If your business is under $40 million in gross annual revenue and has fewer than 1,500 employees, the SBA considers you a small business. Did you know that 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms are small businesses? True. You generate over 40% of the American GDP and employ half the country's workforce. Wow!
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You Are Important
If you are reading this article, you are probably a small business owner, and you are doing very important work! I am so glad you have taken a moment to work ON the business and not just IN it. Cheers!
You are probably someone who loves people, and you love to serve with a team. You are high on a mission and you want to make an impact. You are the kind of business owner who wants to improve as a leader and be the best you can be for your people--this includes clients and colleagues.
Well, I want to see you grow your business. People are depending on you.
Do I really need a business growth plan?
A study by the SBA shows that 60% of companies fail in their first 5 years, and 60% fail by their 10th year. The reason for these horrible failure stats? I bet you thought I was going to say that they didn't have a business plan. You would be wrong.
Some new businesses can grow without a business plan. A recent Harvard Business Review article makes this point: starting a business is often built on Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck. Some owners are able to launch successful companies with a novel offering, a dazzling marketing strategy, or just by the power of hustle. But this can be tiring after a while. This initial burst will eventually be met by the stresses of team leadership, external forces, or the failure to provide great customer service.
So, what if your business is not a start-up?
You still need a plan, or you may end up running in circles.
Businesses that are already off the ground are most in need of great planning. You need a growth strategy to focus your direction, and you need a business plan for growth. You have been at this a while, so it is no longer a question of, "Can we grow?" It is now a question of, "How should we grow?"
Without a business plan, you are out of control.
Don't worry. This is important, but it does not have to be hard. Many business owners think writing a business plan or developing a marketing strategy is just too difficult. It does not have to be. Writing a basic business plan requires answering a few questions: Do you know WHERE you want to grow? Do you know HOW you want to grow? Is your team in alignment with your long-term goals? Do you have a written plan for growth? Can you collaborate with your team and measure progress as you go?
Shaping a Business Growth Strategy: 7 Key Steps That Work
- Set Clear Goals
- Identify Your Target Market
- Define the Problem You Solve
- Promote Your Unique Brand
- Develop a Marketing Plan
- Get Your Team Onboard
- Measure Your Progress
In this article, we will take a first-look at all seven key steps. Read on.
1: Set Clear Goals
Your business should have specific, measurable goals that you want to achieve. These could include things like increasing sales by 10%, expanding into a specific new market, or hiring an additional staff person within 90 days. It may include refining your value proposition that has grown dull over time. It's important to be realistic when setting your goals. Make sure they are achievable within the timeframe you have set.
Do you know where you want to be in 10 years? I don't mean how much annual revenue you plan to acheive. I am talking about you, your family, and your team. Will you be in the same city? Will you have more than one office? Are you going to be alone or surrounded by a team? What size? What will make you feel successful at this time? Who will be your best friend in this future season? How will you be known in your town or in your sphere of influence? What mark will you have made on the world 10 years from now? What are you doing more of in your best future that you are not doing enough of today?
- DREAM HOME PRINCIPLE: The answers to these questions are clues to discovering your Dream Home. The Dream Home Principle helps you design your future just like you and your spouse would design your dream home. This is how we set amazing and inspiring goals! If you were literally planning for your Dream Home, you would draw out sketches of your best future. You would make lists of the most important features. You would make lists of what you don't want. You must decide where you want it and who you want to be surrounded by. The same questions apply to designing the Dream Home for your business. You must imagine your best future and design a description of exactly where you want your firm to be 10 years from now.
- BIG PROBLEMS: The next step in the Dream Home principle is to break down the 10-year dream into the Big Problems. These are the big chunks of progress you must make to get to your dream home. These Big Problems become measurable, long-term goals. They might include saving up a deposit, finding the perfect design team, or developing a stable income stream. The same is true in your business plan. After you establish the sketches of your perfect 10-year future, you must break down the journey into some major goals that you and your team can accomplish over time.
- SMALL BITES: The final step in the Dream Homes principle is Small Bites. Every major goal has to be broken down into goals that you can achieve this month as well as the daily/weekly actions you must measure to get there. This is where most business owners fail, and they know it. Implementation is the dragon we are all fighting. It can be hard to get stuff done, but I believe failure to implement is usually a byproduct of setting boring goals. You must establish an inspiring Dream Home vision before you define your Big Problems. Everyone on your team must be able to connect their weekly contributions to this inspiring future vision or there will be a lack of energy and the ability to maintain effort.
This is the symbol I use in my advisory practice for the Dream Homes Principle. Leave a note in the comments if you can guess what animal I feature in this story to bring the Dream Home Principle to life!
More on the Dream Home Principle in another article. Remember:
Another key to setting goals that will inspire both you and your team is to dig into your own story. What inspired you to start this business to begin with? What drives you? What has motivated you since you were very young? The answers to these questions are key to discovering your story. Your story is key to setting goals because your heart is driving a lot of the direction of your company. Get to know yourself!
What you know about yourself and your values has a lot to do with defining your target market.
2: Identify Your Target Market
Who are your ideal customers? What do they need or want from your product or service? If you don't know who your target market is, it will be difficult to reach them with your marketing efforts. Take some time to research your target market and understand their needs. The work you put in toward defining your IDEAL CLIENT will have incredible benefits. Without a profile of your best customer, how could you possibly hope to do more business with them?
Here are three things that must be included in your work to define your Ideal Client. Think of these next three paragraphs as cheat-sheets for team brainstorming sessions:
1. DEMOGRAPHICS: Let’s brainstorm the most obvious demographic data of our best clients. Grab a stack of sticky notes and let’s write out the most fundamental stuff, such as where they live and what they do. Let’s include things like age, gender, religion, and family status—stuff they would put on a census. Now, let’s describe the industry or the work-role of our clients. What do they do? Are they engineers, doctors, or executives? What kind of roles do they perform? Are they managers, owners, employees, specialists, academics...? Let’s list the capacity and challenges our clients have. What describes their capacity or role in work and life? This might include education, income, title, career, etc.
2. PSYCHOGRAPHICS: Let’s brainstorm any personality descriptors we can easily identify about the style, attitude, disposition, etc., of our best clients. For example, are they energetic, insightful, introverted, extroverted, pioneers, soloists, team players, old, young, business owners, not owners, etc.?
3. EMPATHY: What are the problems our clients are coming to us to solve? Let’s look over the list of our 10 best clients and start thinking as they do. Let’s write some more words that our clients use to describe their favorite kinds of goals or challenges. What do they love? What kinds of words do they use to describe their primary problems? What problems do they bring to us? What do they consider their big dragons? What are they afraid of? This last step in defining our target market leads us to the next major point: we must do an amazing job of describing the most important problem we solve.
3: Define the Problem you Solve
Your business should have a clear idea of what problem it solves for its customers. This is often referred to as your "unique selling proposition" or USP. Once you know your USP, you can use it to market your business to potential customers. A value proposition is more than a list of your competencies. It is the emotional pain point that your ideal clients are trying to solve. It is exactly how your business can help them solve it.
I challenge you to refine your value proposition from the client's point of view. Your point of view is not that important.
EMPATHY IS KEY: What we deliver to our clients is best understood from their perspective, not from ours. Let’s try to get into their shoes and answer these questions:
- What questions are our primary clients most often asking us?
- What are our best answers to these questions?
- What methods, skills, tools, or materials help us provide these answers in the best way?
- What do our clients find most valuable about our service? What are they happy to pay for?
- What words do our clients use to describe our value to them?
The next step is to put that value proposition into a single sentence. Make every effort to use NO LISTS. Use no conjunctions. Just make it straight and clear. What one problem do you solve in a way that no one else can perfectly duplicate?
4: Promote Your Unique Brand
What sets your business apart from the competition? Why should customers choose you over someone else? If you can't answer this question, you need to take a closer look at what makes your business unique. Hiring a marketing company to redesign your logo is not the first step. You should begin with understanding your own story. What motivates you to do your job? What inspires you to help others? This is the beginning of your differentiation in the marketplace. It is not your product--it is YOU! Your unique selling proposition flows out of you and your team's core motivation for helping people. Once you know what your USP is, make sure it's clear in all of your marketing materials.
Your uniqueness is something difficult for you to discover, by the way. It is like looking in a mirror and trying to see yourself. You only see from one angle. It takes others to better describe you from all sides!
This is also true in business, which is why collaborating with your whole team on your business identity is very important. Your brand, after all, is not just a logo. It is your total business reputation. You have style. You have a voice. You have an offering for the world. How is all this perceived as a whole? The answer to this question is a better understanding of your brand.
This is why I suggest hiring a branding agency to help you; however, they alone cannot provide all of what you need. They will see you from one angle. Your clients will see you from a different angle. Your teammates will see you from another. See? There are many things to consider when building out your unique brand.
Here is my suggestion on how to begin. It is very simple.
USE A SURVEY TOOL: Make a list of your most important colleagues, teammates, clients, and friends. Now, set a plan to meet with each of them, in person where possible, and survey them with all the questions in this section. Get their view of your unique brand. Take a lot of notes.
5: Develop a Marketing Plan
Once you know who your target market is, you need to develop a plan for reaching them. This is basic marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy should be based on your target market and goals. Once you know who you're trying to reach, you can develop a plan for how best to reach them. This could involve advertising, PR, social media, or any other marketing channels that will help you reach your target audience. It may involve more face-to-face strategies, especially if your business is built on TRUST.
Every idea to reach new customers must be put into a realistic plan. The plan will require scheduling, budgets, and measurable outcomes. Make sure you have a detailed budget for your marketing efforts so you can track your progress and ROI.
Marketing, you remember, is not the same as your unique brand. Your brand is your memorable reputation. Marketing is how that reputation is made known in your community. It is the delivery service for your reputation. This is why two things must be known prior to the time you hire a marketing team:
- You should know who you are (and who you want to become).
- You should be able to perfectly describe your Ideal Client.
Without establishing these two things in concrete, you may keep spending money on new marketing efforts every year without being able to measure any meaningful progress.
6: Get Your Team Onboard
If you're going to be successful in achieving your growth goals, it's important to get buy-in from everyone on your team. This means clearly communicating your vision and plan to all employees, and making sure they understand their role in helping the company achieve its goals. Many business owners miss this step altogether. If you plan to sell the world on your unique value proposition before you have won your team to adopt it, then you will fail ... over and over again. This is building your team's culture around your primary values. A team that agrees on these fundamental values will do a much better job advocating for you in the market you want to reach.
This article from the Harvard Business Review is just one of many supporting the fact that values are more important than anything else in building a team that will work together. Like many, you may have believed that setting common goals was the key. You would have been wrong. Yes, setting common goals can bring your team together, but it won't keep them together. What keeps your team together over time is shared values.
This is another way to understand and apply the adage: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
7: Measure Your Progress
It's important to check in regularly to ensure you're on track with your business goals. This could involve meeting with your team, reviewing your financials, or looking at your sales numbers. By making regular check-ins, you can identify any areas that need improvement and make changes as needed. How else can we capture and learn from our key performance indicators? We must have a smart system to capturing the information that surrounds our progress.
It's important to track your progress along the way so you can see how well your business is doing. This will help you adjust your goals and strategies as needed. After all, it is not rigid goals that create the best success stories, it is inspiring goals that allow for flexibility as your team learns how to work together to accomplish them. Business plans must be inspiring to be useful.
I believe one of the simplest mistakes to solve in small business life is not tracking progress every week. This problem comes from owners who believe that everyone is as naturally motivated as they are. It also comes from owners who believe that everyone is just as organized, self-disciplined, driven, goal-oriented, etc., as they are. Don't misunderstand: I am not saying that weekly reporting is simply a tool to manage the weak. That is not true. Weekly reporting provides every member of your team, with all their individual strengths and weaknesses, an opportunity to:
- Get feedback
- Measure progress
- Make adjustments
- Celebrate achievements
- Notice team issues
- Share team values
- Be inspired by leadership
- Review long-term goals
And that list included just the easy ones that came to mind.
If you are not meeting with your team every week, then start now. Make it better as you go. Keep the meeting under one hour. Use the list above as a cheat sheet for getting started. Here is a great article on how to keep it focused and keep it fun.
Some Additional Notes to Consider
This article was not written for businesses that are satisfied with the status quo. This stuff is for those small business owners who need new revenue growth. They want to increase market share. They want to create organic growth over time so they get much better ROI and can live a little easier. This strategic growth might be found within your present customer base (your existing customers), and it might be found with both existing and potential customers. It might be found by reaching into new markets. In any case, successful business planning must be strategic. You can't just grow in all directions. You must choose one direction and go for it. This kind of relentless focus on the one thing you do better than anyone else will lead you to success!
By following these steps, you can create a well-crafted and successful business plan that will help your business achieve its goals. It’s important to remember that a great business plan is never finished – it should be constantly evolving as your business and target market change. Make sure to check in with your team regularly to ensure everyone is on the same page and to make any necessary adjustments.
What has been your biggest challenge when creating or implementing your business growth plan? Let us know in the comments below!
H.B. Pasley, Growth Advocate℠
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