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THINKING! A framework for creating better business plans in 2015.

einsteinAs the past year ends and the new year is getting started, many firms are in the midst of planning for 2015… business plans, marketing & sales plans, operational & staffing plans, etc.

All good things, to be sure!

But too often, the planning process is focused on making sure the forms and spreadsheets are filled in… after all, you gotta have timelines, budgets and metrics to monitor, right? What’s often missing is the one thing that’s necessary for the planning to be truly successful – THINKING.

Without thinking, you’re just “doin’ stuff.” Without thinking, you’re just “wingin’ it.” Without thinking, all of that planning that you’re doing is just “guessing.”

So, before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), block off some time to think about and talk about all of the critical elements that could impact your planning for 2015.

To help with the process of thinking, we have put together a framework of categories you must work through to cover all of your bases. Only after you’ve been through all of these should you then sit down to do your planning.

The 3 C’s

  • Clients: Spend some time thinking about your clients, ex-client and sales prospects. What are their challenges? What keeps them up at night? Describe their ‘buyer personas.’ Be clear about the industries you serve, the kinds of companies within those industries and the titles/characteristics of the people who are involved in the decision to choose suppliers.
  • Competitors: When you lose a bid, who do you lose to… and why? Think local, regional and national competitors. Think direct and indirect. What about those clients that are starting to in-source rather than out-source their work? Any new competitors in your space? Spend some time on your competitors’ websites to get to know them better. Maybe even do a little “secret shopping.”
  • Company: Now look at what’s going on inside your firm. Analyze your financials – by client, by service line, by industry and vs. goal. Do a SWOT analysis with several of your employees. Consider a marketing & sales audit. Then, go to the 3 P’s below.

The 3 P’s

  • People: Take a critical look at your staff, particularly those who interact with clients and prospects. Are these the best people you can afford? What development/training needs to happen to make them even better? Are there certain positions you can live without? Or new ones you need to add?
  • Products/Services: First, what kind of feedback are you getting on your existing products/services? Are they priced appropriately? What new ones should you consider? Do you need to simplify your offerings?
  • Processes: Think about all of the “touch points” in the continuum of a client engagement: from when they first see your marketing and visit your website… to when they first submit an RFP and how you respond to that… to being awarded the project… to delivering on your services during the project (so many touch points/communications opportunities here)… to project wrap-up… to billing. In all of those processes, where and how can you get better?

The 2 I’s

  • The Industry you work in: What’s going on in the Market Research industry that could have an impact in your business… new trends, new methodologies, new tools, new players, new technologies, new business models, etc.
  • The Industries you serve: The same goes for the vertical markets your serve… think about trends, technologies and the changes taking place there. Are the industries thriving or dying? Do you need to consider others?

The 2 E’s

  • The Environment: We’re referring to your local environment… what’s going on in your city? New potential clients or competitors coming to town, old clients or competitors leaving, the local business environment in general, associations based there, etc.
  • The Economy: A ‘big picture’ look at the national (and even international) economy, as a whole. What direction is the economy moving? What’s coming out of Washington, DC that might impact you? What’s happening on the world stage that you need to pay attention to?

The questions above are meant as a starting point. As you get into this exercise, more questions will come up, conversation threads will go off in unexpected directions and many things not listed above will be discussed. That’s GREAT! Follow every rabbit hole of detail… leave no stone unturned… this is truly a case of “more is better.”

Making it Happen

If you’re a solo operator, find a quiet place and get away for a day. Use white boards or flip charts to scratch out and vet your ideas and record your thoughts. Use your phone to take photos of everything you write down and transcribe it when you get back to the office.

Work for a larger firm? Schedule a “retreat” away from the office. Make it an ‘event’ that’s enjoyable, fosters teamwork and encourages creativity and brainstorming. As above, write down and record all of your thoughts, ideas and conclusions. Want to really do it right? Get an outsider to facilitate the retreat and remove any bias from the discussions.

OK… you’re finally ready. All of that thinking – and the resulting observations, perceptions, ideas and suggestions – now need to be distilled down to a handful of key insights and strategies. Opt for simplicity here… find the one of two that you believe will have the most impact on your firm. It will be those few insights and strategies that will color and frame your planning for 2015.

Conclusion: Creating yearly plans are what business leaders do. But if all you want is a plan, get some planning software and fill in the blanks. To create plans that can be truly beneficial, take the time on the front-end to think through what’s best for your firm. Do that, and creating annual plans stops being “busy work” that ends up on the shelf gathering dust… and starts becoming a fundamental part of the growth of your business. Good luck!

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