3 Great Resources for Writing a Business Plan

I get a lot of calls and emails asking about writing a business plan. There are so many books and articles on writing one it can be overwhelming, but there are three resources I like and recommend as good starting points.

1. Entrepreneur Magazine. There are oodles of great articles on their site, but I especially like this one on the Top 10 Business Plan Mistakes.

2. Small Business Association of America has a wonderfully thorough section on writing a good business plan. Plus, tons of other great tips and advice.

3. Activate Group blog. Okay, a little shameless self-promotion. But seriously, I have a great section on my blog with some down-and-dirty articles on business planning.

What other resources do you like for advice on writing a business plan?

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who provides business strategy and consultation services. To learn more about how an executive coach, management consultant, leadership training, or business coach can help you, please visit his website at activategroupinc.com or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216 or email him.

Business Planning Austerity: What’s your bad and your worse?

A quote from Evangelos Venizelos, Greek finance minister regarding the austerity measures they passed to avoid defaulting on their financial obligations: 

“When you have to choose between bad and worse, you will pick what is bad to avoid what is worse.”

It made me think about business planning. During the Great Recession, plenty of companies had to slash budgets and overhead to stay afloat. These are uncertain times (just ask the citizens of Greece) and I think part of planning for prosperity is thinking through possible worst-case scenarios.

If you had to institute your own austerity measures to survive, what would you cut first? Have you at least thought about bad-case and worst-case scenarios if we hit another recession?

 

Howard Shore is a business planning expert who provides business strategy and consultation services. To learn more about how an executive coach, management consultant, leadership training, or business coach can help you, please visit his website at activategroupinc.com or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216 or email him.

6 Essential Business Strategy Tools

Writing a business strategy can be daunting for anyone, even a seasoned business strategy consultant like yours truly. There are so many formats and so much information you could include, and you always end up questioning whether you’ve included too much or not enough. Admittedly, I have used multiple formats and metrics, and my style has evolved over the years, but today I can say there are six strategic planning communication “tools” that must be included in your plan.

1. Business Purpose. State the sole mission, or purpose of the company…in one word. I know, I know. This is a huge challenge, but it is an exercise that forces company leadership to get specific, visionary and inspired. It has amazing effects on the theme of the business strategy and unites the entire team behind one concept or idea. This one-word purpose will not change every year. Like the mission statement, it should only be revisited every 5 to 10 years, if it is written well.

2. One-sentence Strategy. What are you trying to achieve in the business right now, in one sentence? Like the “purpose” exercise, this exercise will help you get to the core of what your business aims to do, and communicate it in a concise and memorable way.

3. Brand Promise. What kind of relationship do you want to have with your customers? What problem do you want to solve for them? How will you make their lives better? This is what you want to describe in your brand promise, which will begin something like this: To be the best____ by _______. Or like this: To enhance our customers’ _______by _________.

4. Main Target Audience. Please don’t tell me “anyone is a customer”. Even if anyone could use your product it doesn’t mean they are the primary decision-makers. You need to identify one main target audience. You must do this in order to strategize which decision-maker pain points you will address, and how you will market and sell to them. In this regard, all audiences are certainly not created equal.

5. “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”. Business leadership is not for the faint of heart. It commands us to be bold and set our sights high for the future. What is the ultimate destination for your company? What does your Mount Everest summit look like? State it in a way that is inspiring—if Denzel Washington were describing it in the climax of a film, what would he say?

6. X Factor. What truly makes your product or service different? Be ruthlessly honest. What is the one thing you do that none of your competitors can claim?

When was the last time you revisited your business strategy? Does it include any of these tools?

Howard Shore is an executive leadership coach who works with companies that need leadership development and business management coaching. Based in Miami, Florida, Howard’s firm, Activate Group, Inc. provides strategic planning tools and management coaching to businesses across the country. To learn more about strategic planning and development through AGI, please visit activategroupinc.com, contact Howard at (305) 722-7216 or email him.

“The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time”

I am supporter of great books that I recommend to my clients and Verne Harnish’s new book entitled “The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time” is a great book that has influenced decisions that changed not only companies, but industries and even nations. If your venture is looking for some powerful ideas then this book is perfect for you. To read a free chapter please visit: http://bit.ly/RYTHWq

Please contact us if you want to learn about other books we recommend.

Focusing On The Core

I recently read a white paper entitled “The Focused Company”, produced by Bain and Company. As a business coach, I have found that while most clients understand the importance of prioritization and focusing, they fail to achieve either. Why does this occur?

As an owner of three businesses, I can appreciate the challenge. There are so many things that must be done in order to be successful in business. As a result, it can be hard to see what is crucial. The natural entrepreneur has the “shiny object” syndrome. We are interested in pursuing the “shiny object”, which distracts us from concentrating on the matter at hand.

Why We Fail to Focus

Business executives mainly fail to focus because of the way in which the human mind works. We operate more on a subconscious versus a conscious level. We tend to learn by repeated behaviors and allow those repeated behaviors to take precedence over conscious learning. In other words, our brains have us operating on auto-pilot. We may know consciously that the way we have behaved in the past is not working, but our subconscious knowledge still drives future behavior.

According to the Bain report, “… 80% of CEOs expect high levels of complexity over the next five years. Far fewer feel prepared to cope with it. A truly focused company, one that has cut complexity to the minimum, does not invest to win in every element of its business. It invests primarily in its core, the business in which it can outperform everybody else. A focused company does not try to appeal to every potential customer. It concentrates on the most profitable customers, those who it can serve better than any competitor can.”

Having a Focused Business Strategy

As many of my readers know, I am a certified Gazelles Coach. As such, we take our clients through a process known as the “Four Decisions,” which was derived from a well-read book, “Scaling Up” by Verne Harnish. The power of the “Four Decisions Program™” process is not producing the “one-page business plan.” While that is the output of the process, the true value derives from the discovery that occurs by going through the process.

We recently worked with a multinational public company that operates with several billion in revenue and has little-to-no profit to show for it. By working with their coaches, they found that the secret to achieving greater growth and profitability is predicated upon how well they are able to focus. The leadership team was stunned to realize that they had grown to several billion in revenue, and they were struggling because of their failure to have a focused strategy. Our client discovered that their focus had been on how much supply of product they had versus possible customer requirements. If you wanted to analyze their customer base and go-to-market strategy — there was none. As a result, they had no customer loyalty and were more susceptible to market pricing than if they had focused on a core customer and mastered those variables in their business that were important to the core customer.

Addressing Your Customers Needs

Now that this has been discovered, it will be important that their coach continues to help them focus products and services in a way that best addresses the needs of the customers that they believe have the highest profit potential and will stay loyal as a result of addressing these needs. We concluded that, if they do this well, they will be able to use up 100% of their manufacturing capacity by serving much fewer customers well. Rather than being supply-driven they will become customer-driven. To accomplish this, it will be important to design the organization in a way that supports making critical decisions rather than supporting existing processes. Also, by being customer-driven rather than process-driven will result in integrated process efficiency rather than functional efficiency.

In the end, companies must attack complexity in their business. Focus is a never-ending journey.  Business must focus the majority of organizational emphasis on a very few key areas that are costing too much or causing some type delay in order to best serve core customers. We also recommend that businesses should focus their activity by quarter, treating each quarter as a 13-week race. Race to improve one major area of your business. What you will find is that fixing one area will reveal sizable opportunities for simplification elsewhere for the next quarter.

Improve Your Business Strategy

Howard Shore is an executive leadership coach and founder of Activate Group Inc. based in Miami, Florida. His firm works with companies to deliver transformational management and business coaching to executive leadership. To learn more about executive leadership coaching through Activate Group, please contact us today or give us a call at [phone link=”true”].

Key Components of a Business Plan

As a business coach, one of my essential roles is to assist my clients in determining what the key components of their business plan should be. My experience is that many companies do a poor job of creating their business plans, costing them serious growth in revenue and profits. If you are like most leaders I’ve worked with, your annual business planning process may be broken. Often I find that leaders spend too much time focusing their attention on goals rather than on the components of their plan that will cause them to achieve those goals.

Two indications that you have a problem with your current business plan:

  1. You do not find the need to visit your business plan weekly, monthly and quarterly with your executive team to make sure you are following your plan.
  2. You are not consistently hitting your revenue and profit numbers on a monthly basis.

The Importance of a Business Plan

The main reason to create a business plan is to find the simplest path for your company to produce maximum results. A good plan creates focus, sets priorities, causes alignment throughout your organization, and provides a means for accountability. As a facilitator of hundreds of monthly, quarterly, and annual planning sessions, I have found that most organizations fall well short of achieving these objectives.

Lack of prioritization is, by far, the most common issue I see causing companies not to reach consistent performance. While most leaders like to blame external conditions, it is usually an internal shortcoming. The leadership team fails to say “no” often enough, chooses to chase fires rather than identify and address their real issues, and thus makes their organization work twice as hard to produce less.

The 8 Components of a Business Plan

In order to accomplish focus, prioritization, alignment, and accountability, your business plan must have the following components:

1. Core Values and Purpose

Tell everyone how they must operate (core values) and why you exist (purpose).

2. Sales Strategy

Clarify how you will make money.

3. Competitor Differentiation

Distinguish how you will be different from your competition.

4. Goals and Objectives

Be specific and measurable in terms of goals so everyone knows what success looks like on a monthly basis for the company.

5. Annual Priorites

Identify the 3 to 5 absolutely essential annual priorities – these are the very difficult changes that need to be made in terms of products and services, systems and process, and people so that you can accomplish the above.

6. Company Priorities

Identify the 3 to 5 quarterly company priorities that will drive the annual priorities.

8. Leadership Priorities

Identify the 3 to 5 quarterly personal priorities for every leader that aligns with the company priorities and functional priorities.

7. Action Plan

Create very specific action plans to make the priorities happen.

8. Accountability

Establish a measurement system so that everyone can be held accountable.

Improve Your Business Planning Process

With the business coaching services offered at Activate Group, we can maximize your team’s success and simplify your organizational processes. Contact us for a free consultation to learn how we can help your organization, or check out the testimonials page for stories from other leaders we have coached.

What is the Purpose of a Business Plan?

purpose of business plan

Have you ever considered the questions, “What is the purpose of a business plan, and how critical is it to your success?” As a business coach, I have met and worked with hundreds of business owners over the years who insist that having a business plan is critical. I have found, however, that most are missing the whole essence of the business plan purpose.

What is the Purpose of Your Business Plan?

The purpose of a business plan is to successfully and strategically achieve your company’s goals and objectives. A business plan will align the organization by clarifying, prioritizing and improving the commitment to goals. The outcome of a good business plan is better results and an increase in profit.

But here is the real question, “What is more important to you when developing a business plan: the output, the process, or the outcome(s) of your business plan?” If you tell me it is the outcome(s) you are most concerned with, what do you mean by outcome(s)? Outcome is just another word for purpose.

Outcomes of a Business Plan

Here are examples of outcomes that leaders typically want from developing a business plan:

  • Better results (e.g. revenue or profit growth)
  • New ways of approaching the business so it does not stagnate
  • Improved commitment to goals
  • Clarified goals
  • Prioritization of goals and objectives
  • Creation of alignment across the organization
  • Creation of a process for holding people accountable

Why Do Business Plans Fail?

In my experience, if your business plan does not lead to the desired outcome, it is because you and your leaders have not given enough thought or commitment to the following three questions:

  1. What outcomes do you want to cause from your business plan?
  2. Is there a better process for going about your business planning?
  3. What output needs to be produced from your business planning process so that you can drive the outcomes you want?

Use a Proven Business Planning Process!

The One Page Strategic Plan created by Verne Harnish has all the key components of a business plan. With the business coaching services offered at Activate Group, we can maximize your team’s success and simplify the entire business planning process for you. Contact us for a free consultation to learn how we can help your organization, or check out the testimonials page for stories from other leaders we have coached.

Action Plans Lead to Success

Business Action Plan

Have you ever wondered why many business plans fail? Do you find that your organizations fail to achieve the key priorities in your business plan?  You are not alone! Most leaders, if they are honest, will admit that their business planning process is failing. Do you create an annual business plan and find that your team fails to follow through? Do you achieve your financial goals, but still fail to achieve the key initiatives? If you do, this is a major issue for your business and a solid action plan is part of the solution.

Failing to Elevate Your Business

As a business coach, I find many business owners and leaders asking me, “What is the harm in failing to achieve your annual initiatives if you achieved your revenue and profit targets?” If you have well-developed key initiatives, they will address the most critical weaknesses, problems and challenges facing your business. By achieving financial targets without addressing these issues, you have essentially failed to elevate your business to a higher level. In other words, you have unintentionally compromised future growth for the present. If you look at your annual initiatives, you often will find that as you address them, they have minimal effect on current year numbers but can have significant impact on future numbers.

Action Plans Will Keep You On Track

After conducting well over a thousand business planning sessions and reviewing results with leadership teams, a common thread between successes and failures revolves around the action plan. I have found there has been a 90% failure rate in achieving a priority for companies without an action plan versus a 75% success rate for companies with one. In the cases where there was an action plan but failure to complete the initiative, businesses made substantial progress on the priority.

Business Action Plans for Success

The following are reasons why business action plans are critical to your success. They:

How Committed Are You to Your Business Plan?

Is your business plan a decision but not a commitment? Most leaders will agree that they always get done what they are committed to. On a daily and weekly basis you deal with pressing issues, and you stay committed to addressing them. In my experience as a business coach, I do not see that same level of commitment to business plans. I believe the main obstacle is immediate versus long-term gratification. We can feel the immediate gratification of solving a pressing issue but can’t with working hard to address a long-term problem. However, by addressing the long-term problem, your benefits become much greater.

Consider a Business Coach

With the business coaching services offered at Activate Group, we can maximize your team’s success. Contact us for a free consultation to learn how Business Coaching can help your organization, or feel free to check out the testimonials page for stories from other leaders we have coached.

Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at [phone link=”true”] to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.

Business Planning and Core Values Must Unite!

As you plan your agenda for your next business planning session, I hope you have carved out some time to discuss core values. If you study any great company, one that produces exceptional performance, you will find culture is a key component to their success. Great culture does not happen by accident, and thus it is imperative that part of your business-planning process addresses how you will build and nourish your firm’s culture.

CULTURE = CORE VALUES

Core values are the rules that when practiced daily by your employees shape and define your culture. Core values help top companies become more successful than their competition. While planning for our next quarterly meeting today, a CEO shared with me that out of all of the things he’d learned from me over the years, the most important lesson was “discovering, reinforcing, and building his team around core values.” It has helped significantly reduce a lot of the leadership team problems he used to have, reduced the amount of time he needs to manage the business, and he directly attributes increased business performance to rejecting people that did not fit his core values.

Core Values On Your Business Plan Agenda

Depending on your current business issues, you will need to tackle core values at your next quarterly or annual business planning meeting differently. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you do not have clearly defined company core values, you will want to answer the question, “What are my core values?”
  • If it appears that there is inconsistency in the rules that people play by, and you are regularly frustrated by the lack of adherence to the rules you want them to follow, then you will want to answer the question “How do I do a better job of making sure everyone lives my core values?”
  • If you do not have a formal system of measuring performance around core values, you will want to answer the question, “How consistently is everyone living the core values?”
  • If you find there is a core value that is often bypassed, you will want to create a theme to reinforce that core value?

It Takes Discipline To Create A Company Culture

You must instill your core values in everything you do, every day, and in every way. The number one reason core values do not get ingrained in many businesses is that most senior executives do not live them. If the top three executives (e.g. CEO, COO, and CFO) are not role models, you may expect that the rest of their employees will not consistently exhibit the company’s stated core values.

Once you have developed your values, execution through spaced repetition and consistency is imperative. This is the most difficult and important part of forming your culture. Everything we have learned in life we have learned through spaced repetition. Using your business planning meetings as a platform for ideas, an organization must develop a system for all employees to regularly hear, see, and act the core values.

The One Page Strategic Plan created by Verne Harnish includes a section for core values and how to live them each quarter. We can help you design your business-planning processes, and the Four Decisions Process can help.

Improving Your Company Culture

Contact us for a FREE consultation to learn how Business Coaching can help transform your organization. Also feel free to check out the testimonials page for stories from other leaders we have coached.

Setting Deadlines for Your Team

Setting deadlines is the most painful and underappreciated part of delegating a task. Too many leaders give employees tasks without setting a deadline or asking what else they have on their “to do” list. This is a motivation killer. You must keep in mind that even though the task you are assigning is of great importance, your employees have their tasks too.

Do You Ever Say No?

Most people are trained to never say “no.” They have been wired to say “yes,” even when they know they already have too much on their plate. Often times, the delegator already knows this, but chooses to take the position of “not my problem.” In the long run, this can destroy trust and respect for the delegator and decrease employee morale, organizational productivity, and profitability.

How to Properly Delegate

When you delegate a task, you must sit with the person you are delegating to and make sure that realistic deadlines are being created. It is your job as the delegator to help your people be successful and not set them up for failure. If you are delegating to someone who has a history of over-committing, it is important to help reconcile commitments to make sure that the most important things get done first. Always make it clear that you are aware they have other tasks so want to make sure they are available to meet your deadline. Also always make sure the deadline is a realistic one. After all, when your employees succeed you succeed!

Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at [phone link=”true”] to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.