Written by Jay Turo on Monday, March 4, 2013
This past weekend, I had the privilege of moderating a planning session for the leaders of some of the world's best known and most successful collections agencies, collectively responsible for billions of dollars of receivable's debt.
They traveled from around the world to progress toward a common end - making doing business globally as credit safe as doing so close to home.
This is of course extremely challenging, and in a world of exploding international trade, also an enormous opportunity.
So for 40 hours over three days together we grappled long and hard with the various aspects of the business problem - from the right SaaS technology to use to fee-sharing to compliance to channel and end-user marketing.
It was hard. It was draining. It was often contentious.
It was time away from the pressing and equally vexing concerns of everyday work.
AND it was glorious.
Now, if you thought that in a hard bitten business like collections - and at a meeting attended by 25 year+ industry veterans - that there wouldn’t be many moments of idealism, well you would be mistaken.
No, there were a LOT of those “aha” moments - always the best and most inspirational evidence that whole new worlds of strategic and tactical possibility had been discovered.
For sure, post-meeting the participants have now traveled back to their home markets and are faced with the hard challenges of tactical implementation and the inexorable pull of business as usual.
And while meeting for 40+ hours, and traveling to them from around the world IS hard and painful…
…and while we all love our e-mail, our text messaging, our web conferencing, our video hangouts…
…There is just no substitute for personal contact.
And there is NO faster, better, and yes cheaper way to arrive at great and actionable business ideas.
So for a moment, let’s all put down the phone, turn off the e-mail, stop the texting.
And fly, drive, run, walk, crawl to that conference, that party, that face-to-face get together.
When done right, it is always time well spent, and in its aggregate creates both businesses well run and lives well lived.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Saturday, March 2, 2013
There are three main benefits I typically derive from outsourcing:
1. Cost savings. I'm often able to pay less for jobs I outsource, particularly if I outsource them to people in lower cost-of-living states or countries.
2. Reduce overhead. Usually I outsource projects that are not full-time or that I am able to easily stop if they aren't working out as planned. This reduces my overhead (and allows me to scale down as needed) since unlike a full-time employee, the outsourced people are not a fixed expense.
3. Supplemental work at night-time hours. When you outsource overseas, it often provides great timing of workflow. For instance, in one company I ran, I would create tasks during the day, give them to my outsourced team in India, and they would be done by the time I arrived in the office the next morning.
However, for outsourcing to work, you need to find the most qualified people to which you outsource.
The key to this is to start by getting the largest pool of qualified outsourced providers to apply for the project you need accomplished. Because you want to have as many people as possible to choose from.
Even if you only hire one, you can go back and contact the same pool of talent for future projects. Consider applicants as being in your "rolodex" of people to call.
To help you do this well, here are some tips to consider when finding and judging outsourced people to complete your projects.
Choose Your Outsourcing Platform
There are many sites in which you can find outsourced providers for the tasks you need done. Among many others, these include Craigslist, ODesk.com, Guru.com, Elance.com and 99designs. Some of these sites focus on certain types of outsourced projects like technology and design, while others allow you to find people for all types of tasks.
The process of posting a project is very similar on each of these sites, but there are also minor differences to get acquainted with as you go -- worry about those later and follow these basic steps.
Create a Clear Project Title
Include the work to be done, on what, and in what industry. For example, "Help Making Ebook" could mean anything from research to writing to editing to cover design. Compare that to "Writing 10,000 Word Real Estate Ebook." The latter will be more likely to catch the eye of writers and providers with real estate knowledge.
Create a Clear Project Description
This sounds simple enough, but you should try to answer as many possible questions as you can, which means addressing certain areas, like:
- The scope of the project. In the above example, requiring a 10,000-word Ebook to be written vs. 20,000 words would be helpful information for applicants to know. This helps them estimate the time it will take to complete and therefore their bid for the project. If you are paying hourly, it will help prevent misunderstandings later.
- Software needed. Make sure they at least have Microsoft Word and Excel, if that's what you use. Other software is industry-specific, like Adobe Photoshop among graphic designers.
You may or may not know what software is needed for things you don't specialize in, but you will soon enough. All other things equal, choose the person who already has the best software for the job, as you'll get better results.
- Programming languages. Some website projects require that the provider knows certain programming languages besides standard html, such as PHP, AJAX, etc. In these cases, it's better to post "PHP Programmer Needed to..." than just "Programmer." You'll get fewer, but more qualified responses. If you don't know what languages are needed, either ask a friend or do a Google search beforehand, or you could post in the project that you don't know what language is needed, and ask them to make suggestions.
Ideally, you will want to hire people who can educate you, so this sets the tone right from the beginning. I know some people who post $10 projects for 30 minutes of a programmer's time just to answer their questions and learn simple tips and tricks to quickly do yourself without having to hire someone.
- Payment amount. First, decide if you want to pay them by the hour, or for the whole project. There are pros and cons to both. If you estimate that something will take 5-8 hours, going hourly is fine. For work that will take longer than that or that has a higher likelihood of uncertainty, I would try a project-basis.
Sometimes you can't estimate how long something will take-in this case, hire them on an hourly basis for a little while to get started and figure things out. Sometimes applicants will claim that they can't estimate how long it will take, while others can. I would go with people who are able to give you specific information as it shows they have their act together and have done something enough times to know how long it should take.
Often after working on something for a little while, the way ahead becomes much more clear and they can better estimate the remaining hours from there. Sometimes I will hire 2-3 people on an hourly basis to do parts of the same project, and compare their performance to decide who should finish the whole project themselves.
Also, you may not have a clue what something will cost, so make your best guess and let the range of proposed prices confirm this assumption or bring you back to reality. It may surprise you by being higher or lower, on average, than you thought.
- Payment terms. Do not pay more than 50% up front. Rather, you can pay up to 50% up front, but then have milestone payments.
Also, never pay someone the final amount if there is still work left to be done...you may never see it finished if they take off to chase down new work.
- Payment methods. Many of the sites listed above will handle the payment. If they don't, choose the one that feels most comfortable for you, or whichever the providers prefer most.
Upload samples of what you need
You can write 5 paragraphs trying to explain the final product, or you can show them something similar you have done before (or someone else's to model yours after).
Most sites will allow you to upload files to show them what they'll be working with or making. You can also insert links in the project description to files, audios, or videos showing or explaining things more vividly.
Choose the time period for bidding
You might be given options like 3 days, 5 days, 7 days, 15 days, or 30 days to accept bids. I would lean towards giving a longer time period, unless the urgency of your project means that you don't have as much time to wait.
But basically, the more time that providers have to find and respond to your project, the more qualified applicants you'll have to choose from.
Also, some of the best providers are also the busiest, so by giving a longer time frame to respond you are more likely to catch them when they're available.
This is not an exhaustive list, but covers the most important elements of a good project posting-one that will put you in a position of strength and cut down your odds of a bad experience. Cover these bases and you'll have more people applying than you can sort through.
Which then leads to the final phase: judging your applicants. In judging which applicant(s) to choose for your project, consider:
1) How they responded to your project request: were they articulate? Did their comments and/or questions make sense?
2) Their portfolio: do they have a website which shows their portfolio of work that you can judge? If so, take a close look.
3) Their ratings. On most of the outsourcing sites listed above, past clients will rate the outsourced person's work. I never use someone who hasn't completed at least 20 projects and has a rating of 4 stars or above.
Follow this advice and you can find the right outsourcers to help you grow your business and profits.
Suggested Resource: If you don't outsource, you can't compete. The math is simple...if your competitors are outsourcing and only pay $X to complete a task, and you pay $3X, $5X or $10X, your competitors will eat your lunch. You simply must outsource to stay competitive. Outsource the right way using Growthink's Outsourcing Formula. Learn more by clicking here.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, February 28, 2013
"Knowledge is power." This is a well known saying commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, who was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist and author.
In business, knowledge certainly is power. For example, if you knew where your market was heading, you would have a massive leg up on your competition.
So, how can you gain more knowledge to outsmart your competition? Here are 7 ways.
1. Learn from your customers. Marketing consultant Jay Abraham once said, "your customers are geniuses; they know exactly what they want."
Because your customers know what they want, speak to them. And don't just speak to your current customers, but speak to your competitors' customers too. Learn to listen deeply to your customers and to ask probing questions. And when you hear consistent feedback (and not just one customer saying something), take action.
2. Learn from your competitors. Watch your competitors closely and learn from them. What do they seem to be doing well, and how can you better emulate them in this respect? What are they doing poorly that you can capitalize on?
Importantly, don't just copy your competitors until you know that what they are doing works. For example, if a competitor starts offering a 25% off discount for new customers, don't copy them right away. Rather, wait and see what happens. If the competitor stops offering the discount quickly, then the promotion probably didn't work. Conversely, if the competitor is still offering the discount 6 months later, it probably did work. Only copy the competitor's "winners."
Also try to figure out what competitors are saying about you. And, if criticism from a competitor gets back to you, don't become defense or dismiss it casually. Rather, engage critically with it. The criticism may prove to be quite helpful. A competitor may be aware of your weaknesses in a way a friend or customer cannot be. So don't disregard negative feedback, but rather consider it carefully, and take corrective action as appropriate.
3. Learn from your employees. Oftentimes your employees have a lot more information than you do. They are the ones who are interacting with customers, and they are the ones that are building your products and providing your services.
Speak to your employees and get their feedback, ideas and suggestions. As an example, nearly all new innovation at Toyota comes from front-line employees. Encourage your employees to come up with ideas and give you feedback. They may also alert you to changes in the marketplace and customer behavior that you need to understand in order to adapt.
4. Learn from your community. This is particularly true for local businesses. Find out what is going on in your community. For example, if your community is heavily involved in recycling, or if the local high school football team just won a championship, then you need to know about it since these are things your community cares about. Importantly, leverage this information. In these two examples, you could offer a sale related to the football team's victory. Or post signs explaining how your business recycles. These actions would position you as part of the community and cause customers to flock to your business.
5. Learn from coaches and consultants. The right coach and/or consultant will have lots of knowledge that you don't. They will have worked with other business owners and "been there, done that" - that is, they will have seen challenges and overcome them already. Because you won't have to "reinvent the wheel," these paid experts can allow you to make the right decisions, avoid mistakes, and grow more quickly. Plus, paid experts can give your business a reality check and keep you focused and accountable.
6. Learn from mentors. The right mentor serves a similar function as a paid coach and/or consultant in that they have experience, expertise and connections that allow you to avoid mistakes and grow your business more quickly. The challenge is finding the right mentor, and setting up the appropriate structure to get ongoing feedback (this naturally happens when you pay a coach or consultant).
7. Learn from other business owners. In previous articles, I have mentioned the massive power of mastermind groups. Mastermind groups are groups of business owners who work together to grow everyone's business. Mastermind groups are incredibly powerful since other members of the group will have already overcome the challenges you face, and thus can give you the answers you need.
Likewise, in many cases, skills and knowledge that have taken other business owners months or years to learn can be transferred to you in minutes. So, you gain massive knowledge quickly, and gain a support group that all shares the common goal of building a great company.
Knowledge certainly is power. Leverage these seven ways to gain knowledge, and you will be able to outsmart and dominate your competition.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Becoming a millionaire entrepreneur is possible, and many people have shown us how they managed to quickly build empires.
If you are an entrepreneur and are looking for inspiration, then these 5 modern success stories will certainly motivate you.
1. Sara Blakely
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, February 25, 2013
So much of the challenge that both entrepreneurs and investors face in earning return on time and capital is driven by the low growth rate of the economy as a whole.
U.S. GNP growth, after averaging 3.6% annually for the period 1982-1999, has since 2000 slowed to a mere 1.8%.
Not coincidentally, in that same period stock market returns have declined dramatically.
From averaging over a 17% annual return rate in the '80s and '90s, most of the major indices have painfully dwelled in negative return territory since.
And to pile on the misery, with budget deficits exploding from 58% of GNP in 2002 to over 100% today, all of the "free" money poured into the system over the past decade has not had any kind of meaningful stimulative effect.
But it is going to be okay.
Why? Well, because as business people and as investors we do not work in the "macro", but rather in the far more confined - and controllable - dimensions of our particular “micro.”
And here, we can escape from the “tyranny of the average.”
How? Well by simply exhibiting that most blessed of American freedoms – individual action.
Here are actions that smart entrepreneurs and investors can take today to “break out” and attain well above average results and returns:
Think and Act Globally. The developing world continues to maintain rates of growth and virgin and nascent market opportunities probably never again to be seen again nearer to home.
How about China, even with its recent slow-down, still averaging well over 8% growth?
Or India, at 6%?
Not your cup of tea? Well how about Mexico, Brazil and South Korea all growing faster than 4%?
And don’t tell me that you can’t compete there - via technology these markets are more accessible to small and medium-sized US businesses and investors than ever.
Think Sector. The overall economy may be flat, but there are sectors within it that are booming.
Like software, growing close to 6% annually.
Or how about the entertainment industry, growing at 5.5%?
Even seemingly mature industries, like transportation & food services, are growing at close to 5%.
Think Inefficiency. Remember that to make a small fortune - and a big difference - we do not need to solve the challenges and difficulties of the overall economy.
No, we just need to find those little market and competitive inefficiencies, those niche needs and wants, those investment strategies born and won far from Wall Street.
Now, when tens of thousands us follow our particular rainbows toward our particular pots of gold the byproduct of all of this thoughtful, opportunistic, and individual action…
…is that yes collectively we all do win.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Saturday, February 23, 2013
For the past 5 years, I have been part of several mastermind groups that have helped me dramatically grow several of my own businesses.
Below I will explain to you what mastermind groups are and how they can benefit you and your business.
What is a Mastermind Group?
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, February 21, 2013
As you may recall from last year, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (called the JOBS Act) was passed and signed by President Obama in April, 2012.
The JOBS Act makes equity-based crowdfunding much easier
The JOBS Act makes it possible to raise funds from investors and donors through certain crowdfunding sites in exchange for equity in your company.
This was supposed to start on January 1st 2013. (more on this below).
The key to the JOBS Act is this: it opens up more possibilities in equity funding without the tedious requirements to register your funding as a public offering with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).
If you have tried to raise funds in the past by going the public offering route, you'll know that it's expensive. Being able to bypass all that is huge, especially if you are raising smaller amounts of funding that don't justify such expenses.
The passing of the JOBS Act also means you won't have to seek out accredited investors specifically (people with incomes of $200,000 or more, or a net worth of $1,000,000 or more-not including their residence). Rather, you will be able to get funding from people of all income ranges, which makes the pool of potential investors MUCH bigger.
Imagine how many regular people are out there, who might want to reallocate some of the funds they already have invested in savings, stocks, mutual funds, or other investments that aren't paying so well at present. In the future, funding other businesses might be a much more common way to diversify your capital-that anyone can do and not just accredited investors. Even you!
So, what's the latest?
As mentioned above, equity based crowdfunding was supposed to go live on January 1st 2013. This was predicated on the SEC writing the crowdfunding regulations by December 31 2012 like they were supposed to.
But this never happened. The two key issues regarding why this didn't happen were: 1) a lack of consensus within the SEC decision-makers about the regulations, and 2) the recent resignation of the former chair of the SEC.
Both of these issues are expected to be resolved with the recent appointment of Mary Jo White to head the SEC. White is one serious woman - her career includes serving as the New York prosecutor who brought down John Gotti and put many terrorists in jail.
So, it is expected that within the next 60 to 90 days that Mary Jo White will take the helm and help the SEC write the regulations that make equity based crowdfunding legal in the United States.
How can you prepare for this now?
If you want to raise equity capital later this year and beyond, here's a quick list of things you can do now to be ready when the time comes:
Broaden your network
One advantage crowdfunding sites offer you is having access to more investors and donors than there already are in your personal network. These sites generate their own traffic, and a percentage of your funding will come from people searching those sites or stumbling across it.
As it turns out, enough projects have been successfully funded (using the donation-based Crowdfunding model, not the equity-based crowdfunding model) for experts to be able to look back and say that your project is much more likely to be successful if the first quarter to third of the funding comes from your existing network first. Reason being, they are the ones most likely to believe in and trust you already, and strangers want to see some social proof and credibility in advance before they jump on board.
Deepen your relationships
Do this for the same reason I mentioned above-to get the ball rolling on your funding from your existing contacts. So in the coming months, you should be out seeking new relationships and strengthening the ones you have-specifically with those who are more likely candidates for funding you, or those who are in a position to spread the word for you.
You don't even have to mention funding during this time. Just spend the time necessary to confirm that they have the means and would be interested in your project, while at the same time showing your willingness to serve them and build trust and experience together.
If you're already in business, keep growing it
As with any kind of funding, you will be in a much stronger position to ask for funds if you can demonstrate success in the past. You will have more data available to work into your plan and forecast. And, people want prefer to invest in something that looks like a sure thing-with the least uncertainty. So keep doing what you're doing and you'll be able to show prospective investors your first-half 2013 financial statements and smile.
Work on your business plan
Also, as always, have a solid plan for how much funding you need, how you will spend it, and what effects it will have on your operations and revenues. People want to lend to someone who has thought things through and looks less likely to run into unforeseen problems-especially strangers online! Remember that.
It will also take some time to craft your presentation and pitch. If you plan on using a slideshow or video of some kind (or even just writing it out on your project's page), it will take some time to put that together in advance. But, it's something you can be doing now.
So there it is...equity-based crowdfunding is one more way to get the funds you need to launch or grow your business. Stay tuned to the developments (you'll hear them from me) and prepare for funding like you normally would. This might just be the key to your company's growth!
Suggested Resource: Do you want Crowdfunding? If so, don't try to raise it from scratch -- the 14-step blueprint already exists. Get the Crowdfunding blueprint here.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, February 18, 2013
The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln. His example is universal and will last thousands of years…He was bigger than his country - bigger than all the Presidents together…and as a great character he will live as long as the world lives.”
- Leo Tolstoy, The World, New York, 1909
In honor of President’s Day, I went and saw Steven Spielberg's great movie “Lincoln” this past weekend.
As it has for many, the movie exceeded my very high expectations for it.
The film's core narrative - President Lincoln's efforts to get the 13th amendment abolishing slavery through Congress before the end of the Civil war - offered a treasure trove of leadership wisdoms applicable to our modern day.
The movie paints a basic leadership dilemma in stark relief, namely what is the proper balance between morality and expediency?
Between "being right" and being effective, and to what degree do moral ends justify messy means?
Lincoln, through the leadership role into which he was uniquely thrust, probably grappled and suffered more publicly with this dilemma than any person in history.
Beset on all sides by the bitterest of adversaries - the incorrigible racists and States’ Rights advocates of the Southern and Border States on the one hand and the moral absolutists (combined with desire for revenge) of the Radical Republican North on the other - no matter what decision Lincoln made or action he took there would be a large, powerful, and vocal group vociferously opposed to it.
Adding monumentally and tragically to Lincoln's challenge was that so much of his power and decision making revolved around those most awful of choices - to send tens of thousands of young men into battle from which the almost certain outcome for very many of them would be death.
For anyone, the awesome responsibility of this kind of leadership is beyond overwhelming.
For a great soul like that of Lincoln's, it was tragic beyond our ability to possibly relate.
But it was also triumphant, and for any of us that strive to do great and moral things with our lives, there is no better role model.
First, Lincoln did not make his enemies "wrong."
Rather, he found that delicate and transcendental space whereby he was strong in decisions to prosecute that bloodiest of American wars harshly and vigorously, but while so doing found space in his heart and in his leadership directives to not deny the humanity nor the deserving of forgiveness of his enemies.
Secondly, he did not lead from "up on high," but rather with great vigor and charm appealed to the “better angels” of his adversaries to see things a bit different - more nobly and more charitably.
And finally, Lincoln recognized that even in the midst of a horrible war, that laughter is as much a part of living as are tears.
And thus, so often when a stern reprimand or harsh words would be the reaction of a lesser leader, Lincoln chose humor to make his point.
This is maybe Lincoln’s greatest lesson for modern leaders.
To stand and to work for great things, yes…
To forgive your adversaries, yes…
But, to do so not with a heaviness of heart or obligation of purpose but with a gentle and even mischievous lightness of being that makes the journey its own reward.
And when done with the dexterity and openhearted wisdom of an Abraham Lincoln, things not thought possible even to dream about come to pass.
Happy President’s Day.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, February 17, 2013
An effective marketing plan is necessary to grow your business. Among other things, the right marketing plan details your target customers, your unique selling proposition (USP), and your pricing strategy.
And importantly, your marketing plan covers the "channels" you will use to get new customers (known as your "promotions strategy"). These channels include, among others:
- Blogs, Podcasts, etc.
- Card Decks
- Celebrity Endorsements
- Classified Ads
- Direct Mail
- Door Hangers
- Email Marketing
- Event Marketing
- Gift Certificates
- Newspaper/Magazine/Journal ads
- Online Marketing
- Press Releases/PR
- Radio ads/TV ads/Infomercials
- Seminars /Teleseminars / Webinars
- Trade Shows
- Voice Broadcasts
- Word of Mouth / Viral Marketing
- Yellow Pages
While most of these channels require advertising dollars, there are some additional strategies you can employ that are low or no cost. Four such strategies are detailed below.
1. Get To Know Your Competitors
Regardless of what you're selling or the services you provide, you must know how your competitors are doing it. Why? Simple. Because you want to do it better-or at least not get left behind!
Visit their brick and mortar stores to see what they are doing differently this year. And/or take a real close look at their websites and blogs to see what they're doing and the customers they're serving.
Sneaky Tip: When visiting a competitor's blog, make sure to leave high-quality comments on a number of posts. By doing this, you can also mention your website directly or perhaps just indirectly through the Name and Website fields (they turn into a link when your comment is posted).
Once your comment is approved, everyone who sees your comment will be able to click on your link and visit your website.
2. Create Some YouTube Videos
I recently met with representatives from Google who presented some very interesting information to me. Including the fact that more and more consumers and businesses are relying on video in their decision-making process.
Specifically, more and more people are searching YouTube for videos when thinking about making a purchase. And they showed me specific research stating that "1 in 3 small businesses purchased a product or service as a result of watching the related video."
Which means that you need to create videos.
Importantly, these videos can also bring you a flood of new customers.
Here's an example. I created a video entitled "How to Write an Executive Summary for a Business Plan." On YouTube alone it's been viewed nearly 27,000 times. Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLAZpFKRgUg
Once again, I haven't shared this video 27,000 times. Rather, people are finding it by searching Google, searching YouTube, social sharing, etc.
3. Use An Effective LOCAL Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Strategy
An effective search engine optimization strategy will get your website on a top position in the search results pages of all the major search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
While ranking at the top of the search engines on generic phrases (like "business plan") is hard, ranking on these phrases locally is a lot easier.
Essentially, all you need to do is choose the keyword or phrase that best describes your business, add your city or area name, and use it in texts that you post on your website (e.g., Business Plan Development Chicago IL).
Your keyword or phrase should appear in the URL of your website and it has to show up in its meta description tag. For example, even though we don't have an office in Chicago, IL, this page on the Growthink website ranks near the top of Google's results for searches on "Business Plan Development Chicago IL" - http://www.growthink.com/businessplan/help-center/chicago-illinois-business-plan-writers
4. Write Newsletters And Send Them To Your Contacts
Keeping in touch with your customers is critical if you want your business to blossom. Information is crucial nowadays. Therefore, make sure that you keep your customers informed with regard to your products and services.
Some businesses do it with a print newsletter, which is fine if the business you generate is worth the costs. But an email newsletter is a much less expensive and time-consuming way to start.
Invite people to subscribe by offering a small discount or freebie, if they are willing to provide their e-mail address. After that, any message you send them is free advertising!
This does not mean that you will have to send a weekly newsletter-they might not be that interested. Instead, write a newsletter with the sole purpose of informing your customers about new products you are adding to your current offer.
Make sure that you mention discounts and advantages. Send these newsletters weekly or monthly at first (but it is better to under promise and over deliver). This will show your customers that your business is serious and it will help create a long-lasting relationship with your clientele.
In conclusion, add these 4 strategies to your 2013 marketing plan, and start rapidly growing your business.
Suggested Resource: Growthink's Ultimate Marketing Plan Template allows you to quickly and expertly create your marketing plan. This template includes multiple proven strategies for attracting new customers and dramatically boosting your sales and profits. Click here to learn more.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, February 12, 2013
One of my friends works for a multi-billion dollar cable company. And his role is extremely interesting. Specifically, he's charged with figuring out what the company needs do to now so that it will be competitive ten years from now.
Imagine that? 10-year planning. For most businesses, it's inconceivable to do this. But for a cable company, it could take years to implement changes such as installing cables to hundreds of thousands of homes. So, he spends his days researching, analyzing and theorizing over what the world might look like in 10 years and what the company needs to do today to start preparing for it.
And I'd like to think that he, and perhaps those before him, have done a great job at this. Because while 10 years ago I only use my cable company for television service, today I pay my cable company for television, internet access and phone service.
Break-Even Thinking Doesn't Work
But what about your business? Do you need to plan 10 years into the future? The short answer is "no." But it's important to point out that any planning is significantly better than no planning.
In fact, for most small businesses, planning generally tends to be more along the lines of thinking "what do I have to do to have enough revenue to pay the bills for the next month?" Missing from this thinking are the critical long-term decisions and directions on how to grow the business, increase its revenue, and expand market share.
And what inevitably happens is this: if your immediate focus is just trying to break even, your business often ends up just struggling rather than growing.
The solution is to develop a five-year plan, and using it to guide daily operations.
How It Works
A five-year plan is not a set of financial pro-forma statements and twenty pages of text and history on your company. Rather it must incorporate real thinking about 1) what goals you want your company to achieve, and 2) what goals every key division of your company must achieve.
Specifically, you must document the revenues and profits your company seeks to achieve in 5 years and then set similar goals (with different metrics as appropriate) for each operational area (e.g., marketing, fulfillment, etc.).
This in turn becomes the basis of the roadmap you'll use to grow our organization.
Use The Map
Ironically, after putting considerable time and effort into building a 5-year strategic plan, many business owners and managers never look at it again.
To avoid this, work backwards and document shorter term goals. Let me explain. Now that you know what you need to achieve within 5 years, determine what you need to achieve this year in order to make solid progress towards your 5 year goal.
Next, figure out what you must achieve this quarter to progress to your annual goal. You can break this down even further to figure out what you must accomplish this month to reach your quarterly goal.
This process allows you to set monthly goals that progress your business. Document these goals and share them with your team so you can accomplish them.
And importantly, use these short-term and long-term goals in your daily decision making. For example, is forging a relationship with a new partner in line with your goals? Or is it another distraction that will take time and prevent you from reaching them?
Also, use the shorter-term goals to measure your success. Are you meeting revenue goals? Do you have the amount of clients you projected for this time of the year? Use objective measurements that will not allow you to fudge your results. Your shorter-term goals give you a black and white, hopefully not red, assessment of where you stand in accordance to your goals.
Keeping your five-year plan alive is like having an up-to-date, accurate map of a foreign city when first walking its streets. It allows you to not just think about breaking even, but to reach specific performance targets and goals.
When people have a clear idea what to strive for and how to get there, even when challenging, they perform better. That translates to improved operations which also eventually improves revenues and profits for your company.
A five-year plan and periodic short-term goals also does away with complacency. When a business is in the "break-even" mode, it's only thinking about the immediate demands, never pushing to do more than just what's needed to meet the given threshold. Processes become routine and complacency sets in.
Your 5-Year Plan Must Be Updated
It's important to remember, however, that your five-year plan needs to be updated regularly. Markets, environments, customers and regulations change over time, all of which have an impact on a business and its profit margins. For example, the recent healthcare laws enacted by the federal government impose new health plan requirements on businesses of a certain size. Clearly, businesses did not consider this regulatory change in their five-year plans back in 2010.
So, update your five-year plan annually to reflect new changes, new ideas and new goals.
Finally, your five-year plan is only as good as the effort you put into it. The components, goals and targets have to be well thought out so as to be realistic and achievable. When you do this, and when you break down your 5 year goals into annual, quarterly and monthly goals, you will know precisely what to do to grow a thriving business. For help with this process, download my strategic planning template.
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