This article is part of The Stability Stage section of 📕 Zero to Sold: How to Start, Run, and Sell a Bootstrapped Business.
At a certain point, it won’t be just you talking to your customers anymore. Your employees will be the first touch-points for customer interactions, co-founders and directors, and partners and other businesses. What once was a unified voice—your voice—is now a chorus. If you want to have a company that is consistent and aligned, you’ll need to be the conductor of that chorus.
The reason that a chorus of 100 singers can create incredibly elegant harmonies is that they have a central source of truth: a score written in commonly readable music notation, and a conductor to help them keep in sync. You will need to be all of that for your employees and co-founders.
Building a Source of Truth
Create a vision and mission document. Set the tone by explaining the “Why” and the “How” in your own authentic voice. This document will be the point of reference for any question that could crop up in the future. Whenever an employee, co-founder, or a potential acquirer needs to learn about the voice of your business, you can refer them to this writeup, as it will settle any dispute and answer any question.
Write it down in extensive prose, or create a video in which you explain your motivation and your aspirations. Share this with everyone who joins the company, make it clear to them that this is the source of truth whenever someone wonders how they should communicate the means and goals of the business.
At FeedbackPanda, I stated in that document something along the lines of “At FeedbackPanda, we want to enable our teachers who are likely to come from fragile financial backgrounds. When they are in trouble, we help them teach more by using our product until they can catch up.”
If you are a customer service representative tasked with deciding if a customer should get a few weeks’ extension because their credit card is overdrawn, you don’t have to think twice after reading this paragraph. This is how you set the tone.
We outlined from where our desire to help online teachers came, how we understood the product to help and enable them, and what we expected their goals and aspirations to be. In the mission and vision document, the most important topic to cover is your relationship with your customers. Are you a friend? A colleague? Do you teach them? Do you help them with work that they would otherwise have to do themselves?
In a way, this document reflects your internal positioning. Depending on how you understand and communicate your relationship with your customers, your actions and goals will change. Giving new employees and partners the opportunity to see how you understand yourself and your business is very valuable to prevent misunderstandings and misaligned expectations.
Taking Care of the “How”
Echo the voice of your customers. Talk about them as they would talk among themselves. Foster an understanding of the language used in the industry you serve. Your customer service people should be able to understand clearly what your customers are trying to do and be just as easily understood.
This is particularly helpful for new hires in fields that interact a lot with customers, such as customer support and sales. Giving those employees a glimpse into the world of your customers is very helpful. For this, consider describing in a page or two how your customers use your product, and how they would solve their problem if they didn’t have your product. Contextualize the workflow of your customers for those employees who may not know much about your industry. Give them the opportunity to look into the tribal niche communities to get a feeling for the communication patterns that dominate your customer base.
What happens when you move upmarket and the language of the industry changes? You will need to adapt. The mission and vision document is not an operations manual. It’s a spiritual guide, in some way. Change into a new consistency by revisiting the vision/mission documents, and educate your employees about the differences they’re likely to encounter. Never lose track of your original vision, but focus on where you are at this very moment.