.
As an entrepreneur in a digital world, when you are faced with the challenge of communicating your business idea to potential customers or investors, which channel do you choose? Social media is quick and easy, right? On Twitter you are competing with the 280-character limit; on Instagram and Facebook, you are competing with memes and babies eating lemons; and on YouTube you are competing with the skip ad button.
While many stress the importance of communication to create a successful business, emphasis is often only placed on the superficial levels of communication. For example, the focus is on how to use social media to communicate with your audience more actively, to gain more likes, more clicks, etc., rather than how to communicate with your audience more effectively. Obviously, we cannot deny that social media provides a wide reach, however it is debatable if it allows a deep enough level of engagement within the wider community. This kind of uncertainty may be too risky for new entrepreneurs starting their journey especially when building a strong network, loyal client-base, and solid team, are the keys to achieving success. Perhaps, relying solely on social media as the primary means of communication with our audience is not the smartest choice.
IACT16 alumnus, Benjamin Maclaren, a.k.a. Ben, shares a similar view, drawing from both his entrepreneurial experience and his science communications background. He emphasises the importance of face-to-face interactions and networking, and reflects that, of the clients he has acquired in the past, very few came via a website or advertisement, but they instead “came through short chats in an elevator or from a random networking event”.
In interactions like this, Ben believes that one has the opportunity to “assess who the potential client or investors are, and what they want, so that your pitch is tailored to their best interests”. The presentation of one’s pitch in a conversation may not always be as refined as it could have been in a pre-written Facebook post, however the Facebook post is unable to convey the same level of passion and drive as that of a bright eyed, large-hand-gestured exchange. It is this combination of confidence and passion that make people listen to you and, as Benjamin points out, “people love seeing people talk about things they love”.
Many businesses also struggle because they underestimate the importance of quality communications to help you learn about your customers. To make their sales, businesses often rely too much on how and what people hear about them, without considering whether that messaging is appropriate or relevant to the audience at hand. It is instilled in us from our ‘show and tell’ days to first perfect our script and then present to the class. On the contrary, Ben encourages entrepreneurs to first develop a minimum viable product, and then go test that through constant interactions with your audience, learn from that, and use it to build your brand and reputation. The reasoning behind this is that customers usually do not have a “build-it-and-I-will-come” mentality, and according to Ben, you can make a product, an app or a web service, “but if you cannot get it to people, then it will fail”. This inability of many entrepreneurs to sell a product to customers could surface from subconsciously considering customers as the ‘target audience’ which Ben warns against and instead suggests considering them “communication partners, because a target does not fire back”. Basically, effective communication is a two-way street between the venture and the people who want their solution.
Ben’s reflections are based on his personal experience in the IACT program and those he has since gained in his current position as Community Manager of Entry29 and the Renewables Hub. Ever since his involvement with IACT, he has been demonstrating how connecting to the community through effective communications plays a major role in entrepreneurship. His tip for IACT19 participants is “if you want to truly reach your audience, a lot of it needs to be organic”.