The 2005 Business Plan: Making It In The Year Ahead

10/25/2004


By John Graham
President
Graham Communications
Quincy, Mass

What’s so special about January 1 of a new year? While one year flows into the next without regard to a calendar change, the start of a new year is still very much of what can be called a refocus event.

There are “the business planners,” those who feel that they need a road map for the upcoming 12 months. For weeks, everyone is engaged at updating last year’s plan%%MDASSML%%%%MDASSML%%which was also the plan for five years earlier! Then, after the “big meeting,” the plans are put away and it’s business as usual.

All the phony pronouncements, useless posturing and hollow promises to reach unrealistic goals only obscure the annual opportunity to focus on what can be accomplished with sufficient effort. Putting all the nonsense aside, here’s an 11-point business plan that focuses on task-driven strategies that make a difference.

  1. Focus on the client’s experience. Forget about strategic planning; that just puts the focus on the company . The new measure of quality is the customer’s experience with your product or service. Amazon’s success has nothing to do with books or barbecues. What’s evident is the extent to which this company thinks like its customers. Or visit the meat department in any supermarket and you’ll find chicken whatever way you want it. Take the Honda Element, perhaps the most customer-friendly vehicle on the market today. Designed for twentysomethings, Boomers are going for it. Room, flexibility and fun. It’s always ready. You can even hose down the inside! And the price is right. And you may only want to do business with those who list a cell phone number on their business cards.

  2. Focus on prospecting. There’s always more talk than action when it comes to prospecting. And for good reason. Most prospecting isn’t prospecting at all. It’s little more than wasting time looking for needles in a haystack. What’s needed is a prospecting program. It starts with asking the critical question: “Who do we want to do business with if we had the opportunity?” Instead of having a handful of so-called prospects, a program opens the door much wider. The next step is building the database and developing a prospect cultivation plan. Stay in regular touch in various ways. Be ready when the prospect gets ready. Monitoring responses, following up fast, building a history on each prospect%%MDASSML%%%%MDASSML%%it’s this focused effort that turns prospects into customers.

  3. Focus on giving customers choices. “What are my options?” is the first question today’s customers ask. If they can’t get them in one place, they’ll find them elsewhere. Choices are the best way to overcome price problems, too. But don’t make the mistake of offering too many choices. When we’re overwhelmed with possibilities, we react negatively. We check out and go somewhere else. Remember, even menus in Chinese restaurants are getting shorter.

  4. Focus on follow-up. Here’s the most difficult problem facing every business, and it impairs productivity. Leave voicemail and e-mail and anything else you can think of%%MDASSML%%%%MDASSML%%but there’s no response. End result: nothing gets done. And then come the complaints about mistakes and missed deadlines%%MDASSML%%%%MDASSML%%and they come from those who failed to respond. Reduce stress (yours and everyone else’s) and get more business by responding now.

  5. Focus on niches. Mass markets have gone the way of mass communication. Just check the number of cable channels. Today, there’s a blog for everyone. In retailing, Staples has traded in its original “warehouse look” for an attractive, appealing series of “boutique” centers. The mass merchandisers seem to hitting more than a few bumps. The demand is for a personalized approach. Companies can have highest quality, full color brochures individually personalized for specific customers and prospects. Focus on specific markets with mini-websites, letterhead and business cards, e-mail bulletins and newsletters for each one.

  6. Focus on fast. Urgency is in. No one is willing to wait for anything. In fact, speed may well be the primary factor in evaluating the quality of service. What should we be doing? Get rid of anything but a “do it now” mindset. Frankly, faster is better. One company president was surprised to discover that on-time delivery and quality customer service were keys to overcoming the price problem. Get proposals out fast. Get rid of “I’ll get back to you as soon as possible” and “as soon as I can” voice mail messages. They send the message that you’ll respond at your convenience. Words make a difference so be sensitive to how you use them. More business is lost by failing to respond fast than any other way.

  7. Focus on your markets, not the competition . There’s a difference between keeping an eye on the competition and following it. Competitors set the agenda for too many businesses. Not LG Electronics, the South Korean manufacturer. Committed to owning a big piece of an already congested upscale kitchen appliance market, it isn’t flinching even though the competition is intense. Their stainless steel product lines are grabbing attention and sales away from both U.S. and European manufacturers. Seeing an opportunity, an insurance agency is offering Curves fitness center franchisees a coverage that’s superior to what the endorsed-insurance agency was selling%%MDASSML%%%%MDASSML%%and for a lower cost. This same agency, Mosinee Insurance in Wisconsin, is also marketing its workers’ compensation expertise to a large number of firms. The hook? Finding costly errors and mistakes. Sometimes the back door gets you in quicker than the front door.

  8. Focus on legacy assets. Companies often forget about one of their major assets. It keeps them in business and they rely on it every day. Unfortunately, they fail to recognize its enormous value. It’s that reservoir of knowledge and experience built up over time that helps them identify problems and solutions quickly and accurately because they have dealt with the situations often. Even more important, it’s this accumulated experience that’s highly transferable. Drawing upon the company legacy, solving new problems is far easier. This is a company’s primary product. Even though intangible, this is what makes a business of value to its customers. It’s also what most companies fail to communicate to customers and prospects. In effect, this is the brand.

  9. Focus on expectations. Everyone agrees to meeting deadlines. Fewer and fewer ever deliver on their promises. They may believe they are going to perform when the commitment is made. But, as we know, due dates don’t mean much to most people. Tracking everything is essential because staying on track isn’t easy. We gravitate to what’s interesting, new and exciting. All of which may or may not be productive. If there’s a “missing question” in business it’s this: “Who’s going to do what to whom and when?” These few words let you track anything and everything by focusing on the four components of business productivity.

  10. Focus on facts. Los Angeles entrepreneurs Brad Saltzman and Stephen Bikoff had plans to take their two low-carb Pure Foods stores nationwide. Unfortunately, low-carb became high-stress. The stores are losing money and the plans are scrapped. What went wrong? Forbes columnist Zina Moukheiber interviewed the owners. “We thought we were invincible because the low-carb trend seemed to be so solid,” stated Saltzman. “That’s why we didn’t do any due diligence. We just dove into it.” Too many people in business are convinced by their own convictions. Not only do they refuse to listen to contrary viewpoints, they don’t want to take the time or spend the money to make sure their decisions are valid. Why do top coaches spend endless hours watching videos of opponents’ games? Research reveals the facts and the facts hold the key to success.

  11. Focus on forward. We all look back, of course. If there’s anything to learn from the World War II generation, it is the unavoidable fact that we call them “The Greatest Generation” simply because they looked forward, not back. Million of Americans are discovering that they need to let go of the past if they want to work again. Those who spend months and years pursuing jobs in the industry where they spent 20 years often find themselves permanently unemployed. But others who make a quick assessment of the opportunities and realize they must make a career change tend to succeed. Rather than squandering their energy and available resources, they use them to build a new career.

With paper-thin margins threatening construction company survival, one general contractor saw an opportunity to reduce the cost of buying tools by doing their own manufacturing. Beyond that, they market the line to other contractors.

The big job for individuals and businesses is creating tomorrow’s good old days. Rather than dwelling on “numbers” as such, this 11-point “business plan” focuses on task-driven strategies for staying on course, standing out from the competition, attracting and holding customers and giving a business a competitive advantage. Most importantly, this approach doesn’t depend on economic factors or industry conditions. It all depends on taking responsibility for specific tasks.

For more information go to www.grahamcomm.com





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