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“At the end of the first year, my accountant sat me down and he said, “Now you’ve done a good job, but I want to talk to you about accounts receivable.” I said, “Great, what are accounts receivable?””

Hi, everyone. I’m Mike Sullivan. This is MO.com. Thanks for joining me today. With me is Suzanne Bates of Bates Communications. Suzanne is an author and a business owner. Suzanne, thanks for joining us today. Can you tell me a little bit about how you went from being a television reporter to a business owner?


Suzanne: Well, I’d been in television for 20 years and I enjoyed it. It was a phenomenal career, especially for a young person. I lived all over the country and I covered big stories and it was very, very exciting. Then I was also a news anchor, so I was on the anchor desk every night. But you know the last few years I was anchoring the early morning news. I was getting up at 3:00 a.m. every day, and I started to feel like I had the flu every day, because I never got enough sleep.

So, I started to think about what else I might do in my career and of course, like many people, I wasn’t really sure how my skills would transfer. I think that really is a very common experience for people who start their own businesses. Sometimes you may leave a profession like accounting and then start your own accounting firm, but many of us really don’t make a linear transformation that way. So when I started my business, Bates Communications, I had never worked a single day in a real business. I’d always been a reporter. I’d never had any business responsibility, never looked at a P&L, didn’t even know what a P&L was.

Suzanne Bates, Bates Communications


At the end of the first year, my accountant sat me down and he said, “Now you’ve done a good job, but I want to talk to you about accounts receivable.” I said, “Great, what are accounts receivable?” So I really had to learn from scratch. I didn’t have any clients, so I had to learn everything from sales to marketing to producing product and delivering service and everything else that is involved in running a small business. What I’d discovered is I really love business. I really loved the business of running a business, and today we have a firm of about a dozen people. We have clients in Fortune 500 companies all over the country and all over the world, and it’s been a very exciting journey to go from a profession into really building a real business.

Mike: Tell us a little bit more about your firm. What is it that you provide to today’s leaders?

Suzanne: Well, we’re an executive coaching firm, and our specialty is communication and leadership. So, a typical engagement for us would be to work with a CEO or a C-level executive or an emerging leader, a vice president or a president of a business or somebody whose about to move into a role like that. We work with them on all aspects of their communication skills and strategies to help them drive a business result.

So for everybody that’s something different. Some people are building and they need to be able to communicate with their employees to help them to understand what’s the strategy and focus and where are we going and how are we going to get there and to motivate and inspire the team. Other leaders might be out as the brand, speaking at conferences, or doing other kinds of speaking engagements that are important to them.

Then we also work with groups on their communication strategies, so that might be either an intact business or a division of a business that’s trying to, for example, drive a change forward, maybe they’re doing a massive implementation and they’ve got hundreds of people they’ve got to help do that. But we also work with entrepreneurs, so we have a Speak Like a CEO Boot Camp, for example, where you come for two days and you learn how to speak like a leader. So, we’ve tried to hit all segments of the market with our skill set, which is communication and leadership.

Mike: In your opinion, what are some of the obstacles to great leadership?

Suzanne: Well, it’s very interesting when I wrote my first book, “Speak Like a CEO,” I was about five years into working with leaders, and one of the things that I noticed is that most of them were very skilled at their businesses and most of them had a high level of technical skill, and most of them were really pretty good even at managing people. But as either their businesses grew or as they moved up through an organization, what they were lacking, what hadn’t caught up yet was this ability to communicate in a powerful way with their important audiences.

So we think about all the training and development you get, even the leadership development you get over the years, you might attend a course on leadership or managements or giving feedback or whatever it is. There are certainly a lot of courses available either outside your company or inside your company, but a lot of folks only take one presentation skills course and they consider that they’ve checked that box. In fact, there is a lot of higher level skills that you need to develop when you’re running a company. The ability, as I say, to motivate and inspire people, to express a vision, to really get people aligned around a strategy; those are really high-level skills. The ability to speak to a board of directors or a group of decision makers, you need a whole other level of skills. So, I think most leaders, to answer your questions, really need to invest more in helping them get to that higher level of communication and leadership.

Mike: You mentioned your first book, and I think you’ve written three of them, can you tell us about your latest?

Suzanne: I have. My new is called, “Discover Your CEO Brand.” That’s really about, what is your brand as a leader. We always think of brands as they relate to companies, whether it’s Amazon.com or Burger King, but a lot of people don’t think about what their own brand is as a leader. I really believe that your brand is your reputation, and your reputation is based on your character. It’s very important for all of us to understand what are the values that make us who we are? What are the values that have shaped us and defined us as leaders? And that’s true whether you run a company of 5 people, or 50, or 500 or 5,000. It’s very important for you to build a business based on values.

So in “Discover Your CEO Brand,” what I’m doing is I’m helping leaders figure out, what’s your brand. How do you look at the stories of your life and career and figure out what made me the leader I am today and what are the unique traits that I bring to leadership that I can drive down into my company to create real economic value?

Mike: Are there any basic hints or tips that you can tell us to help us immediately improve our communication skills?

Suzanne: Yes, I can. The first is to always think of your audience, and I know we always say that, but it’s sometimes difficult to do. How do you figure out what your audience really wants and needs to know? And in “Speak Like a CEO,” I have a very simple tool, you don’t really have to read the book to figure out the tool. All you do is you draw a line down the center of a page, on the left side of the page you write down my agenda. In other words, what do I want to accomplish in this meeting or this presentation. And then on the right side, you write down audience agenda, and that’s where you literally do a 180, do 180 thinking.

Sometimes you can even sit in the other seat in your office and think, what’s my audience really thinking about when they walk in, what are their concerns, what are their issues, what are their questions, what are they going to ding me about, do they even care about this topic? And as you write down those items on the right side of the page, what you notice is the agenda’s are usually very different and what we advise our clients to do is, on the left side of the page, make a big red X, just cross it out. Because if you’re not working off the right side of the page, your audience’s agenda, your presentation is going to fail. So I think, really, that is the foundation of great presentations. Creating great audience focused presentations is really about literally doing that 180 thinking and putting yourselves in the seats of your audience.

Mike: Is there any additional information you’d like to leave for our small business owners and entrepreneurs watching today?

Suzanne: Well, the only thing I always like to say, especially to entrepreneurs because I am one, is it’s hard to take the time to invest in yourself. It is because you could work 24/7, or 28/9, if there were that many days and hours within the week and in the day. But it is important to continue to invest in yourself, whatever that means to you. I think you should never cheat yourself out of the opportunity, whether it would be to attend something like what we do, the Speak Like a CEO Boot Camp, or whether it’s to join a group like, you know, Young Presidents or Women’s Presidents organization, or a business group, business networking group in your town. But, it should always have an educational component to it. I know I learned so much just really got my MBA, but you don’t get your MBA sitting in your office. You get it talking to other entrepreneurs and business leaders who’ve learned themselves and can share ideas and help you get there faster.

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