Strategic Planning

Make The Most Out Of Your Business Planning This Year

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To quote a song that will hopefully be an earworm for you, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” This song has been my jam as we enter into the second week of 2018. 

Why?

Because it’s, “Time for you [and your business to finally] to go out go out into the world.” 

Ok, sorry. 

I’m done with the lyrics. 

But the song applies to the post I promise. 

In order to talk about accountability and growth in a non-cheesy and meaningful way it means you have to accept that some things will have to change and what better to serve as a natural inflection point than the New Year. I want to help you kick start your accountability, business planning and goal setting from a slightly different perspective. To do that I’ve prepared a few things I want you to consider as you’re finding your stride in 2018. 

Here are five things that I would offer anyone looking to start the year off right. 

1. Inventory everything. 

Now I’m not saying that you need to painstakingly document every pen and paper clip but for the love of Mike, please have an idea of what you need to do/have to bring your product or idea to fruition. If you want to start a gym then have an idea of what the minimum amount of equipment you’ll need to open your doors. Have a business that sells a physical product - make sure you have some in stock before you start advertising them. Have a restaurant then make sure you have the ingredients to provide what you have listed on your menu. Everyone is always busy and even more so this time of year so ensure your customers stay happy by making sure you have what they expect you to have when they are ready to engage with you. 

2. Cash Flow. 

Ever been on a cruise ship? Well they know exactly what they need as cash inflows from each passenger on the cruise to make it a profitable one. They have inventory and supply chain procedures that would give Wal-Mart a run for their money. Understanding your cash outs and ins is something that small businesses don’t pay enough attention too. Most of the time, in my experience, they just pay the bills as they come in and deposit the revenues for the day. That’s all well and good but what kind of analysis are you doing so that you can keep steering your business in the right direction. Just because you’ve managed to keep your doors open (physical or digital) doesn’t mean that you are successful. It just means you’ve been paying your bills on time. Plus how do you know what’s working and what’s not if you aren’t keeping score on how efficiently you are allocating your resources. 

3. Time Management. 

How do you keep track of your hours in the day? I’m not just talking about the billable time or the time that you play shopkeep. I’m talking about all the rest of the work that needs to be done. Are you making time for the administrative tasks appropriately or are you just throwing everything into an office and hoping that as more time passes things will just work themselves out. Time is just like money - it’s a scarce resource. You want to make sure you are doing something to so that you are maximizing the time you choose to be working. Remember just because you throw hours at a project doesn’t mean it’s going to be good - I’d take deliberate and focused time over brute strength over-work any day of the week. Extra point: make sure you make the most out of your sleep time. I’ve just started tracking my sleep habits and I’m already impressed by how little changes can make me feel amazing the following day. 

4. Don’t stop learning. 

There is always better ways to do stuff. There are always new tactics and lessons to be learned. So make sure you allocate some of that scarce resource, that is your time, to developing your skills. Personally I’ve been working on my Photoshop skills and I’m having a blast doing it. I will probably never dawn the title of graphic designer but understanding Photoshop will help me deliver better products more efficiently to my clients. This could apply to leadership, being an entrepreneur, a language, and even managing Quickbooks. (I would definitely recommend Freshbooks though if you are looking for a finance manager.) 

5. Stop saying and just do. (Just in case you need a little more support.)

In the last 2 weeks I’ve seen a plethora of articles and posts all about getting you to achieve your goals. Everything from journaling to sharing your goals on social media to create some accountability. While those tips are great they aren’t going to do what needs to be done to get your goals accomplished - you are!! Why would I tweet something if my audience can’t really hold me accountable? Facebook statuses fly by with the speed and fury of a passing fighter jet and most people are just creeping their friends or friend’s photo’s - is that really a place to tell the world you are ready to take your business to the next level? I’m guilty of this too. I download productivity habit tracking apps, I journal for revenue growth, and I’ve even told my friends and family of new happenings. Sometimes those things don’t happen and it’s because I (and you) are great rationalizing machines especially when something feels or seems like it will be work. To get past that you have to start and keep yourself on an action train. Start doing and then keep doing - it’s the only way you will get things done. The GTD is an example of a method that is really great for helping you strategize but don’t get too preoccupied in the planning. Sometimes “good enough” is what you need to get on to the next task. 

I hope this list helps. I know they all aren’t necessarily connected but each of them is important if you want to get your business or life moving in a positive direction. Especially number five. So to recap: take stock of your stuff and money, keep learning to keep yourself as efficient as possible, do work, and limit how long you spend playing in online scavenger hunts for a few laughs. 

Like I said, I’m a people too, and I get a little lost and depressed sometimes too. Over the last week or so - I’ve been making a conscious effort to shake that and put my own advice into play. I don’t like complacency and I’m leaving it behind. Feel free to join me! 

Take Control Of Your (Business's) Money

Has it been a month already?! Well, I'm back and you're going to see some new and interesting (I hope interesting) formats coming your way. 

Late summer is an interesting time of year. Lots of business owners will tell you that August and December are their worst months because their customers disappear. While I have a whole bunch of problems with that kind of thinking the one counter I want to offer in today’s post is that this time of year (and in December) is a great time for a  little reflection in your business.

It’s important to pick your head up from working on deliverables to make sure you're making decisions that keep your business moving forward - in the way that you want. That means taking a look at how your managing your money everyday. Whether you’re just starting out or running a 7-figure business, understanding your budget will help you make better decisions when it comes to making bigger time, monetary or relationship based investments. And yes, even if you feel like you don’t have any money you still need to think in terms of a budget.

In today’s post I am going to walk you through the concepts, tips, and tactics that go into organizing your cost structure so you can price as strategically as possible. This post is going to explore the major cost questions and concepts that you should be considering when you are bringing your good or service to market. The goal is to avoid what I’ve seen so many other entrepreneurs do and just use mental math to think about the costs of doing business – and ultimately get themselves into a lot of trouble.

To start you need to understand that there are two kinds of costs, well there are more than two but, let’s start with the two big overlying arches of costs. There are explicit costs and implicit costs. Explicit costs are costs relating to money that is used to purchase your resources. That can be inventory, wages, works in progress, and even the packaging your products or service go into. They are probably the costs that you are the most familiar with because the money comes right out of your pocket.

The other category of cost that is a little sneakier to nail down is the implicit cost. An implicit costs is the cost associated with the opportunity either lost or gained in choosing how to use your resources. It’s also known as opportunity cost. Think of it as the cost of what you give up to gain something. It’s these two broad concepts that are at the hinge of every business decision you will make. You have to decide not only is the money your spending worth the resource you're spending it on but, what else could you spend that money on – could that money be best utilized in some other part of your business?

In answering the “what if” cost questions you have to break out your costs a little more to get a better understanding of how money is flowing out of your business. You do this by breaking your costs down into two major categories. I know another pair of terms but these are costs that you can put directly into the cost analysis worksheet that goes along with this post.

The first are variable costs.

Variable costs are costs that vary with your level of output or production. These are costs that are either growing or shrinking based on how busy you are. If you’re a restaurant owner it might be the produce you purchase that week and if you are a small service provider like an attorney it might be the amount of letter head you print. As you need more stuff to bring your product or service to market you need to spend a little more money. It’s crucial to keep track of these costs over time as they will not only help you keep your pricing competitive and profitable but they provide some insight on how your business is doing in the long term. You might be able to discover your busier times of the year or get some insight on how successful your advertising is for example.

To best track your variable expenses think about them in small groups. You don’t have to list every single purchase you have but think about the types of purchases you make regularly that may change over time. Are they office supplies, perishable food, wages, manufacturing costs, etc? Based on your level of activity you may even be able to negotiate lower costs per unit/purchase with your suppliers. Trying to discover ways to create strategic relationships with the people or businesses you buy from is a great way to keep those variable costs as low as possible and to protect that profit margin of yours.

The second type of costs to isolate are the fixed costs.

And, just like their name sake these are costs that remain relatively the same over time. These are the costs that you might not have input in and just have to pay as part of operating your business. They might be costs associated with rents, utilities, bank loans or notes, business or property taxes, mortgages, interest payments…I think you are getting the idea. Again these are costs will not change with your level of output. These types of costs are usually set by contract and can be revisited periodically.

If don’t have many fixed costs now I would encourage you to think carefully about the contracts or agreements you get into as you ramp up your business. Incurring overhead costs aren’t 100% avoidable but you can try to insulate yourself by doing your own due diligence and even just having open conversations with your providers about the type and stage of your business. Just like your variable costs, don’t lump them up into one number. Go through each month and pick out the groups of costs you are responsible to keep track of. It’s important to drill down a bit with these because you can revisit them periodically to negotiate rates and payment terms as you develop a history with your creditors.

When you add up all your variable costs and fixed costs you get to see your total costs. I encourage you to break these costs out over a monthly time span because that’s naturally when you’ll be paying for them and it’s a little easier to visualize how money is flowing in and out of your business. That monthly cost figure you arrive is called your cost of production and you can do a few neat things with it.

First you can divide it by say the number of hours you worked or the number of products you sold that month to get an idea of the average cost per unit. Remember, this isn’t how you should be directly pricing your product or service but it is a good idea to see how your costs are spread out over your business each month.

You can also use the worksheet. This worksheet is a great tool as not only does create a visual for your biggest cost drivers but it also maps it against a Pareto Curve. If you’ve ever heard of the 80-20 principle, this is the same guy. That curve is a guideline for efficiency. Guideline not a law and it might not always be appropriate for you.

It’s a starting point.

What this curve shows is where you might be able to find efficiencies in your costs. Costs that are consistently outside of this curve should be explored and attempted to be reduced. Now in some cases you might not be able to with say a rent cost if you are already signed into a year long lease but, that’s not to say you shouldn’t be thinking about a possible move or negotiation later on.

Use this worksheet along with your financial statements to develop as deep an understanding as possible in your costs. Keeping them as efficient as possible will help you keep you profitable in good economic times and even not so good economic times.

Make The Second Half Of The Year Count!

Today I want to just jump right in and talk about the mid year review process. It’s the middle of June which makes it an excellent time to hit the pause button on your business activity to take a look at what’s going on inside your business. 
 
I want to talk about why that’s important and give a few tips and actions you can take and try out in your business. 
 
Let’s start not in the middle but at the beginning of the year. 
 
At the end of every year you hear all kinds of stuff about setting resolutions, getting your annual plans, budgets and setting your business strategy for the year. It’s all rally cries and 4 hour strategic planning retreat or exercises. 
 
That’s all good stuff because for a short time you are forcing yourself to get crystal clear about what you want and how you’re going to get it. At least in an idea generating-optimal resource allocation-best case scenario planning kind of way. 
 
But, unfortunately, like well intentioned weight loss resolutions, after a few weeks, most businesses fall off the resolution wagon. Falling off your over idealized business resolution bandwagon doesn’t have to be a bad thing though. 
 
See, strategy and plans need to be more fluid. The trap is that as soon as you get in the flow of doing your business there are lots of pressures that a business owner has to deal with, that maybe weren’t accounted for or aren’t included in any of that early planning. If you built a rigid plan with maybe a few unreasonable or unrealistic expectations, there’s a chance that you get a little discouraged and throw the strategic planning baby out with the bath water. 
 
That’s when most businesses chalk up that whole process as not being worth it and validate how they feel by claiming that quote, this stuff doesn’t work or all that advice sounds great for everyone else but not for MY business end quote. 
 
That makes my heart sad. 
 
All that resolution and early year planning work is important for a lot reasons. They are the same reasons why they are important in the middle of year as well. 
 
Reasons like: 
 
Taking stock of what you’ve accomplished to date and look for constructive feedback on areas where performance is lacking. 

Discovering and eliminating possible roadblocks that are keeping you from achieving your goals.

Adjusting goals because people's tastes and expectations can change over time.

Getting information from you clients or customers about their satisfaction.
 
Making sure in the course of doing business you’re honoring what’s important to you - those would be your mission and values.

And, last on my abbreviated list here is making sure that you’re getting the most out of your time, money, emotional energy, patience and the list can literally go on in terms of the resources your business needs to thrive. 
 
I think you get the point. What happens is during the year we get busy. Get busy trying to do all the important things that help keep the people that we serve happy and returning as customers. But that leaves room for unclear strategy to creep in. Unclear strategy and conflicting priorities reduce your business’ performance and profits. 
 
That’s no bueno. 
 
So here is a list of 3 actions you can take during your mid year review process to help get your business back on the tracks you laid back in January. 
 
Gather your data. Every business has data. It might be a little different but start gathering. Start putting together things like client/customer sales, how many times you engage with customers, how many times do you have to engage with a prospect before they make a decision, how are you measuring success with things like social media or other marketing channels, what are all the steps in your process from customer interest to close, how much time are you spending doing admin stuff, or networking?
 
I’m hoping you get the idea. Then once you have all that in front of you and in some kind of way that makes sense you can make your way through some of the bigger questions about your business. 
 
Start with the big questions like: 

Where are we?

What do we have to work with?
 
Where do we want to be?

How do we get there?
 
What you’re trying to suss out are the mechanics of your business. If this were that weight loss new years resolution review what you want is to see how your body is doing now compared to the beginning of the year and have you been doing what you said you were. Then whether you were or not take a look at what’s happening right now and try to work out how you can still get to success if you’re a little short or if you are blowing your fitness out of the water what’s the next set of goals you can work to. 
 
After the mechanics I want to get into the experiences. 
 
A very important part of the review process is getting clear on what you want the people who interact with you to experience. They can be the same or different for all the different kinds of people your business interacts with. Everyone you meet is not necessarily someone that will listen to your pitch and you have to be comfortable with that. At the same time though you want to make sure that whoever your audience happens to be at the moment when they walk away, you did your best to be authentic in terms of your mission and values. This is getting at the heart of what’s important to you. 
 
In terms of our weight loss goal again, it’s like if you were using one of the many MLM weight lossy kind of products and all you did was spam social media asking people to buy or plan some kind of party. If taking your fitness more seriously has transformed what you want to do to reflect helping other people embrace their fitness is spamming <insert mass marketing weight loss gimmick> really the best way to get that conversation going. Probably not and if you’re like me you’ve already muted a few friends that have done that. Sorry friends muted friends if you’re listening. 
 
This last piece is about digging deeper on the “How” question from the first part. What you need to wipe from vocabulary from this point are vague business success generalities like: Make more sales, get more customers, have more engagement, set more meetings, coach more clients, make more stuff. 
 
Get the idea? 
 
Move away from the generalities and start quantifying what success looks like. How many more sales do you want? How many more customers? What kind of engagement? How many more meetings? How many more coaching clients? How much more stuff are you making? 
 
Once you get specific you can start to break out your schedule and allocate the time or other resources you need to allocate to hit those goals. You should have an idea because you already did the work of pulling the data. It might be more than finding the groove in your schedule. WHen you are looking at your business, you need to get clear and incremental on the actions you need to take. 
 
I mean, if you were a client of mine and said ok my goal is to get 30 new customers this year I’d say great so what are the steps you think you need to take to get the next client? That’s how you start. If you make your way through enough next’s you’ll be able to make your process a little more streamlined every time and figure out the tricky little things that work and tease out the things that aren't working so well. 
 
That’s it! That’s your review process for the month of June. You didn’t have to start from scratch and hopefully you're just building on the momentum you’ve been growing from the start of the year. I hope that the reasons I’ve listed are compelling enough to help you work through the three steps of getting your data and answering the big q’s, then working on the experiences you want to create, and lastly getting granular on the work that needs to be done to finish the year successfully, however you define success. 
 
I’ve just finished this process for myself and realized that success for me has changed a bit and that’s not a bad thing. My personal review process has shown me how I can take what I’m working with and authentically use my strengths and resources to finish the year strong. 

4 Strategy Mistakes To Avoid

We all make mistakes in our businesses - no surprise revelation bomb there.

Part of growing a business is constantly learning from past decisions. It’s about getting savvier about the information you collect so you can continue to serve your market well. Making mistakes in your business isn’t inherently bad though. It provides an opportunity to collect feedback, to adjust a product or service, or to get your business back in line with its values and mission.

Making mistakes gets to be bad for your business when they are constantly costing you dollars, goodwill and market share. Making lots of mistakes makes it harder for your customers to know, like, and trust the experience you are offering.

I can’t stop you from making mistakes in the future (I wish I could do that for me!) but, I can give you a little insight around the most common mistakes businesses make in terms of strategy. This post is going to walk you through some of the most common strategy mistakes and how to avoid them. My goal is to have you evaluate your entrepreneurial efforts and be able to actively recognize falling into any of these strategy blunders.

When you can see a strategy mistake coming you can work smarter to correct it and continue to move your business in the direction you want.

Common Strategy Mistakes

1. No strategy at all.

This is number 1 on the list for a reason. Having no strategy is the worst mistake you can make in your business.

Why?

No strategy means you are just arbitrarily making decisions about how you are bringing value to your customers and how you are deciding how to spend your time, money, or effort. It also means that you are only measuring broad business performance indicators like “sales” or “revenue”. Using those measure isn’t bad but when you aren’t measuring them for any part This is the same thing as hearing someone say that their strategy is, “to be the best”. It sends shivers down my spine.

When you have no strategy you allow your business to be subject to the ebbs and flows of every single consumer and you run the risk of wasting resources. How can you be competitive if you aren’t working on getting the most value out of your own time, money, or effort?

2. Getting your business or industry wrong.

As an entrepreneur you are probably really close to the work that you do. That’s awesome because that means you are committed to deliver as much value as possible! That makes defining the market you actually serve hard to identify - especially when every resource you read talks about the importance of identifying your perfect niche.

It’s important to take a step back and look at the market you serve in terms of the alternative choices your consumers have to engaging with your business. Here’s an example: if you are in the “paint and sip” business you aren’t just competing against other “paint and sip” businesses you are competing for all entertainment dollars. Consumers that spend $25 - $45 per ticket per person could also spend that money on: dinner and drinks, taking in a live show, going to an IMAX 3D movie, etc.

Being able to communicate your value and create strategies that will help you capture those entertainment dollars is what you should be focusing on - not what you think you direct competitor is doing (at least not all the time).

3. Are your strengths really your strengths.

Generally businesses fall into one of two buckets. They are either awesome at delivering the best experience possible for their customer or they are really great at delivering value as efficiently as possible. All businesses have to do a little bit of both but there are only so many resources that get to be divided up during the day.

You can’t focus all your effort on your customers and all your effort on being as efficient and as effective as possible. You can’t be all things to all stakeholders so you have to objectively evaluate your business and pick out your strongest capabilities. You can’t have competitive advantage if you are trying to be the best at everything all the time. Also if you still think, “trying to be the best” is strategy please go back and read the first point.

4. Listening to all your customers.

Feedback is an amazing tool for helping you and your business be as valuable as you possibly can. Making constant changes based on all the different feedback you are getting will wreak havoc on your business and on your strategy. Strategy, and your business, shouldn’t be about making everyone happy. Your business will find its best successes by choosing a very deliberate market to serve and then committing to serving that market well.

It’s really easy to get distracted when it comes to strategy because the allure of doing more to appeal to more with the hopes of earning more is a hard bias to shake. Lastly, if you are listening to every customer all the time how will you really be able to test anything in your business. It takes time to build interest and to get people to know, like and trust you.

Constantly changing parts of your business can send an inconsistent message to your customers - which does not bode well for building loyalty and advocacy.


Creating strategy and communicating it well throughout your business is hard enough already. Don’t make it harder by making these mistakes!

4 Ways To Start The New Year Off Right

For the last post of 2016 on the Disruptive Strategy Co. Blog I’m shooting for a callback to the blogs of yesteryear. (For those that don’t remember yesteryear, it was a Wednesday and I mean the cool thing blogs did from 2000’s to about 2013.) Today’s post is a round-up of posts/articles that I think are really useful in helping you kick 2017 off right. There’s a ton of great stuff out there about business development, goal setting and entrepreneurship so rather than adding more to the pile I thought I would help you spend less time searching for what to do next and more time taking action.

Plus, I mean, there are only so many articles you can read about planning before you are essentially numb to all things New Year Resolutions so hopefully this list mixes it up for you.

Below are four posts/articles from across the web that I believe are worth your time and that if executed on will help you get farther than anyone else inspired by the New Year. (The links to the articles are in the sub-headings.)

1. 7 Steps to Achieving Any Goal in Life - Entrepreneur

This is a great article because creating SMART goals get’s a lot of lip service but not in a really useful way. Let me explain. SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals are easy enough to understand conceptually for people. That’s usually as far as most people get in trying to set goals. They understand that this is an important framework but often overestimate their own abilities and set expectations so high that the goals they set get abandoned. This article makes SMART goals SMARTER by adding a few extra letters to help keep you on track and actually achieving your goals. The E gives you the opportunity to evaluate your progress along the way, acknowledging that goal setting is more than just a two step process - set and achieve. The R gives you permission to re-adjust because life isn’t always as easy or predictable as you think it’s going to be. If you’re setting goals this week this post is a great way to help frame what you’re working towards.

2. 6 Ways Work Environment Shapes Your Productivity - Fizzle

In this podcast the folks at Fizzle talk about how where you work impacts the quality of that work. You might not think about it but, your environment plays a big part in the amount of stuff you get done in a day. If you’re looking to start the New Year off with a productivity sprint then you should definitely give this a listen. (I think they are the perfect blend of entertaining, engaging and instructive.) They talk about the importance of separation, making changes, organizing your browsers, ergonomics, clutter and lighting. Take control of your space to get better results with this podcast.

3. Forget the Resolutions - Write Your Personal Manifesto - Strategy + Business

This one is for those of you that have plans of continuing to take action long after the January New Year Resolution Honeymoon phase passes. It’s also not a “quick” exercise. Going through this process if going to take time but it’s going to help you find the warm squishy core of what’s important to you and bring it up to the surface so that you can keep it top of mind. This manifesto that you build for yourself is going to help you stay motivated and fuel you when it feels like the hits from 2016 are continuing to push their way into 2017. (RIP George Michael)

4. How to Create a Social Media Content Calendar for a Year - Social Media Examiner

Whether you’re a small business, a corporate ninja, a weekend warrior or a person with an internet connection you need a social media planning tool to help you avoid being “that” person that shares a little too much in their feeds. If building a brand is important for you in 2017 then you’ll want to make sure that you’re giving your audiences the quality and consistency that will keep them coming back every day/week/month. This post will walk you through creating an excel calendar that works in holidays and lets you see how your content maps out thematically throughout the year. If you’re serious about going pro in the New Year you have to stop winging it. Winging it takes time and attention that you need to be investing in the value you are delivering.

Bonus (Video) Post

5. Shia LaBeouf “Just Do It” - YouTube

“If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.” That is my favorite quote from this one minute video. I know that this was one of the biggest memes of 2016 but at it’s core he’s right about a few things when it comes to motivation and getting stuff done. Everyone needs a little jumpstart now and then and while there’s no direct takeaways from this maybe Shia’s message will give you the boost you need to take massive action.

I hope that you make the most out of this “dead week”. 2017 is essentially here and I hope that I’ve saved you some search time so that you can start to dig into the work that matters. See you in 2017!

Oh and...

JUST DO IT!

(Sorry couldn’t help myself.)

Your Strategy Is Not Your Mission Statement

Your strategy is not your business's mission and it’s not your values.

Those types of business development concepts help to shape business strategy but, they are not themselves your strategy. The choices you make around things like who your customers are and are not, that’s strategy. The markets you choose to participate in, that’s strategy. Lastly how you are going to provide so much value that you can’t be ignored, that’s strategy.

Strategy has to (at least in the beginning) be deliberate.

When there is a disconnect between your strategy and what’s going on in your market you end up with a growth problem. The growth problem is your inability to take the actions you need to take to go out and get the right kinds of customers for your business. You start chasing everyone in the hopes of improving top line revenue.

Yes, there is a wrong kind of customer.

As an entrepreneur you have to deliberately choose how you are going to try to get new customers, measure  your efforts as you attempt to land those customers and continue to develop how you communicate to your customers. If it feels like a lot it’s probably because your strategy and the behaviors/systems you have in place to grow your business are misaligned.

Let’s start aligning.

Growing your business in a way that supports your mission and vision is what, in my opinion, most independent businesses want. You want to feel good as you’re growing your business. You have to move beyond just looking for those good feelings and clearly identify:

1. The specific need you provide for.

2. The specific customer you provide for.

3. Communicated (sold) in a way that is most responsive to your specific customer.

4. Continue to learn and develop your skills as a business developer.

Notice that none of those points have anything to do with mission or vision. Your mission is why you are doing what you do as an entrepreneur. It’s your motivation. Your strategy and business development behaviors are your how. Both of those need to be on the same page to be most effective.

Think about any high end ultra-premium car. Do they try to sell to anyone who may be in the market for a car? No! They are trying to appeal to a very specific kind of buyer. Their strategy to do so is perfectly aligned with their sales behaviors. The result? A market that will healthily bear the sales of the Ferrari 488 GTB starting at $249,150.

Sounds simple when you read it, right?! At the core of aligning your strategy and your business growth is your behavior. Are the sales behaviors and sales tasks you create in your business reflective of your ideal customers and market? Or, are you just out there selling to anyone that is willing to listen or read?

Everyday you are going to run into changes in your customer’s tastes and expectations. Technology will change. Culture changes and markets evolve. Your sales and growth behaviors need to adapt with the changes that are happening around you. If you have a clear strategy that you revisit often it will be easier to keep the integrity of your mission or vision. You’ll be constantly working at it and responding to change almost as quickly as it happens.

This is my challenge to you as the year comes to an end.

Think about how you are currently trying to find growth for your business. Do your day to day sales activities align with your business’ strategy? If they don’t you should really spend some time to get clear on the value you offer and to whom you offer it. Then build your strategy and sales activities from there.

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Annual Review And Planning

A lot of people think that this is the time of the year when stuff starts to slow down in their businesses. I get it. Lot’s of decorating, holiday traffic messes and shopping to be experienced. I think the exact opposite though. Well, not about the fun holiday stuff but about what the end of the year means for your business. When it comes to what you’re doing in your business and planning for it’s definitely go-time.

Getting your team or even just your thoughts together for an annual planning process is an awesome thing to do this time of year. It helps flush out new ideas, figure out what works, and gets your business to the starting position for 2017. I know it might feel like extra work but you’re already tidying up your business for year end so, you might as well sneak in a post-mortem while the environment is right.

Speaking from personal experience, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows to go through a process like this but it is worth it. It’s an opportunity to shine a bright light on the things that worked (and maybe didn’t work) so you’re 2017 doesn’t look like this again: 

I hope I didn't lose you after that clip!

Below you will find a few pitfalls to avoid and some helpful tips on making your planning and review process as effective as possible.

1. Avoid only planning for big benchmarks and outcomes.

Planning for big moments to hit in your business is more bad than good. It’s great because it gives you something to aspire too. It’s awful because you will probably do nothing until a week before the deadline and then spend a crazy amount of time and energy in underachieving and successfully burning yourself out. Instead focus on behavior, actions, or even the development of systems that will continue to push your business forward. Outcomes are great to keep in mind or even to plan to get to - but the point is that you have small chunks of actions in almost 2 week increments to help guide you to get to your big outcomes. It’s OK if you don’t make it too - make this year the year of adaptation and the art of the pivot!

2. Not everything needs a revamp.

All too often I see businesses chalk up last year as a loss and to decide to take a fresh look on  EVERYTHING. Stop it! When evaluating the previous year make sure you try to find and focus on things that worked. Think about the time and energy it will take to change everything, not to mention that it will be a totally untested set of processes. It’s ok to want to do better and to try to adjust to make up for lost time, money or opportunity. Just make sure if you are revamping anything you are setting up some way to measure those changes. Another crazy idea, do more of the things that worked great! Make sure you are rewarding team members, customers, and even well-wishing-supporters along the way.

3. Don’t just ask people for their opinions.

If you are part of a team that’s bigger than you it’s important to get feedback. Critical and objective feedback. The kind of feedback that takes time to prepare in advance. Just shotgunning a meeting and asking people on the spot about their experiences creates awkward social interactions, non-honesty, and feedback that’s not filtered as clearly as it could be. Give your people a heads up and give them specific items to bring to the table - play to your team's strengths! Everyone that’s sitting at your meeting table is a rockstar and will add value to the coming year’s plan if you create an environment for them to be successful. If you are a solopreneur you should set separate chunks of time to tackle specific issues. Trying to do it all in one sitting is a recipe for missed opportunity and will leave you mired in “should haves” and “could haves.”

4. Your annual plan should have things that people not only can do but will continue to do in the following weeks.

Annual plans are like New Year’s Resolutions in that if you don’t make them well you won’t follow them after the 10th or so of January. Focus on changing behavior and worry about the attitude or mindset later. So piggybacking off of an earlier point create actions that your team or you can work into your schedule every day that is not just extra work! Extra work gets left behind for what people perceive is more important and no one wants to try to operate by a plan that they aren’t connected to on some level.

We are still in the pre-2017 window. If you’re still batting around the idea of an annual plan make your way through these steps and get all your stakeholders on board. It will make for a more meaningful plan and one that you get to review in its entirety come 2017.

Simplify Your Mission To Create More Value

It’s the end of 2016. Regardless of the type of year you’ve had up (maybe more downs than ups) to this point, this time of year is always a good time to reconnect with why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s a great time of year to simplify, plan and connect. That means it’s also a great time to work on your business’s mission.

The process of working on your mission is a process I’ve developed and also use quite a bit. I wanted to make sure that I was taking my own advice and that it made sense before I just started dropping what could be conceived as just trite generic business guru nonsense. Not giving you nonsense is really important to me because mission is one of the strategy concepts that gets lost in buzzwords, jargon, and empty language.

Your mission, your why, is supposed to be the guiding beacon for your business. How then can you run a sustainable business if what you say you do is very different from what you actually do?

You can’t.

In terms of thinking about 2017, it’s still early. Very early. This provides you with an opportunity to dig in a bit through the month or in some quiet thought whenever you happen upon this post. What you’re digging for is clarity for two of the simplest and most difficult questions about your business:

1. Who are you serving?

2. How are you serving your customer in a way that matters?

Easy right?!

Now comes the part where I challenge you. You’re going to see some bullet points that I believe are the most critical things you should be considering when you are (re)sculpting your mission and setting up your business for 2017. Remember, it’s your mission that will weigh in on every decision you make, every resource you allocate and how you serve everyone of your customers.

1. Who are you serving?

Get as specific as you can and try to make it about one person.

  • What are their experiences?
  • Where are they emotionally?
  • What kind of values to they have?
  • What are their demographics: age, professional level, marital status, etc.
  • What kind of social or cultural environments do they exist in?
  • What is important to them?
  • What are they afraid of or what’s frustrating them?
  • AVOID AT ALL COST PHRASES LIKE: “small business owners”, “stay at home moms”, “entrepreneurs”, “people looking for a restaurant”, “students”...You get the picture, right?

2. How are you serving them in a way that matters?

You created your business because you identified a problem and figured out a way to offer a solution. It gets easy to get bogged down by all the day-to-day to-do’s to lose sight of why a customer would still choose you.

  • Why do your customers choose you? (Price is the worst thing to compete on by the way.)
  • Is your solution simple to understand and implement?
  • Is the problem you’ve identified changing with customer tastes, expectations or improvements in technology?
  • Is there something so special about what you do that it would be tough for competitors to imitate?
  • Are you serving customer needs or wants? (Your customers motivations will be different for each.)
  • Are you clear on how your customers measure success? Is it money saved, time saved, headaches avoided, education provided, etc.
  • Are you providing a solution that resonates or matches up with who you’ve identified your best customer to be?

I know making trade-offs and focused decisions are hard but when you are clear on who you serve and who you don’t serve your business has an exponentially greater chance at success.

After you think about those questions for a while and get your thoughts articulated your last task is to distill all that information into a sentence or two. Your mission should not be a paragraph or worse an entire page. It’s also not the how to manual on how your business does the business of its business. (Yes, I did that on purpose because a  good mission statement is serious business.)

If you’re looking for a little inspiration one of my favorite mission statements of all time comes from Starbucks. Pulled from their corporate website the Starbucks mission is:

To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

That’s a mission statement. Yours might not be as eloquent as that one on your first go around and that’s OK. Working on crafting your mission so that it reflects you and your business might take time. What’s important is that your mission means resonates with you and stands for something in your business. Get there and you’ll be ahead of most entrepreneurs I know.

3 Tips For Better Year-End Strategic Planning

This is a fun time of year for me. This is the time of year when I get to read, talk about and experience the wonders of all kinds of year-end strategic planning (and review) processes. It’s a blast because, for the most part, most people get it terribly wrong. They get it wrong because they follow dated template frameworks that don’t apply to their businesses, seek answers to self-referential questions and spend hours doing something that feels like work but will probably never have any real impact on their business.

My goal in this post is to give you a few quick and dirty concepts you need to consider to get the most out of your strategic planning process this year - hopefully not just a template. So before you tape your over sized Post-It notes to the walls or crack that new box of dry erase markers let’s talk about a few things.

1. Your strategic plan is not your step-by-step how to run your business manual for the next year.

It’s also not a budget. You need to think about strategy more simply and in terms of the choices you need to make that will get your business in front of the people that matter most - your customers. While budgets, cascading goals, benchmarks and actions are important it should all stem from the choices you make about the specific customers you serve and how you will serve them better than anyone else next year.

Take Away: In the strategic planning process don’t let your thought process or conversations go down day-to-day operations rabbit holes. Save the breaking down of specific responsibilities, tasks, benchmarks for later. Use something like the Balanced Scorecard (link takes you to Balance Scorecard website) to help focus on the broader financial, operational, people and customer perspectives.

2. Your strategy (or strategic plan) is not going to be perfect and that’s OK.

You’re strategy can and probably will change over time and that’s a good thing. You’re eye on the prize needs to revolve around revenue (not just controlling costs) and your customers. You want your business to be able to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of your market while honoring your vision. That means there’s always going to be a little bit of uncertainty in your planning. Give yourself permission to be OK with uncertainty as long as you’re setting up benchmarks along the way to test your strategy assumptions about your customers and the market you’re serving. If you were as addicted to Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” as I was you’d know one of the things he commented on most was the inability of restaurateurs to update their menus. So, to quote Chef Ramsay, don’t be an “idiot sandwich” and shoot for less-than-perfect.

Take Away: Don’t fight over what you can’t predict. If you run into spots where assumptions feel murky because they are based on future outcomes then you should set up times to revisit in the follow up in the next weeks/months/quarters. Conversations about what you can’t control can be draining and detract from the process.

3. Start quantifying.

Getting to the heart of making good decisions means getting to the heart of the data in your business. I’m sure (hoping really) that you had goals set for yourself through this past year. List them out and how close you were/are to achieving them. What do your sales figures look like? How big is your market? What are your margins? Who are your best customers and how many of them did you serve? When going through the strategic planning process it’s easy to get distracted by the big broad brushstroke topics. It’s easy to set goals of just “doing more” of certain activities in the next year. What’s hard is getting to the nitty gritty of your business. It’s getting real about what worked and what didn’t in a quantitative way and being honest about how you spent your time/resources/money this year. No one likes to admit to making bad choices or mistakes but you need to get real about where you are now if you’re going to give yourself a fighting chance to get better. Remember, when it comes to data and planning - garbage in = garbage out.

Take Away: Have the data of your business ready before you go into the strategic planning process. Spend some time getting re-acquainted with what’s going on in your business. This is more than just running some blanket financial statements. Look back at what you decided were key performance indicators in the past and, as honestly as possible, figure out where you stand today.

Whatever your strategic planning process looks like it’s my hope that you think about the three concepts I’ve listed above. At the heart of this process you’re announcing what’s important to your business and customers, setting goals and priorities and trickling that information down into the eventual actions and benchmarks your business needs to take to be successful. Please don’t just use some generic out of the box framework because it feels easy. Make sure the frameworks and tools you choose are relevant and will authentically support your business.

Stop Hiding Behind Your Business

I have been having the same kinds of conversations lately with the businesses I’ve been helping. I believe it’s because the businesses I’m working with have seen some growth and are all doing the exact same thing right after their growth experience. They are retreating into their offices and hiding behind the glorious (positive) data they have collected. I absolutely respect the sanctity of the growth process but, getting out from behind your computer screen and continuing to be out in the world making things happen just can’t stop!

I love data.

I will be the first one to tell you that I get a little bit of a thrill working my data into a model and then working on either creating some kind of inference or using derivatives to look for points of maximum/optimal return. But there comes a time when even the best modeling can’t guarantee business success - especially if that model you just built is a permanently positive linear one.

For all my creative independent businesses out there - I promise, that’s the last of the math talk.

I also love people. I love mission. I love seeing customers and clients getting value out of something I put into the world.

In order to create positive momentum in your business you have to go out and do the things you say your business does. You can’t just tinker.

This post is a cry out to any entrepreneur who has seen a little growth or momentum recently. Any growth. It could be an increase in view, subscribers and of course sales. My plea to you is to avoid the temptation to tinker. Avoid diving into your spreadsheets and falling to the business romanticising trap - the Business Ghost of Christmas Future Fallacy is what I’m calling this.

Having a plan and checking the results your actions have yielded against benchmarks for success is important. But a check-in is really all it should be. Here are a two tips to keep your inner quant at bay while you are out there in the world hustling in your business to succeed.

1. Commit to only changing one thing in your business model/process at a time.

This is how testing works. You go out and try to do something awesome for people that need what you are offering. If you feel like something isn’t working or could be working you make a single change and then get back out there. As you collect more experience and take more actions you’ll start to get a feel for the impact that change had - eventually deciding if it was a winner or not. This works best when you give your ideas some time to grow and your business enough time to get a little traction. I can’t tell you the perfect amount of time because every business is different. I can tell you that a week is probably too short and a two year period is probably a little too long. Check in systematically in that window a few times.

2. Stop running your business in terms of one-offs and winging.

Tinkering thrives in environments that lack structure. I’m not saying that every component of your business’ processes have to be etched in stone. What I am saying is that you need a routine. Tinkering happens because it feels like work and you have the potential to discover something interesting that might push your business forward. It’s not work that is going to directly grow your business through (most of the time). You know what will push your business forward - having processes or systems that take the winging out of your business. To beat the hour-eating-tinker-monster first find out what the important parts of your business are that need to happen on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Build a process for as many of them as you can that includes putting time into your schedule to plan, execute and review. This will lead to less one-offs and more focus. You’ll also find that your productivity will start to get a little better because you are worrying less on what to do and more on going out and doing.

Like I said earlier, I love data. You can’t get stuck in the data though. You have to create a plan that means something to you and then trust yourself (and the plan) enough to go out and keep bringing something awesome into the world. Whether you feel it or not all businesses have a bit of inertia to them. Great strategy is about building on the positive inertia so that you never stop moving forward.

How Do I Price My Product?

Buckle up boys and girls. This is going to be an epic deep dive into the different ways you can price your products or services. Pricing is an interesting topic and there's a ton of advice out here on the internet. The funny thing is that "other advice" doesn't really do a good job of setting up the frameworks so that you can compare how different pricing strategies work or can even change over time given the conditions in your market.  

When it comes to driving your business’ success, how you price plays a major role. Your prices communicate your value, can illustrate your quality amongst your competitors, and even influence what the market is willing and able to pay for what you’re offering. The problem with finding what the “right” price is for your business is that there is no magic formula. That’s where this article comes in. This article is going to outline some of the bigger objectives of pricing right and then offer you pricing strategies you can implement today. Your job is to figure out where your business model falls within the objectives and then pick a pricing strategy to run with.

Let’s lay some foundation points first:

  • Buyers are intrinsically motivated to get the most value for their dollar based on cultural, social, personal, and psychological influence. Buyers need to know, like and trust you. So work on understanding your target audience to best communicate your value to them.

  • Most buyers will go through this process:

    • Identifying their problem.

    • Doing some kind of research (yes even simple chats with friends count).

    • Evaluate their solution choices.

    • Make a purchase decision.

    • Have a post purchase response (think in terms of buyers remorse vs raving advocate).

  • As a seller you need to have the mindset that you are trading some kind of value for dollars. You are motivating buyers by fulfilling some kind of specific need. Those needs can range from being the low cost provider to offering the highest quality product.

  • Guessing is the worst thing you can do in your business when it comes to pricing.

  • Prices don’t have to be set in stone forever. They can change over time but remember your prices strongly communicate how your business is doing so change with purpose.

What Motivates a Seller

Below you will find some of the biggest motivations that drive seller behavior. The best advice I can give is to read each of these motivations with your business model in mind. Think about where in the market you want your business to compete and where you think you’ll have the biggest chance at finding success. Every seller will hit each of these points with varying levels of intensity. The important thing is to understand what should motivate you and to look at what you are doing in your business to bring those motivations to actions and outcomes.

  1. Maximizing profit. This can be a long or a short term goal and it has to do with how you have aligned your costs and production process. Every business should want to maximize profits. The special sauce here is understanding that high prices do not always translate to higher profit.

  2. Maximizing unit sales. This can be for both a maker and a do’er. As a seller you should always be striving to work at delivering the best work you can in the time you are allowing yourself to do it. Once you're comfortable a level of production work on continuing to build your capability and grow your capacity.

  3. Capture market share. More market share leads to more advocacy, more sales, more authority, and a growing community. You don’t have to be the biggest business on the block to be the most popular.

  4. Create barriers to entry. When you think of pricing and profits the more profitable your business the more incentives you will give businesses to try to jump in and steal your Kool-Aid. Finding your competitive advantage and holding on to it is going to make it hard for that to happen.

  5. Best quality or be exclusive. Creating a culture around your business and brand will help keep your customers or clients from making snap judgements based on price alone. You need to be aware of the low-price-low-quality stigma and if you are low price be prepared to combat it with a flurry of “innovation” based support.

  6. Using the loss leader strategy carefully. It can be tempting to start slashing prices to get traffic to your site or store front. Be careful about the message that sends and how often you use this tactic.

  7. Trial purchases. As a seller you might want to encourage your customers to give a trial a shot. The guys over at Fizzle did an awesome job of communicating and executing this concept. The best thing I can do is tell you to check out their splash page.

There are probably a few motivations that I missed but those are the biggest and most prevalent ones that sellers have to try to juggle when figuring out how to price their products/services and even running their business. You have to care about all of these things not just about what your profit or revenue looks like all the time. It’s ok if one or two resonate with you a little more than the others. Use what drives you most as you start to think about how you are going to price going forward.

Pricing Strategies

Now that you’ve reflected and mastered what motivates you as a seller it’s time to find the pricing strategy that fits best with what motivates you and your business model.

Cost-Plus Pricing - *Full Disclosure: Not my favorite because most people use this wrong* Cost-plus is a pretty straight forward approach in terms of pricing and it’s also one that lots of people default to. Just because it’s easy does not mean it’s right or right for you! All you do is figure out what the per unit cost of what your good is or of what your equivalent service is and add a fixed percentage to it as profit. So, if you are selling something that costs $100 to make and sell and you want to make 15% profit on each unit your selling price is now $115. This really only works in super niche, unique or noncompetitive markets. It’s not my favorite because as a seller you aren’t really doing any of the work you need to do to align your prices with the needs and wants of the buyer. It also doesn’t lend to the seller working to deliver more efficiency because the profit just gets tacked on to whatever the cost to market is.

Price Skimming - This is a fun problem to have. As you sell more and more of your stuff you’ll need more and more inventory or resources to deliver. As you continue to build capacity and your capabilities you are going to find efficiencies. As a seller you get to translate those efficiencies into lower prices for your consumers. This works really well with manufacturing and technology typically because you are playing with classic economies of scale. You are lowering your prices (lowering profit per unit) with the goal of moving more units than your competition. If you are a service provider or are selling an information based product this probably isn’t the strategy for you because continuing to skim prices over time might lead to unwanted perceptions of your brand and product. To make this work well you need to make sure that your quality is always staying the same or increasing (you might hear the buzzword: value innovation). When customers feel like they are getting cheaper prices and cheaper quality it doesn't go over so well.

Penetration Pricing - This is great for new businesses and it’s a pretty straight forward strategy. You enter the market at a lower price than your competitors and then increase prices over time. This is your typical trial offer. You entice buyers or users with a low cost of entry and then do your best to deliver as much value as possible with the hopes that those customers will stick around and continue to engage. Also works well when there are subsequent offers or upsells as part of your customer experience. The best success happens when your business is tied to a very specific experience or problem. I love this approach because you are communicating to your potential customers that you are so confident they will find success/be happy they will continue to come back and engage with you. Plus, if it was one of the few times that it’s not a good fit your customers only paid a discounted price so they are less inclined to be as upset (even less vocal) because the stakes were so low for them to try you out.

Prestige Pricing - Malcolm Gladwell does an amazing job explaining this concept in terms of Grey Poupon in one of his TED Talks that I linked here. With this strategy your goal is to create the perception of quality and exclusiveness. Higher prices here will imply higher value but there’s a catch. The price alone isn’t going to impress the average buyer. The packaging, copy, branding, and experience around the good/service needs to align with the higher price you are demanding. You have to create a prestigious experience for the buyer. This is a great strategy for service providers and information products because you are delivering a very specific solution or specific information that will solve your customer's pain points. The more specific your service the more expertise or experience is needed to deliver that information and in terms can command a higher price.

Bait and Hook. This sounds like what happens in the bar scene on the weekends but it really is a pricing strategy. With this strategy you are charging a low price for the initial purchase or interaction and then much higher prices for either replacement parts or supplemental services/products. The razor blade industry does amazing here. Think about the last time you bought a razor and what that price was. When you went back for more blades did you notice how much more expensive they were compared to the initial razor purchase. That is a classic bait and hook. The same goes for the average ink-jet printer. This works well if you can be fairly sure that your initial customers will continue to interact with you after the shock of learning about the higher prices the next time they engage with you. As a seller you need to be able to communicate the value of those subsequent purchases. If you fail to do that you’ll end up with customers like me that see the higher prices of the replacement razors, skip that purchase, and just buy another new razor start up kit.

Price Promotions. This is when you temporarily give out coupons or rebates to reduce your prices when you: introduce new offerings, are trying to attract buyers from other businesses, or you have extra inventory that you are trying to get rid of. These promotions work really well when you create mini campaigns around them for special occasions. This strategy is like a kinder gentler bait and hook. You have to be careful with price promotions - customers will only tolerate them for so long. If you coupon too often or too steeply your customers might think that your work doesn’t deliver the value your price says it should. Think of this as a strategic tool in your pricing tool kit.

Phew! I hope you are still with me :) So up until now you’ve been thinking about what motivates you as a seller and some different approaches to pricing. The last piece of the puzzle is talking about the customer’s perceived value.

Customer’s Perceived Value

This conversation wouldn’t be complete without touching on perceived value. As a seller, maker, do’er or marketer you need to understand a little more about what drives customers. There is a pretty easy measuring stick for this and it’s one that will also help you work on your copy when you are communicating your what makes you so awesome to your audience.

The metric is figuring out what the price or cost of the best alternative is and adding the difference in value that your work brings to the customer. If it sounds a little fuzzy it’s because it is. Unfortunately though, it’s one of the best ways you can work to differentiate yourself and figure out how your customers perceive the value that you offer. Another way to think about it is to think about what your customers are missing out on if they choose to go with your best competition...actually that’s an easier way to think about it. Use this metric as a way to take your markets temperature on what you are offering and comparing that perceived value to what’s out there.

It’s important to understand what you’re really good at (competitive advantage) and to be able to communicate that in a way that will best serve your target audience. Perceived Value is not just buzzword fluff and it’s not something that you should just skim over. When you are thinking about how your business stacks up against your competitors or how you are looking to be different start at your core. Your core capabilities are the things you have to do every day to get your work in the hands of the people that need it most. Think carefully about how where you are special or unique throughout that process and why that matters to your customers. Take me for example. There are lots of Professors, Small Agencies, Management Consultant Firms, and Freelancers out there that do what I do. We all have access to the same kind of information and tools (relatively). What sets me apart is my process and how I do my best to deconstruct concepts and problems so the business I work with can take action right away. That’s my competitive advantage - plus I hate when similar professionals hide behind academia or corporate boardrooms because they think they are the only ones that can decipher and implement strategy.

Phew (again)! If you are still with me then you have a solid set of tools to start really thinking about what sets you apart, what motivates you and how you can start to tinker with your pricing model. This stuff takes practice so just start! If you are looking for a little something extra to help you get started you can check out the free Disruptive Decision Framework down below.

Don’t forget to check back in with me too! I want to hear about your successes, struggles, and questions as you start to get objective and deliberate about your business. 

How To Make Better Choices

**Steps on to soapbox.**

I’m getting a little tired of the entrepreneurs and the would-be business coaches/consultants that are minimizing the importance of strategy. I keep bumping into claims that business plans and strategic plans are a waste of time. A waste of time? Why are entrepreneurs just sprinting to a MVP? Is it because iterating makes you feel like your business is doing something?

I’m all for minimum viable products but that doesn’t mean your work shouldn’t be thoughtful, deliberate, and value-creating. Lately objections to competitive strategy I’ve been getting are when someone from this camp claims that their lean strategic approach is the only way to deal with the volatility/uncertainty/complexity/ambiguity of today’s marketplace. (That’s the VUCA acronym for all my strat-nerds out there.) I believe, not always but most of the time, entrepreneurs are using this kind of strategy argument as a cop-out.

What?!

I get it. It’s fun to tinker. Strategic thinking takes time, research, and is a little unsexy sometimes. Not to mention the need to be consistent and systematic with how your firm makes decisions. I’m 100% for “failing fast and failing often” but I guess I would add “failing deliberately” to those first two fail prefixes. Why “failing deliberately”? Because it means you tested something specifically, collected some data, and made a choice. Here are four steps, concentric circles, or tips about how you should frame strategy.

Strategy at its core is about making choices. Planning is great but it’s the actions that are taken after everyone agrees on the plan that really matters. There’s a very real breakdown that happens when you come up with the plan and then never do the work to realize the goals or <insert success metric>. There’s also a lot of power in choosing what not to do. Channel your inner economics student/professor and try to remember all those talks about opportunity costs. It’s real and it’s a thing.

When you take a step back from the core it’s about understanding how your business is positioned in its market. This is where your business’ malleability and your market’s predictability get pulled in. How quickly can you continue to align yourself with the tastes and expectations of your target market? Do you even know who your target market is and why they should engage with you? How are your competitors reacting to the choices you’re making? Are you really getting the most out of your supply chain? Immediate follow-up answer: Yes, every business (even solo-service-providing-consultant-freelancers) has a supply chain.

Another step back from that should be around how you are communicating with your stakeholders. Anyone that is engaging with you or that you want to be engaging with is a stakeholder. Why should they listen to you? Why should they care? Your strategies success hinges on your ability to tell a story that matters. It’s that story that will drive your actions, the actions of your employees and even the actions of your customers. You need to be able to communicate in a way that makes them feel like their roles matter. Engaging with you matters. Buying your product or service matters (and also provides lots and lots of value).

The last step back has to do with planning. Planning is part of strategy. Planning is NOT strategy. Planning also isn’t perfect. It’s hard to predict the future, it’s a volatile world out there. It’s important that you think of planning as a way of surveying a landscape. It’s a way of taking stock of what you have, all the “stuff” that makes your business work. You’re looking at things like capabilities, talent, money, time, social media celebrity status and trying to organize them in a way that will get your business to achieving it’s goals in terms of mission and profitability. What comes from planning is a framework for making choices and a way to evaluate those choices as you go.

Strategy is an interesting mix of science and art. It’s also hard and scary sometimes. A good strategy will push us to be a little uncomfortable and as Malcolm Gladwell says a little disagreeable. That’s where strategy differs from planning - the act of doing something! Making choices systematically can be tough and not always what you think running a business should feel like. I’ll end borrowing from Roger Martin encouraging you to make deliberate decisions around deciding where to play and how to win as you’re trying to get the most out of strategy.

**Steps off soapbox.**

If you're still stuck or wondering how you can start to make better choices in practice right now you can download a FREE resource I made for just this occasion. It's called the Disruptive Decision Framework and all you have to do is sign up and I will hand deliver a copy to your inbox. 

How To Think Your Way To Better Business Results

I’m going to be tip-toeing the jargon-buzzword line just for a second here. It’s worth it I promise. This post is all about creative agility and how developing your creative thinking muscles is one of the biggest assets you can carry around with you in your strategy toolbox.

Creative agility is the ability or the process of seeing problems or challenges in your business and taking the time to vet out ALL possible solutions (even the seemingly ridiculous) before deciding on a course of action. Being creative isn’t just about creating something, it’s also very much about how we think about the challenges your business faces everyday. It’s also a practice in authenticity. Working as your truest self and do the work that you believe matters most, not just what you think will make you the quickest buck.

When you are working on your business strategy you are using the resources you have to provide some kind of value to the people you are trying to serve. You are faced with all kinds of constrictions, deadlines and communication hurdles. Practicing creative agility helps you reframe what’s going on so that you can get to as many possibilities as you can and then deciding from there the best course(s) of action. Your strategy has a lot of moving parts to manage. It’s important to find the right balance for your strategic aspirations so your vision, the people you serve, your managers(even if you are a business of 1), and your resources are all aligned to be as awesome as possible.

Here are some tips and exercises you can work on to start building that creative agility muscle. It takes practice and creative thinking is a deliberate kind of thinking. You can’t force it and you most certainly can’t fake it. When you start to think more creatively you’ll be honoring the most authentic parts of your business and your strategy. Plus you’ll be more fun to be around at parties, which is a good thing right?!

1. Frame the problem, issue, or “why”?

Being able to tackle issues creatively requires a bit of focus. You have to have a specific end in mind as you are starting in on this process. You don’t have to have all (or any) of the answers at the start but your energy will be best spent when you have an idea of what the end looks like.

2. Embrace the idea divergence.

Give yourself time and space to think freely. Don’t let traditional barriers or approaches guide how you approach your problem. Get ridiculous, get unconventional and get improbable. This is the time to come up with any and all solutions no matter the cost, relevance, or efficiency. As you are brainstorming the only limiting factor you should hold yourself to is a time limit. With a time limit you are making sure that you don’t just get stuck coming with ideas so you can keep the process moving.

3. Establish your processes.

After you get all your ideas out in the open and articulated it’s important to have a process for getting through them. You want to systematically widdle down to a handful of ideas for serious consideration. This is the point where you start to add back some of the filters you took off through your initial brainstorming process. I would encourage you to only consider back the filters that are absolutely essential and continue to play with ideas or solutions that might seem non-traditional or that are different to currently available solutions.

4. Focus on making your customers look good.

I know it’s almost common-sensical to say that you should be focusing on creating value but I want to frame it from a different perspective. Don’t necessarily think that value-add solutions are your winners. Instead focus on making your customers look good in front of their social groups. Shift your attention just a bit to not just making people better off but making them look good. The way your business is perceived shifts a bit too. People want to engage with the businesses that are the most authentic and that create the greatest connections. Having a genuine interest in your customers after they buy definitely qualifies for both those categories. Most importantly, it ups your trustiness.

Creativity is more than just sitting around and waiting for inspiration to jump out of your computer screen. It takes deliberate work. You can give yourself a nice little head start and a safe/positive place to think if you put these four points into action. Understanding the components of how strategy is created and implemented is half of the equation. Getting people to resonate with your mission and to support that strategy is the other half and it’s your creativity that will draw them in.

I think if I were to have one last point. A bonus point, perhaps? It would be this:

5. Have fun with it.

There are a lot of businesses that take themselves too seriously. Yes, there is a place for big box distribution/manufacturing firms where the profit is in the volume shipped and the savings created by having an airtight process. That’s not most businesses and probably not you. Have fun with your creative process if for no other reason than to show your customers that there is a real person on the other side of the screen, receipt, product or service. When you allow yourself to get out of your own way and drop your guard you are able to better invite people to be a part of your community.

Get out of your own way and stop using templates or systems for strategy that you don’t really believe in. That’s not how you get to good strategy and you won’t be able to run the business you really want to run. Instead, get a little creative and be a little more authentic in your strategy creation process.

Your business will thank you for it!

 

Why Are Strategic Plans The Worst?!

I hate excuses. I think that the old way of creating long form strategic plans is an exercise in preemptively creating excuses for your business. Strategic plans are so often argued over, passively decided on and luxuriously spiral bound for businesses that haven’t yet done the work necessary to truly understand the impact of the decisions they are (or aren’t) making in their business. My favorite offenders are the one-page downloads that promise to, in one-page, definitively nail down the over-arching strategy you’re going to implement or execute on in your business. Definitively. All that stuff that looks just like strategic planning busy work is just that, it’s busy work and a scapegoat for you to blame your business shortcomings on later.

Don’t get it twisted though, I’m not at all down on crafting strategy for your business. Articulating goals is great. Teasing out effective ways for you to track whether or not your efforts are pushing you towards those goals, even better. Evaluating the decisions you make everyday against the backdrop of the vision and values you and your business stand for, the best. I’m just down on how maybe some institutions frame strategic planning…<<cough cough>> Some bad “business” mentors/consultants <<cough cough>>

But, that’s hard.

Getting to real understanding and depth in your business and for your customers means doing the work to understand more than just what you do and what you offer. It means getting to the heart of why your consumers choose (and maybe keep choosing) you, quantifying the real value you offer (not what you think you offer) and the ability to objectively identify what’s working and not working in your business.

Let’s set the scene. You're a new-ish business owner. (In business for yourself for less than 3 years.) You’ve been at your craft for a while, have moved a few units and/or have delivered a some hours of your services. You believe you bring value to your target market and you may even have a few testimonials on your website that support that claim. You wake up one morning and decide that you need strategy to get your business to the next level. That’s what you’ve read on the internet from your favorite “teach you how to build a business” business guru so it must be true. You’re first, albeit unintentional, excuse as to why you haven’t grown into the lifestyle or business size that you want is that you haven’t had a good strategy.

So you set off one morning and Google all kinds of fun strategic planning based keywords and over and over again you see the same kinds of results:

  • Articles about the Balanced Scorecard

  • Wikipedia Definition

  • HBR Articles

  • Forbes Articles

  • Software/Web-App Planning Tools

  • Dummies.com Articles

  • Assortment of colleges and university course resources

Great. Now what?

I know what. You download the worksheets, read the blog posts, listen to a few podcasts and probably even peruse a few HBR articles. That’s great, you just spent hours getting your learn on. I’m all for learning but your shotgun scatter patterned attempt at muscling through how to create a strategic plan has forced you to a cross roads. Also on top of that, you’re still not even sure what the value of a strategic plan is for you and your business. #mixedmessages

At this point you’re making a choice.

  1. You are either going to keep powering through and are going to try to recreate a strategic plan from some template or example and try to force what you “think” is important into a mold that most likely has nothing to do with who you are and what your business actually does.

  2. Or you’ll quit. You’ll quit and move on and rationalize that you are too busy, too small or that crafting strategy really isn’t right for YOUR business.

Both are terrible but, are totally natural reactions. It’s the result of oversaturation/information overload, you're wrestling with how to spend what scarce resources you can muster on this task and business guru’s trying to package some program to sell you in a $497 ecourse.

That’s why strategic plans are the worst. You just spent all this time trying to figure it out and have made your way to creating something that is not at all authentic to you and your business or you move on from it all together.

Strategy is important and it hurts my heart that business owners never get to see the value of good strategy. Strategy that comes from deliberately thinking through problems and opportunities and actively participating in the choices that come from that thinking process.

Instead of trying to slap together some word document that you’ll only reference once or twice a year try this instead.

The Strategic Un-Planning Process

Below I’m going to outline an example process that you could use in lieu of the templates you just downloaded that I bet will work better for you and matter more to you. It’s not the be-all-end-all in strategic planning but if I can at least help one person who’s reading this create something that has the potential to be a real asset over some generic nonsense it’s 100% worth it.

1. Figure out what your long game really is for your business and be able to articulate that long game. Is it a specific idea of what you’re life will look like, some large financial goal or building a legacy business. That’s going to be the big idea you measure the choices you make everyday against.

2. In smaller intervals what kinds of goals are you going to have to hit to get to your long game. In strategic planning speak these would be your strategic aspirations. Is it buying a building, controlling 40% of your market share, selling one-billion hamburgers? Again get specific.

3. Repeat number two again but do that process for each of the individual goals you listed from step two. That should get you to a place where you can identify the actions you need to keep track of on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to get you to those goals. I’m all for impact and engagement but to be the most effective you need to associate actions with dollars.

4. Look outside your business. Talk to your customers about the value they really get from your offerings. What are the biggest pain points that customers can specifically share with you that you’ve solved. This will help you get even more focused in your offering and how to better position it in the market.

Before we move on I just want to recap what you will have really done up until this point. Going from 1-4 means you’ll have honestly reflected on what matters most to you, you’ll have broken down to at least two tiers worth of goals that you need to hit to get there and started to work out why people are engaging with you to better frame the actions you need to take to get more customers through the door. We are flying through these steps in a very simplistic way but this is all the work that I talked about in the beginning of this post.

 5. Look at your business. Really, truly, objectively look at your business. Do your day to day actions reflect the value that you bring to the market? What does it cost to get one more customer? Is there a gap between what you planned to do at the start of your business and what you are actually doing? Are you making excuses right now because there’s a little bit of dissonance stirring in your brain about this stuff? It’s time to do something about that right now. You need to DECIDE what the actions are in your business that are the biggest drivers in how you deliver value as well as get in front of potential new customers. If you’re struggling with this part I’ve built a decision making framework that you can download for free. (Notice it’s not a one-page strategic planning template. You’re welcome.)

6. Pick a handful of actions to really focus on in your business. Think of them as strategic themes. These are the types of work that align best with what’s important to you, your customers and what you want the business to stand for. Figure out what success for each of those actions looks like in a quantifiable way and how each of those themes will get you to your short, mid and long game goals.

7. Get to work and stick to it! What gets measured, gets managed. This is where the work really begins because here you’re working to prove the hypotheses you created for yourself. Just like in 7th grade science class you need to collect data and that data comes from getting your hands dirty. Creating and managing strategy is a daily practice and it works best when you can make decisions against the outcomes your actions are showing you. No winging it, no shortcuts, no more guessing about what you think people want - just data.

8. Rinse and repeat as necessary. What’s important to you may change over time and being honest about that is what makes strategy work. If you’re long game changes, your goals change or your market changes it’s ok. It just means that scale and scope of your work needs to change. This is where old timey strategic plans fall flat on their faces. When you or your business change, your work has to change or else your productivity and the quality of your outputs are going to drastically deteriorate. Think about the last time you worked on something you hated. You probably did the minimum and just went through the motions. If you are building a business I’m guessing that you don’t want to find yourself just going through the motions. Your customers probably don’t want that either.

I hope that if this blog post did anything for anyone it at least saved you a few hours of mindlessly searching for strategic planning resources on the interweb. This post was not designed to be a conclusive resource for your strategic planning needs but it was designed to challenge you to think. If you are pressed for time or resources I like to think that I’ve also offered you an abridged approach to creating something that matters for you personally.

Strategic planning is really a personal (business personal?) process and it’s not something you can just hammer out in a one page template and expect any real results. It’s a process that you have to work at everyday and one that requires you to get brutally truthful with. The people that buy from you or that you’d like to buy from you aren’t stupid, they know when what you’re offering is lip service. Customers know what authenticity is and how to hunt for the most value. Strategy at its core is about making decisions to so that your customers can find that value.

So, are you making decisions everyday that will match what you’re offering and how you deliver with the needs of the people that you serve?