Planning to succeed
Any discussion of small business in Australia usually comes with warnings of the businesses that ‘fail’.
But what sets businesses that succeed and thrive apart from the ones that stop trading or just keep their head above water? A smart business strategy for the long term can mean the difference between being a wannabe to being a doer.
Don’t be scared of strategy
Do you hear the word ‘strategy’ and want to run for the hills? What does it mean in a practical sense? Think of it as a plan for how you’re going to operate, why, and how you’ll reach your big goals.
Here are 6 key ingredients for a business strategy to make sure you’re around for the long haul:
- a vision for your business
- a value proposition
- market research
- smart goals
- investment planning
- evaluation and revision.
#1 Have a big idea
Planning your strategy is a good time to think about the vision for your business – think about it as the ‘big idea’ of your business. You may want to be the café of choice on Smith Street, grow from 1 to 2 plant nurseries, or expand your design company to take on bigger projects.
Your big idea helps you work back from there – what do you need to do to get there?
#2 Know what makes you special
If you’re not clear on what sets you apart from your competitors, how will your customers know? Linked to the ‘big idea’ of your business, nailing down your value proposition is key to identifying your strategy to survive and thrive.
Maybe your focus is customer care, maybe your products are higher quality, or maybe you’ve found a niche that needs filling. Cat café, anyone?
Survey your customers and staff members to understand what they value the most about your business. Do your research to better understand your identity and what sets you apart!
#3 Know your market
When you know exactly what it is that makes you special, it gets easier to understand who your audience is and tailor your products, services, marketing and brand image to suit.
There’s lots of ways to find out more about your audience – the simplest is to ask them. Ask your customers face to face, or come up with a short survey (and offer an incentive to complete it). Keep it anonymous, ask the tough questions and be prepared to take action on the results.
You also need to know what your competitors are doing. No one likes a copycat, but ideas are free. If someone is doing a smart promotion or adding a new service, take note of what works and think about how you could match it.
#4 Kick some goals
Once you have your big idea and know who your audience is, the next step is breaking that down into SMART goals.
SMART goals are:
- Specific: Think ‘sell 20% more wedding cakes per quarter’ instead of ‘sell more cakes’.
- Measurable: if you can’t measure it, how will you know if you’ve made a difference? Keep tabs on your cake sales and review regularly to see if your goal is on track.
- Achievable: Dream big, but be realistic. If you’re a one-person operation right now, 73 wedding cakes a week isn’t feasible.
- Relevant: if it doesn’t contribute to your business vision, rethink it. Thinking about becoming a celebrant? Great, but that’s not related to your cake sales goal.
- Timely: the timeframe needs to work for you, your customers and your type of industry. To sell 20% more cakes, you need to think about marketing to get those bookings, managing your time and what times of year are likely to be busier.
#5 Investment planning
Working out your goals and how to reach them can put you on the path to investing in your business growth.
By being smart about your goals, what you’re offering and how you can grow your revenue, you can go into a loan or investment in your business with eyes wide open. If you know why you’re doing it and have a clear plan on how to get a return on the investment, that means your business is here to stay.
Not sure if you’re ready to invest? Try thinking about where you want to be in 5 years, or even one year, and working back to list exactly what you’d need to do to get there. If it’s not practical or achievable, adjust the long-term goal or the timeframe, but don’t feel disheartened. Keeping a business going is a tough and amazing gig, and even thinking about strategy shows you’re taking it seriously.
#6 Check in and get help
Plans are great. But not everyone’s plan will look the same. It needs to work for your business and be practical enough for you to implement, not gather dust on the shelf.
Schedule a set time to check in on your plan and SMART goals. If you’re not on track, or a new opportunity has come up you didn’t plan for, be flexible. Changing your plan is the only way to keep it relevant as your business grows.
You wouldn’t try to fix your own electrical faults (we hope), so apply the same approach to your planning. There are business coaches, business planners, financial planners and advisors that can help you pull your plan together, and keep it on track.
Here for the long haul
If some strategic planning for the long-term health of your business plan leaves you excited, that’s a good sign you’re on track, and you’ve got the plan, not just the motivation, to succeed.