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Table for One: 5 Tips for Good Comms with a Small Staff

If you ask any communications team of any size what they need more of, the answers are usually time and money. While we all could use more of both, communications teams of one or two face the additional challenge of not having enough staff to implement all of their great ideas.

While having a small shop can be challenging, size doesn’t have to prevent you from doing great work. As a part-time communications professional at a health-legacy foundation with five staff, I have a few tips on doing good communications work with a small team.

Plan your work.

A communications plan should be in line with the organization’s strategic plan. The plan doesn’t have to be complicated or require specific software, but it should include some basic features: 2 or 3 key messages for the year, measurable and meaningful goals, and an evaluation plan. The planning phase is a great time to review the impact and success of the previous year’s strategy. An evaluation of our 2016 and 2017 communications plans revealed that we increased our Twitter and Facebook followers by over 40% each year. We know that this kind of growth isn’t sustainable year after year and modified our 2018 social media strategy to focus on engagement, rather than on follower growth.

What were your audiences responsive to? What tactics didn’t work out as planned? Are there parts of the plan that are replicable or scalable?

Evaluate early and often.

The communications plan should be evaluated at the end of the year and at least once a quarter. During the quarterly evaluation, review your progress toward your goals. Are you on target to meet those goals? Does the data reveal something about your audiences that you didn’t anticipate? Do you need to start or stop something?

One of the goals of our communications plan is to humanize our staff to our grantees in an effort to break down the power dynamic that exists between the grantee and funder. As part of that strategy, our CEO agreed to write a blog post about her experience with burnout. I reviewed its performance about a week after it was posted and quickly realized that her story was our most engaging social media post and the most read story on our website in 2017. In light of that, we modified our communications plan to include more storytelling from our staff. Regular evaluation will allow you to see what’s working in real-time and modify or stop anything that isn’t effective.

Say no.

Saying no can be difficult, but the reality is that we can’t do it all. We are all drawn to what is shiny and new, but that newest thing isn’t always the best use of our limited time. While it can be tempting to use the latest technology and join the newest social channel, consider whether you have time to learn and implement those things. Building a presence on a new social channel takes time and may not be worth the effort if the people you want to capture don’t use that medium. We don’t use SnapChat or Instagram, despite their popularity, because the audiences that we target primarily use Facebook and Twitter.

Prioritize, and if what you’re doing is currently working, keep it up.

Learn from others.

It’s been said that a smart man learns from his mistakes and a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. Take opportunities to learn more about other people’s strategies, mistakes, and successes. Reading the award applications of other communications and public relations professionals is an easy way to do this. Organizations like the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators are often looking for volunteers to review applications for their awards. They usually don’t take very long to read and provide a great way to find out what other people are doing well and what landmines to avoid. You can also sign up to receive other foundations’s newsletters and follow them on social media for ideas.

Self-care.

The connection between communications and self-care isn’t immediately obvious, but our state of mind impacts everything that we do. The work we do requires us to have in-depth knowledge about some difficult topics that we often can’t leave at the office. We spend our time responding to these issues, sometimes to the detriment of our well-being. Creating a good strategy involves visioning, and we can’t envision a great strategy if we’re always busy implementing.

Some of my best ideas occur after a quick run around the track. I am a chronic overthinker and running is an easy way for me to get out of my head and boost my mood. Schedule time regularly to go for a walk, sit outside, or any other activity that brings you joy. Imagination precedes implementation.

Having a small team doesn’t have to be a barrier to good communications. Planning, evaluation, prioritization, learning from others, and self-care are the keys to doing great work with a small shop.

Are you on a one or two-person communications team? Connect with the Lone Wolves group in the member’s community to further discuss the needs of small communications teams.

The Healing Trust recently received three Parthenon Awards from the Nashville chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for its communications work. The awards are given to honor strategic and creative excellence by Middle Tennessee public relations and communications professionals. The Healing Trust is located in Nashville, TN and received awards for its newsletter, a blog post written by its CEO about beliefs that lead to burnout, and for a news release that announces its grantees. It has received a total of four Parthenon Awards, including a previous one for a case study on its re-branding process.

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