If you’re old enough to have ever bought a vinyl record single, you may remember that they were usually cut with A-side and B-side versions of the same song.
The A-side contained the version most likely to be a hit with radio stations and the general audience, while the B-side would play an alternate, more obscure but perhaps more artistic interpretation. Creating a business plan is not much different.
The A-side is the polished, fluffy draft we’ve been trained to present to lenders and investors – the hit. The B-side business plan, however, should be a more detailed, realistic version of the company – a reference guide and roadmap that helps business owners stay focused and complete tasks toward stability and growth.
I adopted this philosophy last summer while reading parts of Jim Smith’s How to Start a Home-Based Web Design Business, which recommends a second, navigational version to help entrepreneurs stay on track. To Smith’s recommendations, I added major elements from a business plan continuing education (CE) course I took at a local community college, a couple of section headers from my Integrated Marketing Communications capstone project, and some insights that I’m still digesting and adding in from The Marketing Agency Blueprint by Paul Roetzer.
The result – at least to date – is this B-side outline of my revised business plan. The amount of detail is deliberate as my goal is to now have an overall reference guide and a resource for when the question arises – what the heck are we doing? Which it frequently does.
This section should begin with the simplest statement of what your business is about. Whereas the mission and vision statement will be more official and eloquent, be sure, begin with a sentence or two in layman’s terms. I also added some general facts including the NAICS and SIC codes and other miscellaneous founding details.
- Mission and Vision Statement. There are endless examples of how to write a mission and a vision statement for your company, some of which can add to the confusion as to what is the difference between the two. Just remember that your mission is an outward-facing purpose for your business, usually focused on some target group. The vision statement, however, offers a visual – some ideal state that you see your company achieving.
- Legal Structure. Include details such as the contact information for all city, county, state, and federal offices, expiration/renewal dates, a list of founders/partners, and consider adding links to photocopies of official documents in the plan Appendix.
- Principals/Management. Detail your company’s organizational structure and include the qualifications and responsibilities of the founders and any key management personnel. If you have an advisory board – an unpaid group of experts who can offer you valuable information on various aspects of your business – list their names and qualifications in a separate subsection. Roetzer suggests that the advisory board include contacts from “core business areas such as finance, technology, human resources, legal, and accounting.”
- Operational/Infrastructure Details. Here’s where some of that B-side type of information gets added. Everything up until this point is pretty standard for a regular business plan, but adding details like operating hours, online listings, and a catalogue of third-party solution providers not only turns the plan into a valuable reference tool but makes you stop and consider the operational details that affect how you do business. Think web host, phone system, time tracking, print vendors, financial management tools, etc.
My business plan lists short-term goals followed by a set of corresponding objectives. These objectives should not only be measurable but include set dates so that, when achieved, you will have accomplished your short-term goals within the year. List long-term goals separately and revisit them during an annual plan revision.
The market analysis is probably the most time-consuming section of the business plan. This should include information about your industry and its competitive outlook; your target market and, if you’ve carved out a B2B niche, that market’s industry; and any other information about the external environment. This step will also help you develop a SWOT analysis plus discover how you can differentiate your company and perhaps refine your business idea. Some sources to help compile this information include:
- The U.S. Census Bureau
- Industry Trade Associations
- Annual Reports of companies within a particular industry (sometimes posted on the websites of publicly traded companies.)
- Nielsen Claritas
- GfK MRI (register to be notified about webinars and other news)
There are also a number of databases requiring paid subscriptions. Your local or school libraries may provide access to additional sources of market information.
Know of any others? Please note them in the comments.
Products and Services
Write a detailed list of the products and/or services you offer, including any value-added features or benefits. Will you offer any cost-savings bundles? Are there any high-demand items that you can use for product marketing (as opposed to just promoting your company)?
Depending on the type of business you’re in, this may also be a great time to think about (and maybe write down) what you DON’T do or need to grow into. Now go back to your business description and mission. Do your products/services reflect who you say you are? Do they meet some need that was uncovered in your market research?
The financial section (particularly pricing) needs its own separate article. Keeping in the spirit of the B-side business plan, I would recommend placing the pricing system directly into the plan.
Not just profitability estimates or projections but detailed calculations that consider sales tax (if applicable), federal taxes, cost of goods (if it’s a service, think about those third-party solution providers), and anything else that reduces your net earnings.
I’m working through my pricing guidelines using some concepts from an older version of The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing, some updated thinking from Roetzer’s book, and current trends in the market.
This piece may be the greatest detour from the regular business plan. Whereas the usual intent of the financial section is to convince lenders or investors that you have a sound business idea, the goal of the B-side version is to convince yourself. Include an operating budget and format your Accounting methods. This might be a good time to call a CPA.
Yes, I’m adding my branding guidelines to my business plan. This used to be a separate document, but now I feel that it’s connected to my business purpose, mission, and vision statement and is essential to the idea of staying on track. Branding should not only include visual guidelines but your company’s brand personality and positioning statement.
Integrated Marketing Communications Plan
Establish a separate set of goals and objectives when developing an IMC strategy for your business plan. While your marketing activities will help you reach your business goals, the marketing piece needs to function almost like a separate addendum.
When your business plan is complete, go back to the beginning and dress it with a cover page, Table of Contents, and an Executive Summary. Write some concluding thoughts and add an Appendix to include any important documents, resumes, etc. Establish a plan to evaluate your activities at set periods throughout the year and update your business plan annually.
If you ever need to present your business plan for financing, remember to flip it to an A-side version by removing most of the operational/infrastructure details, streamlining the products and services section, fluffing up the financial section, and deleting the branding guidelines.
7 Reasons Why Its Important to Have a Niche
A niche is a focused, targetable segment of the market. You are a specialist providing a product or service that focuses on the specific needs of an identified client group, which cannot or are not being addressed in such detail by the dominant providers in your industry.
But it is important to understand that there is, in fact, a difference between your identified niche and your target market.
Your target market is a specific identifiable group of people you work with, e.g. women in the city, technology start-ups, creative agency owners, small and medium businesses in a particular revenue range.
Your niche is the service you specialise in offering to your target market.
For example, standing desks are aimed at professionals who work in front of a computer for long periods of time. This is a well-defined niche.
Here are 7 reasons why it is important to have a niche:
To avoid spreading yourself too thin
Instead of the risk of spreading yourself too thin in saying that ‘everyone’ is your potential client, niche marketing will help you to focus on a specific grouping of people, and particularly on what their needs and wants are.
You will unlikely to be able to serve everybody, so it is important to focus on what you do best and aim it at a specific group of people who will likely buy what you offer.
It is important to find out what is important to them, what blogs they read, their beliefs and attitudes, who the main influencers in that network are.
Having these insights means that you can develop products or services specifically aimed at this group, based on your thorough knowledge and understanding of what they are interested in.
It’s easier to identify and target potential clients and partners to work with
As the pool of people that exists for a niche is smaller than its mainstream equivalent, it will be easier to identify potential clients and partners to work with, as you can be much more targeted and laser-focused with your marketing efforts.
It’s easier to become an expert and well known in your niche
Niching means it will be much easier for others to understand ‘what you do’ and ‘for whom’, which will make it easier to position you as an expert in your field. As this group is more targeted and of a smaller size, you can rapidly become well known within this group of people.
Your profile and overall visibility will increase within this group. It is a small world after all!
More and better referrals
Since it will be easier for others to understand what you do and for whom, it, in turn, becomes much easier for them to refer more and better quality clients to you that fit the profile of your ideal client, as you have built up trust, credibility, visibility, and it is very clear as to what your specialism is.
The more unique you are, the less competition you will have
There will be less competition, as you will provide the specific services or create the specific products for the specific people you are seeking to help in a specific way that meets their needs. The BIG advantage of becoming more unique is that usually it can’t be easily replicated by your competition!
Marketing becomes much easier
Effective niche marketing should really help with your marketing, positioning and branding as you will attract the ‘right people’ much more easily and quickly. People with similar interests tend to behave and are attracted to similar things. This means that many of your clients will do all the hard work for you as they will refer you more and more because your profile, credibility and influence are readily apparent within your tribe.
More repeat business
As you are able to provide an increasingly better service or product, based on your specific client’s needs, it is likely that you will get more repeat business – people will come back for more, and as an added benefit will often start spending more with you as your relationship grows with them.
4 Things That Are Slowing Down Everyday Business Processes
A modern business needs a lot of things to be successful.
High-quality products that capture the attention of your target market are an excellent first start. However, you also need robust marketing strategies, a strong team of dedicated workers, and a plan for continued growth and evolution.
A good company is like a well-oiled machine. One cog turning out of time could bring your entire enterprise grinding to a halt. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the things that are slowing down your crucial processes and preventing your company from reaching its true potential.
Today, we’re going to be looking at some of the things that could be hampering your everyday business processes, so that you can make a valuable change.
How many people in your business are wearing multiple hats?
The chances are that if you’re a small and growing company, you have endless executives and employees rushing from one task to another. You may even be asking your team members to take part in activities that aren’t closely connected to their job roles.
While it’s fine for everyone in your organization to pitch in a little extra at times, it’s important to make sure that this doesn’t give way to constant multitasking.
Research proves that multitasking kills productivity and reduces the quality of the work produced. That’s because when you’re multitasking, you’re continually forcing your brain to switch from one thing to another, so you can’t truly focus on anything.
If multitasking is a common problem in your organization, then it might be time to reassess your workflow and see where you can create more focused teams. Try to give the right task to the right people to prevent inefficiencies.
Maybe allowing your senior leaders to delegate more of their work will make them more successful. Perhaps taking extra jobs away from lower employees and keeping everyone focused on their areas of expertise will help.
The last thing you want for your business is that your employees don’t have time to do the job they were hired for.
If you have to switch employees between different tasks frequently and it’s slowing down work progress, maybe it’s time to add a new employee to your team. Alternatively, look if some processes can be outsourced to a company or a freelancer.
#2 Inefficient Meetings
Increasingly, companies are beginning to feel as though most meetings are nothing more than a waste of time. For years, we relied on face-to-face interactions in boardrooms to make sure that everyone in our team remained on the same page.
However, by now, we have learned that this kind of disruptive activity is no longer necessary.
Although the occasional meeting can be useful to connect your employees and bring people together in a more intimate environment, most of the time, you can switch a meeting out for broadcast on a collaboration app.
You could even consider allowing your employees to dial into a video meeting so that they don’t have to leave their office.
Pulling your team members out of their workflow so that they can take part in meetings when you could have shared the same information in an email is a dangerous waste of time.
The next time you’re planning a meeting, ask yourself whether it’s necessary to bring people together in a conventional sense. If it is, ensure that you’re only inviting the most relevant people to the room.
Once they leave the meeting room, everyone should know exactly why their input was required and what are the next steps they need to take.
#3 Lack of Insights
Let’s face it – data makes the world go around. We’re living in an era where information is everywhere, and it’s crucial to making our companies more effective.
The good news is that the majority of today’s companies have systems in place that allow them to capture intelligence information from everything from their sales calls to their marketing campaigns.
The bad news is that most organizations simply don’t know how to use their insights to improve their business operations. If you’re not taking advantage of the benefits of real-time and historical data analysis yet, it could be the perfect time to get started.
Sit down with the other leaders in your team and figure out some goals that you want to accomplish. From there, you can determine what kind of information you need to reach your goals.
For instance, if you want to make your marketing campaigns more successful, it makes sense to look at the marketing initiatives that have worked for you in the past.
You might also want to tap into information about your target audiences and their pain points too. This data could help you identify areas that you can improve to offer your customers an excellent experience at every touchpoint with your business.
#4 Preventable IT Issues
Finally, another thing that we’ve come to recognize in the digital era is that IT can either be your friend or your enemy. In many cases, the right technology in your company’s landscape can accelerate growth and generate new opportunities.
Knowing how to make the most of the assets at your disposal can significantly improve daily business operations. Implementing some new solutions can help you get there, too.
AI and machine learning are no longer terms out of science fiction novels. People have taught robots to interact with each other and with other people, and solve problems in the process.
For a great example of how this achievement can speed up daily business operations, just look at chatbots. Chatbots can drastically reduce the time it takes to answer repeat customer questions and queries. Your employees could spend this time on more important tasks and projects.
Also, chatbots can work around the clock. There’s no denying that having a 24/7 customer service is a great asset to your business. However, due to the high costs of maintaining a contact center, in most cases, it’s not a viable solution.
In such scenarios, chatbots can step in, respond to simple queries, and redirect more complicated issues to a human.
Chatbots enable you to reduce time, money, and human labour, which you can then reallocate into growing your business.
If you have enough people on your team, offering live chat is another way to bypass long workflow procedures and ticketing systems that might be annoying to your customers. An agent can handle more than one chat at a time and still give the customer a personalized approach.
The list of benefits of a live chat for a business is long. It boosts customer convenience, satisfaction, and loyalty, helps your business respond to their pain points faster and opens another channel for upselling.
However, there’s also a chance that poorly-managed technology could slow your business down and stop your team from completing their goals. Remote working trends or bring your own device trend (BYOD) are especially sensitive to these issues.
While it’s always possible that IT issues might happen in your workforce, you can put strategies in place to protect yourself from any major downtime or disruptions.
For instance, teaching your team members how to manage work equipment on their own, and providing them with the knowledge to troubleshoot any issues they face means that you can keep your organization running smoothly.
At the same time, this frees up time for your IT employees, who can focus on finding ways for you to use technology to accelerate your business growth, rather than just responding to the same old preventable problems.
Time to Speed up Your Business Growth
A company is a dynamic and ever-changing thing. Unfortunately, it’s also very fragile. When something as small as a single process doesn’t work properly for your company, you begin to see negative repercussions everywhere.
The good news is that taking the time to examine your business workflow and figure out areas where systems can be improved can make your venture more efficient and successful.
From working on preventable IT issues to reducing the number of meaningless meetings your team members are exposed to, there are plenty of ways that you can make your company into the well-oiled machine that it needs to be.
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