The Beginning of a Communications System: How to Write a Communication Plan in 7 Easy Steps
- Sam Montoya
I’m not where I “should” be with my blog/business and I’m not sure why… :-S
Does this sound like you at this moment in time with your blog or business?
You do everything that you’re supposed to; you write epic shit, you post to Twitter three to four times a day, you post on your Facebook page, and you send out emails to your email list, you even have a product you’re selling. Despite all of this, you’re still not getting the attention you feel your blog/business deserves and your income from your blog can’t even pay for you to eat out at Burger King once a month.
Why does this scenario, which seems to be all too familiar, present itself so often?
The answer is a lack of a planning and more specifically, a Communication Plan.
Let’s find out why we need one, how we can create one and how to act upon it…
What is a Communication Plan?
A communication plan provides a framework for activities for your business which help directly measure whether the tactics you choose, to achieve your goal, are actually working.
According to an analysis of a Watson Wyatt study on communication Return on Investment (ROI) in 2007/2008, your overall market performance can actually increase by 16% by creating an effective communication plan and executing it.
Now why is that, simply creating an actionable plan can increase revenue by doing something that sounds simple? This is where the root cause of the issue comes into play, lack of planning and the inability to quantify what was has been done. Going into a blog or business venture you need a plan, something that breaks down what you are doing and why you’re doing it. Having a clearly defined goal along with objectives on how to achieve that goal, followed by tactics creates a system. Systems are what will ultimately bring success and create massive action with disproportionate results.
Without those, you’re going to be doing what we are about to talk about next…
Most people don’t have a Communication Plan in place, let alone an idea of what they want to do.
Tell me if this sounds like familiar advice; if I post three to five times a week on my blog, guest post in between my posts, network, post on Twitter three to four times a day, post or share something on my Facebook page, pin something on Pinterest and if I have some time, throw something on Google+. If you said it does, you’re not alone. The noise of what to do to get your blog noticed is astounding and takes an approach of a shotgun. You shoot everything against the wall and see what sticks, but how do you know if any of it works?
Does that line of thought produce any lasting results? Perhaps (if you’re 1% of all successes that happen by chance or luck), but how would you know if you don’t have a goal, let along how to quantify that goal?
You can either spend all of your time taking the shotgun approach, or you can create a plan and quantify the results and create success rather than hope and pray for success.
Creating a Communications Plan
The most basic of Communication Plans requires at least seven sections, or steps. Here is a quick rundown of them. Knowing what they are now, we will dive deeper into each section.
- Target Audience
- Communication Channels
Step 1: Wildly Important Goal (WIG)
The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey talk about Wildly Important Goals, or WIGs. This is something where you pick a specific goal you want to achieve and is something you want to make big, something that will make you stretch. If you’re a new blog, maybe that is to have 1000 subscribers within a six month time frame. Maybe it’s to create, promote and launch a new ebook or a how-to video course of something. Something along those lines, commit it to paper (you can write it on a computer, but there’s just a power of doing it on paper that helps produce results).
Now that you have something that you really want to achieve, let’s turn it into a goal. A goal should have three parts: from “x” to “y” by “when”. For it to be a high quality goal we need to make sure that it is a SMART goal.
- S – Specific
- M – Measureable
- A – Achievable
- R – Results-Based
- T – Timed
So step 1, before you read any further, sit down and choose what that WIG is for your site or blog and turn it into a goal.
You’re still reading, go ahead, do step 1 and then continue below.
Step 2: Objectives
Objectives are kind of like the WIG, but they are “chunking” the WIG down into smaller parts.
This is taking two to three (no more than three) actions you can take to achieve the WIG and applying the same concepts we learned about goal making. For example; you want to create, promote and launch an ebook for your website and you want it done within six months. Think of two to three things you can do (for each portion of the goal), still keeping things fairly high level that would help you achieve the WIG. Breaking that goal into three parts, we can attach timelines to each section.
I would like to have the ebook created by such and such date, I want to start promoting my ebook at such time and finish promoting at such time (or input via what channels) and so forth. Once you have two to three objectives created for each portion of your WIG (no more), continue onward.
Step 3: Target Audience
Who is going to be the target audience that you are trying to reach?
Using the ebook example again, who is going to benefit the most by using or reading your ebook? Who may potentially help you promote or sell your ebook? Where would you find these people?
You’ll notice, especially if you have done marketing, that is a fundamental portion to getting your message into the right hands. If you’re writing an ebook on finance, you’re not going to target 20-something art students. You need to create a very narrow focus on who your target audience is. Danny has talked about this quite a few times over the past two or so years, but you may be thinking, “if I make things so focused, won’t I be losing those that aren’t being focused on?”
It may feel counter-intuitive, but by creating that focus you are creating massive action which will lead to disproportionate results I mentioned above.
Step 4: Communication Channels
Now that you know who your target audience is, it’s time to start focusing on where they are at.
Is Facebook going to be your focus or will it be Twitter? Or maybe it will be Google+ or Pinterest? Maybe it will be other bloggers in your space that you need to focus on via personal interaction?
By knowing who your audience is will determine where and how you use communication channels. By focusing on those specific communication channels will continue contributing to steps one through three. Now it’s not enough to just say what channels however, you need to explain why. By creating a why these channels are to be used creates more emphasis and focus on what you’re doing. Go ahead and sit back and look at what channels would be the most beneficial to you and write down why.
Once you’re done, move on to step 5…
Step 5: Tactics
This is normally the section everyone starts with because it tends to be the “action” section.
We all love tactics; if you read I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, then you may have a really good idea on this one. Tactics are great, but not when they are done on their own. This is the portion of the plan where you start writing down the nitty gritty. What are you going to do on the low level (day-to-day) to achieve the objectives and ultimately your goals? Using the ebook example again, this is where you break down the writing of the book, the promotion of the book and the launch. If you’re going to sit down and write the ebook, you are going to block out time on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1pm to 3pm until the book is done. You can also make it based on word count as opposed to time based.
This section, for most people/businesses, will be the largest section since depending on your WIG and objectives, will require the most time. This section really ties everything together, the WIG, your objectives, your audience and your communication channels. Again, before you move forward to the next step, get down between five and ten things you can do to achieve your objectives and your WIG. Do that now and when you’re ready, let’s start putting timelines on them.
Step 6: Timelines
This section of the plan is where you start placing timelines on everything.
Granted you have placed timelines on your WIG, your objectives and potentially tactics, but this is where all of those are combined into one place. You can also create a Microsoft Visio diagram to put it into a more visual spectrum. Whatever works for you, this is where you timeline all of it in one place. This section may even be completely done, you just need to compile here. You then become your own project manager so go ahead and compile all of your timelines here.
This makes it much easier to know when something is due and if you created a Visio diagram, then you can just look visually.
Step 7: Quantify
For many, this is the hardest part of the plan and rightfully so.
How do you quantify your WIG, your objectives or even your tactics? Being able to analyze what you are doing is the only real way to know if what you’re doing is working or if you need to course correct. Google Analytics is a great way to track how traffic on your site is doing. Mail Chimp or AWeber are great tools for tracking email open rates and user engagement. E-Junkie can help you keep track of how many sales you have at any given time. So depending on what your WIG is, how you plan to go about it, make sure it is something that can be quantified and tracked.
Using the ebook example again, let’s say your WIG is to have an ebook launched by such and such date and to have so many units sold by a certain date. The sales of the ebook are fairly easy to quantify using E-Junkie (or similar). Your Objectives however want a certain traffic generation point prior to launch so you need to drum up some excitement. Google Analytics can help you quantify your traffic and where it’s coming from. Some of your tactics to do this are do two guest posts on similar blogs by such and such date and host a launch webinar several times prior to launch date. You can continue drilling down how in-depth you want to get with tracking the data. The key here is you cannot get to where you want to go without knowing where you are and where you’ve been.
As you were reading this post I was asking you to sit back, take a moment, and write down things as we went over them.
It’s important to do this as you are reading this post and I’ll tell you why. By getting down all of the information, you are creating your plan as you read this post and being actively engaged makes it stick. Once you have each section written down, you can then start piecing things together and making it flow better and reference other sections if needed. Chances are, if you’re like me, I was creating an outline of each section as I was going and creating the high level outline. Now that I have that done, it’s time to fill in the meat of it with the why I’m doing what I’m doing. This is the last major key for if you don’t have big enough why’s you’re doing something; you’re going to crash and burn due to lack of motivation and limited willpower.
An example would be writing two blog posts a week with one guest blog per week for the next three months. That would seem to be a fundamentally sound objective or tactic, but why would you do it? Does it contribute to your WIG directly? By doing this action, what do you hope to achieve and then be able to quantify it? Knowing why you are doing something and then being able to back it up with data is huge, not just financially, but psychologically as well.
So now you have your shiny new communication plan written down (or typed if you went that route) and it may be a little rough, that’s ok. This is your first time and maybe your goal isn’t big enough or your tactics don’t really help you achieve your WIG. Whatever it is, this is the point where you refine what you’re going after and don’t be afraid to change things if something isn’t working or you were a tad off. The magic of a plan is that it is fluid and can adapt as things change.
Now, hang it up where you can see it every single day (typically where you work). In addition to this, never (I rarely use an absolute) leave the sight of your plan without taking some sort of action towards its achievement. So do that right now; read through your communication plan and do at least one action that you have listed towards it’s achievement. Do that now and I look forward to your success and to those you help while paying it forward.
Struggling to create a communication plan from scratch? To present your final result to your teammates or higher-ups in the end, you can also use communication plan templates.