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Make Time to Plan

an image of a clock - time to planThe fourth quarter is nearly here, and your head is probably in go-go-go-for-the-holidays mode. That’s good – you’re supposed to make hay while the sun shines, right? But the risk is that you’ll wake up one day soon, the holidays behind you, and immediately become stressed over everything you’ve failed to do for your business while you were focused on production and sales.

Don’t go there! Life is a series of recommitments, and those times of recommitment are critical to our continued growth. September is an excellent time to review your business progress and recommit to your strategic goals. Pull out your calendar right now and look for one day in the month of September to focus entirely on business planning, goals for next year, and projects you’re ready to take on. Making time to plan is one of the most important things you can do as a business owner.

It’s Scheduled . . . Now What?

To begin, decide if your planning day will be a day for just you or if you want key members of your team or important advisors to join you.  In most cases it is useful to include others for at least part of your planning. It’s easy to get stuck in our own assumptions or perspectives. Inviting others to participate can present new ideas and challenge old ones.

Assemble key information about your previous year. At a minimum you need:

  • Sales Revenue by Month
  • Cost of Goods by Month
  • A report showing customer performance, including how much business each customer did with you the past year, which customers you lost (did not purchase in the past 12 months) and which customers you gained.
  • Detailed expense report
  • Summary expense report showing total expenses for labor (salaries and benefits), sales and marketing (including non-employee commissions, trade shows, photography, promotions, advertising, etc.) and facilities (rent, security, etc.).
  • If you had goals for 2013, list all goals and your accomplishments for each.

Prior to your planning day, decide where you will work. If you can’t work in your office without constant distractions, plan to work somewhere else. Your planning is too important to sacrifice it to perforated attention.

The Planning Day

Spend your first two hours examining the reports you assembled. Ask, and answer, the following questions:

  1. How has my revenue been in 2016 compared to 2015?
  2. What have I done differently (if anything) to change my revenue in 2016 (positively or negatively)?
  3. Did my Cost of Goods go up, stay the same, or go down? Why?
  4. Did I gain more customers than I lost?
  5. Why did I lose the customers I lost? Were the losses intentional or unintentional?
  6. Am I spending my money on the right things?
  7. Did I spend enough money on marketing and promotion (including Trade Shows) to generate the amount of business I planned to do?

Now set your financial goals for 2017. These goals include:

  • Revenue goals for 2017
  • Cost of Goods goals for 2017
  • Net profit goals for 2017

Spend your next hour or two contemplating your customers. Your customer mix determines your success, so it is essential that you consider whether or not you are serving the right customers. How do you know if you have the right customers? The right customers want more of what you are comfortable giving. The wrong customers constantly ask for things that feel off-track to you. For example, if you are Neiman Marcus, customers that hound you for lower prices aren’t a good fit. But if you are Wal-Mart, you expect (and feel comfortable with) customers demanding lower prices. All customers want more of something from you; the question is, are the things they want the things that are right for your business?

Create a visual model that will help you cultivate more of the right customers and less of the wrong ones in the year to come. Draw a vertical line down the center of a piece of paper. On the left side, write the names of your very best customers. On the right side, write the names of troublesome customers who are expensive to serve or just aren’t a good fit. Once you have listed the customer names, draw a horizontal line under them. In the space below, write the common attributes of your “good” customers and your “bad” customers. Look for patterns and similarities within the two groups. Now create your Customer goals for 2017. These goals include:

  • Total number of customers (existing and new) by end of year in 2017
  • Total number of new customers in 2014, and the specific attributes you will seek in those customers
  • A specific list of the customers that you want to (gently) let go in 2017

Once you know the types of customers you want to add in the coming year, consider where to look for them. What media (magazines, internet, social media, events, etc.) do your “good” customers respond to best? Chances are, the customers you seek pay attention to those channels as well. Create a list of all the marketing promotions, advertising, and events you did in 2016. Circle the ones that did not perform as you expected. For each marketing activity you circled, consider why it wasn’t successful. Was it the wrong venue with the wrong type of customers? Did you fail to prepare properly for it? Did you learn something from it that will make you more successful if you try it again?

Do a similar activity with your successful marketing promotions. Why were they successful, and what can you do to increase the success in the following year and find more opportunities like them? Once you have analyzed your past marketing efforts, it is time to review your sales and marketing goals for 2017. I say review, because you have likely already committed to some trade shows and advertisements already. Your review and goals should include:

  • Total dollars you intend to spend on marketing in 2017. Revise if, after analyzing your customer and marketing plans, you think the number should be changed.
  • A list of the marketing activities you plan to participate in. Be prepared to cut plans you have made for marketing activities that you no longer believe will be successful, or to add marketing activities you hadn’t previously considered.

After setting your customer goals, it’s time to move on to operations. Review the goals you have already set and the thought processes that got you there. Then answer this question: What operations must I excel at in 2014 in order to achieve my marketing, sales, customer, and financial goals? Your final goals will include a list of each operational improvement you must invest in in 2017.

If you take the time to plan for 2017 in this way, you will start your year focused and recommitted to business success. You will also reclaim the excitement and energy that come with feeling prepared.

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