By Heather Foley
Have a great idea? Are you starting a business? How exciting! Once the initial excitement wears off, though, what do you do? It’s simple – you implement your plan. But, what plan? There are a lot of things that have to go well for your business to succeed. You have to have drive and optimism, a great product or service and enough cash to keep going. But, unless you have a solid plan, you’re not even giving yourself a chance.
Good advice is to take the best practices from the big corporations, but make them your own. This means having a plan for each ‘department’ of your business (even if it’s only you running all the ‘departments’!), with clear objectives, timescales and success measures. Then, apply your discipline to checking progress against your plan. Specifically, make sure you incorporate these areas in your plan for starting a business.
There’s one major job you absolutely must do: manage your cash flow. To do this, you need to prepare a cash flow forecast. This may sound daunting, but it’s actually just common sense. Use a spreadsheet to create a table showing all of your expenses and income, each month, for twelve months. Have a total for each month to show whether you are spending more or less than you are bringing in each month. Have a running total below that to see if, overall, you are bringing in more than you spend.
This won’t show you how much profit you’re making (your accountant will prepare your annual accounts with this information). However, it will be a good proxy. More importantly, without enough cash, your home business will perish regardless of however brightly the future potential profits look.
Famously, small business marketing is all about the 4 “P’s”. So, a great start for the marketing aspect of your plan should cover:
- Product – How will you describe your products or services? What’s unique about it? What are the main benefits for the consumer?
- Price – Naturally, you need to work out your costs. However, you also need to devise a pricing strategy. Will your offer be ‘premium’ and be priced as such? Or, do you want be the very cheapest, at least to start with, to build up a client base and reputation?
- Place – Are you offering your products and services just in your community, or throughout the country, or internationally? Whatever your decision, make a plan.
- Promotion – How do you intend to promote your services? Will you advertise, build your own website, network, or use commission agents?
Linked closely to marketing is your sales plan. What targets are you setting yourself? What’s your sales pitch? How many phone calls do you need to make to get an appointment with a prospect? How many proposals do you need to submit for a deal to close? Work this out and then feed it into your plan so that you can ensure there are enough sales to keep your business on track.
You also need to be methodical about how you will deliver your products or services. The more prepared you are, the less likely it is that you will disappoint your customers and need to give refunds, or manage a damaged reputation. Conversely, a well-planned and executed delivery process will delight your customers and may lead to repeat business and positive recommendations.
Lastly, you should plan to set aside time to look at the bigger picture. With so many urgent daily tasks, it’s incredibly easy to forget about strategy. But, time invested in this is critical so that you don’t miss trends, opportunities or threats. As long as you plan time for strategy, it will happen and you will reap the rewards.
Preparing a solid plan can take time. You may be tempted to just ‘get going’ with the business, or even to drop the plan when things get busy. But if you keep the discipline of planning and checking in with the plan, you may just achieve more than you believed possible. You’ll feel more in control of that tricky time-frame: the future. In the words of well-known author, Alan Lakein, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” Who wouldn’t want to plan for that?