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.
Best Practices For Project Management in the Modern, Connected Era
Regardless of the type of business, you’re running or even the industry that you’re operating in, the core goals of project management remain the same. You’re still talking about the successful development of not only the initiation of a project but also the planning, execution, regulation and even closure.
The decisions you make in the early stages of project management can easily mean the difference between success and failure in terms of everything that you’re trying to accomplish. During the beginning of a project, you’re setting goals and agreeing on critical factors like scope, time, quality and even budget. Naturally, keeping everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction is of paramount importance.
Which, of course, is a lot easier said than done.
Project management can be difficult in general – to say nothing of how hard things become when more people are suddenly working remotely than ever. But it is still possible to use these early moments in a project’s development lifecycle to set the foundation upon which everything else will be built. You just need to keep a few key things in mind while you do it.
The Art of Project Management: Breaking Things Down
By far, the most important step you can take in terms of successful project management in the modern era involves making sure that you have the right tools by your side at the beginning of the process.
The types of project tools that you embrace need to give you access to a few core features, regardless of which particular piece of software you choose. For the absolute best results, your tools should:
- Allow your users to create and store data almost entirely in the cloud. People should be able to be just as productive in their own home as they can be in the comfort of their office at work – especially these days, for obvious reasons. Therefore, any tool that you select needs to allow them to accomplish precisely that.
- Your tools should also give real-time reports to project managers into the status of ALL projects, regardless of how many are in progress at the same time. This is the best way to make sure that everyone is keeping up with their duties. It also gives project managers a chance to stop a small problem now before it has a chance to become a much bigger one down the road.
- Your tools should also streamline workflows in a way that project managers can see how EVERY person on the team is performing. Not only that, but they should also provide invaluable metrics so that you can see how projects are moving along. This level of insight can help make sure that if any adjustments are needed they can be executed immediately, all so that you don’t even have to worry about missing your estimated completion date.
The point about the cloud is particularly important in terms of creative project management software, as so many people on your team will essentially be drawing from the same resources at the same time. By embracing a tool that acts as a centralized location for all project-related tasks, files and documents, you’re doing your part to help boost productivity as much as possible. Communications and discussions become easier than ever and collaboration essentially becomes a forgone conclusion. All of this will pay dividends as your project moves farther down the line towards completion every single day.
Another key factor that you’ll want to keep in mind ultimately comes down to the type of support documentation that you’re creating along the way. For the sake of example, let’s say your current project involves getting an upcoming product ready for launch. You and your teams have worked tirelessly for months on getting this right – now, you’re just a few short weeks away from unleashing it on the entire world.
Don’t wait until the end of the project to start thinking about the types of support documentation that your users will need to get the most out of their purchase. These materials shouldn’t be an afterthought – they should be a natural part of the project management and development process from as early as possible.
All of this is to say that you should use a pie chart maker like Visme (which I founded) to create those visual “help” documents that people are going to need while you’re still going through the project, not after it is complete. This will allow you to proactively answer questions and address potential concerns while they’re all still fresh in your mind – thus leading to more accurate information that people can actually use.
Likewise, you should be going to sites like Respona on a regular basis to research the types of topics that the people in your audience actually care about. If you do this while the project is still in the development stages, it can actually clue you in on certain features and other benefits to embrace that will further act as your value differentiator in the market at large.
Think about it like this. Let’s say you and your teamwork on your upcoming product and it’s (thankfully) totally finished. Then, you head to Respona for topic research and find out that a lot of your potential customers have the same core problem that they’re trying to solve. You could easily include a feature that helps them meet that challenge… or you could have if you’d have learned this information while you were still knee-deep in development.
If you were conducting this level of research while things were still fluid, you definitely would have been in a better position to pivot and capitalize on an opportunity instead of allowing it to pass you by.
This is why it’s important to think of these things not as an afterthought, but as a critical element of what you’re doing. You never know where inspiration is going to come from and no matter what, you need to be in a position to listen to it and adapt to it whenever possible. This is the part of project management that far too many people don’t pay enough attention to until it’s too late.
Finally, one of the most important elements of successful project management involves keeping scope creep in check whenever you can. Every project has constraints – regardless of how many people are working with you or how large your budget is. But if your scope begins to shift in the wrong direction, things will slowly begin to fall apart before you know it. If things change too drastically, you could be dealing with budget overruns and you could easily lose buy-in from the stakeholders you’re going to need when everything is said and done.
Therefore, you must make it a priority to manage scope creep in a proactive way. Don’t think about it at the end of each month or at the end of the week. Keep it in the back of your mind every single day and don’t be afraid to confront it when necessary.
If you’re able to keep all of these things in mind during the project management process, there’s truly no limit to what you and your colleagues will be able to accomplish.
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.
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