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Robust Rigourous Communication July 15, 2013

Filed under: Ideas,Resources,Strategy — Carla Bobka @ 7:36 am
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You’ve heard the phrase, “over communicate,” right? Time and time again, I’ve found it true. Mostly because you can never be sure someone is listening, just because you said something.

As a result, I’ve developed a pattern of communication with my clients. It’s beyond the day-to-day stuff. These messages happen at the end of each week and travel in/out/up and out, and is internal as well as external.  The broad and deep approach helps keep clients and internal team members feeling certain that things are on track and helps them feel they are on top of things.

The first layer of communication is a weekly update I send out. Two versions go out. Both are similar, yet each sends it’s own message.  There are rarely surprises in the weekly summary. If there are, its good news. Bad news always gets delivered early and on it’s own, usually via phone. Bad news gets summarized in the weekly update, with progress to resolution.

Both internal and external versions use the same layout, and the layout is consistent each week. That way people recognize it when the see it, know where to find particular details if they are looking for something. And it’s simpler for me get it done. The date is included in the subject line so it’s simple to find one months from now.  The approach is designed so it can be shared upwardly internally or by the client.

The following 4 elements are included every time.

  • Logo
  • Opening message
  • Program Summaries
  • Housekeeping items – vacations, visitors, travel dates

Here’s what each version looks like. I write both of them.

Business Summary – Internal

Purpose: Summarize key developments from a strategic perspective.  It’s high level of what I’ve been working on all week. If there’s an issue that needs to have a light shine on it internally, it goes in here in a respectful way. Its branded with the client’s logo so there’s visual recognition of which revenue stream it is.

Distribution list: ops leadership, my boss, client services team, call center team, project mgr, IT leads

Topics covered:

  • Opening paragraph – reference to activity that the week focused on. It could be invoicing or budgeting or a quarterly business review or a visitor we hosted.
  • Kudos for teams that have really delivered this week
  • Unexpected revenues or costs
  • New opportunities
  • Internal challenges that are stuck – similar to bad news, stuck issues are first escalated via separate messaging. They are reiterated in the weekly update.
  • High level summary by program – it includes a couple sentences per program so readers get a sense of opportunities and threats. Sometimes it’s simply “the program is running smoothly.”
  • Project updates and deadlines
  • Housekeeping for next week – vacations or key meetings to put on the radar.

Business Summary – External

Purpose: Summarize key developments from a strategic view and how they impact from the client’s perspective. Written in a way the client’s contract managers can distribute upward in their organization. This is branded with the Archway logo so they instantly recognize which part of their business it relates to. The internal version is the basis, then I edit from the client’s point of view. Some items get deleted, if it’s internal baggage.

Distribution list: client contract managers, their bosses, my boss

Topics covered are essentially the same as the internal summary, but reworded from the client’s perspective.

Example – unexpected revenues are reworded as unexpected costs with specifics about why the costs are valid and how to avoid them in the future.


Results from the effort have been great. The client knows I’m aware of topics they may have heard about but not had time to talk to me about. Originally this version was only sent to my direct client contacts. They asked me to include their boss’ so they wouldn’t have to do it. That indicates expanding trust, and gives me more visibility higher in the organization.

Operations likes seeing a summary, so they know if they’ve missed something.

Yes, this is a lot of work every Friday, especially when all you want to do is shut down and start weekending.  Is it worth it? Yes, absolutely.

I’d love to know what you do. How do you keep communication flowing with your client?


Distinctive Gardens’ Facebook Big Break from American Express OPEN July 5, 2011

The big city camera crew is freaked out by the grain bin behind them.


If you follow SocialPie at all, by now you probably know an my buddy Lisa and her hubby, Bud, are finalists in AmExOpen’s Big Break for Small Business contest. Big Break’s  final winners (there will be 5 of them) are determined by online voting.  (You can watch their video here and vote for them to win!)


The garden center is owned by Lisa’s husband Bud and Jim Brown, in tiny Dixon, IL. Lisa and I have been friends forever. We met in 4th grade at John Glenn Elementary School in Donahue, Iowa.  Donahue is super-tiny town of 298.


Lisa now lives about 90 minutes from Donahue in Dixon, IL; and I’m outside of Philadelphia.  We reconnected at our class reunion and keep in touch through Facebook.  Mostly through posts on SocialPie’s page, and Facebook Messages.


The adventure that Big Break has brought to Distinctive Gardens has been great. It’s been fun to watch from behind the scene’s with her going through the process, watching them stretch their business in the process. And not surprisingly, Dixon, Il is the tiniest of all the finalists hometowns.


Today’s post captures the timeline of how Distinctive Gardens came to be finalists for AmEx Open’s Big Break.


April 21 ~ “SocialPie” facebook page posts a link to the Big Break competition. Lisa saw the post.


It all started with a SocialPie Facebook post.

April 23 ~ Distinctive Gardens enters the first phase of competition with a written submission answering three questions:

1.Tell us about your business. What makes you excited to come to work every day?

2. How do you envision Facebook impacting your business?

3. How could a Big Break help your business and your customers?

May 25 ~ A call comes informing Distinctive Gardens is a top 40 semi-finalist from over 11,000 entries across the country. Later that night a phone interview is conducted. Both the written and oral submissions then go to a panel of three judges who decide the top 10.

Lisa found out she was a finalist!

June 2 ~ A call comes from Digitas in NYC, informing Distinctive Gardens they are one of the top 10 finalists.

June 10 ~ The Big Break camera crew of  from Boston, NYC, LA, and Chicago converge on Distinctive Gardens and spend an entire day shooting and interviewing to make a 90 second video for the competition. (Vote HERE 🙂  The crew:  Jon,Jerry, Kristyna, Casey and Leif parachute (not really)  into on Dixon IL and eat mounds of homemade cookies.

July 5 ~ Facebook and American Express OPEN launch public voting on the top 10 videos to determine the top 5 winners.


The Prize:  American Express Open has teamed up with Facebook to give 5 small businesses a Facebook business makeover and $25,000 to grow their business. Wish Lisa luck, and go vote (and tell your friends, too) for Distinctive Gardens!



Social Media Examiner Re-post: Five Small Biz Tips for Social Media Success April 10, 2010

Filed under: Ideas — Carla Bobka @ 7:11 am
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Social Media Examiner

Over the last couple months I’ve talked with dozens of small business owners about social media. Two things they all have in common are being both interested and baffled by social media. Hopefully our conversations have fanned the flames of interest and quelled the nerves of befuddlement. Today a blog post by Peter Wylie really caught my attention I wanted to point it out to all my readers as well. He gives 5 pointers to  small businesses can grow by using social media effectively without big budgets.

The post is “Five Small Business Tips for Social Media Success.”

Here’s the Cliff’sNotes. It’s worth your time to read the entire post – IMHO.

  1. Local color – provide local context in addition to industry expertise; the big brands can’t do that from the corporate marketing department
  2. Provide value-make sure your content is clear in what the customer is going to get in return for their attention
  3. Be consistent-post on a regular basis or customer’s won’t visit again
  4. Diversity and connect – be on multiple platforms, offer unified but different updates on each platform
  5. Competition matters – iterate your efforts by learning from competitors, large and small

Here’s the entire post.


Showing the Love–Communication with Clients February 12, 2010

Filed under: Ideas — Carla Bobka @ 2:21 pm
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You’ve landed a great project with one of the firms most talked about clients. Now how do you make them love you as much as you love them? Let’s get your client talking about your firm as much as your’s is talking about them.

Here’s one idea: Communicate with them like they want you to.

Develop a statagy for communicating with each of your client stakeholders.  Some engagement Statements of Work lay out a communication plan, so you may have this part easy. If so, you have to comply. But there’s a catch. Chances are your main contact didn’t come up with that part of the SOW, Procurement did. So don’t move forward thinking it’s straight forward.  Be sure to ask each stakeholder how they prefer to communicate with you. During that conversation touch on the topics below:

  • process–what elements are they concerned with; are they visual-create a dashboard in Excel or use a Gant chart; are they tactical or strategic; how much detail will they digest; are they more interested in what was accomplished or what’s on deck
  • delivery tool and method–IM, email, phone call, voice mail-which phone number; Word doc, PPt slide, video clip
  • frequency–good news only, bad news only, weekly summary, when, which day, early or late

Keep in mind each stakeholder is different and you will need to adapt to each of them if you want to have impact with each of them. One size doesn’t fit all, ever. At least not by coincidence.  What does tool of choice accomplish for them and why did they pick it? Insight into that will tell you more about them that will help you down the road.

Don’t forget to ask your internal stakeholders the same questions. Think about whether your boss gives a progress report on the project in a meeting she attends. Is the update you’re giving her now enough to make her look good when questions come? Ask her.

Let me know what I’ve missed. How do you do it?