3 Top Tips for Business Planning

We are looking this week at planning, so I thought it would be worth putting together a few tip to get you on your way.  With a focus on “Keep it simple and don’t forget the basics.” Hereare three simple tips that have come out of  over 30+ years of business planning:

1. Why am I in business?

From the media, you’d think every business owner wants to be the next Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg but in reality, many people’s ambitions are not so lofty. Where do you sit?

  1. I want a lifestyle business I want to work when I want to work with minimal stress. I want to earn a living but flexibility and lack of stress are more important than maximising earnings
  2. Small is beautiful I like having a team around me but I want to maintain my work-life balance.
  3. Take on the world Bring it on. I want to be the next Google

All of these are perfectly valid ambitions but clearly knowing which is your goal will significantly impact on your own planning.

2. Cash is King

Turnover is Vanity, Profit is SanityCash is King! If you can pay your bills, you are in business. If not, watch out! A growing business can mean rising turnover hiding a lack of profitability. Conversely, a genuinely profitable business with poor credit control can run out of cash as the debtor-book grows. Managing cash-flow is vital. A business can run out of cash surprisingly quickly. Realistic planning can pinpoint cash-flow weak points, giving time to address future problems in good time, either from internal resources or putting realistic financing in place.

3. Don’t forget the longer term

Do you spend all your time fire-fighting or do you look further ahead too? Whatever your growth objectives, a business with a solid, respected brand that delivers real benefit has inherent value and will serve you well. It doesn’t matter whether your brand is ‘YOU’ or ‘Apple’, if your customers and markets trust you and have confidence that you deliver value, they will want to do business with you. Building trust and confidence takes time so while you rightly have a focus on cashflow and the short term, remember to build for the future as well. We offer a free, no obligation consultation to readers. Do get in touch

Software tools to make your business life easier

In the face of the day to day challenges of getting your ‘business-brain’ back into gear after the Christmas and New Year hiatus.  I thought it might be interesting to look at some ideas that can help make your business life easier.

Regular readers will know of my admiration of Peter Drucker and his pithy quotes encapsulating so many truisms of business. Possibly my favourite is this:

 "The two most valuable functions of a business: Innovation & Marketing. 
These are the only two functions that contribute to profit.
All others are costs."

Given that a key objective is (normally!) to sustain and develop your business, I think Drucker’s quote gives some insight into ways it may be a little easier to do this. If it is the marketing and innovation functions that are the primary drivers to sustaining and growing your business, then maybe this is where you should focus? If you can reduce the demands of the rest of your business, maybe this can make things easier?

Cost: more than just money

When we think of cost, it is only natural that we think of cash, yet money is not the only consideration.

Businesses are based on 2 fundamental resources. money and TIME. I come across many businesses where the owner concentrates on saving money with no thought to the potential time cost.

The danger of this approach is that any financial savings are swallowed up by the time cost of having to work less efficiently. Savings are only real if you reduce the combined demands for money and time.

Technology – we just want it to work!

Over the past 20 years or so, technology has hugely changed the way we run our businesses. The internet and new software applications have brought opportunities that were inconceivable in the 1980s and ’90s. But these opportunities can come with an Achilles heel – particularly if you focus too much on saving money.

A common marketing approach with many web-based apps is the ‘Free Version’.  You get to use the software at no cost. This may be fine to start with but the more you use it – and the more you come to rely on it, the greater the problem.

Most ‘Free’ software has limited functionality at some level. If you find you use an application regularly but run up against the ‘Free’ limitations, you can end up spending more and more time trying to work around the restriction. Any benefit you gained in the first place gets wasted by your distraction in trying to keep it free. The problem is exacerbated when it comes to technical support. Understandably, Free software has little or no technical support – maybe a few online blog posts but rarely more. If you have technical problems with your free software you can find yourself completely stuck with no place to turn.

When it comes down to it, the best software tools are the ones we don’t really notice. We just want them to work!

Business needs investment

Whatever you may think, you cannot run your business for nothing. Every business, however small, needs some level of investment.  Rather than fixating on keeping software free, sometimes, moving to the paid-for version is a sensible move. This said, I would always advise using apps that have a wide user base and extensive, positive reviews. If you are committing to some software, you want it to stick around and be developed.

Often the cost is only modest – less than a sandwich a week. You will remove restrictions meaning you can use the software as much as you need to for the benefit of your business rather than spending time struggling to stay within arbitrary limits. You will normally also open the door to professional technical support. Fixing issues becomes s0omebody else’s problem while you concentrate on your business.

A word on Open Source software

There is some fantastically successful open source software out there, developed by a community of coders for altruistic rather than commercial motives. Surely this is ideal if you are looking for a free solution? In theory, yes, but in practice, most really successful open source software has been commercialised, at least to an extent. Also, by its very nature, open-source tends to be the realm of techies. If you want to use it you need to know what you are talking about. Not ideal for the average small business.

Focus on what is important

By embracing good, professional software tools, you can get on with the regular tasks in your business more quickly and easily. You are safe in the knowledge that when things break (they inevitably do!) it is in the interests of the developers to make sure they are fixed quickly while you carry on with your own business.

By streamlining routine tasks, investing in effective systems to free up your time, you gain the freedom to get on with the innovation and marketing that are the things to really drive your business forward.

You know what is important in your business. You also know which are the time-consuming tasks that distract you from focusing on the important tasks. Maybe a modest investment can help you redress the balance? Perhaps it is worth taking a look?

Get your business off to a great start in 2020

Happy New Year!

Along with Easter and the Summer, New Year is one of the three times each year when most people take some time off then come back to work inspired to take their business forward.

However, despite best intentions, it is very easy to find things quickly slipping back into the same old routines as day-to-day demands start to impinge.

Here are my top tips for progress and success in 2020:

1. Have a plan

Regular readers will know that planning is one of my recurring themes. It’s also one of the recurring themes in our podcasts (hear more at https://podcast.bsamarketing.com) but planning is vital. If you don’t have a plan and just make things up as you go along, you are not in control of your business. I’m not saying you won’t succeed but if you do, it will be luck.

Planning doesn’t need to be complicated. There are lots of business planning tools online but here is my suggestion of key questions to ask yourself:
• Where are we now?
• Where do we want to get to?
• How are we going to get there?

I’m thinking strategy here; should you be doing more of the same or are there changes that need to be made? What is the best way of using what you have to move your business and to make the changes?

Also, remember that your plans should be developed in the context of your business vision. This is the big picture, the WHY you are in business (do you actually know?!). Your business vision is about the long term rather than short term finite targets.

2. Take Action

Making plans and setting objectives is all very well but a bit of a waste of time if you don’t actually do something about it!

I suggest you take you planning ideas and then ask yourself what specific actions you can take towards achieving your objectives. This is about what are you going to do TODAY, TOMORROW, THIS WEEK, not what you might do over the next month or 2!

You already know that running a business requires discipline and drive. Having an action plan puts focus on actually doing stuff towards achieving your goals. It’s a cliché but you do need to find time to work ON your business rather than IN your business.

3. Focus on specifics

One problem with planning is balancing short term actions with the ‘big picture’ vision where objectives look great on paper but it can prove difficult to take realistic steps to achieve them.

Having a meaningful action plan is so important so let’s have a look at 5 specific areas of your business where you can make a big impact:

1. Keeping in touch: Review everyone you have done business with / had enquiries from over the last year – are you still in contact?

Keeping in touch with contacts is my top tip. Email and social media make it easy and inexpensive (or free!) to keep in touch and building relationships with contacts who know you and can give you more work is the best way to grow business.

2. Focus on Good Customers: Sort your customers in order of billed revenue – now sort in order of the effort you put in – Do they match? Should you be looking to lose some of your ‘hard work’ clients?

Recognising that not every customer is a good customer was a big lesson for me.

If you are confident in your processes to bring on new business, it can be easier to let some customers go if they don’t really fit your vision. Even if you aren’t so confident, losing one or two smaller clients who take up a disproportionate amount of your time can free up a surprising number of hours to focus on building more ‘good’ clients

3. Build on your success: List your 3 big successes from 2019 – what can you learn and apply in 2020.

Sometimes, good things happen and you don’t even notice! Have a think about your high points from the past year. How did they happen? Was there something you can take into 2020 and repeat or build on the success?

4. Learn from mistakes: Recognise your key disappointment from 2019 – what can you learn and apply in 2020.

Hopefully this will be harder because you’ve had more success than disappointment, but sometimes you can learn more from a negative than a positive. By staying confident and recognising the lesson learnt you can avoid repeating the experience.

5. New ideas: Are there products or services that you could add to your business in 2020? Do customers ask you for things you don’t offer at the moment?

Good businesses constantly review and refresh their offering in line with market demands.

As well as coming up with your own ideas, or using suggestions from customers, check out what your competitors are up to. Market research can be a powerful ally.

And finally…

Running your own business can be challenging, but also very rewarding. Many SME business owners spend up to 70% of their waking hours focussed on their business, so don’t forget to try to enjoy yourself!

Whatever you do, I hope you have a productive and prosperous 2020.

Marketing is an Infinite Game

Over the Christmas break, I have been reading “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek. The main message is that business should focus on long-term objectives driven by the vision of the organisation. In reality, this is a vision that is never finally realised. It will develop and move forward as time passes. In practice, most business leaders are driven by meeting finite goals or targets. Whilst these are normally easy to measure, they are often not helpful. They may even be harmful to the organisation in the longer term.

Great businesses are driven by a vision, and one aspect of a true vision is that it should be open-ended rather than achievable in its entirety. The aim of the business should be to continually move towards their vision. “Success” at any point, if this must be measured, should primarily consider “Are we happy where we are and happy we are moving in the right direction?

Marketing, with its objectives to own and communicate the company vision, must too be open-ended.  Success in marketing terms should be confirmation that people are buying into and getting behind the vision of the company. This can be demonstrated in many ways; by purchasing products/services or being advocates/champions for the brand, for example.

Is much marketing too finite?

If we believe the idea of an open-ended vision, we must ask why marketing is so often focused exclusively on finite goals?

Part of the issue, I believe, lies in the way marketing services are bought and sold.

In most cases, the sales pitch of companies offering marketing services and support is all about delivering finite solutions, targeted at achieving distinctly measurable goals: Social media likes, advertising clicks and conversions, SEO rankings, etc. All of these, whist important tools in delivering the overall marketing objectives, are just that; tools. They are important elements, but when they become focused solely on delivering finite objectives and winnable goals, the wider vision can be quickly lost!

Keeping things infinite

The antidote, I think, is to take a step back from the day to day when considering your marketing. Switch to focus on your overall vision; the “Just Cause” as Mr Sinek puts it. What is the thing that makes you get out of bed and go to work each morning? With this mindset, you may well find your motivation  is completely different. Now the goal is not to win by hitting targets, but to keep playing, moving towards you “infinite” vision. In this context the marketing objective will change.

The short term finite objectives (Social media likes, advertising clicks and conversions, SEO rankings etc.) and even bigger business objectives like driving turnover and profit, are no longer the ultimate objectives that must be met at all costs or abandoned. They are now simply necessary steps that keep you in business, and support the broader objective that is to allow you to continue towards your vision.

Staying in the game

One criticism of this way of thinking is that businesses must be viable in both the short and long term. Without embracing short-term goals, there is a risk that a business will fail.

Clearly, this is absolutely true and can not be ignored. If you run out of resources, your business will fail. However, rather than taking short-term goals as the final objective, they need to be seen for what they really are; a necessity to sustain the resources to stay in business, and allow the company to continually move forward towards its vision.

Short term marketing objectives too, should not be seen as the ultimate goal, but rather stepping stones on a path. Furthermore, if meeting these short term marketing goals does not support the wider vision of the organisation, then maybe their motivation needs to be questioned? What are you actually trying to achieve in your business?

If you think about it logically, we spend our lives striving to stay in the game. To suggest that we can ‘win’ and have completion is missing the point. There is always something more – at least until we die! Furthermore, to be a real visionary, you should recognise that even when you reach the end of your life, the game continues….

Want to read more?

If you would like to read more about business as an Infinite Game, you will find Simon Sinek’s book here on amazon.

He also has some great talks on YouTube