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Public relations is often perceived as the act of trying to convince journalists to write about your business. The end goal, of course, is to persuade potential customers that they need your product or service.

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Some people think public relations is all about trying to convince journalists to write about your business, with the goal of course to persuade potential customers that they need your product or service. In this view, PR is a bit like trying to convince somebody to date you by persuading his or her acquaintance to pass on the message. Simply put, it's an ineffective strategy.

The best firms understand that PR is all about building and maintaining relationships. Here are four things every entrepreneur can do today that will help improve the chances of success:

1. Identify key relationships. One of the biggest causes of failure of any PR campaign is that companies don't know who they are talking to. They assume that everybody is a prospect until proven otherwise and spend time and money trying to broadcast a message to as many people as possible rather than focusing on saying the right thing to the right people. Spend time identifying six to 10 people that are critical to you achieving your next set of goals. They can be customers, journalists, investors, analysts, advisers, partners or a mix.

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2. Understand value through the eyes of your customer. Too often value is communicated in terms of what the entrepreneur, product development or marketing team things is most important. Pick six to 10 of your prospects and customers and ask them the value they see in what you sell; chances are you'll get valuable insight that will help you sell to people like them.

3. Come up with a hypothesis. The traditional approach to PR is to make as big a splash as possible. This usually happens when the company is ready to launch, not when customers are ready to buy. Create a public relations hypothesis that makes assumptions on the things you need to do in order to build and maintain the relationships that are critical to the success of your business.

4. Test and validate. Once you have a PR plan that works you can execute it to a wider audience, knowing that you have all of the elements necessary to deliver the outcomes you want. Not only will you have spent less time and money, you will have also dramatically increased the chances of getting the outcome you want.

With a plan to build and maintain the relationships critical to the achievement of your next milestones or goals you can improve the performance of almost every area of your business.

Lyndon Johnson is founder of Think Differently, a company that helps entrepreneurs build and maintain the relationships they need to grow their businesses.

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