Does your business need a capability statement?

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In last week’s blog, I wrote about useful things to consider when writing a blog for business.

I questioned whether this would be of interest to readers, however encouraging feedback suggests this was worthwhile.

Contrary to my misgivings, there are business people who still value writing blog. Really.

My post even reminded a few who’ve been writing a blog for some time to give a little more thought to their approach and blog content. Those that don’t write one, even opened up to the possibility, recognising a blog’s role in creating a foundation of content that represents a business.

In keeping with this theme, I wanted to touch on another business content tool; one that perhaps been placed in the same bucket as blogs for its questionable value.

I’m almost a little discomforted to write it, but I’m doing it anyway.

Yes, it’s the business capability statement.

Before you click away and think I’m a freelancer/business owner/technical professional. That is so not for me, hold up a moment.

A capability statement is just another way of sharing with your market what you do and how you do it. Whether you communicate this through social media, a website, a blog, advertising or in a presentation, it’s wise to ensure there’s consistency in messaging and approach, including if you share it through a business capability statement.

Without taking the time to articulate your brand’s story, your business’ point of difference, and how your customers benefit from your good work, you run high stakes game. You risk confusing your audience. The net effect? They just don’t get you. This is a troubling outcome in a time when connection is everything.

So, if you haven’t taken time to get these important details right, it’s worth taking a few minutes to understand how the approach to developing a business capability statement can work for any other form of business content creation, wherever it appears.

What is a business capability statement?

My definition of a business capability statement is a working communication tool (typically a written document) that profiles your business. Ideally, it communicates what you do in ways that make sense to your customers, while allowing you to remain true to your most meaningful messages and values.

A business capability statement is not a be-all-and-end-all piece of content that remains static and unchanged. I’ve seen what that’s like, and let’s just say, you don’t want to go there.

A capability statement is different things to all businesses.

For an engineering firm, it may be a multi-page glossy print or digital document.

If you’re a start up, it could be a page on a website.

As a freelancer, perhaps it’s a section in your proposal. Regardless of the form your statement takes, or where it’s shared, it should contain some key ingredients. Your brand story, what makes you different, and the significance of this to your audience.

Most of all, your capability statement ought to build trust.

Let’s explore this further once we’ve examined the question whether a capability statement works.

Does a capability statement work?

For some in the world of content creation, a capability statement might seem totally last century.

Not in a cool vintage kind of way, but in a plain old fashioned way, like having a landline phone or polishing your shoes.

If we’re totally honest, in the whirlwind of social media content and marketing, maybe suggesting a capability statement is old fashioned just isn’t going far enough.

For the marketing elite, it could be difficult to conceive there are business owners who still market their businesses using this ‘ancient’ form of content. But the truth is, it is happening. Don’t judge.

Some businesses still use – and need – a capability statement. If you’re one of them, then it’s important to get it right. And if you’re a content creator or marketer working with businesses who use them, it pays to know how to bring out a business’ best so that your client isn’t stuck in some twentieth century marketing time warp.

Back to the question about where capability statements work. Well, yes they do, but it really does depend on how you approach what’s on the inside.

A capability statement is a start, not an end

Let’s be clear about one thing.  If a capability statement is relevant for your business, it should be just one tool in your marketing toolbox.

Remember, too, that a capability statement – or whatever marketing tool you’re considering – is not an end point; it’s a beginning.

In truth, your capability statement should be a malleable working marketing tool that remains a work-in-progress. It should continue evolving in the same way a business website, social media presence, or presentation does.

Not only should it evolve, as appropriate, it should take on many and varied forms, depending on the audience.

I’ve worked in large corporate organisations that relied on some stock standard capability statements, and woe betide the heretic who wants to make changes.

A universally unhelpful approach to marketing and business communications (often driven by business owners and/or technical people who don’t see the value of marketing communication), maintaining the ‘same old’ will rarely find connection with an audience. Especially if it’s a same old that’s been used for the past decade.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) resistance, I learned that adapting and changing a capability statement was not only essential. It is smart business. How else can be show our customers we understand them unless we tailor our response? Giving a client your tired, old capability statement is the equivalent of a barista serving up your coffee order from last week. Hello! Imagine our response. Would we feel they’d listened? I don’t think so.

The take away here is: if your business is one that relies on capability statements, have a process for writing and renewing them in content and form. Not only will it result in greater connection with your market; it will also allow you to evolve and refine your approach as your business and market changes.

Don’t make the task harder than it needs to be

While the content juggernaut moves forward at an ever increasing rate of change, I found there are many businesses only just coming to terms with the whole ‘marketing thing’.

Whatever the reason (no need, no idea, no interest), their approach to marketing – and capability statements by association – feels like a Mount Everest climb. Impossible, and one that may very well result in them freezing up and doing nothing.

Ironically, in many cases, I’ve discovered the business owner is the roadblock to progress. Who, me?! Yes, I’m talking to you.

With preconceived and misplaced ideas about the value of marketing and communication, they shut down the creative ideas that emerge from the people at the frontline tasked with sharing the business brand story. No mean feat, especially when the messages are mixed at best, or nonsensical at worst.

If you’re that business owner, consider getting honest, stepping out of the way, and sourcing intelligent and creative help to put your very best communication foot forward.

And if you’re the person whose job it is to work with the business owner, find ways to draw out their very best and then work it so it’s even better. Having a clear process helps.

Be prepared to invest

Okay, so maybe you don’t see the point of investing dollars in communication tools, like a well written and beautifully presented capability statement you feel proud and confident to share.

That’s okay. Just expect to attract people and clients who reflect back the same standards.

If, however, you’re after a content tool you’re proud to share, be prepared to invest in people who can help bring out your business’ best.

You can do that by finding creative resources, like a content writer and graphic designer who will support you to bridge the communication divide between you and your people (your customers).

Through my experience of working with diverse businesses across varied industries, I can’t think of a single example where a business owner regretted a decision to invest wisely in this way.

When they take that step, they’ve finally faced two facts of their business communication reality.

First, they (or their business or life partner) are just about the worst person to write their business capability statement.

Sure, as the business owner, they must have input to the process. However, writing it is a whole other communication game. Almost without exception, a business owner will write for themselves, not their customers. And they use tech-speak, not language that makes sense to their audience.

Second, preparing a capability statement is business owner code for ‘rush job’ or ‘last minute effort before a submission is due’.

Working in corporate, I’ve been in that situation more times than I care to count, and I know there are swathes of small businesses in the same boat.

This year, why not make a promise to your business self? Value your customers enough to prepare your capability statement – or any communication tool that’s important to your business – well in advance of when you need it. And get the right help to do it.

Take a little time

When I am working with business owners or professionals on their capability statement, I have them complete a questionnaire. Yes, there are some basic questions about business details and industry sectors, and so on, but there are some other useful questions that are used to prompt more than a cursory response.  I do this for a couple of reasons.

The first is that slowing down and taking the time to think isn’t trendy, but it is necessary if you have a desire to communicate consciously.

The constant hustle of business and life means we are conditioned to keep moving. Sadly, butterflying across the top of things does not lend itself easily to deeper, more considered thought. However, it is at this deeper level, where there are fewer distractions, that gold is discovered.

Look at it this way. Consider how much better you feel when you’ve been intentional about anything, rather than rushing it through. Whether you believe it not, the energy with which you’ve approached that task is transmuted and absorbed by the recipient. In communication terms, your audience will literally sense that you cared enough to communicate in their language and values. This is communication gold.

The second reason I like to take people down the pathway of completing the questions is they gain an appreciation of the true value of their business (and yes I’m going to put it out there – an appreciation of themselves).

Dare I say it? Yes, people, it’s more gold.

For me, this process is fundamental to creating any content, whether it’s a capability statement, preparing a week of Facebook posts, updating a website, or writing blog. If you’re unwilling to dig a little deeper, then you sacrifice the opportunity to find meaningful ways to connect with your audience.  You also sacrifice the opportunity to build confidence in your communication.

Tell a story

Stories, regardless of how they’re shared, are the way that humans connect with each other.

It’s necessary then to integrate stories into your capability statement.  This lends depth and relevance to what can be staid and one dimensional marketing.

You can include stories about the key people in the business, the back story of the business, how the business came into being, pivot points in the business, case studies or projects your business has delivered, customers with whom your business has worked.

You might tell these stories in different ways. Telling a back story could form part of the section on your approach to business. An individual’s bio might include particular career highlights that have brought them to this point in time.  Exemplar projects could be described in terms of outcomes, that is what it meant for the client or customer.

The take away here is to think about these stories in ways they are going to connect to the person who is reading. And remember, it is not you.

Invent your own flavour

Corporate-isms have a really bad habit of infecting every known form of marketing. It’s no joke that corporate bingo that uses big company jargon really is a game. You’ll have heard it all before:

Best quality.

State-of-the-art (what does that even mean?).

Best prices.

Latest technology.

And so on.

If you write your capability statement with language like this, it will be boring and vanilla flavoured. It will also sound like everyone else’s capability statement.

And to top it off, none of this means anything to your customers if you don’t explain in their terms.

The take away? Your unique flavour can be expressed in the layout of your document (try landscape over portrait, or video rather than a document); in the language you use (a conservative company might include more conversational comments from the CEO); in the way you present your information (if your capability statement is digital, maybe integrate some interactive functionality. There are plenty of tools available to bring your content to life.

A final word

It is truly satisfying to see the communication lights go on for a business owner or a professional when they appreciate the value of expressing what’s important to them in terms of what’s important to their customers.

This can occur suddenly when they have a deeper realisation that “what we do”, is actually real valuable for their customers.

Instead of making empty vanilla statements about “highest quality at best prices”, a capability statement written with this intent will be a completely different piece of marketing arsenal. As a synthesis of considered thought, ideas, and creativity, your capability statement (company profile, business brief, call it what you like), can only be one thing – authentically you.

A bit like standing in the arena, this kind of exposure about where you’re coming from (Brene Brown calls it vulnerability) will hit the mark and allow you to connect, truly, with your audience.

Learn to love communicating more consciously in business. Download the free guide for purposeful business owners that explains how to take manage your content and maximise its value. Woo hoo.