How to Write a Winning Business Plan

Writing a business plan can be a lot of hard work or it can be great fun; you have to choose which stance you’ll take. An effective plan can help your company to greatness while a poor one can put you out of business. Not having a plan is like asking to fail before you even start.

Not every business needs a 200 page bound business plan. Every business, however, needs to have some idea of where they want to go and how they are going to get there. This article covers some key insights into writing a business plan that get your business to where you want to be.

Analysis

The first stage of any plan is ANALYSIS. You need to take a very objective look at a number of factors that may impact your business. There are many factors to consider but the two major ones are competition and your operating environment.

Let’s look first at competition. Every business has competition, even if you think your product or service is unique. How is this? Well it’s quite simple really: people have choices to make. The most fundamental choice they make in most cases is whether to buy what you offer or buy something else. For example, I could buy a game console or I could buy groceries instead. Customers only have so much money available so you first task is to ask yourself what is my competition like and can I beat them? The more you understand your competition the more you can develop your business strategy of being different and outperforming them.

Now let’s look at operating environment. This is understanding what factors around your area of operation are likely to affect your business performance. For some companies this includes looking around the world; in other cases it’s just your local neighborhood. You need to ask questions such as:

  1. How is the economy going?
  2. What is consumer confidence like?
  3. Where is technology heading in my industry?

After answering all the questions you need to decide how these might negatively or positively influence your performance.

Objectives

Now that you know more about your competition and operating environment, it’s time to set some OBJECTIVES. This is what you want to achieve in the period your business plan covers. It is said that good objectives are SMART. That is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and targeted. Here’s an example of a SMART objective for a hypothetical business.

  • “By the end of this year we will have increased sales of product X by 7.5% over the previous year.”

You can see how clear this objective is. It is much easier to achieve high performance with clear objectives.

Strategy

Now you need to outline your STRATEGY. How are you going to reach you objective(s)? This is where your marketing plan often comes in as it helps describe the programs you will run to achieve your desired objective(s). To continue the example above our strategy may be to gain distribution for our product in one new major retail chain.

Resources

To make your strategy work you must then allocate appropriate RESOURCES. Certain things must be provided in order to reach your goal. This could be dollars, people, equipment, etc. Your plan must have included the resources you are allocating and why you believe this is adequate to get the result.

Projections

Every business plans also has some PROJECTIONS. Are you expecting a profit or loss? How much?

Contingencies

Lastly you need to allow for CONTINGENCIES. Things change all the time and your plan needs to consider these possibilities in advance. A good way to do this is to ask What if?

  • What if a new competitor enters our market?
  • What if a distributor blacklists our product?
  • What if interest rates rise?

Your analysis should give you some idea of likely contingencies. It saves a lot of stress if you have some documented ideas for dealing with them before they become a big problem.

Writing a business plan is never perfect; the plan is on paper and you’re operating in the real world. A good plan, however, can really guide you in the right direction. Take time to put real thought into preparing your plan an above all make sure you USE YOUR PLAN!

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Preparing Your Next Presentation

In leadership, you may find that you’re often tasked with giving presentations. The preparation you put into them can make or break how successful they will be. Remember, truly memorable disasters don’t just happen. They require a special blend of misunderstanding and misguided effort. Here are three mistakes to avoid so your next presentation won’t be a disaster:

Mistake #1: Believe in Magic

In this case, you show up hoping that a coherent, eloquent, useful presentation will magically appear once you start speaking, avoiding any type of preparation and simply winging it.

  • Undesired Result: Everyone is amazed by the presentation because they expected more. They’re also bored and disappointed. They may even become upset because an unprepared presentation insults the audience by wasting their time. Unprepared presentations sound like, well, unprepared presentations.
  • Desired Result: Prepare by identifying the goal for your presentation. Design a presentation that achieves that goal, and talk with key members of the audience about their expectations. Once you’ve prepped, rehearse.

Mistake #2: Memorize Your Speech

Here, you spend untold hours committing every precious word to memory so that you can recite it even if awakened in the middle of the night.

  • Undesired Result: You sound like a machine. And if you stumble on a word, you can become stuck–speechless. I’ve seen this happen, and it’s painful.
  • Desired Result: Learn your presentation. Yes, write a script. Memorize the first and last sentences and then practice giving the presentation without looking at the script. Practice many times. Eventually, you will learn how to convey the key ideas in a natural, normal way.

Mistake #3: Talk about Yourself

In this instance, you focus entirely on yourself. Tell about your background, your credentials, and your history. Tell your story. Just talk about yourself. Make the presentation all about you, yourself, and your life.

  • Undesired Result: They listen politely. If you manage to be entertaining enough, they may actually pay attention. Otherwise, the audience reacts by thinking, “So what?”
  • Desired Results: Talk about the audience. That is, talk about what they need and how they can achieve it.

What other presentation tips do you suggest? I’d love to hear your feedback.

 

5 Steps to Maximize Your Productivity

Do you know that you get 80% of your results from just 20% of your time and effort and consequently 80% of your time is virtually wasted on non-productive activities? Once you realize this, it’s easy to take advantage and either reduce the hours you work or significantly improve your productivity.

The 80-20 rule was first discovered by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto a hundred years ago.  The rule means that in any area of our lives, literally 80 percent of our fruits are derived from only 20 percent of doing “what matters”. In other words, there is only a very small portion of all that we do each day, regardless of the situation, that brings us the “higher return”. Using this knowledge is incredibly powerful in combating the “not enough hours in the day” mentality of today’s society.

How can you benefit from being aware of this principle? Implementing a strategy based on the 80-20 rule can result in greater wealth and greater leisure time. Just imagine how productive you will be if 80% of your time could be spent on productive activities. The bottom line is that the things that matters most should never be at the mercy of activities that matter least.

Start maximizing your productivity with these 5 steps:

  1. Keep a work log for at least a week. Write down all of your activities and the time spent doing them.  Yes, this may be time consuming initially but it is essential that you get a true picture of your working week.
  2. Analyze your activities.  Separate your activities into high priority – those that produce a return or where only you have the skills to do the work – and low priority – activities others can do where the activity can be delegated to support staff. You will almost certainly find that you are spending most of your time on low-priority activities rather than activities directly providing a return. In almost all businesses, these non-productive activities tend to absorb time at a far greater rate than they should.
  3. Delegate non-productive activities.  Once you can identify the low priority activities, delegate as many as possible to support staff (providing training where required). If necessary, employ an additional member of staff to take responsibilities – the cost will be more than offset by your improved productivity. There may be a number of low priority activities you are tempted to keep. Unless it is absolutely unavoidable don’t be tempted and don’t get involved in non productive activities or your productivity will fall.
  4. Calculate the time required for any remaining low priority activities. Once you have delegated all that you can, your next step is to calculate how much time you should be spending on the remaining low priority activities to make maximum use of your productive time. Don’t work disproportionately hard on these low priority activities and set aside specific time each day or week to complete them.
  5. Prioritize your remaining activities. Once you’ve cleared out the activities that don’t bring you any return, it’s time to turn your attention to the activities in your life that are bringing the most reward. Prioritize your activities and concentrate most of your time just on a few high-priority activities.

The objective throughout is to maximize your results from the areas of high return and to delegate those activities that have a low return. Spending a disproportionate amount of time on non-productive activities is a major source of stress for many businessmen. Delegating these activities will therefore have the added benefit of reducing the stress you are under; it’s all about doing less work for greater return.

For more success in life, whether that’s more money, more time with your family or just making time for golf, you should start implementing the 80-20 rule immediately. It will help your career as well as your personal life and, as a bonus, following the 80-20 rule day in and day out can make you very wealthy over the long term.

Are you currently making the most of your time? What do you find to be the “time draining” activities in your daily activities?  Do you think the 80-20 rule can help you?

Are You Satisfied with Your Career?

Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. ~Confucius

What can we do to ensure a source of happiness and fulfillment throughout our careers?

At graduation, each of us has visions of what we’ll accomplish. Years later, even the best and brightest from the most prestigious universities aren’t immune to feelings of failure and disappointment.

Many people who maintain a veneer of professional success report feeling dissatisfied and doubt they’re in the right job. They often find themselves trapped in meaningless work.

The cliché holds true: You have only one life, and it’s not a dress rehearsal. Outside forces and bad decisions can derail you at any time. How can you protect yourself from making the wrong career moves — the ones that thwart your quest for happiness and meaning?

Clayton Christensen, author of How Will You Measure Your Life? (with coauthors James Allworth and Karen Dillon), writes:

We pick our jobs for the wrong reasons and then we settle for them. We begin to accept that it’s not realistic to do something we truly love for a living.

He proposes three questions to guide career and major life decisions:

How can I be sure that:

  • I will be successful and happy in my career?
  • My relationships with my spouse, my children, and my extended family and close friends become an enduring source of happiness?
  • I live a life of integrity —and stay out of jail?

How many times have you made important life decisions without considering — and even intentionally ignoring — these critical issues?

In our quest for immediate gains, we conveniently forget to weigh potential consequences.

Over the years, in the work I do, I’ve had the privilege of working with some outstanding people who are able to evaluate their career decisions with wisdom – in retrospect. My goal is to help them – and others – make those decisions right the next time, beforehand. What about you? Are you choosing wisely for your future? 

Creating What You Dream About for Your Life (Part 2)

Clarity
Before getting what we dream about we must first know what that is. This may seem obvious but it trips up even the most intelligent people right out of the gate. Take out a blank sheet of paper and write “My Dream Life” at the top. List everything you want to have, do, be and share. From this list generate goals to help set you back on course.

Avoid the “Shiny New Object Syndrome”
It’s easy to lose momentum by getting distracted with new, exciting opportunities. Having clarity makes it easier to distinguish those opportunities that help move us forward from the ones that distract us from the ‘work’ of creating the life we want..

The next time a new opportunity arises ask yourself, “How will this help me achieve my dream of “x”? If it doesn’t, you probably want to dismiss the opportunity and move on.

Redefine Failure
People who focus on the destination as opposed to the journey also tend to be more critical of their failures. When you enjoy the process along the way, it’s easier to appreciate the end result — whether you consider it a “success” or “failure.”

The next time you do experience failure, however, reframe it. Consider that you have just learned how not to do something, and then acknowledge yourself for what you’ve learned.

Give in to Your Primal Instincts
Craving new challenges is hard-wired into our DNA. If it weren’t, we never would have left the cave, invented the wheel or flown to outer space. Ignoring this primal code over the long term can lead to complacency. So how do you happily succumb to this urge? With more clarity and structure.

Create a list of things you haven’t done yet, but want to do. Be specific and remember the three, guaranteed “no fail” rules when it comes to goal setting:

1. Write it down. 2. Write it down. 3. Write it down.

Putting your list in writing transforms it from a desire into a personal contract with yourself.

Go Guilt-Free
Taking time to care for ourselves, guilt-free, is difficult for many people. Sometimes it feels as though things will fall off the rails if we “let go.” But when we do let go, taking time to reflect and dream something amazing happens: the earth still spins — people find a way to manage without us. Taking time off leaves us feeling refreshed and makes us better workers, parents, spouses and citizens.

Plus, going guilt-free can be contagious.

As with anything worthwhile, there is no quick fix when it comes to designing and building the dream life you want. However, these steps can help guide you along your path to living the life you want…and loving the life you live.

 

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

Creating What You Dream About for Your Life (Part 1)

We all have dreams to live the life we really want. If that’s the case, why does it seem that so few people actually do?

Creating the life we want seems like it should be easy, but for many reasons it isn’t. Sometimes we’re too busy working, paying bills or picking up kids to give it much thought. Sometimes we believe it is just a wish or a fantasy.  Sometimes we don’t know how to get clarity so we put it off until “later.” Or, perhaps, we have ignored what we really wanted and, instead, created a life that others wanted for us (or themselves) — ouch.

How to Create the Life You Dream Of

If you aren’t living the life you dream of, how do you get back on track? How do you get clear on what you want? And how do you stay committed to it?

In my next blog: Steps that can help you get started.

5 More Strategies for Successful Goals

I’m following up on the great strategies Heidi Grant Halvorson writes about in her book Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Most people don’t take goal setting seriously and never get beyond just thinking about them, rather than writing, planning and implementing.

In my last post I explained the first four strategies for effective goal setting [link to previous post]:

  1. Be specific (for both goals and obstacles)
  2. Seize the moment
  3. Accurately gauge the distance
  4. Be a realistic optimist

Here are the next five goal-setting strategies that successful people use:

 

  1. Focus on Getting Better, Rather Than Being Good. When faced with a new and difficult project, budget the time needed to get a handle on it. It’s OK to make mistakes. Take advantage of others’ expertise and ask for help. Don’t compare yourself to others — only to your past performance. Are you improving? 
  2. Have Grit. Grit is the willingness to commit to long-term goals and endure in spite of difficulties. Improvement is alwayspossible. Successful professionals understand that their abilities are far from fixed. They believe they can improve through practice. 
  3. Strengthen Your Willpower Muscle. Willpower is depleted with use. Rest helps you recover quickly and remain positive. Reinforce your willpower muscle with small tasks: Take the stairs, make your bed, and show up on time. 
  4. Don’t Tempt Fate. If you hang around a barber shop, you’ll eventually get a haircut. Stick with the winners. Avoid thinking you can cheat “just a little.” 
  5. Focus on What You Will Do — Not on What You Won’t Do. Many goals involve not doing something. Framing them in this way strengthens self-sabotaging impulses. Substitute if/then planning: “If I feel the urge to ________, then I will_______ instead.”

I think one of the smartest suggestions is using “if/then” scenario planning. When you’re prepared in advance for obstacles and setbacks, you jump right back in with your plan B.

What do you think about these strategies? Which of them are you already using? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Successful Goals: How to Override Excuses

In my previous posts here and here, I explained why so many people fail to keep New Year’s Resolutions. In spite of sincere desires to change, after a few weeks, many goal-setters go back to their old habits.

Unhealthy habits like overeating, working all of the time, neglect reading a good book and being a couch potato are not 100% bad. They make us feel good temporarily. Because the body and mind are pleasure-seeking vehicles, it’s hard to ignore our hard-wired excuse systems—but not impossible. Awareness heralds change.

Let’s take a typical goal of some of my coaching clients.  This is a composite of several people who want to become better listeners over the coming year. Like for most goals, there are some pretty solid competing commitments that interfere with becoming a better listener.

Here is how a commitment grid would look for that goal:

 

 

 

Visible Commitment: Improvement goal –

“One Big Thing”

 

What’s the One Big Thing that if you could change it, would make your work more satisfying?

 

 

 

Doing/

Not doing instead

 

 

What are my behaviors that work against the attainment of this goal?

 

 

Hidden competing commitments

 

If you imagine doing the opposite of the undermining behavior, do you detect in yourself any discomfort, worry, or vague fear? What worrisome outcome are you committed to preventing?

 

Big Assumptions

 

 

What big assumptions do you have that contribute to a need to self-protect? (What fear or worry leads you to Column 2 behaviors?)

 

 

I am committed to the value or the importance of…

 

 

What am I’m doing or not doing that prevents my commitment from being fully realized?

 

I may also be committed to…

 

I assume that if…

Better listening

 

I am committed to becoming a better listener (especially staying in the present, staying focused, being more patient)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I allow my attention to wander, I start looking at my BlackBerry.

 

If I’m trying to listen to a client, I start thinking of an impressive response instead of listening.

 

If it’s my daughter, I start thinking about what she should do differently and stop listening.

 

If it’s my wife, I think, “This isn’t urgent,” or “I’ve already heard this,” and I stop listening.

Worry Box: I worry I will Look stupid

Be humiliated

Be helpless

Not have control

Make a mistake

Allow someone else to make a big mistake (especially someone I’m responsible for)

 

 

I am committed to not looking stupid, not feeling helpless, not losing control, not making a big mistake, not allowing someone else to make a mistake.

 

I am committed to withdrawing with minimal engagement when conversations get too personal or threatening.

 

I assume that if my teenagers see me as stupid they will stop listening to me.

 

I assume there is nothing positive when my kids dismiss what I have to say; such an interaction is worse than none at all.

 

I assume my wife expects me to help her solve all problems she shares with me.

 

I assume there is no way I can be a good listener unless I can help someone.

 

I assume things are going to get worse unless I can solve their problem.

 

Begin the new year by creating a chart like the one above. Fill in the columns so they reflect your current goal. Courageously admit what worries you. Question the assumptions you make, which have been there to protect you in some way. You can run an “assumption test”: Try doing something you fear just to see what happens.

If you continue to ignore unhealthy habits, they’ll have consequences in your personal and professional life. Make a resolution to break competing commitments so you can succeed in achieving your goals. If you truly want to succeed, try coaching.

To learn more, I recommend you pick up a copy of Immunity to Change, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey (Harvard Business Press, 2009).

Wisdom in Action

Prudent decision-making lies at the heart of wisdom but it’s not the whole story. In order to make a smart decision, a wise leader must draw upon intellectual, emotional, and social comprehension.

Over many coaching sessions with my clients, we discuss what goes into wise thinking.  Here’s a partial list of some of the things people describe as important. To make wise decisions, one must:

  • Gather information
  • Discern reality from artifice
  • Evaluate and edit the accumulating knowledge
  • Listen with both heart and mind
  • Consider what is morally right
  • Weigh what is socially just
  • Consider others as much as self
  • Think about the here and now
  • Consider future impact

In times of crisis, however, wisdom sometimes demands the paradoxical decision to resist action or judgment.

Some of the wisest and most devout men have lived avoiding all noticeable actions.” ~ Michel de Montaigne, French philosopher

There are no workbooks that, if you buy and read them, will turn you into an outstanding leader. Reading about wisdom will certainly open your mind to many possibilities, but to read about it without taking action is a fruitless endeavor

When called upon in any challenging situation, no matter how trivial, if you slow down long enough to ask yourself the question, “What would be the wisest thing to do?” you will already be moving closer to making a more appropriate and apt decision.

The question allows you to slow down the sense of urgency long enough to consider other people, other issues, and future implications. Instead of reaching for immediate solutions to take away the burning problem, you have an opportunity to consider future needs down the road.

The Contradictions of Wisdom

What are the elements that comprise wisdom? Here are recurrent themes and common qualities:

  • Humility
  • Patience
  • Clear-eyed, dispassionate view of human nature
  • Emotional resilience
  • Ability to cope with adversity
  • A philosophical acknowledgment of ambiguity
  • Recognizing the limitations of knowledge

And here’s where it gets challenging. Action is important, as well as inaction, at times. Compassion is central to wisdom, but so is emotional detachment. Knowledge is crucial, but often wisdom deals with uncertainty.

These inherent contradictions are embedded in any definition of wisdom. In fact, they are the essence of what makes wisdom so critical to leaders.

What else would you include as an important element of wisdom?

How to Use Humor at Work (Part 4)

How to Add Humor at Work

Timing can be everything when it comes to humor. Follow these guidelines to increase your chances of getting a few chuckles after your next one-liner:

  1. Watch for a playful mood before you tell a joke.
  2. Keep your stories short and simple.
  3. Laugh at your own jokes when a room goes silent. It’s contagious.
  4. Link laughter to something people already know: place, work or climate.
  5. Avoid laughing at other cultures; instead, laugh at your own.
  6. Laugh at your own ego.
  7. Listen to people who make you laugh, and mimic a few tactics they use.