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!


The Best Managers are the Best Communicators

As a business owner, you dedicate much of your time to communicating with your clients. While this is crucial for your business, equally important is communicating with your employees. Internal communication touches every aspect of your business from announcing the onboarding of a new client, to introducing a new product to your business line. No matter the size, industry, or type of company you own, I recommend having an internal communications process embedded in everything you do.

An internal communications process allows for the exchange of information between all members of your organization, which will save you time and money. In fact, companies with effective internal communications processes experience 47% higher total returns than those that are not effective at communicating.

I’ve outlined below 3 key elements to help you establish an effective internal communications process.

  1. Have the Right Mechanisms in Place to Keep Employees Informed

Your internal communication mechanisms must be strategic, in order to be targeted and the most beneficial. Consider your company’s current mechanisms, from the methods of communication it uses, to the way your company engages with and seeks feedback from your staff, to the way it measures if the mechanism is successful and identifies any issues for future change.

Choosing what mechanisms to use depends on your size and budget. If your company has multiple locations, you may decide to invest in passive, large-scale communication options to disseminate information. Creating an intranet (a private network only available to a company’s staff) is one great option. If your business is smaller, consider using more conventional communication channels such as an internal newsletter, e-blast, Director’s blog, or notice board. I have even seen some companies benefit from using social networking sites as their primary means of internal communication. More directed options could include Breakfast Briefs for front-line staff, a monthly Director Communications Day, scheduled Director Q&A drop-ins, or Lunch & Learns.

No matter what mechanism(s) you choose, the bottom line is that employees have access to a platform where they can receive important company information so they stay abreast of the information they need to do their job.

  1. Creating a Two-Way Loop

Having great communication mechanisms in place is vital, but ensuring that they consistently generate engagement between management and employees is a key step. It is imperative that business owners and managers actively respond to feedback received and ensure a loop is created, as opposed to a top-down form of communication. By acting on the honest feedback reported by employees encourages more of the same – staff telling it “like it is”.

  1. Measuring the Mechanisms

To ensure that the communication mechanisms you choose are working effectively, incorporating measurement indicators, such as scheduled weekly face-to-face meetings with actionable items reported for follow-up, anonymous employee surveys offered at quarterly or annual company all-staff meetings, or through specific activity surveys through the intranet, could help identify gaps, what is or isn’t working, and what methods of communication work best for your employees.

Regardless of which avenues you choose, the main goal is to ensure employees have several effective paths available to them where they can communicate with senior management and feel heard.

Communicating with your employees is essential for the productivity of your business. Does your company have an internal communications process in place?


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.

 


A Business is Only as Strong as Its Team: Part Two: Building Your Team

Startup Stock PhotosAs discussed in my last blog, a business is only as strong as its team, I shared with you why having a strong team is so vital to your business’s success. Once we as business owners understand the value of a strong team, the natural next step is how to create that team and how to measure its success.

There are several key elements to building and measuring a strong team—from defining roles, ensuring communication, to celebrating successes and measuring progress. I’ve outlined four key elements that you’ll need to consider in building a successful team.

  1. Define and Value Roles

In addition to a job description, ensure your staff have their responsibilities clearly outlined. Clearly defining what it is the team member is responsible for, as well as how it plays a part in the overall company, will help in understanding the value their position plays in the overall growth of your company.   

  1. Openly Communicate

Open, or two-way, communication is a key aspect in running a successful business. Your employees rely on you to communicate your expectations to them and to provide any information or training that may be required.

From a feedback and measurement perspective, communication is key. Create not only an onboarding document which outlines your expectations, but also develop a feedback mechanism for them to communicate their progress or any difficulties they may be experiencing. You can establish weekly or daily meetings with them and ask them to create a report, which gives you an overall perspective on how they are progressing and managing tasks.

  1. Celebrate Success/Embrace Failure 

If an employee or team accomplishes something in the workplace, celebrate it! No, you don’t have to throw a big party with cake, streamers and balloons, but even the simplest recognition like a personalized email acknowledging their accomplishment can go a long way.

However, if mistakes happen, use them as a learning opportunity not just for that individual, but also for the entire team. As a business owner, it’s essential not to place blame or point fingers when something goes wrong. The goal of your team is to work towards the future of the business, so learning from mistakes should make for a valuable lesson moving forward.

  1. Collaborate

A team is non-existent without collaboration. Collaboration can be achieved in many ways – through effective communication, sharing of knowledge, and peer support. Ensure you have built in opportunities for collaboration, which might be regular team meetings, in-house lunch and learns, one-on-one meetings, etc.

Roles often collide and allow employees to work synonymously together. If we think back to the restaurant analogy, a cook would not be able to plate food without clean dishes, nor could a server serve the food if the tables are not cleared.

Lastly, team building and measurement is an ongoing process in which you play a vital part. Allow yourself the time to invite your team to share in your goals and help you achieve them. Just as no man is an island unto himself, no company can be built without a strong team.

 

What do you and your team hope to accomplish for the remainder of the year?

 


A Business is Only as Strong as Its Team

team.jpgWith over 30 years of experience, I’m often asked by business owners how they can take their business to the next level. While there are many ways of doing this, such as marketing initiatives, sales strategies, staffing and the like, I always stress one important factor that tends to be overlooked – the foundation of a solid team.

As a business owner, you’ve likely hired staff to support your operations. If you haven’t hired any staff yet, it’s likely just over the horizon if you plan on any form of growth in the near future. Strategic staffing ensures you are hiring not only the right person for the job, but someone who will support the vision and future growth of your organization. When hiring someone to fulfil a role, ask them what their values are and how they think they align with your company’s mission. Simply put, just because a candidate has a certain skill set, it does not mean they are a good fit for your company. Having a team mentality with cohesive goals will foster a dedicated work environment built for success. If your team encapsulates members who are willing to grow as individuals, both professionally and personally, there’s a good chance they’ll want to apply that opportunity for growth to the growth of the company. Taking the time to mentor your employees will result in unequivocal benefits for both parties involved for years to come.

Further to aligning values and goals, balanced skill sets will ensure you have a strong team. It’s important to remember that as individuals, it’s human nature to have both strengths and weaknesses. The strongest team is one that encompasses skills of all sorts that complement each other in a synergistic manner. Similarly, there must be a good balance between leadership and peer support. As a business owner, you should strive to lead your team to success through empowerment and motivation, but most importantly, through example.

One thing that I have observed in organizations is that there is sometimes a lack of effective communication within teams. As individuals, we tend to think that everyone we interact with wants to be communicated to in the same way that we do. However, this is not always the case. While one person in your organization may like to talk things through, another might like things written down. Learning how to effectively communicate with your team will allow for a more productive workplace and will ensure that your goals are always successfully met.

Ultimately, a strong team will only thrive if trust is established between team members. In my next blog, I’ll discuss in more detail the best ways to build a strong team and how you can go about measuring their success.

Do you think you have the right team in place to achieve your company’s goals?


How Valuable is Marketing to Your Business?

Marketing blogAs a business advisor, when I meet with business owners we discuss a multitude of business-related issues, most of which fall into these four categories all of which have a direct impact on your bottom line: operations, finance, human resources and marketing. In this blog, I’m going to focus on the fourth category: marketing.

Marketing is about communication. Your business could conceive of the most innovative and useful product/service, but what good is all of that effort if nobody knows anything about your product/service or your brand? Having a good product/service is no longer enough to sustain a successful business. You need to communicate that you have a good product/service, what makes it a good product/service, the benefits that your product/service will provide potential customers, and what makes your product/service different from or better than what your competitors are offering.

Simply put, whether B2B or B2C, people are unlikely to just walk into your business and give you their hard-earned money if they don’t know who you are or what you’re selling in a marketplace defined by endless choice. Marketing is an absolute necessity for any business, small or large, because it answers the three most important questions that customers have about an unfamiliar brand: “Who are you? What do you do? How are you different?” When you make an effort to answer these questions effectively, your business will reap the benefits. Effective, value-added marketing heightens brand awareness and trust, allows you to reach your target audience and boost your customer base, and increases your bottom line.

Marketing is necessary, but I assure you that it isn’t easy. Too many inexperienced businesses make the mistake of treating marketing like medicine – only to be used when something goes wrong. Only when a product isn’t selling or revenue is dwindling do these businesses decide to consider marketing as a last-ditch effort.

Successful businesses treat marketing like food – regular, sustained, and practiced consistently. In other words, successful businesses never stop marketing. In doing so, these businesses ensure that they are always in communication with and attuned to the needs of their customers.

We have established that marketing is an essential business function, but what about the cost? Maintaining consistent communication with your audience certainly isn’t free. How much money should you invest in marketing in your business?

To make money, you need to spend money. There are a number of factors that influence how much your business should invest in marketing, such as the age and size of your business, and the level of competition in your market.

The most common strategy that businesses use to determine marketing budgets is by taking gross or projected revenue and allocating a certain percentage towards marketing. Though the exact percentages vary, newer, less established businesses benefit from an increased allocation of gross or projected revenue towards marketing (10%+). New and emerging brands need to invest a greater percentage of revenue in marketing early on in order to increase brand awareness and market share. On the other hand, established brands can generally allocate a lower percentage of revenue towards marketing (5%+).

Make sure you have a strong brand story, one that clearly differentiates your brand from your competition by clearly identifying who you are, and the value and benefit your services or products provide to your customers. Marketing gives your brand a “human touch”. Like a good friend, customers are more likely to connect and do business with a brand they feel they know and can trust. In this way, effective marketing has a direct impact on your bottom line.

Marketing has the potential to take your business to a level of success that cannot be achieved by idling and waiting for your prospective customers to find you.

How much importance is placed on marketing in your business? Are you spending the appropriate amount on your marketing efforts?


Benefits of Team Building  

o-TEAM-BUILDING-facebookAs a business advisor, a common question I’m often asked is if team-building activities are actually important. The answer is a resounding yes. You may not realize it, but you may be doing yourself a disservice as a business owner by not taking the time to focus on building the strength of the relationships between your team members.

It is no secret that a cohesive team of employees leads to greater success for any business. Why exactly? I’ve outlined below a few key benefits of team building that are worth considering:

  • Increased Trust
    • When you have a team that is constantly working together, a mutual trust between all employees will make every process much smoother. Employees are able to depend on one another and become more productive as a result of trust.
  • Greater Communication
    • A team that can’t communicate will never get anywhere fast. While everyone has different styles of communicating, understanding these differences will make your team more efficient and better functioning overall.
  • Greater Collaboration
    • An “every man for themselves” mentality is detrimental to a successful team. Creating strong bonds between your employees will help them realize the interdependency of the team and appreciate the collaborative opportunities available to them.
  • Easier Conflict Resolution
    • Team building is a great way for your employees to get to know one another on a more personal level. With large groups, you’re bound to have varying personalities, and team-building activities are the best way to become accustomed to each other’s dispositions.

There are a variety of team building activities to choose from that focus on these specific outcomes. While you try to make team-building fun, you want to ensure that the takeaways of the activities directly influence your employees working environment, so your team members recognize the benefits of participating.

As a business owner, it is vital to pay attention to your employees and understand what team dynamics they may be lacking, and react accordingly, after all your employees are the core of any successful business.

What is your favourite team building activity, and how did it influence your team dynamic? Share your experiences with me in the comments!