I heard an interesting snippet on the recently launched Manchester Business Radio this week, talking about the importance of giving yourself time to think and plan. I have also recently written a post about the focus on planning when it comes to funding, and how focusing on planning leads to situations where plans are made but not followed through. All of this got me thinking about the need to balance planning and action in running a business. There is no doubt that in running an SME the focus tends to be on action, getting things done to make sure the business keeps running, and in many cases fighting fires. So you take time out to plan, and come back inspired and fired up to put these plans into action, but on getting back into the office: the phone rings, there is a knock on your door and its business as usual. All the great plans lost in the growing to do list!
So what is the answer?
In my experience there are 5 simple rules to getting the balance right:
Take time out to plan, but do it on different levels.
Strategy, long term planning – Annually
Monitoring the plan – are we still on track – Monthly/Quarterly
Implementation/Action planning – Weekly
Make sure at all levels your plan contains measurable & deliverable goals
Make sure this gets embedded into your daily routine through regular meetings of those involved – these need not be long, but should be focused & away from ringing phones/email
Always keep notes and create an action plan after each meeting (what have we agreed to do by next time)
Monitor success against agreed goal. Focus on that which is working and bin initiatives that are not
5 simple rules that, whilst maybe not so simple to stick to, if followed can definitely turn plans into effective action & deliver results. I always like to finish with a quote, but couldn’t find one, so:
"Failing to plan may be planning to fail, but a plan without action is is not a plan, it's just words on a page!" Duncan Wright
In the first part of this article (read it here) I talked about the importance of a clear strategy and action plan. Now, I conclude by looking at putting them in to practice in the best way to build your business credibility…..
Are my communications consistent?
Your strategy and action plan are likely to embrace a range of communication channels from face to face meetings through advertising and direct marketing to e-mail and social media as routes to engage with customers and markets. Different channels can ‘tell your story’ in different ways but it is crucial that your messages are consistent across all platforms. If people see different branding and inconsistent messages, they won’t know which is the real you. Inconsistency can wreck credibility!
Inconsistency can wreck credibility!
Another thing to watch out for is the ever-increasing range of Social Media platforms on offer, and there is always someone ready to tell you that this platform or that platform is the new must-use. As a consequence we see more and more websiteswith social media icons that link to either accounts that don’t exist or that aren’t being updated – neither is good for your credibility as a dynamic, on-the-ball company! As part of your strategic planning you should make an objective decision which (if any) social media platforms you are going to use and then make sure your action plan keeps your social media active and up to date. It’s better to delete a social media channel than just to leave it wilting It is also important that your messages are consistent and join-up to paint the bigger picture of your business. A content calendar can be a valuable planning tool here
Do I stick at it?
I have already said that building credibility takes time and a quick way to lose the ear of your audience is to disappear! As well as having high quality, engaging content, you need to stick with your marketing if you want to build credibility with your market. Another benefit of having a plan is you show commitment to driving communication over time based on a network of messages and channels that you have thoroughly considered and feel comfortable with.
Building credibility is a process, NOT and event
Running out of things to say is a concern I hear expressed regularly and having nothing to say is certainly a reason why a company’s marketing communications can decline. In practice, we find that our clients do have things to say and running out of ideas is not the problem it might appear. Having said this, being faced with finding some content NOW! can be challenging but yet again, having a plan makes all the difference! As with consistency, a content calendar is a useful tool to avoid those ‘I must think of something now!’ moments! While it’s important that you stick at your marketing communication and engagement, don’t do it blindly. To build your credibility you must be having positive impact and that means your communication should be managed and under control.
Is my plan under control?
Do you drive your plan because your plan tells you to or because you are committed and believe it is the right thing to do? If your focus is on generating leads and enquiries it is easy to tell if you are succeeding but here we are talking about building credibility as a platform to make lead generation more effective, and credibility is much more difficult to measure. In a blog post back at the beginning of the year I discussed how, sometimes, measurable engagement statistics can be remarkably low, particularly in the B2B arena. Even so, the stats available from social media and email platforms do give a valuable insight into the impact your communication is having but equally important is the anecdotal feedback you receive. A good example of this is while networking. I regularly find conversations starting…
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you but I enjoy reading your e-newsletter…”
Comments like this are a valuable insight into how well your engagement efforts are working. Alongside the anecdotal indicators and feedback, your strategy should include setting aside regular time to sit down and review your marketing more formally from time to time. This is an opportunity to revisit both your strategic an action plans because you won’t get everything right first time and experience can help you refine, and improve, your approach.
It's OK to make mistakes and plans do evolve
Last but not least, showing your ability to learn and adapt can significantly enhance your credibility!
Over Part 1 and Part 2 of this review, look at developing credibility in your business, I have pulled out 5 points which I think give a framework for action – let’s repeat them:
Take time to develop a strategy
Don’t just act when you think about it – set out an action plan
Inconsistency can wreck credibility!
Building credibility is a process, NOT and event
It’s OK to make mistakes and plans do evolve
Focusing on building your business credibility is a platform for real success
Something happened last week, not once but twice – and it really made me question the value some businesses put on marketing, and where their priorities lie. I independently received enquiries from two businesses both asking the same thing:
There's a grant that ends tomorrow. Please can I have a proposal and quotation so I can put in an application.
I didn’t know either business and I don’t believe either of them know much about BSA Marketing.
FREE support for your business
We’ve said it a few times but the government (and the EU) are clearly keen to support SME businesses. There is an extensive range of grants, loans, and other support out there all targeted at helping SME businesses take a more planned and strategic approach to business. OK, the application process can sometimes be a bit bureaucratic but the bottom line is that there are pots of money that YOU can dip your hand into to help develop YOUR business. Inevitably these pots are only so big and any funding programme will only run for a limited time but why does it keep happening that there is a flood of enquiries just before a fund closes? Is there too much focus on grabbing the money while you can rather than planning what you want to do with it? But there’s the key; many grants are about business development, and effective, sustainable development requires consideration and planning. So arguably, if you are driven to start applying for a grant because of an availability deadline, is it already too late for the grant to be of any real value to you and your business? The way that funding is administered can make things even worse! Inevitably funding projects have to come to an end; not just in terms of an application cut off but also in a payment cut off. You may have been awarded a grant but if you don’t get the project finished and apply for payment of the money, there is a risk you will miss a deadline and find that you are too late to receive anything! Grant support should be aimed at helping businesses grow, develop and be successful. Some funding can be generous and ease the viability of a project. However, there is also responsibility on the owners and managers of companies applying for grants to ensure that the grant funded project has the best chance of succeeding and delivering on the opportunity. I believe this means that a project should be properly planned and executed and the value of the project to the business is considered notwithstanding the availability of a grant. The project is key. If you are only applying for a grant to try to get your hands on the cash before a deadline, is this really sound business practice? Needless to say, we didn’t engage with our two enquirers!
Apprenticeships have been around for hundreds of years, then all of a sudden in the 1990’s everyone was off to college – the brave new world of university for all.
Now, after less than 20 years, apprenticeships are back with a vengeance. Bright 16-19 year olds with more than adequate results for a place at University are voting with their feet and choosing an alternative; to go into work-based higher education through an apprenticeship. OK, pay rates are modest but apprentices have the opportunity to build valuable (and genuinely employable) real-world skills that will see their earning potential rise without finding themselves, in their early twenties, encumbered with a £30000+ loan. There will always be young people for whom university is the right choice but I believe apprenticeships offer a real and valuable alternative to many people joining (or rejoining) the world of work.
But what about businesses? The government is currently offering apprenticeship grants of £1500 (rising to £3000 in some areas) to a business that takes on an apprentice. Is the grant worth it? What is the employers’ role in making an apprenticeship work?
Why should I offer an apprenticeship?
When I talk to many SME business owners about apprenticeships, there are 2 distinct camps:
1. Apprenticeships are a cost to my business
Taking on an apprentice will distract from my business while I give up time to train them. Even with a government grant contribution, apprentice wages are higher than the contribution they make to my business.
2. Apprenticeships are an investment in the future of my business
My business relies on a skilled workforce. Investment in our apprentice programme is a key element of our strategy to deliver the skills we need to sustain our business and achieve or development plans Interestingly, most people in Camp 1 have never taken on an apprentice while those in Camp 2 have real-world experience! Camp 2 companies do recognise that there are costs and that not every apprenticeship works out but by taking a planned, strategic view they appreciate that the investment delivers real value over time.
Should businesses be paid apprenticeship grants?
The apprenticeship grants can be seen in 2 ways
…to ease the pain of the cost of an apprentice to your business
…to the investment in building a skilled workforce for the future Which way you see it is subjective but maybe the incentive view is ‘glass half-empty‘. No matter what the incentive, apprenticeships are a bit of a pain! Is this approach set to deliver a positive outcome for anyone? I think not. On the other hand, the contribution view is ‘glass half-full‘. Our planned apprenticeship programme delivers real benefit to our business and the contribution is a welcome addition. We are focused on making things work. So whether the apprentice grant is worth it or not depends more on planning and attitude rather than cash? I believe apprenticeships are here to stay and are immensely valuable as an option in the education and growth of young people (and increasingly older people too) However, for an apprenticeship to work, to really deliver value to both the apprentice and the employer, the company needs to have a strategic vision for apprenticeships as part of their business growth.
Strategic investment in an apprenticeship can be a real win:win
There is absolutely no doubt, that if you are looking for advice to help you grow your business in the UK at the moment, there are people falling over themselves to support this through funding. You will find just a few of the options here. This funding with either pay for support from suitably accredited consultants, or from business advisers employed by organisations like Business Growth Service and the Manufacturing Advisory Service. Whilst BSA is accredited to deliver this advice, and believe that planning for growth is vital, there are times when you actually need to do something to grow, and here the funding options become significantly more limited. At this point I will focus on marketing as it is what I know, and there is no question that investing in a well planned (yes that is very important) and properly resourced marketing strategy is key to the sustained growth of any business. I know this because it’s our bread and butter, working with clients to do just this, and very little of our work is grant supported. However, I know there are business who could benefit from our expertise, but who would need grant support to access this sustainably. We could access funding to support the planning aspects of the programme, and we could work with clients to create a viable and effective plan; Then what? The funding stops, and so it’s over to the business owners to implement the plan, but the fact is that good marketing is an investment and in many cases the benefits can take a while to kick in. In our experience this leads to businesses reverting to old habits and “giving up on the marketing” before the investments have time to bear fruit. If on the other hand support extended to seed corn funding for the plans implementation, allowing the support to continue in the easy days of the implementation to a point where theses fruits make the plan self sustaining in the long term, would this actually deliver more effective growth within the economy? I should stress that these are my opinions, and I am not arrogant enough to think that my opinion will change Government policy in this area. I raise the subject with the simple aim of stimulating debate.