10 reasons why you need a business plan!

I’ve had a few people ask me recently, “just why is it so important to have a business plan?”

Well, a business plan serves two crucial core purposes; it provides a financial validation and it also serves as a roadmap to keep you on track all year.

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By financial validation, I mean that your plan gives both you and any outside funding institution you may need for loans etc. a strong indication as to whether your business venture will be a success. If you are doing a business plan for this purpose you would add in specific detail regarding how you run your business and whether you will get a return on any investment that, say a bank, will loan you and of course that you are financially viable enough to be able to afford loan repayments.

The second core purpose, the roadmap, is the area I will be looking at in more detail as this is what most small businesses (who don’t necessarily need financial input) think that a plan is not a necessity. And some small businesses manage completely fine without a plan, but I feel it is important as it lays out your action plan; details all the milestones and successes you have established and gives timescales for when you expect to complete certain tasks. It gives you a clear path to follow and keeps you focussed on achieving the goals that you have set for your business.

So, I’m going to focus on what a business plan does for your business and why it’s important.

10 reasons why you need a business plan (2)

 

To demonstrate that you’re serious about your business. This just puts it down in writing that you are committed to building your business and how you’re going to go about making it a success.

goals-2691265_640To ascertain your business goals or milestones. Your business plan will make you think about what you want to achieve with your business and where you see yourself in a year’s time… in five years’ time or more. You can plan not only your long-term goals, but also some quick wins and short term plans. They are significant events that you want to achieve, such as building a website, launching new products/services, producing a brochure and also things like getting your first 100 or 1000 followers on social media.

To understand and know your competition. A business plan forces you to look at your competition – analyse how they work, what they do that makes them stand out in the crowd, look at their products and how they advertise them, package them etc.

customer-563967_640To understand and know your customers. Planning makes you look at your customers; who are they? Why do they buy your products and why do they buy when they do? Do they belong to an average age group or geographic region? An in-depth customer analysis will help you understand what makes your customers tick and how you can better serve them and give them what they want.

To assess the feasibility of your business. Is your business viable? A feasibility study involves researching your target market and your competitors and will let you know if your business venture is likely to be a success.

money-2696228_640To determine your financial needs. Do you need to raise money to buy stock and how are you going to do this? Are there training opportunities for you, so you can learn more about what you do, that incur a cost? How will you factor this in? If you need a big financial injection, you will need to look at loans or investors…your plan will then need to be very specific around how you will be able to afford this kind of investment and what your return will be.

To reduce the risk of looking at the wrong business opportunity. If you do all your research, you will be able to clearly see if a particular business opportunity is going to be feasible, if there is a market for your products/services or whether an alternative route/opportunity might be better for you.

To push you to research your market and really get to know it. Researching your market will help you understand the latest trends in your particular area. Is this market growing or receding? What is the biggest threat to your business/industry? What is the size of your target market and how do you get your products/services in front of them? Your business plan will help you gain a greater understanding of the ‘what, when, where, who and how’ of what your business will face.

stamp-143192_640To pinpoint your brand. Creating a business plan makes you focus on what your brand is; helps you describe your business succinctly and decide how you will position your brand to your customers and target market.

To measure the success of your business. This is the bit that most of us forget about when running a business. It’s important to have measures in place so you know if a particular product or strategy is working. It gives you the option to change your strategy or break it down to make it easier to manage. By writing down the goals you want to achieve, you can look at them every month or quarter to see how you are doing against what you wanted to achieve at the beginning of the year…and adjust things accordingly – this might include removing certain goals, changing them or adding new ones. But if you don’t measure, you don’t know!

Your business plan is about what you want to do. It’s always a work in progress and once you have one and use it, you will wonder why you didn’t do it before!

Find out more about what to include in your business plan in more depth and how to do it …10 essential tips in making a good business plan

And click on this link for your free basic business plan template/instructions Business Plan

If you need any help or advice, please feel free to get in touch.

How to promote your small business online

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In this day and age, where technology is easier than ever to access and where most of the population use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Google+ or one of the many other social media platforms, you can’t afford not to have your business online. If you have a small business, it’s also worth considering setting up a website. These are the two online vehicles I’ll be talking about in this blog.

Why have a website?

id-100249653Having an online presence not only puts your business in front of a huge, global audience, it can help you get more sales and enable you to become more ‘real’ to your customers. The internet never takes a nap, gets distracted or falls asleep, so once you have your online presence, your business has the potential to be working for you 24/7. Customers can see your products and services in their own time, whenever they feel like it, so whether they work 9-5 and go online in the evening or whether they are night-shift workers and search for what they want during their break (at three in the morning), they can find you. More importantly, if you sell products and have an online store, a customer can order from you as soon as they feel the urge…they don’t have to wait for a shop to open at 9am, by which time they might have changed their mind. And they don’t have to travel to get what they want – whether you live in their neighbourhood or whether you lives hundreds of miles away, they can still buy from you.

A website gives potential customers the chance to check you out. What do you sell? What services do you offer? What is your business all about? What are you like? Your website builds your brand – online reviews from satisfied customers conveys the message that you are trustworthy; that your products or services are good; fills them with confidence in choosing you above your competitors. Your website can do all this…without you having to be there!

If you haven’t got a website yet, but would like to, click here for a very helpful site, which takes you through the process, step by step.

Social Media

id-100255669Using Social Media is the most common way to let people know your business exists and to build your brand. Social Media networks have millions of customers passing through them every single day – some of them will be your new customers. If you run a social media campaign for your business, or publish useful and high quality content on a regular basis, you can slowly, but surely build your online reputation. I don’t mean constantly bombarding people with images of your products with the hard sell, but taking the time to tell your audience what your product or service can do for them. Solve a problem, answer a question, show them that your products or services are worth buying or using and why.

However, Social Media is not a quick fix for your business – it’s an easy way to promote what you do, but it takes time and effort on your part to make it work and to build up your businesses reputation. Also, once you are on a particular social media platform, you need to monitor it to make sure you answer any questions or queries someone may have posted and to deal with any potential complaints or negativity.

Top 10 sites   

id-100282617Once you have decided to go the social media route, you just need to decide which one or two to go for. There are loads to choose from, but here are the top 15 sites, compiled in September 2016 by eBizMBA Rank – a US company. http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-networking-websites

  • Facebook
  • You Tube
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Google+
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram
  • Reddit
  • VK
  • Flickr
  • Vine
  • Meet-up
  • FM
  • Classmates

You don’t need to use them all – it’s better to pick a couple and be brilliant at knowing how that one works for you, than to be on several that you know little about.

Email Marketing 

Email marketing, simply put, is the method companies use to send a message to a group of people using email. Sometimes it is used to send out adverts or maybe to inform id-100426841customers about a new product. However it is effective for small businesses to use this method to send out a monthly or quarterly newsletter. This can be written in a friendly, chatty way and is a great way to stay connected to your customers. You just need to collect email addresses of new and existing customers and, most importantly, ask them if they would like to receive your newsletter. You MUST have their permission to do this, so good to have a form they can complete online on your website to ask to subscribe. You can then use it to let them know about any special offers or discounts, inform them about new products and generally tell them a bit about your business and how it works. It’s a great way to stay in touch with customers and build customer loyalty.

These are just three ways to promote your business online. Which method do you find the most effective for your business? Please comment in the box below.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net   

Nine fundamental tips for your marketing plan

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If you think about marketing, advertising automatically springs to mind. However, marketing (or promoting) your business, is more than just advertising. It helps you to ascertain who your customers are, which customers you want to target and how to get them to choose your products above others in the marketplace.

A marketing plan will also include your existing customers – retention of customers is just as important as gaining new ones, so you need to look at continually reviewing and improving your offer to ensure you stand out from your competitors.

Here are nine fundamental tips on what to include in a marketing plan to ensure you cover the essentials …

  1. Executive Summary – Although the executive summary is at the beginning of the marketing plan, it should be written last. The summary will help you ensure that your plan makes sense and that you haven’t missed anything out.
    The summary should include details of your business, company name and contact details; what your business is about; your key objectives and your strategy for achieving your objectives.
    This helps you to ensure that your marketing plan, your marketing strategy and your overall business strategy all work together.
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  2. Vision or Mission Statement – This is a statement that includes what your business is, who you’re selling to, what you’re selling and what is your unique selling proposition that makes you stand out from the crowd.
  3. The four Ps – once you know what your vision or mission is – your strategy – look at the four Ps…
    Product(s) – what is it about your product that makes your customers want to buy it? Do you need to change your products in any way to meet your customers’ needs?
    alone-4269760_640Pricing – how do you aim to compete with your competitor’s pricing – do you want to match it… undercut them… or do you want to charge more for a more quality product and service?
    Place – where and how are you going to sell your products? Do you sell them yourself or outsource them to retail outlets?
    Promotion – how are you going to let your existing and potential customers know about your products? This includes thinking about advertising, PR, direct mail and personal selling.
  4. Market Analysis – this is where you need to do copious research into what your competitors do and what the state of the marketplace is in relation to the products you sell.
    – Who are your competitors and how well are they doing?
    – What makes your competitors successful?
    – Who are your customers and potential customers – what are their geographic area and income levels?
    – What are your sales and distribution levels – what is your set up?
    – How well have your products sold in the past?
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  5. Your target markets – it’s crucial to know exactly who your customers are and what they’re looking for. Take time to understand what your customers want and need and understand why they buy particular products. You’ll be able to target your market more easily if you know who you’re talking to, and what their problems are. Everyone buys products for different reasons.
    If you have an existing customer base, you can easily find out some of this information, by sending them a simple survey, asking them a few questions – maybe give them an incentive to reply, such as all replies will be put into a prize draw to win one of your popular products.
    If you’re not sure who your target market is – try this exercise. Write a description of one of your products – for example, if you were selling mobile phones, you might say it’s small and easy to use. Then write the features – in the case of a mobile, it might be that you can use it anywhere and it’s useful in a crisis. Then make a list of who needs this product – with a mobile it might be people under 20 to keep in touch with friends and parents/people in business to keep in touch with business partners when away from home or office/ for older people it’s good to have in case they have an accident in the home or need to keep in touch with relatives or carers…. You get the idea!
    Then try and decide which will be your target market and which will be your secondary markets…probably best not to have more than two or three secondary markets at most.
  6. Marketing objectives – In this section, you are planning the future of your business. What objectives do you want to achieve? Each objective should include a description of what you intend to achieve and should include numbers to aim for. For example you might want to sell more of a particular product, but just saying you want to sell more isn’t enough – you need to be precise, so you have something concrete to aim for, maybe sell 40% more of that product over the next 12 months. This gives you a solid objective.
    Pull together a timeline of your objectives – what you want to achieve and by when. This makes it easier for you to review at a later date.
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  7. Promotion strategies – what tools will you use to promote your business? You could use:
    – Networking – join a business networking group and talk to people at
    every opportunity
    – Direct marketing – brochures, flyers, sales letters
    – Online – website, blogs, articles (give advice, become known as an
    expert).
    – Social media – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.
    – Advertising – print media, business directories, ads in magazine and
    online
    – Press releases
    – Direct or personal selling
    – Trade shows/markets/craft fayres
  8. Budget – Along with promotion strategies comes budget. You need to know what you can and can’t afford to do and plan accordingly. Can you do some of the promotion yourself or do you need to outsource it?
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  9. Measurement – you should aim to review your marketing plan every couple of months. Look at your various promotion methods and determine which ones work best for you and which don’t.
    You can survey existing customers for feedback; ask for feedback and recommendations; look at what your most popular products are and why. Then you will know what you need to do in future.

Pulling together a marketing plan isn’t something that can be done in just a few hours, it can take days – or even weeks – to ensure you have the right information and conduct the necessary research.

Now it’s time to take action! To help you lay out your marketing plan, take advantage of my FREE  Marketing Plan template