Why Listening is an Entrepreneur's Secret Weapon.

Entrepreneurs need to tell their story. When I attend conferences for start-ups , at least one speaker reminds us to ensure our elevator pitches are perfected, to master social media and get our companies’ message out. I agree that communicating your brand story is essential for raising funds, creating buzz and marketing products. However, I never hear about the unmistakeable value that active listening brings to a business. Here’s why it’s time to stop talking and start listening.

Listen to your staff

Finding, hiring and training staff is time consuming and expensive. Job seekers these days want to work with companies where they feel valued and their input is appreciated. The people who work for you are an essential sounding boarding. Candid feedback from your team can flag internal company glitches early on. By keeping an open door policy, there’s a better chance of hearing about staffing, process or product problems early in the game and addressing issues quickly.

At one point, I was managing a mix of fifty full time staff and part time contractors working for YMC, yet the staff turnaround was minimal. I kept roles fluid, often redesigning job description to keep the people I depended on engaged and challenged.

The alternative? Lose valuable employees who leave with your IP, face the stress of finding new talent who also fits your culture. It’s easier to listen to your staff and act on their input. Your team will feel heard and become more invested in their jobs. Happy staff = productive company=better bottom line.

Listen to your customers

Too many businesses use social media to push out a marketing agenda. It’s one of my pet peeves. These brands don’t yet understand the power of using social media as a listening tool to learn what customers think about them. Social media is like a cocktail party. Constantly talking about yourself to disinterested guests has zero value. Who wants to spend time with the blow hard in the room who loves the sound of his own voice? Being a part of rich conversations with your customers is priceless. Spark meaningful engagement by asking your followers questions and respond in real time. Create relationships by listening rather than talking.

When my agency Ehm & Co works with a brand on a public engagement tactic like a Twitter party, the brand has the choice to participate or just let us do the talking for us. A few companies take full advantage of these parties to make genuine connections with their customers. When we partner with TELUS, every prize winner received a personalized shoutout with an image created on the spot by the brand using one of their trademark cute animals. Kudos to TELUS for going the extra mile by investing in building relationships one follower at a time.

Listen when a customer complains about your product or service; that’s valuable information. Their feedback can help your company improve. Solicit honest feedback any chance you can get. Surveys are worth the effort. Innovation comes from crowdsourcing and really listening to what your customers are telling you.

Listen to the competition

Keep your friends close and your frenemies closer. Listen carefully to what those in your space are working on. Learn about their new products, their disruptive business models. Pay attention to their successful initiatives and revenue streams. Watch as your competition incurs the costs of experimenting with new models. First to market doesn’t mean first to make a profit. Take note of their failures and mistakes and avoid the same pitfalls. Chances are you’ll save your company time and money in the long run by listening to the competition.

Listen to your numbers

As innovative or delicious as your product may be, if the numbers don’t add up, your company will fall apart. Many entrepreneurs have fantastic business ideas and a kick-ass teams to do the hard work. However, if you aren’t good with spreadsheets and pricing, you are doomed. Without a strong understanding of business financials, you can’t make educated decisions for your business.

Listen very carefully to what your profit and loss numbers are telling you. If you’re math phobic, hire someone who understands the bottom line and listen to their advice.

Listen to your gut

Growing a business is a huge personal and financial commitment. Starting a company is a marathon filled with unexpected twists and no guarantee of crossing the finish line. So, when launching a business, listen to your gut. Ask yourself if you have the emotional fortitude to weather the inevitable rejections every entrepreneur faces? Do you believe deep down that this initiative can be profitable (after listening to the numbers and your competition)? Do you believe there is a need for the type of business you’re getting into (after listening to your customers)? Do you trust your partners will be there for the long haul and do an equal share of the work (after listening to your staff)? If you can’t honestly answer yes to these questions, listen to your gut and rethink your business.

Listening is an entrepreneur’s secret weapon. Use it often.