You’re hiking in the wilderness with a 50 pound pack on your back. The trail’s pretty steep and rocky, but you’ve been trudging all day. You’re tired and sweaty and you hope you’re getting close to your destination. You need to check your bearings. You reach into your pocket for your compass, only to discover you neglected to bring it with you. Now you’re not sure where you are or if you’ve just been going in circles all day.
It’s the same thing with the small business owner. You’re working really hard, you’re always busy, learning new things, trying out new approaches. It must all be working, right?
Without a business plan, it’s a bit like wandering in the wilderness without a compass. If you don’t have a clear direction for your business, how do you know where you’re going, if you’re taking the best route or heading for a cliff, how much will it cost to get there, and even how will you know when you’ve arrived?
Business plans aren’t sexy. They don’t garner a lot of interest and excitement. Kind of like a homework assignment that you want to get out of doing.
More often than not business plans, if not skipped completely, are out-of-date and sitting in a binder somewhere in some obscure location collecting dust in your office. True confessions – I had to look all over the place to find ours.
What’s that?? I had a hard time finding our own business plan, yet here I am writing a post advocating the importance of one? Isn’t that pretty hypocritical?
I realized that we were making a big mistake. It’s easy to do. After all, our team meets regularly, we have great meeting notes in Google Drive, we are constantly talking about our goals, how semantic search is changing business, how we can be found in Google search, how we can use Google+, etc. So why do we need a formal business plan? We’re communicating and moving forward. Or are we…?
A business plan is really about answering a series of questions. Knowing the right questions to ask is just as important as figuring out the answers. And even though you may have great communication among the members of your business, without an overriding plan, you have nothing to guide you. It’s like sonar. You need something concrete to bounce your ideas off of to make sure you don’t get off track.
If you haven’t got one – or if you do, but you haven’t revisited it in a while – put it at the top of your to-do list for the new year, because everything else flows from it.
It doesn’t need to be a book. Personally I think it’s better if it’s not, simply because if it’s too big a task, it will never get done. But it does need to be written down. Google Drive is perfect for this because it allows you to share with other members of your team, work collaboratively with them, and is easily accessible for periodic reviews and amendments.
What needs to be in it?
Based, in part, on recommendations by Michael Nelson in an HOA with Jason T. Wiser, and incorporating ideas from David Amerland and Martin Shervington, as well as looking at our own existing business plan, here is my updated version of what to consider. For our business, I am making up worksheets in Drive for each of these sections of our plan with the questions that go with each category.
1. Big picture, first.
Without a clear vision of where you want your business to ultimately be, it is hard – more like impossible – to define the goals and steps that will get you there.
Define the identity of your company. Why are you in business? (No fair answering “to make money”. You’ve got to dig deeper than that.)
What is the ultimate goal of your company?
Where you do envision yourself at “x” point in time?
- What differentiates you from the competition? In other words, what is it that your business does better or differently than anybody else?
What benefits do you offer to your customer? Be careful not to confuse benefits with features. Features are all the bells and whistles that your product or service offers, but benefits are what it will actually do for the customer? Think of this a bit like your elevator pitch. In clear and succinct terms, what is it exactly that you do that is of benefit to your customers?
2. Know Thy Customers.
Who are the people who could benefit from your products or services and what would be situation in which they would seek your solution?
How large is your target market?
How will you reach them? How will you us How will you engage with them?
What are the questions my customers have? What are the problems they struggle with?
What would be the circumstances in which they would need your products/services?
3. Money may not be everything, but you gotta be making some.
How will you monetize what you are offering?
How much do you want to earn?
How many hours a week do you want to work?
What is the price of your product/service?
How many units will you need to sell to meet your target revenue?
Bottom line: Do the math. Is this a viable business proposition? If yes, proceed to Section 4. If not, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, until the math adds up.
4. To market, to market: marketing your business
How will you market your business? This should be a whole separate plan in itself, because it is a huge area ,but let’s get some basics established.
With the changes caused by Google Semantic Search, the traditional business plan needs to include a clear means for creating content, engaging in social media, and promoting that content. Here are some things to consider.
How you will use social media, and in particular Google+ to increase your online visibility and connect with your audience to build a reputation for trust and authority?
Note to self: It’s not all about you. Plan on spending a disproportionate amount of time, especially in the beginning, listening, commenting, and resharing other’s posts in a meaningful way.
What kinds of content will you be creating? How can it provide value to your target audience i.e., help solve problems, provide information they’re looking for, and insights they may not have had before.
How much time daily can you devote to social media?
Martin Shervington and Plus Your Business have come out with an excellent guide for using Google+ for content marketing which covers a lot of ground. It’s a great place to start, or if you already have a marketing plan, to compare notes to see if you’ve got the basics covered.
So that’s it. You can admittedly be a great deal more detailed than this, and there very well may be other areas you wish to add and questions you want to ask. But for most busy small business owners, if you can clearly answer these questions, your compass is pointing due north, and you should be on track for a successful new year!
One last thing… Now that you have asked all the right questions and clarified your company’s direction with your business plan … Follow it. Every day.
And remember: A business plan is a living document, and should be revisited at regular intervals and updated. If not, it will just sit on some shelf, or nowadays, languish somewhere out in the cloud, and you’ll be without a compass once again.
What else do you think should be part of a business plan?
Martin Shervington, “What is Content Marketing? And how to use Google+ to do it brilliantly!”, Plus Your Business.com, http://goo.gl/27gGjn
David Amerland, Google Semantic Search, http://goo.gl/eoF9e1, The New “4Ps” of Social Business Marketing, http://goo.gl/sNTWTR; Finding Your Voice on the Social Web: Don’t Let Old Thinking Hold You Back”, http://goo.gl/n3ULkA
Jason T. Wiser with Michael Nelson, Hangout On Air, “How to Create a Business Strategy”:,http://goo.gl/RKBkmB
photo credit: OpenClips/pixabay