Values matter in BUSINESS more than ever

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Values must be transparent

The way you provide your product or service and to whom, says more about you than how much business you do. Being big in a highly segmented world is no longer the determination of success. How you do your business now determines your current credibility and future success. Credibility is as much about your values in becoming successful as about the success you have. Mohamed Al-Fayed for example, despite buying Harrods, never shook off questions about his background.

Your values as an organisation as demonstrated by everyone inside your organisation matter to both existing and potential customers in choosing to do business with you. People have choices and they can now exercise them more freely than ever before, and that means customers can access information instantly to make choices that are more informed. Ikea’s staff misinforming undercover Times reporters about their sustainable and certified sourced products at a number of shops are one symptom of Ikea’s rapid growth boardroom culture.

Values Must Live the Moment

Almost everything in life is in real-time and instantly communicated to circles of influence and beyond. A restaurant having  bad night can have a poor reputation before the starter has even been cleared away as customers post live feed back to sites such as Qype or Trip Advisor . Therefore, before the waiter, maitre d’ or chef knows what’s happening the world outside already does by Twitter and Facebook and are cancelling their reservations in their droves.

Why clean lavatories matter?

The old adage that if you want to know how clean the restaurant kitchen is, inspect the lavatories, because they tell you how the restaurant values cleanliness, is a great example of modern customer awareness. Do you live your values or just post them on your website? Is the question customers want to know in establishing and experiencing trust with you and your brand.

Rail companies learning fast

The recent story of the man on the train talking too loudly causing enraged customers to Tweet  complaints about his behaviour which was picked up by a duty manager hundreds of miles away who then contacted staff on the train to track down the loud caller and asked him to quieted down.
This story is very much testimony to the growing demands of customer expectations, immediate online response, not waiting for passing train staff to react. This story is part of the reputation shift that train companies are actively pursuing.
The values that a business lives really matter to customers and to the brand reputation.

What Makes a Great Brand (Part 2)

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Clear Brand Strategy

Being clear and precise is also important in the company’s messages for a brand to succeed, a strong undiluted brand message must enthuse internally but must also consistently connect with customers through touch points, look at Innocent, Dorset Cereals or Apple as classic examples of touch point. They also demonstrate a clear story delivered with passion about who they are what they do and why they matter. This focused and consistent message is not just a marketing message but an ingrained set of values which consumers buy into with passion. These brands not only position themselves as premium players in their fields and earn more but they also continuously find new ways to spread their key messages to customers, they have a clear brand strategy to achieve it.

Everyone Lives the Brand

Another vital aspect of any brand success is that the people within that brand demonstrate what they preach, they live that lifestyle, support that brand and contribute to its success. It is their lifestyle, it is a part of the way they and their brand do business.
 Great brands go beyond the brand to understand its real value to existing customers but also to tomorrow’s customers.  Whether it is a family run local shop or a global supermarket chain great brands position themselves so they develop and hold a market position to develop long-term success.

Great Brands

Great brands also develop their own uniqueness, not just the product or service but the whole package is how we do it around here. There needs to be not only consistency but the brand hand writing and value on how they do it. The best brands always develop singular simple signals for customers, cutting through jargon to create clarity without patronisation.
For brands to succeed in today’s global markets these golden rules have never been more important as consumers have never had so much information, but if you follow these simple rules of brand success you can develop and maintain a great brand.

Looking for Advice 

If you want to develop your company’s brand and are looking for some advice on developing your company, its marketing, its sustainable competitive advantage then contact us at Cowden Consulting to see how we can assist you, or read more about us in this blog or at Cowden Consulting.

What Makes a Great Brand (Part 1)

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Despite what marketing people passionately believe most people don’t think about brands, they just get on with their lives. The coffee they buy, the supermarket they go to and petrol station they visit happen almost by accident. In Britain today we are too busy to think through these everyday inconsequential purchases, focused on saving time, not forgetting something or rushing from place to place on a tight deadline. So do brands matter and if so why and how?
Consumer Choice
Let’s start with the basics, the consumer has choices, endless choices if they choose to use them, but in many everyday cases as in my examples above, the consumer sacrifices those choices for simple expedience. The inability to see (or value) brand differentiation, between Starbucks and Costa, between Tesco and Morrisons between BP and Shell, and yet they each fight for space in consumers minds through tiny differences which if we stop and think about do actually exist and we the consumer do actively value.
Despite what marketing people passionately believe most people don’t think about brands, they just get on with their lives. The coffee they buy, the supermarket they go to and petrol station they visit happen almost by accident. In life today we are too busy to think through these everyday inconsequential purchases, focused on saving time, not forgetting something or rushing from place to place on a tight deadline. So do brands matter and if so why and how?
 
Perception is Everything
Consumer choice is therefore the perception of the brand we hold at the time of making that purchasing choice. It is the conscious decision consumers make based upon how they feel about the brand at the time they choose to consume that product or service. So a brand needs to be more than just an image, more than just a recognisable label and more than just a mission statement. What makes a great brand is the sustained feelings which it provides its customers.  That brand presence, the perception in someone’s mind is an accumulation of all the marketing elements which are planned into the deliver of that product and service to the customer.  Often just called the extended marketing mix (the 7P’s) which define the areas of proactive marketing which integrate together and support any brand from Poundland to Rolls Royce.
A brand through is also more than cold marketing elements pulled together, it is also the feeling and values which underpin any brand. Its culture and ethos coupled, codified and defined by its leadership are essential elements in creating and sustaining any brand. When you are thinking about a brand, its not just the branding, it is so much more and it must all start with the customer.

Where Does Tomorrows Growth Come From?

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Where does tomorrows business growth come from explains why it is important for leadership to use business planning tools to effectively plan their growth.

Being successful in business is all about seeing the bigger picture and understanding future growth. For a business to grow and develop the leadership team must invest time in stepping back from the day-to-day operations of the business and focus on working on the business, click the slide presentation below to learn why….

Strategic Planning Workshop

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Successful business planning is about developing your strategic plan for your business based upon proven business development tools. The Strategic Planning Workshop pulls these together into a single process, which takes the guesswork out of your business success.Taking the guess work out of your business success is a step-by-step process which develops business owners skills to strategically plan their business to take advantage of emerging markets, emerging trends, develop and launch new products.Strategic planning also enables companies to make structurally improvements to their business to improve its profitability, reduce costs and enhance productivity.

Strategic planning workshop is a proven method of developing and implementing success see www.cowdenconsulting.com

Slideshare of Strategic Planning Workshop (click to open).

Leadership is all about VISION

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Leadership IS all about Vision

Successful leadership is about vision, great leadership is about planning your business using business planning tools to match their ambitions to the opportunities in their market, using tried and tested planning tools.

Successful business owners step back to work on their business not in their business. Looking at where they are going and why. What are the opportunities within your market and sector over the next few years. Business Planning is a process of assessing options using tried and tested business planning tools, which provide robust and accurate options for business owners to grow their business successful.

Leadership is all about VISION from Richard Gourlay

Content Strategy: The future of marketing

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The future of marketing is all about inbound marketing: Content strategy

If you can see a trend you have missed it!

In a world of continual change seeing what is happening is often difficult to understand until the paradigm shift has occurred. Many companies are struggling to stay ahead or even in the game of online marketing. Many companies are moving towards online marketing content strategy or as marketing people call it inbound marketing. This major shift in culture and one needs to be fully understood.
 
I have just had an old-fashioned marketing communication from a well-known brand, asking me to make an immediate purchase offering me a FREE upgrade for a new phone, my automatic response is not to be interested, at all because they have not demonstrated that they understand my specific needs. That made me thinks and write this article to explain why in today’s online world that old marketing technique is now as un-effective as a double glazing salesman offering me 50% off!
 

It’s a complete shift not just an add-on

In a world where everyone is online all the time, the amount of information is drowning people, from Linkedin to Facebook and Twitter the rise of smart phone connectivity has promised much change to marketing but until recently only early adopters, high value and niche players could see what it meant to the marketing process.
 
  
Like many changes, it is not until the change becomes tangible does its impact become visual to many marketing departments that enables them to successfully influence a company’s marketing policy. This is considerably harder to convey when there is no tangible evidence of marketing results attributable to hard to track invisible marketing shift. Unlike the shift to direct marketing where direct connectivity between outcome and result can be seen through a transparent return on investment, online inbound marketing is struggling to demonstrate its effectiveness.
 

Pace of change is outstripping understanding

Currently content marketing relies heavily upon invisible and poorly understood online activities. Simply put, the rate of change is outstripping the knowledge base of the marketing industry, creating a gap between the understandings of marketing by decision makers. The routes causes of this is that not only are customers sourcing information in newer ways but the platform they are using, the Internet indexing is also changing ever faster, Goggle will make over 600 changes to way it scores content. Rapidly changing customer preferences, coupled with changing technologies and an ever changing platform results in the lack of certainty of what is working and why. By the time you’ve worked out what works it has already changed.
 

Content Strategy also creates confusion.   

Content strategy marketing process, one that now focuses on creating online and open platform engagement, online PULL; rather than internally controlled PUSH marketing methods, traditional marketers often struggle to understand the process let alone feel uncomfortable with the concept. This is not unreasonable, given the history of marketing in the last 50 years has always focused on the traditional pipeline of generating and then controlling customer decision-making, content marketing turns that on its head. People investing in inbound marketing are asked to spend money on losing control of the potential customer by letting them make an open decision about how and when they engage with your brand.
 
In the mid 1990’s I remember designing a website to support a brand. No one was interested until it was live and people could see something online. A director then said, “That’s great let’s print it off and send it to all our customers”    
 

Dialogue NOT monologue

The inbound marketing process is about generating an open dialogue, rather than a structured marketing process. It lets potentials, prospects and suspects move in and out of your control while they select you, rather than being controlled by you.
 
The Content Strategy Process
  1. Listening – Online is now the first port of call for 78% of web users.
  2. Creating – Great content that answers need and demonstrates expertise.
  3. Engaging – Is about being talked about and developing a dialogue with audiences
  4. Transforming – Is about continual engagement, moving them from suspects to purchasers
  5. Growing – Requires creating perpetual momentum developing new and developing loyalty
 
Traditional marketing models of developing engagement such as AIDA are still highly valid but instead of just focusing on a immediate winning proposition through a grabbing hook, attach a liner and sink them in a simple linear model for winning customers. Content strategy marketing demands  multiple engagement tools which include cross referencing other parties creating competitive collaborative working to generate awareness, giving away FREE content in white papers coupled with fast and slow acquisition tools in decision making.
 

The strategy needs to be explained better

Moving to a content strategy is about moving from PUSH to PULL, not about the Internet platform, it is about understanding the importance of open unrestricted dialogue rather than material generation and in reality it is not just about the Internet although this is where its impact is being seen today, but equally will encompass every marketing platform and process. The growth of mobile technology will further the pace and realisation of content strategy.

Have you felt the full power of the Internet Tsunami?

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Have you felt the full power of the Internet Tsunami?

Have you felt the full power Internet Tsunami?  
Has the world moved for you, or did you miss it? The world of business has shifted but many businesses don’t seem to have noticed the great shift in power away from companies to the customer.
We all see the impact of the Internet in every market sector, well above the growth of online shopping or the growth of smart phones and the online move of insurance and music online. While these shifts and the responding growths of new consumes are just beginning to be understood, this is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
The Great Paradigm Shift
As our understanding of this shifting paradigm slowly emerges and evolves. It takes time for its impact to be fully understood and its impacts to be really appreciated. In the same way as the impact of the introduction of domestic electricity, which subsequently facilitated the introduction of the radio, which spread communication, did in previous generations. So the rise in power of the Internet is more than just our ability to look stuff up and buy consumer goods online.
This paradigm shift has certain key features, which makes the rise of the Internet generation far more dramatic in its impact to business today.
Unlike many previous innovations, the move online has been done in an infinitely scalable way, making it financially accessible using technology which is therefore low cost and software which is build on open and shared platforms. Rather then being a premium service only open to the super rich, such as the introduction of the car or the television, which limited the accessibility of the technology to those who could afford it, the move online has been introduced to all levels of society.
A Global Movement
This global shift, supported by governments and industry to reach and penetrate all and every strata of society and on an almost global reach is a new global phenomenon creating a universal shift.
Whether in New Guinea or Newfoundland, you can get a 3G signal, with many countries like India and China just leapfrogged the copper wire landline systems of the 20th century through large parts of their country’s moving straight into the 21st century, avoiding unnecessary cost and rapidly accelerating progress throughout their country.  The Arab spring was not achieved by any three letter acronym news agency or Rupert Murdock’s media empire, but by new young mobile online generation who created, sustained and drove the rolling revolutions.
The result of the internet revolution is that the world has made a huge step forward almost overnight and that has changed more than just the way we buy some products, it has in fact changed the way we think, and act.  This universal overnight movement has also solved the adoption dilemma for new technology. For companies to achieve a launch of a new product or service they had to achieve certain volume and this can now be achieved without geographic boundaries and often bypassing traditional routes to market, achieving profit without having to invest huge amounts of capital in awareness marketing.
Empowered Intelligence
This paradigm shift has moved the way we think to such an extent that everything has changed. When in 1906 Admiral Sir John Fisher invented the Dreadnought in 1906, the Royal navy had 1,000 ships of the line, the Dreadnought made them all redundant overnight. Suddenly and globally, to be a superpower it was not the number of ships you had but how many Dreadnoughts you had and a new arms race had begun as every other battleship become redundant.
In the same way, the introduction of always available high speed broadband has made so much of business thinking redundant, not just in the collapse of use of directories such as yellow pages, dictionaries or our communication. Today people have empowered intelligence, the ability to become informed by scanning a QR code, or connecting to a highly rated source they can become more than informed, they can become actively empowered.
Networked Learning
The internet is now driving people to think and do things in different ways across many age and economic cohorts. Its not just the young buying music or consumers doing their shopping online, although both have delivered huge shifts in culture to these markets.  People’s first mental response to knowledge and decision making is now to click, look-up and become informed.
No-longer relying on our embedded historical mental heritage or through experts’ advice, people are now researching and networking their knowledge and our learning, widening knowledge and creating expert communities on almost every subject matter possible. For example to become an expert on social media you could do an online course or you could click onto Mashable and become an expert within hours. Anyone and everyone can become an expert, exposing consumer and business choice to new forces and opportunities.
You may have heard the old adage that there is more computer power in a simple watch today than on the Apollo 11 spacecraft which took man to the moon. People have at their finger tips more knowledge about companies than even the most informed company is aware off. Users groups, expert forums and review sites empower and drive decisions, in a far more effective way than traditional marketing channels can persuade customers.
In just in the same way that the Arctic Monkeys pioneered emerging through an online community following, rather than through the plugging and playlist approval to get on the radio. Today the same today is true of consumer both in consumer and business markets.
The power of the internet is yet to be fully understood. For some it has been like a Tsunami, just as a record shop or an insurance salesman. To many others though it is an unseen force, they know its there but not what or how it operates and effects their business. But it is and it will. The sooner business wakes up to these changes the better placed they will be to compete without feeling they have one hand behind their back.

The power of WHY to consumers

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The power of WHY to consumers

Will they BUY?
In the old days people used to buy what companies did, what they made, where they sold it and bought what they promoted. That was the age of big marketing and sales budgets, when big adverts worked, by driving demand through pushing products down channels, offering promotion and celebrity endorsement to generate business.
The age of the Unique Selling Proposition we are special because….. so you will buy! It was the 1980 and 1990’s so the world did as it was told: “we make what you want because we tell you want you want because we know about your needs”.
Honest is essential
Then ethics came into play. As the internet began its infancy, the power of globalisation was laid bare by the internet. people asked more about how companies did things? Where were products sourced and how became important. Why were the premium footballs, such as those which David Beckham kicked, being made by blind children in India for a few rupees. Why were the clothes models wore being made in sweat shops where workers earned less than for a dollar a day?
The internet changed how the media could communicate, explaining how household names operated and could afford those huge marketing budgets. This forced companies to change their practises (not their policies though) by educating and fighting back against the likes of Naomi Wolfs’ No Logo expose for example.
How business operated mattered, and so in response companies upped their awareness of their social impact and visibility through corporate social responsibility. How people did things mattered not just when the likes of Bhopal and Exxon Valdez disasters struck, but in everyday life.
Fair-trade has become a household name in consumer goods, with high street stores vying for credibility of having an ethical policy, supporting local goods and having transparent policies of how they operate. This gives more confidence but leaves companies open to further scrutiny and often to unsatisfactory answers to vital key questions, not at least within developing countries, who are now the fastest growing emerging markets for many brands.
Why! – should I buy from you?
The biggest question which consumers and business now asks people is why businesses are doing these things.  Everyone has become so empowered with information sources that people want to buy the WHY, not the what. Buyers want to understand the ethics of the company and importantly the people behind the decisions it takes. Customers want to know that these decisions accurately reflect the real cultural and values that company has, not just the marketing hype, which the brand portrays. Today this is the real power of the internet.
What’s the real purpose of the company, who and what is driving it and what does it really believe in and stand for. No longer is a small donation to a local charity enough to say it supports the community, customers want to know how much, who gets involved, is it company wide and deep or just a year end tax saving.
What do the decision makers really value, their life story, their values really matter, and how they treat all their people now determines as much if not more in buyers minds than the value the products communicate.
In fact the world has changed completely, confidence comes not from what you say but why you are saying it. The educated and informed world means that its not just politicians who have seen their reputation tarnished but any business in any sector who does not explain it why factor.No matter what sector you are in, understanding the still emerging power of the internet in sustaining your reputation is essential and never more so than in explaining why you are in business and why you matter.

A good business starts with the end in mind: have clear objectives.

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A good business starts with the end in mind: have clear objectives.

Vision

Having a vision is vital to be successful in the long term, but having objectives will ensure you get you there. Clear milestones for everyone inside your company, top to bottom are the essential component of a successful company. Every successful company has clear goals, strategic ones the outrageous ones (global domination) through to achievable tactical objectives.

Without clear (SMART, see below) objectives company’s loose focus on its goal. Without objectives companies can fall victim to strategic drift, this month’s whim and next month’s quick idea.  Without cascaded objectives at every level, good people’s morale falls as they cannot see where how they are contributing to the company’s success. Without objectives everything else in planning and execution is a waste of paper, time and effort.

Objectives

Objectives should be like a pyramid, with the big objectives at the top, but at every layer underneath there should be the sub objectives that make the bigger one happen. A well run organisation should therefore look like a pyramid, in terms of objectives, with everyone working on their goals which build up together to achieve the big picture goals. This form of management managing by objectives MBO, (not to be confused with a management buy-out MBO), allows people to focus on their objectives, which are aligned to higher goals.
Try not to have too many objectives to achieve. I always recommend no more than 5 per person. The reason why 5? Because it keeps people focused and not drowned in statistics. Even at the company level remember the old KISS concept of simplicity, if you have page after page of objectives some will suffer unless you can resource them. Focus on what really matters to the business, what drives performance and how are they made up. For people think about their Key Performance Indicators, KPI’s they are doing a good job if… Classical KPI’s usually include: revenue, margin, customer numbers, retention, growth, production, saving, are amongst the most common.

Setting Objectives

High performance companies often drive all their goals by setting team objectives which are then broken down into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each individual employee. Try not to give any individual or manager too many. An easy way to achieve that is to ensure they can remember and recall them with ease when you meet them.

    The benefits of setting objectives:

1.       Objectives define the entire purpose of your business (or unit) in a couple of sentences or bullet points or set of numbers.
2.       Objectives are often identified as key performance indicators at the individual persons performance.
3.       The objectives that you set determine the quality of the strategy or tactics that you will adopt.
4.       Goals allow you to Manage By Objectives MBO which avoids time in argument and also helps in introducing a more participative management culture where employees are encouraged to set their own objectives.
5.       Clear KPI’s per person is a successful way to evaluate performance as long as the KPI’s are numerate or translatable into a numerate language.
Remember SMART criteria to define attributes of good objectives:
That is:
·         Specific
·         Measurable
·         Achievable
·         Realistic
·         Timely
 SMART criteria include:
1.       Both short range and long range targets should be set.
2.       Both quantitative and qualitative
3.       Clear. Put them in writing, to be achieved within a specified time frame.
4.       Measurable. So that they can be compared with actual results.
5.       Challenging. This is so that staff will put greater effort and be more motivated.
6.       Achievable. Avoid overly optimistic goals as this might be counter productive due to their demotivating nature. Goals should be realistic, reasonable, reachable and beatable. Avoid hidden goals and don’t be over specific.
Hope that gets you thinking? Want to learn more click here 

The TOP TWELVE Business Planning Mistakes

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The TOP TWELVE Business Planning Mistakes

 
Business planning is often talked about as a challenging process to go through either to start a new business or as the essential process of taking ownership of an existing business. Many business plans fail to achieve their objective, not because they represent a bad idea but because they fall into classic business planning pitfalls or fall over blinding obvious credibility cliffs.
 

The business-planning process is in itself a very worthwhile pursuit, they take a lot of effort and resource. A business plan’s primary purpose is to convey an idea with a view to achieving a specific goal, most typically in securing funding. 

What makes a good business plan is less clearly defined.

Always remember that a business plan needs to be tailored to its target audience, if you have different audiences you will need to be able to flex your plan to that audiences specific needs. That means shaping it, edit it and amending it to achieve your objective.

 
If you would like to know how to avoid these top ten pitfalls and credibility cliff edges then click on the subject titles which are links at any time to see my step-by-step videos on how to avoid these pitfalls and credibility cliff edges.
 
#business #planning #errors and how to #plan your #busienss #successfully by Richard Gourlay
Business planning is a vital activity for any business to succeed.
 
Here’s the top twelve business planning mistakes I come across most frequently:-
 

1. Lack of Viable Opportunity

Every business plan needs to describe the opportunity in detail. It must also detail how that opportunity can, and will by this plan, be exploited profitably, effectively and successfully.  A good business plan can visualise the opportunity and articulate the company’s ability to reach a viable opportunity, this is a credibility cliff.
 
Tomorrow is a difficult place to plan for, but being able to identify and make that opportunity viable is the most critical test any business plan has. It is also the most common reason they fail. Your executive summary and the wider plan describes the viability of the opportunity in terms such as:-
 
  1. What is the problem which people  will pay to have solved?
  2. Does your solution solve this issue for a specific target market?
  3. Why would someone buy your solution over someone else’s?
  4. Why are the benefits of your offering so compelling?
  5. Can you reach that target market with a compelling message quickly and directly?
 
 
 

2. Unbelievable / Unsupported Financial Numbers 

Where any assessment of a business starts and often finishes is at the numbers, specifically on the projected Income Statement or Profit & Loss. Projections are just that, but they are vital and must be based upon clearly stated assumptions. Many business plans are written with numbers which just do not stand up even to a first glance.
 
Dream numbers: in overestimating income and understating costs.
 
Your numbers have to make sense and be realistic, if you are a new start-up then they must grow rationally from nothing, but costs will be incurred before turnover is generated, these need to be realised and recognised in your financials.
 
 The financials must also make sense and be presented in a format which presents a clear case for the investment and the return you will deliver. Ultimately, they need to be credible, defensible and consistent.
 
 
 
 

3. No Accessible Route(s) to Market

 All opportunities are only prospective ones without evidence that the target market can be accessed profitably, this is a big cliff to fall over.

 
Entrepreneurs are inherently product focused, concentrating their energies on ‘the winning idea’ to the exclusion of many other important elements such as how they intend to access their customer base, a classic cliff edge for any plan.
 
 
“Built and they will come” is a great dream but a poor plan.
 
 
A business plan must include a comprehensive, credible and costed analysis of how the company is going to access their target market in a cost effective manner. Too many plans focus on the product not the market opportunity, they focus on teh solution not the problem they are solving.
 
For that to happen your plan needs to really understand the target customers, their needs, and purchasing priorities. Turning historical data into information and drawing knowledge from it ascertain insight into their future purchasing habits. Only then can you demonstrate cost effective routes to market within a business plan.
 
 
 

4. Executive Summaries Which Aren’t

Somewhere between a pitfall and a cliff edge, is the failure of the Executive Summary, to be either a summary or aimed at executives. The only part of any plan that will certainly be read is the Executive Summary and yet they rarely provide an effective summary of the business plan. A good plan highlights the key proposition of the plan and sells the proposal.Too many Executive Summaries either throw everything down in a jumbled mess, making them pages long and randomly pulling facts together, or they are so bland they say nothing!What’s a good Executive Summary, one that states the proposition clearly and succinctly, a page is sufficient for any plan. The Executive Summary should clearly explain the whole picture including what investment is required and what it will deliver. The point of an Executive Summary is to inform the executives, so many it punchy, outcome focused and only ever write it at the end.

5. Over Estimating Turnover  

Another associated key element of the plan which relates to this element is the estimations of projected turnover.
 
While every business plan talks in positive terms (hopefully), the obvious and persistent danger is that the innate optimism of all entrepreneurs and their tendency to exaggerate every business opportunity. If you have no established routes to market then you need to identify the start-up period within your turnover and cost model. This has major implications for cashflow and on where investment will be needed, which all experienced investors will expect that you have taken into account. 
 
This pitfall is most easily managed using a realistic method for estimating income is to calculate the number of customers the business intends to capture and the average revenues. These two averaged inputs are easier to calculate and also to justify within a business plan.
 

6. Absence of Clear Objectives 

I could have put this pitfall at number one very easily. What is the main purpose of the plan? 

If the plan’s objective is to seek funding then it is vitally important to clearly describe the investment opportunity. While the plan describes the concept in detail, it must also address the primary purpose of the plan. So many plans fail to make it explicitly clear what the company’s needs to be successful or what the investment will mean to the company.
 
A good business plan answers the following key business planning questions:
  1. Why investors should investing in this business rather than anywhere else?
  2. When will they recoup their initial investment and how and when it can be realised?
  3. What is their expected return on investment?
  4. How the company has managed all aspects of risk? 
  5. Is the investment merely cash or do they need to bring other assets such as expertise to the table?
If you can answer these key questions, the intended audience will feel comfortable and be able to recognise that they fit the brief.
 
 

7. Non-Existent Cashflow Management

Particularly relevant to a new business, this is often an invisible cliff edge which business plans fall over on, is the ability of the business to articulate the differences between cash and profit. Running out of cash is the highest risk any new business or re-engineered business faces.
 
Good, positive, and conservative cash flow management is vital when businesses pursue investment opportunities where there are significant cash flows out, in advance of the cash flows coming in. This is the classic business plan cliff, which sends potential investors running.
 
If a business plan’s financial model is based upon selling on credit, then they receive the cash in the future, but need cask to pay expenses before that income hits their account, then they have a cashflow risk. This outflow of cash is the single biggest reason companies fail, its not margin, its rarely the product, it is invariably that they run out of cash.
 
 
 
 

8. Non existent Management Teams

Throwing a few CV’s into a business plan does not create a delivery team. Likewise a generic organisational chart with missing pieces and TBC (To Be Confirmed) is not going to inspire confidence  with investors to part with their cash.

Entrepreneurs can often sell an idea but they do not always inspire they can select a balanced team of people with the right skill mix, from the financial management to key leadership roles and the right operational team to deliver your ambitious plan.

Having a structured management team with operational structures is essential for success. Track records matter, as much as having clear roles and responsibilities laid out in delivering the operational plan which underpins the business plan.

9. Poor Evidence of Demand

A significant area of concern when planning is justifying the sales forecast or demand levels for a product or service. This breaks down into the two main elements used in forecasting: the use of historical facts and the dependency of subjective assessment.
 
Sales forecasting, is the vital tool to identify the basis of all projected revenue figures that can be considered credible in the wider context of the plan. Unless there is verifiable demand for the idea, the risks grow out of all proportion, particularly if the initial start-up or investment costs are high.
  
Minimising risk in a business plan is all about gaining an understanding the potential demand and how the company will with this plan create or drive that demand rather than concentrate on ‘the product or the idea’. This classic cliff edge is a silent killer for investors, they don’t believe in it.
 
 
 
 
 

10. Gaping Inconsistencies

 
An effective business plan needs to be consistent throughout as all the various strands are brought together into one single entity, the plan. It is pitfall which entrepreneurs gloss over, but investors relentlessly prod before committing to any plan.
 
If there are multiple authors of the plan the risks of inconsistencies will exponentially increase. Extrapolating data can also cause problems, using research data and then jumping from possible market size to sales potential and then sales forecast are classic pitfalls which need to be thought through.
 
Presenters of the plan must have a simple narrative that runs through their plan, using key facts and staying ‘on script’ so as to ensure that a cohesive story is communicated. The numbers must also be consistent with the broader content so that there are no contradictions between them.
 
 

11. Not Appreciating the Competition 

There is always competition. Yet the number of times the phrase“there are  no competitors” appears in plans is considerable.
 
It does not matter how unique the proposition is there will also be some other business competing for people’s money. While there may not be a direct competitor it will certainly be a transfer investment that customers will be making. The business plan must recognise where the customers invest is coming from. If competitors are not identified in a business plan then the only credible assessment is that the company has not been diligent enough in its research.
 
Also remember that no company lives in a vacuum, as soon as you launch (or before) the marketplace will change. What will the competitive landscape look like in a few days, weeks, months or years? Can you create or establish significant barriers to entry, or is it likely that a successful market entry will be followed by better-placed competitors with greater resources, etc
 
 
 

12. Throwing Your Plan Out Too Soon

You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.Your plan needs to be right the first time and the content needs to be accurate, clear, concise and correct.
 
More often than not business plans need to be completed by a certain date and hence the final stages can be rushed, a classic pitfall.
 
Consequently, in many instances the final output does not do justice to the plan. Attention to detail at the end is vital, so ensure you have a completed plan with references and formatted correctly. Also ensure the content of the plan has been edited down to a digestible size, use appendices for details.
 
 Get someone removed from the process to proof the plan. If a presentation is part of the process, it should reflect the Executive Summary.
 
 
In Summary The Top 12 Business Planning Mistakes are caused by:-
 
Business plans by definition have a purpose of communicating a course of action so make sure they do that primary role. Support inevitably means resources with the primary aim of the plan often being to secure financial investment. Explain the invest what it will be used for and how it will be protected from these classic pitfalls and cliff edges.
 
Writing a successful business plan is all about preparation, about being as thorough in your research and planning as is possible. By avoiding the cliff edges and pitfalls above, the chances of the plan objectives being met increase substantially.
 
If you would like to know how to avoid these classic business planning pitfalls then why not click through to my step-by-step video: How To Take The Guess Work Out of Your Business Success, click here. Or read more about strategic planning ond business planning in my blog.