If you currently have a business plan, how much of it taps your most creative strategic thinking processes? Many plans are static, formal documents designed to impress potential backers, but do not necessarily serve as dynamic, living visions. This article describes seven essential exercises to incorporate into a traditional business plan, or into a flexible slide presentation that powerfully communicates your vision to others.
If you currently have a business plan, how much of it taps your most creative, strategic thinking? Many plans are static, formal documents designed to impress potential financial backers, but do not necessarily serve as dynamic, living visions.
And, if you already have sufficient business funding, should you skip strategic business planning altogether?
For any situation, this article describes seven essential exercises to contemplate. You can incorporate the answers into a traditional business plan, or create a flexible slide presentation that powerfully communicates your vision to others.
1. What Are Your “Business Success Criteria”?
Do you have a crystal clear idea of the types of business undertakings that align with your gifts, talents, passions, and strengths? Have you thought about what your business can be the very best in the world at doing?
If the answers are “yes,” you are in an excellent position to choose the ventures that can give you the greatest satisfaction and results.
If you’re not yet totally clear, developing a set of “business success criteria” can enable you to select worthwhile endeavors with much deeper insight, and thus set the conditions for successfully pursuing them.
Why is this so important? Many people wander into businesses, projects, and professions opportunistically, meaning that they grab something that comes along because it’s available and convenient. At times, this may be necessary for financial reasons. But unless we understand our underlying success criteria, we might not recognize the options that truly fuel and inspire us — those that are best suited to our passions and strengths.
Some of your criteria could be practical considerations, and others more lofty. But all of your criteria will be essential to achieving balance, fulfillment, prosperity, and higher contribution in your life.
2. Who Are Your Target Audiences?
Do you know which audiences are best suited to, or already seeking, what you plan to offer?
Identifying your market niche involves brainstorming a set of potential target markets, and then combining and narrowing down the lists by comparing them against various criteria.
After selecting a niche that clearly portrays your perfect client or customer, you’ll want to research it further to gain a more comprehensive understanding of it.
The more you learn about the needs, wants, frustrations, pain, and challenges of your audience, the more precise your marketing and product development efforts can be.
3. Who Are Your Competitors, Comparables, and Potential Collaborators?
Competitors consist of other companies currently offering the same or similar products or services, companies that could offer the same or similar products or services in the future, and also companies that could remove the need for your products or services.
If you have no close competitors, look for comparable businesses offering similar products or services in related industries. If they produce complementary wares, they might become valuable affiliates or collaborators.
To ensure that you can compete or collaborate successfully with the very best providers in your market, you first want to identify the key features of your own offerings.
You’ll also identify the value elements (the special, intangible qualities, such as top-notch expertise, satisfaction warranties, or stellar customer service) that your business offers or will offer.
You then perform a competitive analysis to see how your value elements compare with those of other companies.
4. What Are Your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats?
Have you thought about how well positioned you are to take advantage of all of the positive internal and external forces in your business?
In contrast, how well can you minimize or manage the risks associated with the negative forces?
You can determine the internal factors under your control (your business strengths and weaknesses) and external factors (opportunities and threats) via a “SWOT analysis.”
You then devise strategies to harness your “strengths and opportunities” while reducing or working around your “weaknesses and threats.”
5. Is Your Business Navigating in a Highly Competitive Ocean?
Are you planning to do business in a domain already filled with competitors, where there’s only a small chance of thriving? “Blue ocean strategizing” can help you rechart the waters.
Derived from Harvard Business School’s “Blue Ocean Strategy,” this process repositions your business if it’s in a highly competitive niche.
You can rework your offerings to include new features and eliminate, increase, or decrease others. You can also target new audiences. In so doing — much like the wildly successful CNN, Cirque du Soleil, Curves fitness for women, Southwest Airlines, and many other businesses — you can map new directions and ultimately sail away from your competition.
6. What Are Your Vision, Mission, Values, and Core Beliefs?
Have you identified a purpose, visionary goals, and a set of guiding values to aim your business endeavors toward the right targets? After developing your core philosophy, you can make periodic course corrections in relation to it.
Thomas J. Watson, Jr., former IBM chairman, explained it like this: “If an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except its basic beliefs as it moves through corporate life. . . . The only sacred cow in an organization should be its basic philosophy of doing business.”
Importantly, your business values, once defined, can become screening tools to first attract, and then later evaluate, personnel, partners, and clients.
7. Have You Crafted a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?
Do you know how to convey the benefits of your products and services? Based on the results of all preceding activities, this process entails creating and polishing a concise description of your offerings that differentiates you from your competition and positions you as the market leader.
Known as either a unique selling position or proposition, a USP is the unforgettable business promise you share with the world. For example: FedEx’s classic, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
In conclusion, when you’ve completed this process, you’ll have a powerful business manifesto of guiding principles to inspire any financial backers and prospective employees, partners, or clients.
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