How communication skills can help you pivot your business – lessons from lockdown
Like other small business owners, the impact of coronavirus was swift and far reaching for Laura Mckenzie.
As a fitness instructor, her business model was based on delivering group classes across her local community and one-to-one training. None of which was possible during the national lockdown.
In the year leading up to the global pandemic, we’d been working with Laura, helping show how great communication skills could help her business thrive.
In that time she rebranded from Laura’s Fitness to Laura’s Academy, launched a website that gave her a digital home that she owned, and aligned her website and social media content so that it really spoke to her audience (because she now knew them inside out).
Her business was growing and, perhaps even more importantly, her love for what she was doing had returned with gusto.
What she didn’t know was that those communication skills that had helped her to grow her business would also help to protect it when Covid-19 hit. I sat down with her (virtually, of course) to talk about her experience of pivoting her business, the lessons she has learned along the way, and her plans for the future.
Lesson 1 – know your customer
When I started working with Lucy and Emma I thought I knew my customers really well. And I did, to a point. I knew their names (a lot of the ladies who come to my classes have been coming for years), I knew who preferred to be at the back of the class, and who would stay on and do a double class.
But I thought about them purely in terms of who they were when they walked through the door to my class.
By remembering that they are real people, with full lives, along with hopes, dreams, insecurities, goals, etc. I realised that there was so much more I could do to help them and add value. And I could write content for my website and social media channels that was less about me (what time my classes where, for example) and more about them (what was stopping them walking through the door and how could I help).
When I knew that I had to stop my weekly classes at the Academy because of Covid-19 my ladies were devastated that they wouldn’t be able to work out with me for a while. And because of the work I had done, I knew that it wasn’t just the exercise that they would miss, but also their ‘me time’, their friendships in the classes, and the chance to work on their mental health as much as they physical health.
This insight and understanding meant that when it came time to pivot my business and move it all online, it would provide an experience so much more fulfilling than classes alone.
PUT IT INTO ACTION: Before you launch your online business, take the time to get under the skin of your customer so that you create something that answers a problem they have and adds value to their lives.
Lesson 2 – Provide value, every step of the way
There were many ways I could deliver my classes on-line but I wanted to create something more than just fitness. I wanted to continue to be there for every single person who was working out with me, and provide a space where my ladies could connect with each other.
I created a private group on Facebook called ‘Live with Laura’. I provide live workouts once or twice a day, Monday to Saturday, and provide pre-recorded sessions so that my 80 members can fit the workouts in when it suits them best.
But I wanted the experience to serve my customers even when they weren’t working out. So I also run weekly challenges – everything from sharing favourite songs to learning and sharing TikTok routines. We all talk to each other and support one another, sharing our personal tips and ideas on surviving lockdown. We also have the famous wine club that everyone looks forward to on a Sunday night.
PUT IT INTO ACTION: Write down what you want your virtual business to look like, what you want people to experience and how you are going to reach their needs of your customer. Think about how every interaction you have with them – from when they first discover you to when they become a paying customer – can serve a need that they have. It really is all about them, not about you.
Lesson 3 – Listen, learn, improve (and add more value)
I’ve learned that learning about my customers isn’t a one-off box ticking exercise. I spend a lot of time every day interacting with my ladies, asking questions and then really listening to the answers.
This insight has meant that I could tweak my offer as the lockdown has gone one. For example, a lot of my ladies were telling me that they were now working from home at kitchen tables and struggling with aching backs and stiff necks. So I introduced a quick stretching class that they could do in the middle of the day. Having it in the middle of the day helped remind them to move, and I kept the class short so that they could fit it into a quick break. Win win.
PUT IT INTO ACTION: Do this engagement from a good place and with good intentions. This isn’t about trying to sneak information that makes it easier to sell your products or services. That’s manipulation. Its about listening so that you can discover more ways to help and add value. If you come from a place of genuinely wanting to help you will create genuine relationships with your customers.
Lesson 4 – Be kind to yourself
I’ve learned that when you try something new, you will hear a little voice inside you that says it isn’t going to work, or that people won’t like it, or questioning who are you to be offering a product or service like this?
When I was pulling Live with Laura together I had these same fears. But I tried my best to ignore them and trust that I knew that what I was creating was going to help the customers I knew.
I have had a lot of bumps along the way, from classes not streaming and the internet crashing because so many people are using it at certain times of the day. Every single time something hasn’t gone to plan, my clients have been so understanding. You’ve just got to smile – laugh even – dust yourself off, and move forward.
Two things have really helped me to quiet my inner critic (because she does still rear her head every now and then). The first is that all of the ladies in the Live with Laura group for together an made me a thank you video for me as a surprise. I was totally overwhelmed by the love and support they gave me. And every time I have a little wobble, I watch that video and remember why I am doing what I am doing. It’s for them.
The second is to remember one of the best pieces of advice Emma has ever given me. If someone doesn’t like what you are doing, or don’t want to buy your product or service, ‘let them go, they aren’t your people’.
You can’t please everyone, and if you try to please everyone you’ll probably end up pleasing no one.
PUT IT INTO ACTION: Flip the language of your inner critic. If a little voice whispers to you ‘no one is going to buy this’ say out loud ‘my customer is going to love this’. If you hear ‘who are you to try and do this’ say out loud ‘I have all of the skills and experience I need to do this, and I’m going to learn along the way’.
Lesson 5 – plan for the future
I think that it is really important to keep looking forward, rather than back. When people talk about going back to normal, I think about going forward into a new normal.
I am definitely going to try and keep my online group going even when I am able to do my group classes again. I have had ladies join who have never been to my classes before, ladies who have moved away from the area and have reconnected with me through the group, and ladies who I know can’t make the days/times of my ‘real life’ classes. I won’t take that away from them.
I’ve also kept talking and listening to my customers who haven’t joined the Live with Laura group. We’ve swapped lockdown survival tips, I’ve shared ways they can build exercise into their days, and some healthy recipes (and the odd cocktail recipe). You can’t ignore your customers and assume that they will pick up where you left off once the lockdown is over. Keep talking, keep listening, and keep adding value.
PUT IT INTO ACTION: Invest in the relationships you already have, invest in creating new ones, and plan now for how you can deliver your products or services in the ‘new normal’.
We’ve loved working with Laura and others to ‘live test’ how great communication skills can help you to achieve your goals. And we’re busy bundling them into an online programme to help you do all of this in your own business – coming soon!
In the meantime we’ll be back next week with our next blog and will be over on our Facebook page all week. We’d love to see you there.
Lucy and Emma x