“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

It’s easy to get caught up in the notion that a sound business plan and a strong marketing strategy will ensure your success in business. We’re taught in business school and in the media that if you want to be successful, you have to plan, but how often do things go according to plan?

Business Continuity Plans

Its wise to plan for various environmental or social events that could seriously impact the ability of your business to continue on afterward. Is your data backed up? Have the backups been restored to test? Would you be able to function if 30% of your staff became ill? How long could you remain in business without electricity?

When I was a business analyst, I was responsible for helping department heads create business continuity plans that outlined what their department would do in the event of a disaster. Hundreds of pages were printed, placed in a plastic tub, and never touched again. In the event of an actual disaster, the plans were not what mattered, it was the act of planning.

As an Internet Marketer and Technology Consultant, I help business owners create a plan for how they are going to use the web to market their business, be more efficient, and lower costs. We create a roadmap for how we think things will go, but things don’t always go as planned. The key is to know how to pivot and planning helps with that.

Does your business have a disaster recovery plan for business continuity? Do you know what your company would do if a single workstation, a server, or the entire building went ‘down’? These are the plans that are above and beyond baseline data back-up, which you should be doing anyway. If you’re not doing that, stop reading this and back up your data! It should always be in at least two locations with one copy preferably stored off-site.

Disasters such as earthquakes, fires, and floods are all too common in today’s world, but sadly, business continuity plans are not. Be prepared for not only a loss of data, hardware, and facilities, but also the risk of a pandemic where a third to half of your work force either can’t come in or are sick. How would your business continue to function? Would you still be able to serve your customers? What sort of steps are you taking to prepare for a scenario like this, or worse?

It’s easy to create a plan, the hard part is executing it. One trap a lot of people fall into is creating the structure around innovation or a new project in the hopes that once the structure is in place the new product will almost make itself. “After [that] it’s just ‘plug and chug’,” they say. Executors know that you have to do the plug and chug part too even if that means hiring or outsourcing to do so. The ‘plug and chug’-level work should be a matter of following procedures in a well-defined structure. The creators, designers, and innovators at a company usually like to create the structure, but have trouble filling it in. Either learn to get around this psychological gap or find someone else to finish/maintain the job for you.

Business Plans

Business plans are important because they summarize both your vision for the company and your blueprint for the company’s operating success. The business plan is a written guide that details the start-up and the future direction of your company. Who should write the plan? You, the entrepreneur. No one else knows your business idea and goals better. Yes, there are services that can do the work for you. However, you must present this business idea to bankers or other investors. Therefore, it is best if you are very familiar and comfortable with the plan.

Although there’s no set format, a good business plan typically includes:

  • Cover page—Identifies your business
  • Table of contents—Organizes information for the reader
  • Executive summary—Provides a “big picture” view of the plan, highlighting the factors that will lead to success
  • Business background—If it is a brand-new business, include your background and skills
  • Marketing plan—Relates the business’s marketing strategy
  • Action plan—Summarizes how you will create and deliver your product or service
  • Financial statements and projections—Illustrates how the business will perform financially based on the plan’s assumptions
  • Appendix—Includes statistical analyses, marketing materials, résumés.

Business success requires the ability to adapt to changing situations. Nothing ever goes as planned (SEE Business Continuity Plans). The world of business is full of surprises and unforeseen events. Using the habit of adaptability allows business owners to respond to circumstances with the ability to change course and act without complete information. Being flexible allows us to respond to changes without being paralyzed with fear and uncertainty.

Problems are a regular part of business life. Staff issues, customer misunderstandings, cash crunches- the list is endless. To achieve business success, look at both sides of the coin. Every problem has an opportunity. Being opportunity focused makes the game of business fun and energizing.

Marketing Plans

When creating a marketing plan, keep in mind the four P’s of marketing:

  • Product—What good or service will your business offer? How is that product better than those offered by competitors? Why will people buy/want it?
  • Price—How much can you charge? How do you find the balance between sales volume and price to maximize income?
  • Promotion—How will your product or service be positioned in the marketplace? Will your product carry a premium image with a price to match? Will it be an inexpensive, no-frills alternative to similar offerings from other businesses? What kinds of advertising and packaging will you use?
  • Place—Which sales channels will you use? Will you sell by telephone, or will your product be carried in retail outlets? Which channel will economically reach your market?

Regarding “Price”, I recenly got an email from a customer who told me a story about a friend of his who confided in him, his friend said, “I was desperate. I had to sell out my women’s apparel store, so I did a lot of expensive advertising at 50% off. I was going broke so in total frustration one day I said ‘Oh, #@& it, doubled my prices and sold right out!” I liked the story enough, but it didn’t really sink in until I ran across a similar story the next day.

In the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, author Cialdini tells the story about a turquoise jeweler out West who, in the peak of tourist season, couldn’t sell her jewelry. The owner had priced the jewelry reasonably. She had placed it in a central display location. She’d even asked her staff to point it out to browsers. Nothing worked. Finally, the owner gave up and decided to sell the jewelry at a loss. On her way out of town for a business trip, she dashed off a note to a member of her sales staff – “Everything in this display case 1/2”. When the owner arrived back at her shop she was surprised to find that all of the turquoise jewelry had been sold. Puzzled, the proprietor asked her staff what happened. She had misread her hastily-scrawled note (deciphering the “½” as a “2”), and doubled the price of each piece rather than cutting it in half, making the jewelry seem better and therefore worth paying for. The logic from both of these stories follows that, “If it’s expensive, it has got to be good.”

A marketing plan should summarize your findings about the key target buyer description, market segments the company will compete in, the unique positioning of the company and its products compared to the competition, the reasons why it is unique or compelling to buyers. Determine specific goals, set a deadline for these goals to be achieved, then write them down. The old saying, “Its not real until its written down,” is true here. Next, share these goals with your employees and any invested partners. Get everyone on the same page so that they can all help work towards the goal.

Determine which tools can best help you meet your goals and how they will be used. These can include, but are not limited to, the web, direct mailings, email newsletters, hosted events, relevant trade shows, outdoor or print advertising, or social media. Next, create a plan for use of each tool. Projects are best not left open-ended. In the same way you assigned a deadline for the goal as a time restraint, the goal should also have a financial restraint. Work with your team to create a budget that reflects your vision and achieves your goals. If you end up under-budget, that’s one more thing to celebrate when you achieve your goals.

The easiest and hardest thing to do sometimes it to delegate responsibility for implementing each part of the plan. More than likely you won’t be able to do all aspects of the plan and so you’re going to have to divvy up the responsibilities. Make sure there are built in accountability measures to check performance. Monitor the results of your team members progress and the goal in general. Beware of project creep. Weekly meetings to remind those involved about the plan and its deadlines may help. Lastly, don’t be afraid to make adjustments as necessary. Being an agile company may be what sets you apart from your bigger competitors.