Strategy: out compete the competition

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Sustainable Competitive Advantage 

Few companies can lay claim to that holy grail position for any length of time, here are some that come immediately to mind: Ferrari, Rolls Royce Engines, Hoover, Apple’s Iphone and Ipod, Boeing, Walkman, Sky, Microsoft Windows, are all good examples of companies who have achieved, or are holding it today.

 

How to outcompete the competition 

In mature (and often saturated) markets developing a unique strategic position can give a business sustainable competitive advantage. A sustainable competitive advantage in any market is the holy grail for business owners. To be somewhere that your competitors aren’t, and to have something that cannot be taken away, is what every business leader wants to achieve in setting up in business, and  dreams of achieving. It is one clear defining way of out competing the competition is to develop a sustainable competitive advantage in a market

Dyson

To be recognised as the market maker, such as Hoover, whose name is synonymous with vacuum cleaners, gave the Hoover brand unbelievable control of the market for most of the 20th century.  Hoover, the brand leader owned the global market, with an unparalleled history, and complete market dominance.

So what changed? A loss of focus and desire to continue to own the market coupled with the airplane ticket fiasco which opened the door to new competitors and to one man in particular James Dyson  who grabbed the opportunity to replace Hoovers’ once held position in the market launching his own Dyson brand through technology shift of his cyclone bag less vacuum.

His passion, created from vacuuming at home and becoming frustrated, seeing the cyclone idea at a sawmill which then took 15 years, 5,127 prototypes to turn into a winning product, which today benefits upon 60% recommendation purchases and has allowed Dyson to spin his cyclone technology into air dryers and washing machines.

 

Features of Strategic Competitive Advantage

What are the key features of sustainable competitive advantage for any company in their market, well here are the most commonly found top five:-

  • Charge a premium for its services; even low cost suppliers out price other low cost suppliers.
  • Lead the market through innovation; will get to market new ideas quicker or in a more dominant way to shift the market to your agenda.
  • Controls the key channels to market; from buying decision processes to pricing structures.
  • Owns the pace of change within the market; from technology development and consumer mind set, being the pace setter in the market.
  • Control of buyer activity; the significant majority of the Share Of Buy (SOB) and Share Of Space (SOS) decsions through its dominance.

Sustainable competitive advantage is an extremely difficult goal. Most successful brands only ever achieve their pinnacle manage to reach a challenger market position, one that challenges existing perceptions within a market.

Creating dominant sustainability requires leadership with a clear vision of where the company is going and where the market opportunity exists. It takes leadership with passion dedication and drive for a brand to succeed in moving form a challenger brand to one which can dominate and sustain that domination of its market such as Dyson to succeed. For men like James Dyson the advantage was that he was in the right place at the right time, with the right product that enabled a technological shift in the market with his bag less vacuum.

If you want to develop your company’s position then there needs to be a vision for it, where it is going and why. If your look 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.

Values matter in BUSINESS more than ever as Ikea have found out

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In today’s information driven world, how you do business matters as much as the business you do as Ikea the iconic Swedish furniture retailer has just found out. Its green credentials have been dealt a massive blow, as it failure to support sustainability in its products leaves customers questioning its real values as a business.

Ikea only 16% sustainable wood 

Ikea’s failure to achieve its own most modest target of 30% of its wood products to be from certified sustainable wood, will damage it its credibility heavily with its key audiences. The fact that it only hit 16%, has a massive blow on the values it professes as promoting sustainably sourced materials and to its environmental positioning, compared with Homebase (78%) and B&Q (77%), which won the best green award 2010.

The excuse given in its defensive press statement is that it has sacrificed the values of sustainability for rapid growth and protecting its profitability (£2.3billion), but short term greed like this can cost dearly on both growth and profitability over the long term.

Ikea’s staff not telling the truth 

This corporate failure was made worse by staff telling customers in store that its products are from sustainable sources, when they are from illegal logging in places such as Russia. This insatiable drive for growth, which so often undermines trusted names, may damage the Swedish brand’s position as the leader in the flat pack market significantly, as it will now undergo microscopic environmental and customer scrutiny.

Ikea’s soft “long term” aspirational statements on their website with links to the Rainforest Alliance are unlikely to be seen as enough in the modern world where green wash marketing such as this are quickly exposed and penalised. When the spotlight of the green world is turned on, it is difficult to hide in the shade.

The World Bank suddenly in the late 1980’s promoted its ‘green credentials’ by promoting itself as having employed ‘an environmentalist’, to offset its image of chopping down forests for cash crops. This green wash story was quickly exposed when it was pointed out the World Bank employed some 5,000 economists, what difference would/could one environmentalist make?

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 quieten 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.

Values are in the detail

Values matter, they define the real differences between companies. How British Airways treats its customers through the values it embeds in its entire organisation is what makes it different to other premium airlines and distinguishes it from them, and from the bucket providers such as Ryanair.

However, as everyone de-layers in response to changing business models, cost and modernisation requirements, values can be lost in the rush to modernise and compete in new ways. BA’s changes to its premium dinner menu, introducing exotic main courses such as crocodile and ostrich sounded good but simultaneously cutting the After Eights, so there was not to go around 1st class passengers was a classic example of getting its values wrong in its customer’s eyes.

Values Must Involve Everyone

If you value your customers then remember everyone needs to smile in their role, if you believe in providing excellent customer service then don’t cut your front of house staff numbers.

Too many companies’ ideas of communicating values are to place a statement on a website, brochure, at reception and on the induction training programme. How many companies look at the strategic advantage of values and embed it into people’s roles, asking staff to define their role by those values by redefining their role to live those values?  How many companies review those values as outcomes in winning and retaining customers?

 

Values as seen by Customers and Employees

Customers, potential and existing, are drowning in choice what makes you stand out to them is the values you own and can demonstrate. Statements on walls and websites always sound good, (possibly, because they are written by marketing people who do not work there) but unless the company lives them then they do more damage than good. Over promising and under delivering is a growing experience for everyone today.

Whether it is a London hotel, stating it’s exclusiveness, as evidenced by its 5 star, pretty pictures on the website of its presidential suite and over the top statements such as “sumptuous 5 star accommodation” the jaw dropping price tag. When you turn up and find a broom cupboard with not enough space to turn around in let alone swing a cat, and you are one of 500+ rooms filled with bus loads of tourist on a package holiday then company values are under pressure.

The same is equally true for staff, why should people stay loyal to you if you don’t live those values and enshrine them in every one of your people. Do they live it or lip service it?

New company’s leadership must create true values 

New companies have the unbridled opportunity to define their values from the start. By building them into their business model throughout the entire process from the beginning, providing value and clarity with every new role and new person, they can use their values to maximum leverage for attracting their chosen customers and staff.

So Googles’ “DO NO HARM” value won many plaudits, breaking down the concern about the is was then rightly questioned by their policy in China of being seen to be supporting censorship (try typing Tienanmen Square Massacre into Google in China it never happened!). Now there is a good argument that rightly says any Google is better than no Google, but the contradiction against their stated values upset many Google Supporters elsewhere in the world.

Your values should come from within. What do you stand for? What does your company do? How should everyone do it? What does excellence look like? Some classic questions to understand the values you offer. I often ask people to think of an animal or car which best describes there organisation

Keeping Values Alive       

Established companies inherit values, often without realising they have them in place, “its how we do it around here” type phrases are often values hidden inside everyday activity. Keeping values alive is often hard in rapidly changing under-pressure environments. Changes in leadership, particularly when cross industry leadership is introduced or when new pressures are introduced from changing ownership for example often end up throwing out the hidden value of a brand in the race to achieve short-term results.

Everyone entering a company, particularly top executives, must understand the core heritage values any organisation has, how they are owned and expressed. The best way to achieve that is for new people to present those values back under peer group review and add to them with the changes they intend to introduce. New products/services need to incorporate core values and learn to demonstrate them in new ways as new channels of communication are opened up.

Values checklist 

  1. Are your values visual to your team and customers? 
  2. Does everyone know your core values, have you checked?
  3. Can all your people translate them into their daily role?
  4. Do people see the company values in other people’s roles within the organisation?
  5. Do customers comment on those values in their dealings with your company in formal and informal feedback channels? 

If you can only answer confidently to only points one and two then you are not living your values as a business. If you cannot hand on heart even answer those two them its probably time to look at your values in a lot more detail. Spend time to think through what you and your business stands for and get in touch if you need any assistance in creating values which matter to you.

Do you have a vision or are you just a dreamer?

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No matter how big or small your business is without a clear vision of where you are going owners and directors often fall into the classic trap of just managing from day-to-day.

Envisioning the Future

Leadership is about investing time, envisioning the future and effort to see into the future and imagine how things could be, is as important for success as having real passion for the business and the determination to create something new. These three personal qualities of leaders are vital for successful companies and a vision statement, sometimes called “a picture of your company in the future”, but it’s so much more than that.

Vision Statement

Your vision statement is your inspiration, the framework for all your strategic planning. A vision statement may apply to an entire company or to a single division within that company.

The vision statement answers the question, “Where do we want to go?” What you are doing when creating a vision statement is articulating your dreams and hopes for your business. It reminds you of what you are trying to build. A vision statement is for you and the other members of your company, not just for your customers or clients.

Visionary goals should be longer term and more challenging than strategic goals. Collins and Porras describe these lofty objectives as “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.” These goals should be challenging enough so that people nearly gasp when they learn of them and realize the effort that will be required to reach them.

Most visionary goals fall into one of the following five categories:

  1. Targeted – quantitative or qualitative goals such as Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
  2. Common enemy – focused on overtaking a specific firm, becoming the number one in that sector, such as Amazon: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
  3. Role model – to become like another in a different industry or market, the mirror role, Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) “Right from the beginning, I said I wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic”.
  4. Internal transformation – creating internal vision, GE set the goal of “Becoming number one or number two in every market it serves”

While visionary goals may require significant stretching to achieve, many visionary companies have succeeded in reaching them. Once such a goal is achieved, it needs to be replaced; otherwise, it is unlikely that the organization will continue to be successful. The second most dangerous place for a company is to have achieved its only goal, the most dangerous place is never to have had one.

Creating Your Business Vision

Simple steps to creating your vision, ask some simple questions:

  • What will our business look like in 3 to 5 years from now?
  • What new things do we intend to pursue and how?
  • What future customer needs do we want to satisfy?

Write the answers down and focus on developing them into a coherent, motivational and purposeful message which can connect with everyone.

Then Question:

  • Does our vision statement provide a powerful picture of what our business will look like in 3 to 5 years from now?
  • Is your vision statement a picture of your company’s future, which everyone can interpret into their role?
  • Does it clarify the business activities to pursue, the desired market position and capabilities you will need

If your statement answers these questions then you have a vision worth owning and sharing. A vision must be motivational to everyone inside an organisation.

The classic apocryphal story to demonstrate the effectiveness of great visions is about the time President Kennedy visited NASA. During one trip he came across a cleaner sweeping the warehouse floor, and asked him what his job at NASA was. The cleaner replied “My Job is to put a man on the moon, Sir.”

Now I don’t know if the story is true, but it’s inspiring. In a facility full of high-powered individuals and great minds, even the cleaner was completely on board with the strategy. While you may not be planning to put a person on the moon, we can learn a lot from the story. It may sound ridiculous, but every business needs to be a little like NASA.

Great visions can create an unstoppable company

 

Every organisation needs to have a clear vision, owned by everyone inside and outside it. An owned and shared vision creates and sustains great morale and internal strength for companies, which can become a powerful and unstoppable force in any market no matter how competitive.

At Cowden Consulting we focus on ensuring companies can successfully compete in their chosen or desired market.

Like to learn more then get in touch with at Cowden Consulting.

Are you on a MISSION or just a dreamer?

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One of the most important pieces of any good business plan is to define what you do and where you are going as a business. If you do not define what you do and where you are going then why should people work with you or for you? Defining your purpose as a business is the clearest statement of intent any director or owner of a business can make, and yet one of the most misunderstood and avoided pieces of any business plan.

Why is it avoided? In my experience directors are most often frightened of making a commitment of what they stand for so as not to alienate any existing or potential customers who may not fit the proposed mission statement. This contradiction, not wanting to say what the primary goal of a business or organization is, means that many companies try to be everything to everyone, ending up being meaningless to everyone.

This failure to define a mission is also one of the biggest limitations companies and organizations have in creating clear blue water between them and other players in their market. It is why so many companies struggle to stand out and then expect someone in marketing to try to answer that question sometime later. It is not up to marketing to define the purpose of any business or organization, they must influence it but it takes leadership from the top for a mission statement to be successful.  It may also be why so many companies have to spend so much on marketing to define them.

A good mission statement is clear, unambiguous, engaging and relevant to all its key audiences: namely its leadership, senior management, employees, shareholders and customers. A mission and a vision (but more of that later) provides a central definition of what a business or organization delivers.

Here’s a quick-step guide to creating a mission statement. Creating a Successful Mission Statement

  1. First identify your organization’s “strategic advantage” what makes you successful. This is the idea or approach that makes your organization stand out from its competitors; the reason that customers prefer you and not your competitors, what makes you unique, what are your core competencies?
  2. Secondly, identify the key measures of your success. Key success measures by which you can measure, Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s), typically pick 3 to 5 headline measures of performance.
  3. Thirdly combine your strategic advantage and success measures (KPI’s) into tangible and measurable goal.
  4. Define the wording, using clear language, until you have a concise and precise statement of your mission, which expresses your ideas, measures, and desired result.
  5. Now communicate it effectively so everyone owns the mission statement within the company, make it public and ensure it is owned from the top with passion.

Communicating mission statements effectively to everyone is a defining piece of making the mission live. After all the hard work in having one so often they are filed away, or framed and stuck on the wall and forgotten. Instead successful Mission statements are launched to everyone and owned.

I’ve run embedding program within companies to ensure that everyone inside businesses and organizations “own” the Mission and build it into their everyday activity.
If you don’t follow through then all the effort is wasted and the opportunity is lost, so remember to focus on making your mission statement memorable and relevant. The leadership also needs to own the mission statement and make it live throughout the company.
If you do this businesses and companies can achieve significant improvements which can include: building higher loyalty from staff, higher levels of customer service; improved stakeholder and channel support and lower costs for winning new higher value customers. These are just some examples of the benefits from having and using a mission statement successfully at the front end, one other major advantage is that you have a foundation upon which to build your business plan.
Good Luck: Want to develop your growth plan, use my business planning tool kit, click here to Take the guess work out of your business success  

 

Richard Gourlay

 

A good business starts with the end in mind.

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Here’s a simple question to any business owner, why are you in business? The flippant answer I often hear is to make money.  An honest, if not inspiring answer, but there is a fundamental flaw in that statement which many business owners fails to comprehend. They start a business, typically through experience in, or a passion for the field or because they have seen an opportunity to make money, but fail to achieve that ultimate goal because they fail to plan their end game, their exit strategy.

If you can’t get out making the money you intended to when you sell up then why did you set up the business in the first place? You have a great idea, you work on it, and spend your energy (and life) building it until it becomes you. It succeeds and you enjoy the lifestyle it brings then the challenge of maximising that income to free yourself up and retire or dd something else with your success.  That final stage often becomes impossible because you are the business and it is you, its lifeblood, main cheerleader and driving engine.

This typical scenario of being a business owner, is driven by the passion to run the business day-to-day overshadowing the failure to plan your exit strategy from the start. That is building a business with a clear objective to enable the owner to get out and maximising your income from what you have achieved. Nearly all business owners focus on building a successful business, not on making sure they maximise their returns from the successful ownership of the business.

The real payback from all that hard work in creating and setting up a business for an entrepreneur is the final payback, it is in the shareholder value being realised by a sale of that business. Few owners think about realising their shareholder value, being more interested in the Profit and Loss than the Balance Sheet when making key decisions about the business. That approach is effectively summarised in the phrase; the turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king, a great motto in the running of any business, but it does not hold true in achieving exit strategy success as a business owner.

Achieving shareholder success is the only motto to follow if you want to have a saleable asset, then owners need to focus of developing an exit strategy which achieve their personal goals.  While profit and cash rule the day, building a valuable asset requires building shareholder value, through building sustainable long-term profitability

Success in business requires owners to build a business which you own but are not concreted into the foundations of its success. Building a forward strategy for your business is a vital first step in building your exit strategy, it is the old adage that you need to work on it not in it which underpins all successful entrepreneurs.

Short-term profitability is always an important goal, but long-term share value is a strategic consideration which owners need to consider in building the value of their business. If you would like to discuss this article further or further information about our services in working with business owners in achieving  successful exit strategies then contact us at enquiries@cowdenconsulting.com or see our contact page for further options.

Like to learn more about leading a business then click here to buy the book with all the tools you need to become a better leader: Strategy The Leader’s Role by Richard Gourlay

 

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Success in Business: Starts with the END in mind

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Here’s a simple question to any business owner, why are you in business? The flippant answer  I often hear is to make money.  An honest, if not inspiring answer, but there is a fundamental flaw in that statement which many business owners fails to comprehend. They start a business, typically through experience in, or a passion in the field or because they have seen an opportunity to make money, but fail to achieve that ultimate goal because they fail to plan their exit strategy.

If you can’t get out making the money you intended to when you sell up then why did you set up the business in the first place? You have a great idea, you work on it, and spend your energy (and life) building it until it becomes you. It succeeds and you enjoy the lifestyle it brings then the challenge of maximising that income to free yourself up and retire or dd something else with your success.  That final stage often becomes impossible because you are the business and it is you, its lifeblood, main cheerleader and driving engine.

This typical scenario of being a business owner, is driven by the passion to run the business day-to-day overshadowing the failure to plan your exit strategy from the start. That is building a business with a clear objective to enable the owner to get out and maximising your income from what you have achieved. Nearly all business owners focus on building a successful business, not on making sure they maximise their returns from the successful ownership of the business.

The real payback from all that hard work in creating and setting up a business for an entrepreneur is the final payback, it is in the shareholder value being realised by a sale of that business. Few owners think about realising their shareholder value, being more interested in the Profit and Loss than the Balance Sheet when making key decisions about the business. That approach is effectively summarised in the phrase; the turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king, a great motto in the running of any business, but it does not hold true in achieving exit strategy success as a business owner.

Achieving shareholder success is the only motto to follow if you want to have a saleable asset, then owners need to focus of developing an exit strategy which achieve their personal goals.  While profit and cash rule the day, building a valuable asset requires building shareholder value, through building sustainable long-term profitability

Success in business requires owners to build a business which you own but are not concreted into the foundations of its success. Building a forward strategy for your business is a vital first step in building your exit strategy, it is the old adage that you need to work on it not in it which underpins all successful entrepreneurs.

Short-term profitability is always an important goal, but long-term share value is a strategic consideration which owners need to consider in building the value of their business. If you would like to discuss this article further or further information about our services in working with business owners in achieving  successful exit strategies then contact us at enquiries@cowdenconsulting.com or see our contact page for further options.

The power of WHY to consumers

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 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”.  This relied upon trust in a brand by the public, which in a pre-internet world gave the control of information to the brands.

Trust, the intangible combination of character and competence which all successful brands must develop and sustain is mad cup of a whole series of elements itemised below.  The importance of ethics in today’s business are essential characteristics which purchasers expect their brand to portray in all their activities. That makes it a key priority for leaders’ to focus on within their role.

 

Honest is essential

Then ethics came into play, as the age of information came into play in the early years of the new millennium. 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 (and their internal policies) by educating and fighting back against the likes of Naomi Wolfs’ No Logo expose for example.  The brands who recognised that they could no longer hide their activities became more open and honest and developed trust, while those which did not, suffered public shaming and demise.

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.

Ethically; 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. In today’s world the importance of ethics in today’s business cannot be understated for leaders to focus upon in their role.

Ethical Values Being Lived

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 it’s not just politicians who have seen their reputation tarnished but any business in any sector who does not explain it why factor.

It snot just whistle blowers who expose mal-practice in today’s world, everyone is communicating through so many channels, from traditional word of mouth, through social media and beyond into a connected world, where reputations must be transparent. As everyone’s voice matters, being ethically transparent, open and honest is now essential if a brand is to be trusted.

Winning customers is no longer all leaders have to focus on. Finding talented staff, channels partners and customers is now a multifaceted challenge for leaders to deal with. Ethical short-cuts damage brands reputation and those damaging allegations now stick, and become magnified to stakeholders as statements are now online, like a bad trip advisor review, it never goes. A tarnished reputation is exactly that.

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. The importance of ethics in today’s business has never been so important to establish and maintain.

Like to learn more, then contact us at Cowden Consulting or see our website or social media channels for more about Cowden Consulting:-

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Our services: business planning, strategic planning, business development, strategic marketing, Return on Investment, director development, director mentoring.

Cowden Consulting works with business leaders throughout the UK to improve their business.

Successful Leaders Plan Their Business

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Business planning often gets a bad press, yet those who do sit down and plan their business are so much more focused, confident, and successful than those who float along with the economic tide. Successful leaders plan their business, so they can focus on leading their team to deliver that plan.

Over the past ten years as a strategic planner we’ve worked with hundreds of business owners and seen how those that create a plan and implement it, do so much better then those owners who try aimlessly lead their business on a wing, a prayer or a dream. successful leader’s plan their business, so that everyone knows where they are going what their role is in achieving that success.

Business planning in business is an important part defining success

According the latest BERR report, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME’s) together accounted for 99.9 per cent of all enterprises, 59.8 per cent of private sector employment and 49.0 per cent of private sector turnover. SME’s really do matter to the British economy, and yet they receive little effective support from Government agencies despite being the backbone of the economy, employment, and innovation.

Why Business Leader’s Don’t Plan

“If you don’t make things happen, things will happen to you” Lanes Company

Having questioned business owners over the last decade the reasons why owners have not put a plan in place and executed it, the excuses range from not having the skills, make the time, or have the conviction of their thoughts. The number of owners  who know they should have a plan ‘we had one when we first started, but have not looked at it since’ is a common theme, as is being too busy fire fighting to realise that preventing fires starting is the best way to not have to fight them.

Do business owners not see the value in developing a plan for their business? On the other hand, is the classic perception for business owners that frenetically staying alive is seen as being successful? For many not knowing how to plan is one major reason why people haven’t and don’t plan their business. Where to start and how to know what they are trying to achieve immediately puts people off planning. Business planning is also often at fault, the most common reason people have a plan is to secure funding from banks, that’s when banks did fund business start-ups (now they just offer a high interest mortgage backed by the Government). Therefore, once people have received funding they no longer see the main advantages of planning (and the real advantages are not around money).

business planning for leaders to ensure success by Richard Gourlay
Business planning does not happen by accident

Business Planning Skills – Have some GOALS

“The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” – Lee Iacocca

Planning takes time, resources, (grey stuff) not the executive trip to some exotic away weekend planning, but some time allocated to review where you are as a business, how your sector and industry are performing and what you want to achieve in the future. Whether it is looking at the next year or planning the next five years, everyone who owns or directs a business is responsible for setting its direction. However, just having a plan in your head, with the classic defence of ‘its flexible at the moment’ is either ducking the responsibility or deluding themselves.

The only way to have a plan rather than a dream is to have it written down, turned (if it is not already) into an action plan which is resourced and owned by someone to deliver. Only then do businesses go forward in a deliberate purposeful way. Only then do the right things happen because you made them happen and only then can everyone, employees, shareholders, customers, channel partners and even other halves, see your dream, share your dream, deliver your dream. That’s when planning works. It is a written document, which lives within your company, and it doesn’t matter if you are a one-man (woman) band or running a multi-national Plc.

What Business Planning Delivers

“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” – Robert Heinlein
focus in business for leaders to focus on
Things that matter are having a business plan that works for your business as a leader

Planning provides focus in strategic direction, its provides clarity of where the business is and where it is going as well as a vehicle for getting from where you are to where you want to be. Planning time provides time to reflect on personal and corporate goals, time to share and channel new ideas while reviewing existing activities.

Planning in a structured and open format develops clarity of purpose and a clear understanding of the organisational and individual skills people have and can use to leverage advantage. Bringing in outside views widens the planning horizon, which can drive businesses forward, which is why many successful businesses use non-executive directors or outside specialists to help drive their business forward. That is one reason why so many people volunteer to get support from people like the Dragons from Dragon’s Den, they are looking for expertise and advice which gives them confidence to go forward as much as the money.

British business owners need to plan, more often to keep being successful. Good planning creates and sees opportunities as owners and directors lift their heads up from the daily grindstone. How often should you plan? Well it all depends on the speed of your market’s evolution, but even stable and stagnant businesses should review their business every year, and not just a light dusting (add ten percent and change the year) but strategically review what and how well they are doing.

It is only by looking for fresh opportunities and how to take best advantage of them, by planning your business around those opportunities that companies successfully compete in today’s business environment.

Business Planning is not a four letter word

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage” Jack Welch

The old adage, compete or get beat, is more relevant today than it has ever been. The rise of the Internet means there are no secrets, competitive advantage lies with those who can see an opportunity and adapt fastest to take advantage of it. Those owners and directors who see and go for opportunities become the stronger ones, and that is where good strategic business planning provides it real advantage. That’s why successful leaders plan their business to achieve that success.

By orientating a company to where it can retain better, win new and develop existing customers companies that plan their success out compete in their sector, and equally importantly have everyone focused on where they are going. From the smallest to the biggest every business needs to have a plan that is written down, owned and guiding your business in the direction you want it to go.

Good Luck

Richard Gourlay

@richardgourlay

www.cowdenconsulting.com

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.