Planning Tips for Entrepreneurs and SMEs
Writing a business can be a little overwhelming. Business owners and leaders can feel they don’t have enough time to invest, they’re often not sure where to start and having seen examples of others plans can feel it’s too detailed to be of any use in an ever-changing marketplace. In fact, for many, the last time they wrote one was when they launched their business or went to the bank to secure some investment.
Ultimately a business plan is like a compass, a guide as to where we want to be and how we are going to use our current or new resources to get there. It requires not only a good understanding of our own business, but of our customers, competitors, and our sector. Time invested in a good plan will ensure we stay focused and on track when confronted by opportunities along the journey.
Researching Your Market
You may need to use qualitative or quantitative market research to understand what your customers are looking for both now and what emerging trends could benefit your business. Also, see our recent blog on market research types We need to understand the appetite for our existing product and services but also if there is a need/opportunity to diversify or add to the range. This may be through polls, data, white papers, surveys, interviews or simply asking people.
Researching Your Competition
Of course, another great way to research the market is to look at what your competitors are doing (only if you are looking to emulate them though) For those that are looking to disrupt them the use of SWOT and PESTLE might be more advantageous, Most of you will have heard of SWOT, Strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and strengths but PESTLE is less known, Political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental. I strongly advise using an outside company or executive coach for this kind of exercise to get you thinking differently.
Identifying Your Unique Selling Point
Sometimes when you complete the above exercises it becomes evident that you do things differently, that you have some kind of USP (unique selling proposition). However, if finding a USP was easy, then everyone would have one. Often it’s not your product or service that’s unique but the way you deliver it or service it that’s different enough to have a real point of difference.
One great exercise is “Neat” to “So What”. Write down everything Neat/Great about your business. This list can often look very similar to that of your competitors, now ask yourself “So What” “What does that mean” to our customers, and ask it for every point. When you keep on explaining the Neat to So what, eventually there will be a USP in there.
How Does Your Offering Align with Potential Opportunities?
Now you are starting the get a feel for what your customers are looking for, what your strengths are, what opportunities you have identified and even how your messaging, through your USP’s, can help you leverage them. This alignment process of service and product to opportunity and USP is the making of your business plan.
Planning Finances Efficiently
As we begin to get a better feel for what we can offer the market and where the opportunities lie in our business, we need to consider not only the revenue growth we can expect but also what resources we need to commit and invest in to realise this potential. Can we grow with the existing team, do we need to consider more capital expenditure, will our premises cope in terms of sales, will we need to invest in training? These are all part of the business planning process but are often overlooked during the excitement of increased sales activity.
Plan for Marketing/Advertising/Branding Activity
As the business plans to grow then we must also focus on our marketing plan. Where do we need to focus to create the correct number of leads and enquiries to generate the sales increase we are planning for. Where are our target market, how do we ensure we are visible to them and what do they need to hear from us to be interested in our product or service. The advertising and even branding we previously used might not now be appropriate.
It all starts with knowing our numbers. If we ultimately know what it takes to get a sale (enquiries, meetings, sales value etc) we can work backwards from the new sales target and quantify how many MQL’s (marketing qualified leads) we need. This funnel approach to sales is vital when setting new targets and objectives as per the wider business plan.
So writing a business plan isn’t easy, but it’s essential. It has many parts, market research, competitor analysis, SWOT, PESTLE, resource planning, financial planning, capacity planning, pricing, marketing strategy etc… But the power of writing one and particularly with an outside influence such as a coach is it gets you to question your business. Question its product or services, its relevancy in today’s market, its customer base if the market is changing and ultimately gives you a chance to change before it’s too late.