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Communicating With Employees

In your quest to make your start-up fly, don't forget about the people who are helping you get things done.

If we told you good employee communication is important, we'd hear a good, resounding "Duh." And if we told you your employees were the key to your success, you'd tell us to stop wasting your time, because you learned that in Entrepreneurship 101. But if we told you how to run your company from the inside out, would we have your attention?

Probably, because you're not quite sure what "running a company from the inside out" means. We went to Shirley Dreifus, chief executive of Strategic Communications Group in New York City, to find out how an entrepreneur who's just starting out can turn this highfalutin concept into real-life dollar signs.

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First off, says Dreifus, you have to know that your employees are your first and best marketing tool. Mistake number one that most companies make is informing investors and customers of the latest news but not sharing the info with employees. "When customers want information," says Dreifus, "the employees don't know what's going on." That newest product offering or latest mention of your company on the local news shouldn't be news to your employees-keep them abreast of all the happenings.

Don't worry though-keeping employees informed doesn't mean you'll be sentenced to a life of meeting after meeting and memo after memo. There are several ways to keep the communication going without taking up exorbitant amounts of time: e-mail, voice mail, instant messages, homing pigeon (OK, maybe don't go that far), to name a few. Dreifus suggests that even during the super-stressful start-up phase, an entrepreneur should commit to weekly or biweekly in-person meetings to discuss all the issues at hand. "Generally in a start-up, you're really understaffed and everyone's stretched thin," she says. "So making everyone feel that they're a part of the company and keeping them informed is a great way to diffuse any problems and get people to tell you what's really going on."

Keeping employees appraised of all goings-on can help in other ways as well. You know how expensive advertising can be, right? Check out this news flash: Your employees can be walking advertisements. "Your employees are your best emissaries to the public," says Dreifus. "If each one of your employees knows 10 or 20 people and they start talking to those people about how great your product is or how great your company is, and those 10 or 20 people [spread the news], you get tremendous word-of-mouth benefits just from keeping your employees informed. It's a fairly inexpensive marketing tool, [yet] people don't even take advantage of it."

TALK BACK
What do you do to keep the communication lines open with your employees? Tell us at bsumag@entrepreneur.com.

While you're embarking on this journey of mass communication, remember your days as an employee. Remember how you wanted to know what was going on with the company, but how those messages about curbing the use of Post-its really got annoying. "When employees start getting burdened with e-mails and voice mails, they're not about company strategy or about where the company is going or critical concerns," says Dreifus. "[Employees] get overburdened because people start copying them on every little thing, whether or not they need to read it."

Building a good communication network with your employees is not just a suggestion-because if you don't let them know what's up, says Dreifus, "the employee feels they're not being considered, that they're not a part of the company." And that's one message you can't afford to send.

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