Starting a new business, or trying to turn around an old one, takes courage – and a great business plan. Not all plans are created equal though. Some are a mix of waffle and reiterations of previous mistakes. So here are five tips to help you create a better business strategy.
Don’t pad the business plan
It can be tempting for a start-up to feel the need to go into every little detail, but this can lead to confusion for everyone reading it. Instead of getting a crisp overview of where you want the business to go, the waffle can obscure your true purpose.
By using a lean approach, you can focus on what is really important in an easy to assimilate format. Lean business strategies (or plans) keep to the essentials; only delving deeper into areas that truly require more explanation – and even then, ensure those are kept to a minimum.
Let it evolve
If a business strategy doesn’t evolve over time it will stagnate and ultimately fail. As your business needs change, the plan has to have the flexibility to help you make effective change. A plan that is set in stone with immovable sales targets and growth forecasts doesn’t allow for economic downturns, or gives you the ability to scale up production if demand requires it.
Build agility into your business strategy and go back to it regularly to ensure it’s still working for the business you are running today, not five years ago.
Have a plan b
For most businesses the strategy is all about being positive about the future, with no room for considering the bumps along the way. Yet by identifying potential problems long before they happen you can build an alternative route to steer your business towards success.
Your plan b doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the main strategy document, but thinking through this separate document will save you time, and reduce panic levels, later on.
Find the best people
The greatest business strategy will fail without a great team to implement it. It’s very easy to get lost in the grandeur of the plan and lose sight of who will actually be working with you to make it happen in the real world.
Within your plan identify the people you will be working with or the characteristics you need to make the plan work. Not only will it help you see what you really need from your potential team, it’ll show up the flaws in your current team.
Don’t aim for perfection straight away
Getting your business off the ground, or setting a new strategy in place, can be daunting, but don’t get mired in making it perfect before implementation. Get the core values established and then put your plan into action. Without action you can’t tell if your plan is really going to work or just an exercise in conceptual thinking.
Again keep it lean. This way anything that doesn’t work can be ditched earlier in the process, giving more breathing space to the more successful aspects of your business strategy.
The essence of creating a business plan for key accounts lies in knowing what is happening to the companies you do business with. Without knowing your market, you could be wasting your resources on businesses that don’t give you the returns your business needs to survive.
It’s easy to think that the big spending companies you supply don’t need management, or that smaller businesses can’t be helped. But with a carefully designed business plan for your key accounts you can increase orders and organise your own business far more effectively.
This key account management is essential in business. It helps you define who your customer is – crucial when developing your marketing and sales plan. Without a tight definition you could be spending vast sums on chasing business that wont deliver the results your company needs to survive.
Your key accounts aren’t necessarily your biggest accounts. There could be a gateway account that has consistently led to business with other companies. They could also be accounts that are in a growth period (and need a large volume of goods from you). There could be opportunities to create strategic partnerships with them.
By identifying these points you can create a better business relationship with your customers. One that is profitable to you, or increases your standing among the companies you want to conduct business with in the future.
There are 5 basic steps when setting up a key account business plan:
Step 1 – The long hard look
Identifying which of your accounts is key, rather than just big, is your first step. You will hopefully already have customer management software in place. This makes it easier for you to track the most profitable and strategic relationships. If you don’t have it, it’s time to find some.
Remember don’t just look for the ones that are big customers now – this could have been a blip, where one company needed your product/service for a short term project that may be coming to an end. Identify those companies that are growing, or shrinking and how their current situation may affect your business.
Step 2 – Objectives
Once identified, you need to draw up a set of realistic objectives. Base these on what you know is happening in that company. Are you going to sell x number of units to this company in the next 5 years? Or is the objective to create a stronger relationship with them? What are the problems they’re facing at the moment and how can you help them? You’ll find there are a wide range of objectives for each key account.
Step 3 – Make a key account business plan
You should only write the business plan when step 1 and 2 are fully fleshed out. Poor preplanning will lead to a bad business plan. Highlight your main objectives in the plan, as well as clearly stating why they are a key account.
Step 4 – Realise the plan
Without action the plan is nothing more than an exercise. You have to fully commit to your plan and see it through. If there are changes in the key account’s business, take a step back, re-assess your original plan to build in the new information.
Step 5 – How did it go?
Everyone in your sales team needs to be involved at every stage. The end stage is the one where you all gather together to review how successful implementing the plan has been, and to learn lessons from any mistakes.
As with any successful enterprise, creating a key account business plan takes time. But with proper planning it has a big potential to boost your sales.
Too often rigidly sticking to a business strategy is a sure fire way to steer a company away from the very goal it believes it’s aiming at. Creating a successful business plan is more than just jotting down where you want to be in five years. It takes a great deal of patience, number crunching and talks with your business partners, key personnel, and your customers.
Understand your competition
Ignore your competition at your peril. In a fiercely competitive market place you cannot ignore what other businesses are doing. Keep an eye on their achievements, new product launches, and how customers and end consumers react. This will give you much needed guidance on how you can perform better.
Aim to be the best
Being the best is tough. It takes a lot more late nights and early wake up calls, but if you truly want your business to be successful you have to aim high. By creating a high standard for your business you are more likely to succeed.
Do the math
Check and re-check every forecast. If you have been relying on industry reports published by other organisations, check their facts and figures are right too. It’s the lazy option to just accept every number that comes into your in tray. If you don’t have the skills in-house to do this job effectively, hire in an expert to help you prepare the numbers that you are basing your whole business strategy on.
Grab some face-to-face
Email, Skype, text, phone calls – they’re all very good for keeping track, but they should be supporting face-to-face meetings. Regular meetings with your staff, important investors, industry advisors and your key customers (although not necessarily all at the same time) is a more effective way to keep everyone training their thoughts on the business goal.
Flexibility is a vital component of any strategic business plan. You need to be able to act quickly to new ideas, without losing sight of what is already working, and where you ultimately want your Dubai business to be. Give yourself room to change branding designs, ingredients in products or the type of benefits you are offering to stay ahead of the competition.
Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow
There are times when you need to push yourself and your team really hard to get products or services out into the marketplace in time to beat off the competition. But there are also times when you need to sit back and analyse what has happened and how it fits into the business strategy. You have to differentiate between the times you are working flat out successfully, or just grinding everyone down needlessly.
Know your customers
Focus groups, long business lunches, trying it out on your friends and family – you have to know who your customer is and what they really want. Are you expending huge amounts of effort on a product that nobody actually wants to buy? Have you asked yourself that question yet? Most businesses do ask it of themselves all the time, but you need to test, test, and test some more to create the absolute best product in your industry.
Revise your plan
Every business plan needs revising. When new information comes in, when the number crunchers turn up some unpleasant or if you’re lucky, some welcome surprises. Keep your business strategy close to hand so you can easily revise different parts of it as you go along.
A business should be organic, changing continually because you are shaping it to be as successful as possible. Invest some time and energy into creating a really robust business strategy that will grow as your company grows.