Tag Archives: Strategy

Lean Business Plan to Get What You Want From Your Business

Are you running your own business or looking to start a new business? The lean business plan is an easy way to set down your strategy, tactics, milestones, and essential business numbers. Just do it for yourself and your team, with a few streamlined bullet points for strategy and tactics; plus lists of key milestones, tasks, assumptions, and performance metrics; and essential business numbers. Then review and revise it regularly and you’ll have your progress towards goals, and accountability.

Lean Business Plan in Four Steps

One: Strategy

Strategy is focus. A lean business plan uses a few bullet points to remind yourself and your team of your focus on a well-defined target market, and how your business offering solves the problem your business solves for that target market, and how your unique business identity makes you different.  Keep it in bullets, reminders you’ll use yourself.

Two: Tactics

Strategy is useless without tactics. In a lean business plan, tactics define your choices related to pricing, channels, website, mobile app, launch dates, features, benefits, messaging, media, promotion, platforms, locations, signage, financing, recruitment, bundles, and so forth. There is no reason to define all this in detail, or defend it for outsiders. Just decide and set it down as a bullet points. These are the core thoughts of marketing plan, product plan, and financial plan — but just what you need to do it. You don’t need elaborate text. Keep what you say about your tactics simple.

Three: Concrete Specifics

A lean business plan includes milestones to make your planning real. Milestones include dates, deadlines, tasks, responsibilities, and plan your budget and goals to reach specific milestones. List your important assumptions. Set dates for review and revision, plan vs. actual analysis, at least once a month. Set performance metrics you can track. Match every key task with somebody who owns it and lives with its results.

Four: Plan for Cash Flow

A lean business plan includes a sales forecast, spending budget, and cash flow. Profits don’t guarantee cash in the bank. Allow for time to wait for clients to pay, and money to buy what you have to before you sell. The purpose of forecasting is management not accurately predicting the future. Connect the dots so sales depends on drivers of sales like traffic, conversions, leads, closes, and so forth. Match sales forecast to projected spending on sales and marketing expenses.

Review and Revise Often

Always track results and review and revise often. What’s happened with the plan? Were assumptions valid? Was it executed?

Management is tracking results and revising as needed. Leadership is knowing when to stay the course and when to pivot.

Lean startup? Yes. Borrow the concept of minimum viable product and apply it to minimum business plan. Borrow the concept of small steps and frequent reviews and apply it to planning and management.

Nothing lends credibility like milestones met. Nothing says planning better than a revised fresh plan. Be a line, not a dot.

The Lean Business Plan is to Get Stuff Done

Times have changed. Don’t do a big traditional business plan but don’t throw out planning either. Do it right. Do a lean business plan. Your business deserves it. Focus, set priorities, highlight execution and specifics, manage cash. Get what you want from your business, whether that’s high-tech growth and funding or independence and peace of mind. It’s not about a plan; it’s about optimizing your life.

For more on this, I have a whole site dedicated to it at leanplan.com.

Acronyms: Does BS Stand for Business Strategy?

What do you think of when you see the acronym “BS?” Do you think of business strategy? Maybe you should.

I have nothing against real business strategy. I’ve posted on strategy often here. My favorites include 3 stories your business strategy depends on and defining small business strategy. My sense of it, boiling down three decades of small business — plus a fancy MBA degree — is that good strategy always looks, after the fact, like it was always obvious.

Strategy is focus, business strategy, small business strategy

Real business strategy is mostly just focus. It’s about what you don’t do, sort of like how a marble sculpture is formed what’s removed from the original block. Focus on what you and your business do best, what you do better and different, and then focus on a specific set of potential customers and focus again on building exactly what they want or need.

For example, a consultant who responds to an inquiry with “no, that’s not what I do” is executing strategy. A restaurant that doesn’t offer take-out or drive-through service is executing strategy. A gym catering especially to women is executing strategy.

But I do object to strategy as business buzzword, off-putting, arrogant pomp and positioning, a series of meetings, excuses not to get things done, or it’s obvious. Strategy frameworks are cool sometimes, and can make for good meetings; but real business doesn’t have a lot of time to sit around cooking up strategy.

Many years ago, when I was a vice president of a consulting firm named Creative Strategies, I realized that consulting on strategy is as hard to sell as consulting on sex or driving, because those are things most adults are sure they’re innately good at. And if you see strategy as logical focus, maybe that’s true.

One of the perks of having the MBA degree is license to be cynical about business jargon that .     So if I say that strategy is mostly either obvious — which is good — or useless; you can’t just dismiss that as ignorance. Well, okay, you can; but I hope you don’t.

I really enjoyed working for Creative Strategies, the consulting firm, and I still think strategy exists in a series of paradoxes. It can be wildly creative, seeing ahead of time what will seem obvious to all after it’s been executed. But success is one part strategy for every 99 parts execution; and that one part will seem like it was always obvious as soon as it’s been executed.

(image: istockphoto.com)

3 Ms for a Dragging Strategy: Map it, Manage it, and Milestones.

Here’s a good suggestion: Map your strategy to get the best results. That’s a post by Karen Keller, an executive coach. She makes three good suggestions for this situation: 

So what do you do when your strategy doesn’t seem to be working the way you think it should? You need to take the time and find the right direction you want to be heading.

She suggests three conceptual mapping tools: a strategic map, a compass, and landmarks. 

I like the metaphor because it fits the real world of management and planning process. The plan is like the map, tracking and metrics and regular reviews and revisions are the compass — tells you what direction you’re going — and milestones are landmarks. The milestones, like landmarks, tell you where you are. 

For more on that, my summary of strategy, planning process, and milestones

Should Your Strategy Be Constantly Changing?

I read Holly Green’s Shifting from Strategic Planning to Strategic Agility, on Forbes.com the other day. Ok, agile sounds good for a business. And the world does change rapidly, too. But what about this, from something I wrote about 10 years ago:

Better a mediocre strategy, consistently applied over time, than a series of brilliant strategies, changing rapidly, contradicting each other.

Is that no longer true? Here, in contrast, is Holly’s argument for strategic agility:

At its core, strategic planning involves a process of analysis. You do some research into what is and what is possible. You define a goal, break that goal down into manageable steps, and determine how to implement them while identifying the expected consequences of each step. It’s a logical, straightforward process designed to sequentially move the organization from where you are now to where you want to go.

The huge flaw in this is the assumption that the world is reasonably stable and somewhat predictable. Maybe a few generations ago. But anyone who has been paying attention the last few years knows that today’s world is neither.

That sounds reasonable as I read it, but in fact, I disagree. I don’t think strategic planning assumes that the world is stable and predictable. It does, however, assume that one core foundation of any strategy is your identity. It’s your uniqueness, what sets you apart from the rest of the world. That’s true for companies as much as for individuals. And that doesn’t change easily. You can change strengths and weaknesses only over a long time, and with a great deal of effort. So that part of strategy is relatively stable. And that’s a very important part.

Of course markets change, technologies change, and goals change; which is why the “agility” component is attractive. But strategic agility doesn’t replace strategy. I say good business strategy mixes long-term attributes with changing markets and focus, and of course it’s always a process, never fully stable. One element affects the other elements. It is never sequential. But strategy is also a matter of focus, understanding core identity, building positioning over time, and it takes consistency too.

What do you think?

Good Strategy Goes Unnoticed. Bad Strategy Goes Under. A 3-Question Strategy Test.

Another thing I like about small business and entrepreneurship is that you live the strategy without the elaborate frameworks and detailed analysis. As companies get bigger, strategy gets harder. SWOT It’s much more likely to take teams of experts tons of detail work.

Big companies are like big ships. They change course slowly. There are lots of moving parts involved.

For you and me and small business in general, strategy is always happening, whether you like it or not. And if you screw it up, changing it too frequently, failing to focus, trying to do everything, then it hurts.

Strategy for us? It’s really about focus. You can’t do everything, so you do the right thing.

  • You can’t please everybody, so you select who you please based on common sense, your strengths and your weaknesses, and how you’re different.
  • You can’t sell everything, so you sell what you’re really good at, what makes you appealingly different, and what sets you apart.
  • You can’t do everything so you do what’s most important, what gives you the most benefit per unit of resources, what aligns you best with your target market and your focused business offering.

Here’s a quick test: do a SWOT analysis, as in the illustration here. List your strengths, your weaknesses, your opportunities, and threats. Then think about your strategy. Does it pass the SWOT test, or not? Does SWOT bring up something you’re doing wrong?

And another quick test: the principal of displacement, which means everything you do rules out something else that you won’t do. Think about it: are you doing the right things? Or are you trying to do everything?

And finally, a third quick test: do you ever say no to anything? When? Why not?

(Image credit: istockphoto.com)

5 Tips On the Art of Saying No in Business

Strategy is focus, which is about saying no. Management, particularly in the world of entrepreneurship and small business, boils down to knowing when and how to say no. On the surface, from the outside, that probably seems simple. NoBut try it and it gets a lot more complex.

For example, how do you say no to a new idea without stifling the flow of other new ideas? How do you say no to a bright young enthusiastic person without dampening that enthusiasm? Saying no can be as hard as nails.

Still, you really have to be able to say no to manage a company. And not just to not-so-good ideas, but — and here’s where it really hurts — sometimes even to good ideas that just won’t fit into the space allotted. You need to say no to some things to have any shot at strategic focus. It blends in nicely with the principle of displacement, which is basically that everything you do rules out other things that you don’t do. And you can’t do everything.

I have no delusions about being good at saying no. But maybe that’s why I’m sensitive to the problem.  I do have some tips, developed through the years, that might help you.

1.  Recognize the problem.

It starts with recognizing the problem. Yes, you have to say no; but realize that every no answer reduces the chance of another idea or suggestion coming forward. Be very mindful of the problem. You’ve got a strike against you. Be aware of it.

You’ve got some explaining to do.

2.  Blame the company, and the situation, not the idea itself.

It wasn’t a bad idea, it’s that this company needs to do something differently right now because of these company-related reasons. Actually it’s a great idea and it’s really disappointing that we don’t have the resources to jump on it now. We’re stuck in this valley and we need to get up on that hill so we can start working on great ideas like this one.

3.  Blame displacement.

So, given displacement, it’s not that your idea isn’t great; it’s that we can’t jump on it without pulling off of some of the things we’re already doing. What do you think? Which of our priorities can we adjust? Where do we cut time, money, effort, and resources from something else so we can get them for this new thing. Where do you think those other things are off base?

4. Reward the idea and suggestion.

You can fight the sting of a rejected idea by rewarding the person even without adopting the idea. “Even though we can’t move forward with that, I love the creativity and that you made the suggestion,” you say, “so take somebody out to dinner with the company card.” Or give some other immediate reward, a small bonus, extra time off, whatever works in your context.

5. Keep an idea archive for the future.

Find somewhere in your organization to keep a file on new ideas and suggestions. Just putting them into the file reduces the sting of having said no. And sometimes that file becomes a source for solutions to future problems. It’s a quick way to give value to the ideas that didn’t fit, and reinforce the organization’s respect for ideas and suggestions, even without implementing them.

Define Your Strategy by What You Aren’t Doing

Somewhere somebody described to me the process in which Michelangelo imagined his David from inside a flawed block of granite marble that had a crack in it. The crack became the hitch in David’s arm as he holds the sling.

I think that’s something like real business strategy. The general type of business, what other people would assume it to be, is like the uncarved block of marble. The strategy is locked inside it. And the end result is created by what you take away.

So, for example, a restaurant’s strategy is about what it doesn’t do. One of my favorite restaurants serves very healthy fast foods. That’s what it’s doing. What it isn’t doing is sit-down table service, breakfasts, cheap meals, drive-through, date dinners, and on an on.

Then there’s the attorney I’ve dealt with for years who sent me to somebody else for IP law, and to a different person for litigation, and yet another for employer law. What he does is small business law. And what he doesn’t do is much bigger.

First you define your market in general terms by describing your target market segments. Then you define it better by defining who, within that segment, isn’t your customer, and why.

First you define your general strategy by what it is that you do. Then you refine it by defining what it is, within that general description, that you don’t do.

(Photo credit: K Patel 1980/Flickr)