So, you made a plan. That’s awesome. Many small businesses and entrepreneurs fly by the seat of their pants, as my grandma would say. They let themselves be lifted along the tides of luck and good fortune. However, when those tides turn into stormy weather, they often sink under the pressure.
That’s why the commitment to planning is awesome.
Planning is a commitment.
Now, all plans are not created equal. There are plans that look good, even look pretty. But their main value is to collect dust on the top of your bookshelf.
Then there are plans that are super cool, really specific, but don’t seem to be based on reality. In other words, if your environmental scan is pure fiction, your plan will not be achievable. You can’t really prepare a plan in a vacuum. Context is critical.
Another scenario is when the environmental scan and competitive analysis is rock solid. The goals are achievable and measurable. The objectives and action plans are totally doable. And then there’s a huge shift. There’s a pandemic or a labor shortage, or a breakdown in your supply chain.
You can’t keep operating based on that beautiful plan you created because things have changed. And guess what…things will always change. It may not be a seismic shift like a global pandemic. It could be something moderate that, if not addressed, could ultimately cost you big.
Keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground.
So, keeping your eyes open and your ears to the ground will help you tremendously when your plan A doesn’t work.
You don’t want to be caught off guard, so continuous market surveillance is important. But it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. You can keep in touch by subscribing to newsletters or online journals (usually free or for a small fee) that are focused on business in general and your industry in particular.
If you need trusted, downloadable data from a variety of industries and populations, I recommend Statista.com. They employ hundreds of researchers and specialists that gather and double-check their statistics before publishing.
They provide forecasts on a variety of topics. And their pricing structure is transparent and flexible, from free basic plans with limited access, to single and corporate accounts that offer data and support. They also have 30-day project-based pricing if you’re on a specific job that requires access to data. You could include the cost in your project-based budget.
Your Business Operations
You should know your own business pretty thoroughly. Tracking your numbers weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually will help you understand when your business is going through a routine down-cycle period or when something just isn’t right. And it’s especially important and helpful to set targets and measure performance on a regular basis. How long does it take to fulfill a client request? How many complaints are you receiving and how many go unresolved?
Again, volume isn’t as important as knowing what’s key to your success, and what contributes to that performance. Some measures will track how you or your staff is performing, others, how your contractors and vendors are performing. In some businesses, both are important.
I like keeping a balance of measures. An example of this in action is Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard, where performance is tracked, not just on financials, but on the efficiency of your internal processes, your organization’s capacity to handle current and new work, and the all-important customer experience.
That leads me to a third area for surveillance—your customers. Whether your customers are other businesses, a governmental agency or foundation, or Jane/Joe Smith on the street—you need to keep track of what your customer is experiencing with you, and what they may want next.
To remain relevant and valuable to your customer, you need to constantly be thinking about how to fulfill their needs and desires. This means keeping track of what customers are saying—to you or to one another through social media—and hearing—what are they listening to, what’s trending, what’s important and population with them.
A casual, fun survey every once in a while helps customers to engage with you current and potential customers, and helps you glean helpful information in small bites. A quick and easy survey after each interaction helps you glean from your customers what they like most about working with you, or what they might want next, or more of in future. Instagram or Survey Monkey are great vehicles for these kinds of surveys.
Remember that M is for mitigation—another kind of plan.
The best time to plan for failure is at the very start. It sounds crazy, negative, and pessimistic. But it’s just good business. You want to know in advance what the signs are that what you’re trying isn’t working.
If you’re a start-up or first-time business, you are like a scientist coming up with a hypothesis for what you think will happen if you do this or that. Or you’re a gambler, betting that if this situation occurs or lasts, these actions will capitalize on it.
But even in a less volatile business environment, you could be a cook with all the right ingredients for a very predictable and satisfying outcome—but what do you do when key ingredients are no longer available or their quality changes? Or what if the refrigerator tanks or the oven falls apart.
We can prepare for the worst in advance. But if disaster or downturns fall upon us, mitigation can be implemented quickly, either before or during the events to reduce or avoid negative impacts. Knowing your operating environment, your business, and your customers will help you identify realistic mitigations in advance. And it’s best to think our way through the alternate path BEFORE disaster strikes.
Pivot to recover quickly.
Once you’ve determined that this is more than temporary and hardly expected, you must pivot—make your move decisively—to recover quickly. And before you act, make sure that your mitigation plan will still be effective. Business environments change. Key role players change. Revise your mitigation plan too.
Or perhaps this is a permanent change, and your whole plan needs a refresh. That happens as well. It could be a strategic decision that something more or different is necessary to regain or advance your competitive edge. Do it! There is nothing smarter than refreshing your strategic plan, your marketing or product launch strategy, or your social media approach.
In fact, it’s a healthy business practice to rethink their playbook every 3 to 5 years. A complete overhaul isn’t always required if all is well. But the now legendary but true case study of IBM, king of all computer technology, missing the initial, revolutionary wave of the personal computer market is the story of a strong healthy company that failed to see what was just around the river bend.
If you want help rethinking your strategy, CSD Marketing and Consulting is here to help. We are a family run agency that prides ourselves in treating our clients like family. CSD Marketing and Consulting is a San Diego, California based company that will help you walk away with a co-created, strategic marketing plan to refresh your brand through 5 steps taken in 5 weeks, 5 days or 5 hours.
Even though we’re based in southern California, thanks to technology in the digital age, we work with clients, partners, and colleagues all over the world. It can all start with a conversation. Let’s connect today!