Reviewing your business

The beginning of the year is traditionally when we get ourselves organised for the next twelve months. However before you launch in and start writing down all the activities you plan to undertake in 2014 stop …and take some time to review your business in a wider context.

I have detailed below some of the areas I like to consider and in practical terms I always find a large white board is useful here!

By the way this does not have to take long and should not be difficult – you are simply collating everything you know/understand about your business in one place.

Reviewing your business

Customers
The most important place to start. Who are your customers? What characteristics do they share? Why do they buy your services/products? How many customers do you have? Are they regulars or one offs?

Your Current Products/Service
What products/services do you have available and which ones do your customers actually use/buy? (Think 80:20 rule). What type of services/products do your customers initially buy from you and which come later i.e. after they have been a customer for while. Which products/services do you sell the most/least of? Also consider this from a qualitative viewpoint – there will always be something that customers love – why is this?

The Environment
Traditionally this would mean looking at the bigger picture and this is obviously relevant for some of us e.g. regulations in the financial/insurance industries however we are all local businesses so have a think about local factors and what is happening near where you live/work. So for me, new estates/homes are very important as people moving in will need services that my advertisers can provide, so I always keep an eye out for planning applications etc so that I can start delivering magazines into new homes.

Strategic Alliances
What other businesses complement yours? Who also sells to the same type of customers? Who do you know (perhaps though networking) that works in these areas?

The Numbers
Sorry but there is no escape from some number crunching and if you really do hate this then get someone else to do this for you (see out-sourcing). Numbers you need to be on top of include turnover, costs (broken down into categories) and profit. Also look to see how these have changed over the years you have been running your business (% growth).

Internal Operations
One of the reasons I have not used the phrase “Marketing Plan” yet, which is how we would often describe this type of planning, is that when you are running a small business the operations, i.e. the actual “doing”, can take up a disproportionate amount of time. It also has tendency to “creep up” on you as your business grows.

So it is important to also look internally and see whether your systems/procedures need updating and this is where technology can help you. I have transformed the internal operations of my business over the past 18 months by moving to online CRM and accounting packages. They took time to implement but the investment has made the day to day operation of my business much easier.

Outsourcing
Your time is money and yes you may be very capable of doing everything yourself but if you could be earning more money then you spend outsourcing then now is the time to get some external help. I find outsourcing works best either for specific jobs that need doing on a regular basis or one off projects, perhaps to help put in place new software/systems. Also never underestimate the value in paying for professional training on e.g. some new software you are going to be using regularly.

SWOT Analysis
I first encountered this term 30 years ago (when no corporate Power Point presentation was complete without one!) and whilst it may be a cliché it is still useful to consider your “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats”.

Ideas
The fun bit! New products, services…just jot them all down. Also think about the direction your business is heading … but remember you need focus. I have a never ending list of ideas for my business and ways to develop it but it is important not to lose sight of what your core business is – otherwise you can get distracted.

When you have done all this, go away for at least 24 hours and clear your head. Then come back, review your notes and write down a highly edited version – maximum of 3 points per heading and this is where you will start to get an idea of actions – the things you need to do.

The Marketing Plan
So yes we finally get to the Marketing Plan and looking at the amount I have written already (if you are still with me) I will come back to this in more detail next time but in summary:

Use the detailed information above to help you define who you want to target and what you want to say to them.

Then you need to work out how to communicate these messages and the most important things to remember are:

You need to give people lots of different ways to find about you.

Your messages need to be simple to understand and easy to remember.

You need to tell people about your business on an ongoing and regular basis – it needs to be a constant drip feed effect.

Plan, Schedule and Implement
The difficult bit! All this planning is great but it counts for nothing if you don’t put it into effect. So take your list of actions (marketing and operations) and estimate how long each project will take. Break projects down into manageable stages – you don’t need to do everything all at once. Work out a priority list and look for overlapping tasks or projects that can be managed together.

Then it is back to the whiteboard to plan out the year – be sensible – you can’t do everything at once – and this is often where the benefits of outsourcing becomes apparent.

Finally… As you have probably realised by now I do like to be organised and I have had 2014 all scheduled since last September! However never underestimate the power of that “spontaneous” moment of inspiration – some of my best ideas have come to me that way. Though I have to say that when I look back they usually originated from my business reviews; all be it sometime later. Sometimes the best ideas take a while to come to the surface!

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