How a Lean Business Plan Can Help You Focus on What Is Really Important

business-plan-images-1024x682As I have discussed with many business owners over the years, a business plan is your blueprint for success. It can help you manage your business more effectively, help support growth and secure funding. There are “Static Business Plans” and “Lean Business Plans”.

Since your business isn’t static, it doesn’t make sense to have a static business plan, which is typically long, complicated and never changes. Lean business plans assume constant change. They’re streamlined documents with no extraneous information. Instead of bloated paragraphs, lean business plans are written concisely with bullet points, lists and tables – easy to read and easy to revise.

A lean business plan is more than just a plan; it’s an ongoing process designed to optimize your business. This powerful tool includes strategy, a financial plan, action plan, tactics, milestones, responsibilities, performance metrics and tracking.

A lean business plan is a dynamic document that must be reviewed regularly and revised as needed. It’s something that can benefit every business. I’ve outlined below four important points of every lean business plan here:

  1. The pitch tells your story. Who are you? What do you do? What is your value proposition? What problem are you solving for your customers? How are you solving that problem? Who is your customer? Who is your competition? How are you different from your competition?
  2. The financial plan explains how you’re going to make money. What is your business model? What are your revenue streams? What is your sales forecast? Cash flow forecast? What are your major expenses? What is your budget to cover expenses?
  3. The action plan is how you’re going to do it. Who are your key team members and what are their roles? Who is your target market? What are your sales channels – online, bricks and mortar, third party distribution? Pricing? How will you be attracting customers – marketing, advertising, promotions, social media, messaging, public relations? Do you have partners or additional resources? If so, list them.
  4. Performance tracking measures the success of your plan. It compares results with expectations. List all of the specifics that you can track – money generated, products/services sold, number of new clients, milestones reached, web traffic, foot traffic, social media followers, conversions…

A lean business plan evolves as your business evolves. It will never be finished; it’s a process of continuous improvement. The cycle is constant – plan, run, review, revise. Review and revise your plan regularly to ensure that your business is on course with meeting goals, sales targets and operational milestones. In my experience, this plan can keep your business on track, and help you determine its success.

Are you using a lean business plan? Want more advice on lean business plans, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!


Why Personal Branding is Crucial for Entrepreneurs – Brand vs. Branding

personal-brand-1I can’t stress enough how important personal branding is for entrepreneurs. You may not realize it, but each one of us is a brand. Type your name into any search engine and the results will show you exactly what your online brand is. Did you make a conscious effort to create and promote your brand? Does it accurately represent you? Is it targeted towards a specific audience?

 

Although the words brand and branding are often used synonymously or confused with each other, they are separate and unique.

What exactly is a brand? A brand is your unique identifier, your market identity. It represents you in the marketplace – who you are, what you do, your reputation, trustworthiness, and the quality of your product or service. Your brand is how your customers perceive you and how they feel when they do business with you.

Sir Richard Branson is the perfect example of a personal brand. Although he’s the founder of the Virgin properties – Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Records among others, Sir Richard Branson’s personal brand is the most powerful of all. People want to do business with the Virgin properties because of Sir Richard Branson. The personal brand drives the corporate brand.

Personal branding has become increasingly important. People trust people, not corporations. They want to do business with people, not corporations. Your personal brand is your differentiator. It creates an emotional connection between you and your customer. Ultimately, it defines the value of your business. In order to stay competitive in today’s marketplace, you must have a strong personal brand.

Branding is the active process that shapes your brand. It requires a strategy and targets your core audience. Branding can include the name of your company, logo, other visual assets, website, communications and media.

 

Entrepreneurs who are more influential pay more attention to their brand rather than just their branding. As an entrepreneur, how can you build your brand? Ask yourself:

  • Who are you? What do you stand for? What do you offer? How are you perceived by others? How do you want to be perceived by others? Be authentic. Your brand should be reflective of who you are.
  • What do you do? What product or service do you offer? What is your value proposition? What differentiates you from your competition?
  • Why does it matter? Define your purpose. This will give you great direction.

 

Evaluate your brand. Your brand should tell people who you are, what you offer and differentiate you from your competition. Is your brand reaching your target audience? Are they responding positively? Are you delivering on your brand promise? If not, it’s time to reassess and make changes.

 

Is your personal brand and branding effort working for you? Want more advice on brands and branding, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!

 


5 Steps to Getting Your Business Back on Track

tab-croissance-1080x675One of the biggest challenges I find many small business owners face is dealing with complacency. When a new business first starts out, owners are overcome with excitement with every forward step. But at one point or another, the excitement of the early days starts to slow down, and eventually your company may begin to experience a plateau.

A stagnant business is one that faces little to no new activity for an extended period of time. Complacency tends to come from sticking with the status quo and getting used to your business’s “comfort zone”. Many business owners adhere to the mindset of “if it was working for the first 5 years, why change it now?” The truth is, sometimes change is exactly what you need to revitalize your business and get it growing again.

If you’re facing complacency in your business, below are 5 steps for revitalizing your business to get it back on track for growth.

1) Find out what your customers want

A lack of understanding about what your customers truly want from your business can be detrimental to your small business. This is why engaging in market research is essential to drive your company’s growth. Have you had a conversation with your customers to find out what needs are being met, and what needs aren’t? By hiring a market research company or a marketing agency with a specialization in market research to conduct unbiased market research, you will be able to gain invaluable information about your customers as well as your competitors. Once you’ve done this research, you’ll have a much better idea about how you can fulfill your customers’ needs to the best of your ability.

2) Focus on increases in certain sectors and products

Your industry landscape changes at such a rapid pace, and as a small business owner, it’s important that you keep up-to-date with it. Look at projected growth sectors to get an understanding of which products or services are headed for long-term growth, and which ones are on the decline. Some may be obvious, but others may not be so apparent. This is why it’s crucial to take the time and do proper research. Once you have a better idea about the projected growth rate of certain sectors, consider shifting your business model to become more aligned with these industry changes.

3) Re-examine former revenue sources

While focusing on changes in the industry landscape is important, equally important is looking at what has traditionally brought you revenue. After the first few years of your business, you may have lost focus on areas that were once reliable sources of revenue for your company. Have you steered your attention towards niche areas as a result of increased demand, and lost sight of your more dependable revenue sources? If your business has stalled, one of the first things you should do is gauge whether or not you have neglected some of your core competencies at the expense of chasing something new.

4) Review your company’s operations

I’ve found that many small businesses do not focus enough time and energy on their internal operations. Often, owners struggle to let go of the “startup” mindset they once had. This is a shame, as a company’s internal operations can have a huge influence on the productivity of their business. As your business grows, it’s important you grow with it. In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of delegation. Are you delegating work where necessary? Have you considered outsourcing certain tasks to allow you to focus on growing your business?

5) Create a plan

The only way you will be able to properly execute the above steps is if you have a solid plan in place. It’s essential you know exactly what resources are required and how much time and energy is needed to accomplish what you want done. Understanding these two key areas will allow you to set realistic short-term and long-term goals for your business. Remember, making any large-scale changes to your company takes time, so patience is needed to see through your goals.

It is important to keep the momentum going in order for your business not to stall. Although complacency is a frustrating obstacle to face, it is quite common. By following these 5 steps on how to revitalize your business, you’ll be equipped with the confidence to move forward and make the necessary changes needed to get your business back on the track you want it to be.


The Roles They Are A-Changin’

changes-aheadAs a business owner, you know how important it is to keep things fresh and innovative in your workplace, but when making changes, you’ll need to consider how your plans might impact your employees.

If you are in the process of job redesign where employees are assigned new roles that play into their strengths and contribute to a more successful business, these changes can be stressful to your employees. If someone has been hired for a particular job and then he or she is suddenly expected to perform a different role in the organization, tension and stress can result.

A recent report found that 46% of 1,018 Canadian employees recently surveyed had taken time off work or noticed other employees taking sick leave following workplace changes, a common symptom of a stressed-out workplace.

I’ve outlined below a few tips on how you can shift roles in your organization without contributing to employee stress:

  1. Share your vision.

Why are you doing this? What is this change going to accomplish for your organization? Sharing this vision with employees will allow them to understand exactly why this is happening, and help them find their part in it.

  1. Keep the lines of communication open in regards to role change.

Ask employees how they feel they can contribute to a new role and encourage conversation. By doing this, you can evaluate each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, while giving them an opportunity to work in a new role they would truly enjoy.

Make sure employees stay up to date as things begin to shift. For example, when you have made some final role decisions, send out an email to all staff informing them of the new structure. Keeping everyone in the know will ensure a smooth transition process.

  1. When your employees begin their new role, make sure they feel supported.

Assuming a new role can be challenging, especially if the employee doesn’t have a lot of previous experience in the position. Positive reinforcement can go a long way, as employees are less likely to experience stress when they report a positive and supportive workplace culture.

In today’s workplace, you need to keep things fresh, but maintain a balance against a backdrop of inclusiveness and communication. Learning how to handle change effectively is what will keep your team on the right path to growing your business.

How have you successfully restructured your business?


When You’re Looking for One in a Millennial

entrepreneur-593358_1280Every day, thousands of millennials are entering the workforce for the first time. Now, many small business owners are considering hiring these individuals and asking what they need to consider before they opt to hire them.

There is no denying that the millennial generation is much different than the generation of workers that has come before them.  This means that as a small business owner, you’ll need to make some changes to your business culture in order to accommodate the very unique needs of this particular group.

I’ve outlined a few key items you might want to consider before hiring millennial workers to ensure success for both your company and your potential millennial hire.

  • Flexibility

Millennial workers, unlike any other generation before them, are keen on the idea of having office hours that suit their personal needs. How flexible are you willing to be with your office hours? When interviewing potential millennial candidates, ask about their work schedule expectations. If you run a business that can only accommodate the hours of 9am to 5pm, then you can expect a millennial may not find your opening suitable to them.

  • Millennials want to be valued

Millennials need a great deal of validation from and communication with their supervisor/manager to let them know how they are doing, and to give them praise (preferably in a group setting) when they have done a good job. In the workplace, this may require more of your time and attention. They want to be noticed for their work and you will need to be available to give them ongoing feedback. Do you have the time to provide them with ongoing feedback and praise? If not, a millennial may not feel valued in your office.

  • Company Culture

Millennial workers are expecting an inclusive and exciting company culture that promotes social relationships and fosters innovation. If you have other millennial staff, or see your company hosting social nights or team-building activities, a millennial might fit in well. Their need to work and collaborate with a team is key to their success. Is your office made up of employees aged 45+? If so, a millennial worker might feel like an outsider and have trouble fitting in.

There is no doubt this new generation of workers are the future of business, and they have so much to offer, but we need to learn how to accommodate their needs if we are to add them to our workforce.


The Business of Letting Go

8095592977_85b9c8e0bcOne of the biggest challenges I have seen many small business owners struggle with is that of delegation. Most owners started their businesses on their own being the person who does everything and so letting go or delegating can be difficult from many angles. Let’s face it, if you continue to do everything, then why do you have staff and how can you ever hope to grow your business?

Delegation means letting go of the day-to-day tasks associated with that responsibility, but by no means does it mean completely letting go of that responsibility. In other words, if you have hired a sales person to take on the responsibility of sales for your company, although you may not be making the sales calls, you do need to ensure that your sales person has the right sales processes, sales metrics and that they are in fact the right person for the role.

Without the right processes, metrics and people in place, it’s likely the onus will fall back on you to get things done. Sounds familiar? Letting go isn’t easy, but having a proper delegation structure in place will allow you to focus your energy and resources on building a successful business. Here are my recommendations for effective delegation:

1) Have the right processes

Ensure you have the right processes in place to ensure that the task or responsibility will be done correctly and in accordance with your standards. For example, if you are delegating writing you will need to ensure what type of writing, how much time the writing should take, what structure the writing must have, what approvals are required, what source materials, and how the writing must be started. The process needs to be written down, explained to the person who you are delegating it to, and followed up with by you to ensure the process is being followed.

2) Measure your success

The only way you can truly know if the process is working right is to measure its effectiveness and subsequent success. To measure the success of the objective, you may want to consider KPIs as they are an effective way of measuring key business objectives, as are analytics. There are numerous measurement tools available, so finding the one appropriate for your business is important. Whatever metric you choose should be spelled out and communicated to the person taking on the delegated task or project. They need to understand that they are being measured in their responsibilities.

3) Have the right people

In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of building a solid team. Ensuring you have the right people working for you means that you can delegate appropriate tasks with the confidence they will be completed accurately and efficiently. Trust and communication are two qualities that can make or break a business. In my many years as a business advisor, I’ve witnessed numerous business owners cycle through employees simply because they had the wrong person in the role who was not fully capable of handling the responsibilities despite having the right processes and metrics in place. Invest wisely in securing the right team. With the right team in place, you’ll experience no hesitation in delegating important tasks and responsibilities.

Delegating is what most business owners crave – you want someone or something to take the huge responsibility of doing it all yourself off your shoulders. Have no fear, by ensuring you have the right processes, metrics and people in place will mean you can lessen your load, and free up the much-needed time to do what you have always wanted to do: focus on building your business.

 


The Importance of Onboarding New Clients

onboardCongratulations! You’ve landed a new client, now what? The first few months of your new business relationship will determine the level of satisfaction your client has with you and will ultimately factor into whether or not you have a solid working relationship from which to grow. In order to maximize your level of service during this new and exciting time, I highly recommend following a carefully crafted onboarding process.

An onboarding process acts as somewhat of a blueprint for the next few months of the new relationship by clearly outlining expectations for both parties involved. Moreover, it protects both parties by mitigating any form of miscommunication or false expectations.

I’ve outlined below the steps involved in creating an effective onboarding process:

1) Send a welcome email

With most things in life, first impressions matter. This is no different in business, and sending your client a personalized welcome email from a C-level individual at your company not only shows your commitment to working with them, but it’s also a nice gesture that opens a line of communication.

2) Learn their resources

Since every company is different and operates in their own way, knowing what resources they have available is important to accomplishing your goals. For example, and depending on the type of services you’ll be providing, you’ll need to establish what platforms each company uses, what internal staff will be directly working with you, and whom you can go to with questions.

3) Establish mutual goals

A new business relationship is a two way street, and success is dependent upon clear communication and support offered by each party. Simply because a working agreement has been established, it doesn’t automatically mean both parties are on the same page. It is through the onboarding process that the details of the contract can fully be planned for effective execution.

4) Have a kick-off meeting

Whether over the phone or in person, hosting a kick-off meeting with key members involved in the launch of a service is an important step for setting expectations and weeding out any kinks that may have been overlooked during the original planning phase.

5) Obtain feedback

Once your business relationship has begun, checking in with your client to provide updates and ensure their satisfaction is key to demonstrating your willingness to foster a successful relationship. Not only will this show them your commitment to providing excellent customer service, but it will allow for any concerns or necessary changes to come to light. Having a 30, 60 or 90-day feedback session is recommended, but you can customize this plan based on your client’s preferences.

As you’ve probably realized in your business ventures, every client is different. Making tweaks to your onboarding process may be required depending on what each client’s expectations of you are and vice versa. Ultimately, an onboarding process is created to help you achieve success and maintain a mutual understanding with your client, so putting in the time to carefully craft one is in your best interest.

  

Do you have an onboarding process in place for new clients?