Steering Your Way to Success

Americans love the quick fix. We all want a packaged solution that will solve our problems. Need to get somewhere faster? Buy a new car. Need to lose weight? Sign up for a diet service. Need to boost business revenues? Call a consultant.

I wish I could solve my clients’ problems quickly and easily. Just prescribe a business solutions package and tell them to call me in the morning. But unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. In the real world, generic solutions rarely work. And magic bullets simply do not exist.

Since my expertise is in planning, it should not come as a surprise that I recommend developing a strategic plan. But what you need to realize is that just having “a plan” is not the same as having “a good plan.” Here are four things to think about when developing your business plan:

1) Keep it real. Make sure you base your assumptions on actual facts, not the facts as you want them to be. Do some research, and make sure it is relevant to your particular business, not just some generic business.  Discuss your plan with people you trust to make sure you are not deluding yourself.

2)  Be true to yourself. Just because Forbes or says “this is the way to go”, that doesn’t mean YOU have to follow. If you want to grow slowly and don’t want to lose control of your business, then selling your products to Walmart is probably not a good idea. And just because your neighbor made a fortune in franchising, that doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing. Slow and steady often wins the race, and if that’s what you want then follow your heart.

3) Marketing and sales are important, but there is no magic formula. Just because everyone else is using Facebook, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good fit for your business. If your customers are over the age of 50, it almost certainly is not. Instead of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, map out a careful marketing and sales plan. Focus on specific target markets, not “generic” customers. Plan to test different messages, channels and campaigns. Measure results and adjust your plan as needed. Contrary to what you read on the Internet, the marketing plan is not dead. You can be sure your competition has a plan, and if so, one of their goals is to take away your customers.

4) Things change. No business plan is perfect. And every plan is out of date the minute you finish it. The point is, your business (and marketing/sales) plan should be revisited at least once every year or three. The interval between updates varies from industry to industry. In technology, things happen very quickly, so the proper interval might be twice a year. For a service business in a relatively mature industry such as architecture or construction, once every three years might be sufficient. But don’t kid yourself by thinking you can write a business plan when you start the business and never change after that.

About Andrew Clarke

Andrew Clarke is President of Ground Floor Partners. Over the past twenty years he has advised hundreds of small businesses on strategy, marketing, real estate and finance. He is passionate about small business, social and environmental justice, and is a proud member of the American Sustainable Business Council, Food and Water Watch, Green America, Food Consultants Group, and the American Planning Association.

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