Why Have a Business Plan?

by Lisa M. Blacker
December 2012

I’d like you to ask yourself this very important question: “Is my business on MY road to success?”

If your answer is something along the lines of, “Um. Yeah. I think so. I’m doin’ all right. I think it’s goin’ pretty well, so far.” Or, “Not really. It’s not where I’d like to be and I’m not sure how to get there.” – then do yourself and your business a big favor and pay close attention.

What’s that?  You don’t have a Business Plan?  If you don’t have a business plan, how can you know if your business is on target? The fact is, without a plan, you haven’t identified the target so you cannot know if your business is successful. That could be very frustrating. And it is very risky.

Do you drive a car?  When embarking on a road trip to a new destination, do you get into the car and drive toward the general vicinity without a planned route? Maybe that’s okay when you already know how to get onto the highway, and you know your destination is at a certain exit just off the highway. But what if you find, as you approach the exit, that the ramp is under construction and closed with no detour sign. You haven’t planned for this contingency, so now what?

Let me tell you a personal story that illustrates my point.

In January 2010, I began a road trip that started at the Lombard, Illinois campus of National University of Health Sciences traveling as far as Santa Barbara, California, with many stops and detours along the way.  I traveled and drove by myself.  Alone.  I had just left medical school for a sabbatical to explore business and life, and having just moved out of my university campus apartment, I was homeless, had no steady income, and had very little financial reserves. Months earlier, I purchased a ticket to a business finance workshop in L.A. but I did not buy my plane ticket at the time, deciding instead that I would drive and visit with family and friends along the way.

If you haven’t driven cross country, let me put this trip into perspective for you: Lombard to Los Angeles is 4,000 miles round trip in approximately 60 hours. To many of you that seems like a daunting journey…probably because you see the beginning and end with none of the PLAN.

In preparation for this journey, I sat at my computer and scoured Google Maps for the major routes and alternatives, and who along each of those paths would be glad to feed and house me during my visit. Now any of you familiar with winter travel, especially involving the Midwest, know that weather and road conditions must be evaluated and considered carefully. Any of you who has driven more than 250 miles in one drive know you must also plan for fuel for the vehicle and yourself, and comfort stops because we only rent the fuel for ourselves.

I planned my route carefully and knew several alternate routes available to me just in case the weather forecast indicated my need. Good thing I had my contingency plan because most of this country was slammed with a snow storm during my travels.  (If you don’t remember, go ahead and do a search for “january 2010 winter storms”  and “february 2010 winter storm”.)  AND, because I planned very carefully, I MISSED ALL OF THE SNOW and, aside from one thunderstorm driving through Dallas, and another chasing me out of Santa Barbara, I had near perfect weather for the entire trip. I didn’t get lucky: I had planned for various contingencies and knew the alternate routes.

Now, back to the business of business plans:

Can you possibly be on the road to success if you neglect to enter the correct information into your GPS. Well, the truth of the matter is yes. Yes you can, possibly. But I can promise that it will be far more challenging without a detailed plan that includes your options and consequences for the journey’s detours. What if I had gotten into the car and set out toward the West Coast without a planned route, and without knowing any alternative? I probably would have been stuck at my aunt’s house in Mountain Home, Arkansas for two weeks if I had not left before their ice storm and taken the southernmost route instead of the middle route I originally planned to drive. The southernmost route would add four hours of driving, but it would be less likely to be hit by the snowstorm, which could easily add hours in traffic, factoring in drivers of that region being inexperienced in maneuvering over snow-covered roads.

YOUR BUSINESS PLAN IS YOUR SUCCESS PLAN! Your road map to your desired destination. Which, of course means you must pre-define success in order to create success. Just as in traveling from point A, you must decide where is point B before you can navigate to it! Otherwise, your travels are exploratory and subject to chance. Likewise your attempt at business, despite your supra-ordinary skill or exceptionally creative and useful product, has but a mere chance at reaching it’s full potential, which would mean YOU would have a mere chance of reaching YOUR full potential without a plan!

“Failing to plan is planning to fail!” – attributed to Sir Winston Churchill

In the 25 years that I have been consulting with entrepreneurs, hobbyists, and technicians, I have found most have forged ahead in business without a formal business plan. True entrepreneurs are just a little better at the big picture than are hobbyists and technicians. Before I continue, allow me to define these terms to ensure we are on the same page.

  • Entrepreneur – A person who identifies a problem, finds one or more way to provide a solution, and seeks to profit in the implementation of that solution. Skill at the means to the solution is not required since entrepreneurs are willing to outsource tasks to technicians. An entrepreneur has little emotional attachment to what is being produced or how, as long as the outcome is mutually beneficial.
  • Technician – A person who is talented and/or skilled (better than most) at a particular hands-on task/craft, regardless of the enjoyment or profit – or lack thereof – that is derived. I will venture a guess that many of you reading this blof fall into this category. You love your work, are great at it, and have provided services pro bono from time to time. Maybe even too often, but we’ll get into that in another post.
  • Hobbyist – A person who does something for enjoyment regardless of talent or skill level, quality, or profit

Now that we have established those operational definitions, let’s get back to forging ahead without a plan.

New businesses may start out with a bang and fizzle out shortly thereafter for the lack of a Plan.  Although you will often hear that new businesses fail for lack of working capital, the truth is that the lack of sufficient capital is the result of the lack of a good Plan! The demise of the business dominoes from bad Plan, to insufficient funds, to all the areas of the business touched by (or, more specifically, NOT touched by) either sufficient start-up capital or revenue from sales.

Interesting to me and I hope of value to you is that I have also found a few established corporations in dire need of reevaluating their outdated business plan. You see, a business plan is a living document, not a done-once Constitution type document. (I promise I won’t get political right now.)

Okay, okay! Now, you KNOW a Business Plan is important. But maybe you’re a little embarrassed that you don’t know much about them. What should be included? How much or little details? What format?

First of all, unless you have an degree in business administration, there is no need to be embarrassed if you don’t know much about business plans. And, if you didn’t hire a professional to help you write yours, no need to fret that your business plan is weak because we can help strengthen it!  Click to select our business plan offering.

Secure Browsing Reminder – Watching for HTTPS

A personal friend indicated to me that sharing this information would be a public service announcement.  Here’s my PSA of the day:  

Before signing in (sign on, log in, logon) to a banking page or account with financial or other sensitive personal information, check the url (web address in the bar at the top of your browser window, just below the tabs) to see that it starts with “https”, and that the “https” is not X’d out or in red.

“WHY?” you may ask.  HTTPS means safer browsing. For more information,visit my favorite go-to for overview info, Wikipedia, and their post on “HTTP Secure”.

In a thread on my personal page on Facebook today, I posted a status update questioning my friends as to the inconsistency of secure browsing on Facebook:

“Anyone else noticing that FBs secure access (https) has been inconsistent today? Are you seeing the red X through the https part of your url while on FB?”

I was seeing the red X through the https ONLY ON FACEBOOK, even though I had multiple other tabs and windows open. How curious since I opted in for secure browsing on Facebook. (Click for FB’s Help article on the subject.)  If you haven’t already done so, opt-in for FB’s secure browsing option, and remember to change your password immediately if you suspect malicious activity on your account.

 

 

Differentiating Yourself from Others in the Same Field: Unique Value Proposition

What is your unique value proposition? I went to a networking event last night where half the people in the room (only a slight exaggeration) were insurance agents/brokers. What makes one different from another? Those who are more successful than others generally have a unique value proposition (UVP) to offer, which makes them stand out and be of greater value than others.

If you are in a business that seems saturated, be sure to get clear on your brand’s UVP. What do you offer your clients/customers/patients that another professional in your field cannot or does not offer?

Once you have a good idea of this UVP, get your ideas together clearly and be sure to know what your costs of doing business are. If you offer a free widget, or a free consultation, what is the cost of the widget and its distribution? How much time do you have to spend on this widget and what is the opportunity cost?  Keep track of your investment and return to be aware of when/if you will break even, if the widget is an effective loss leader, or if the manner in which you are giving it away it is a waste of resources. Tweak one aspect at a time to test the results: don’t chuck the whole program without examining potential reasons and opportunities for improvement.

Also keep in mind that your marketing plan should include promotions and give-aways, and that business plan should have short- and long-term goals and strategies. More on business plans and their various components in a future post.

Are You Getting Hacked on Facebook, or Are You Browsing Securely?

I’ve seen on Facebook this week that several accounts have been hacked. Mine has not, to the best of my knowledge. But I do not use any game application, and I always use secure browsing (https).

If your account has been hacked, or if it hasn’t and you want to protect against hacking, it is best to use the secure login & browsing. Note: If you use games and other third-party apps, many of them will ask you if you want to turn off secure browsing (once you set up secure browsing). If you click “no” you will NOT be able to use their app. They do not want you to browse securely because they want to access your information!

Following are the steps, as found in Facebook’s Help section at this link.

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Secure Browsing (https)
What is Secure Browsing (https)? What are the benefits?
Secure Browsing (https) is an opt-in security feature. When you turn this feature on, your traffic (i.e. all of your activity) on Facebook becomes encrypted, making it harder for anyone else to access your Facebook information without your permission.

Note: This feature is not currently available for mobile browsing.

How do I turn on Secure Browsing (https)?
To turn on Secure Browsing (https):

Go to your Security Settings page (Account > Account Settings > Security)
Click on the Secure Browsing section
Check the box provided and save your changes

Please note that when you turn on secure browsing, any other active Facebook sessions will be terminated. This means that if you’re logged into Facebook on another web browser, you will be prompted to re-enter your login information.

Why am I being asked to “Turn off secure browsing?” when I try to open some third party apps?
You’re seeing this error message because the third party app you’re trying to access doesn’t support secure browsing (https). To use this app, simply click Continue and we’ll temporarily turn off secure browsing (https) for you. Next time you log in, we’ll automatically re-enable secure browsing on your account.

Note: This means you’ll have to log out and log back in to turn secure browsing back on.

How can I tell if Secure Browsing (https) is working?
Once you turn on secure browsing, the address bar in your browser should begin with “https://” Please note that if your browser warns you of a certificate error, it could be an indication that someone is tampering with your connection. Do not continue.

https://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=215897678434749&ref_query=secure+

Social Media for Business: One and Done, or Ongoing?

Pam and I share the philosophy and approach that we provide our clients an overview of social media marketing in cases where we manage their social media accounts.  Once the client’s social media accounts are established and well-connected (or sometimes during the process), we provide more detailed training to the client, and where human resources allow, we train a member of the client company to take over what we had been doing.

“WHY?!”  I can hear some of my social media manager associates asking in horror.

It is simple:

1. We respect our clients and know they are capable of administering their own social media profiles after our business-focused training has addressed their concerns.

2. It is more cost effective for the client because it frees us to discover, evaluate and apply the next social media tool to their strategy.  This provides more value to the client, which I believe also falls under the category of respect.  :-)

Social Media Marketing is a relatively new field that changes almost daily, as any regular user of Facebook will attest.  While “one-and-done” services are generally less expensive up front, and they certainly have their place, they do not always provide the best value for the client.

For example: While working on a Facebook for Business training presentation yesterday, I realized that if we had done the presentation earlier this month, we would have had to redo it because of the very many changes in Facebook over the last two weeks.  A one-and-done training product may have covered the old Facebook but not the updates.  An ongoing training program as part of a long-term strategy accommodates the ever-changing scenary that is social media for business.

We at BCSMS prefer to focus on longer-term, ongoing strategies, training and services that help our clients achieve and exceed their goals.

Why Your Business Should Have a Blog Even if it Already Has a Website

Psychology enthusiast that I am, I first aim to establish operational definitions to ensure we are on the same page.  After all, if you really want to understand why you should have a blog on your website, then you probably are not blogging regularly, and you likely don’t have much appreciation for the denotative meaning of the word blog.  The word blog is short for web log originally for electronic discussions.  (For an interesting article on the origination of the term, click here.)

The connotative meaning is an online format for recording and sharing thoughts, activities, instructions, or anything else that can be recorded:  the written word; aurally either with the spoken word or natural or composed music; or visually with video, still photography, or fine art.

There are many genres of blogs, which we may mention from time to time, but the focus of this BCSMS website and the blog contained herein is business start-ups and business with little web exposure.

In the business world, blogs are primarily utilized to establish oneself as an expert in a particular industry.  Blogs may secondarily demonstrate aspects of personality that will help to establish rapport between the business principal(s) and the clients/customer/patients and prospects. Posts are added weekly or more often in order to share information about your company, product, and most importantly provide some value to your reader. The widely-accepted formula is that not more than 30% of your content should try to sell your brand. That means 70% of the posts should contain information that will be of some value to your reader.

One question we get frequently is, “Do I need a blog if I have a good website?”  The short answer is “YES!”  The two may be connected electronically, but they serve very different purposes. Compare and contrast the above with the following about websites.

A website is static for a longer period of time. Webpages get updated now and then, but generally the bulk of the content remains the same for a year or longer. Websites generally have pages that are static, including About, Contact Us, and any number of additional pages pertaining to the business and its principals.

You may have noticed, this is the first blog post on this website.  It is time we at BCSMS practice what we preach!  Sign up for updates now because we will be sharing what we know with you on this blog.  :-)