Forecasting Your Business Plan

“There are only two things you need to know to achieve a goal:  1. Where are you going? and 2.  Where are You At?”

Last week we spoke about identifying three major goals or targets for execution in the near term.  The follow-up challenge this week is to take your strategic plan and either attach financial numbers to it – if it doesn’t have any – or update your projections for the balance of this year as well as the next three years.

The intent is to look at management’s intentions over the time period under consideration, and refresh or create financial projections for that time period.  That means you must take into consideration not only the particulars of the business plan such as when created, but any changes in the interim in the usual areas of the business, such as:

  1. Sales
  2. Marketing
  3. Operations
  4. Finance
  5. Infrastructure changes
  6. Expansion plans

There may be additional areas that you need to focus on.  By going through this exercise management should be able to get a good idea for what revenues and expenses should be for the remainder of the year as well as begin to look forward at the next few years, and have a sense for if the company’s growth plans are realistic and on track.

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Take Your Business To The Next Level – Take This Week’s Business Challenge

This week’s challenge: Executing Your Business Plan

You’ve got a strategy – but do you have a business plan that describes how your strategy will get executed?

Your challenge this week is to articulate, at a high level, how you are going to execute your strategy. Schedule an hour (or two) with your management team putting pencil to paper. Identify – with bullet points – the next 3 most important goals for the following areas:
– Sales
– Marketing
– Operations
– Finance
– Human Resources

These are goals that form the core of your tactical business plan – these are goals that MUST be achieved to get where you want the Company to be in 1 -3-5 years. Or if you need to start with 30 days, 90 days and 1 year that is fine too. Just start somewhere!

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Is Your Website Helping Or Hurting You? Business Challenge of the Week

It’s well understood that a robust website is a critical channel to reach prospective customers and clients. Is your website up to date? Is it communicating your company’s value proposition in a clear, comprehensible fashion? You might think that it does – but let’s test that supposition:

This week’s Business Challenge is the Website Challenge:
Send an email to five random members of your team and ask them to review your website and determine if it clearly communicates why someone should do business with you.

Send five additional emails to friends or business acquaintances and ask them the same thing: Does the website communicate what problem you solve for your target audience? Does it convey trust about your business in a quickly understandable fashion? Does it contain a call to action that results in a conversion? (FYI: A conversion is any action that a visitor takes that builds a relationship with you. Examples include ability to sign up for something, watch a video, download an ebook or the best conversion – buy whatever you are selling)

Have those that respond provide you with a written summary, then schedule a meeting with your team to review results and create an action item list to act on some of the suggestions. These days your website is often your lifeblood – don’t sit still on this one!

Continue the Conversation: Participate in our weekly Lunch and Lead Webinar every Wednesday at noon to talk more about this week’s topic and get valuable feedback from your peers about your website. register here.

Know Your Competition – Business Challenge of the Week 7/18/11

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of current and potential competitors is an essential component of corporate strategy yet most companies do not conduct this type of analysis systematically enough. Instead, many enterprises operate on what is called “informal impressions, conjectures, and intuition gained through the tidbits of information about competitors every manager continually receives.” As a result, traditional environmental scanning places many firms at risk of dangerous competitive blindspots due to a lack of robust competitor analysis.

Well that just doesn’t cut it for leaders who want to win!

This week your challenge is to complete a competitive analysis using the following steps:
1. Define your industry – scope and nature of the industry
2. Determine who your competitors are
3. Determine who your customers are and what benefits they expect
4. Determine what are the key success factors are in your industry
5. Rank the key success factors by giving each one a weighting – The sum of all the weightings must add up to one
6. Rate each competitor from 1 – 10 on each of the key success factors
7. Multiply each cell in the matrix by the factor weighting
Don’t get caught up in thinking this has to be a time consuming, research oriented project. The most important thing is to get something down on paper as a starting point that you can continue to refine. Get your key people in a room for a set amount of time and get it done. If you have some big, gaping questions that you just can’t answer during that time period, assign it to someone with a deadline and keep moving the project forward. Or hire a facilitator to help keep you on track.

Be sure to include a column to rate your own company (and be honest) and a column to list benchmarks. They are the ideal standards of comparisons on each of the factors. They reflect the workings of a company using all the industry’s best practices.

To see an example click here.

Once you have completed the matrix, schedule time (2 hours maximum) with your management team to:
• Identify in what areas your competitors may be besting you
• How you can respond
• Assign tasks and accountabilities to that response (by WHOM, by WHEN)
• Schedule a follow up meeting to take place in one month to measure progress. Keep this topic on your monthly/quarterly strategic planning updates. It’s too important to not be talking about on a consistent basis.

NEWS ALERT!!!! Starting this Wednesday, the Business Challenge  of the Week will be the topic of discussion during the Weekly Wednesday Leadership Webinar – Lunch and Lead. Join me and some of my colleagues every Wednesday from 12:00 – 1:00 pm to discuss the Business Challenge of the Week. To sign up, click here.

Competitive Analysis Matrix Example

Click here to see example of Competitive Analysis Matrix: Competitive Analysis Matrix Example

In this example competitor #1 is rated higher than competitor #2 on product innovation ability (7 out of 10, compared to 4 out of 10) and distribution networks (6 out of 10), but competitor #2 is rated higher on customer focus (5 out of 10). Overall, competitor #1 is rated slightly higher than competitor #2 (20 out of 40 compared to 15 out of 40). When the success factors are weighted according to their importance, competitor #1 gets a far better rating (4.9 compared to 3.7).

Putting Accountability In Place – Business Challenge for Week of July 11, 2011

It’s not enough to strategize and plan for your company: at the end of the day it’s all about execution. To that end we all need some level of accountability, whether implicit or explicit: CEOs are accountable to shareholders, employees are accountable to their superiors, and so on. This is not a negative thing; think about it as a way for employees to receive positive encouragement that can drive the company to the next level.

Your task this week is put pencil to paper, and identify projects and areas of responsibility for your direct reports. Then write next to each project or area the mechanism in place to hold the responsible person accountable, and when the follow up is scheduled to happen. If you identify areas that have fallen through the cracks and no one is being held accountable, come up with a simple game plan to address that issue.

If you have any questions or feedback, please contact me by email brector@therectorgroup.com or phone: 954.356.0439 OR If you want to add an extra layer of accountability, email me and I’ll follow up with you later this week to see how you did.

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Mid-Year Checkup – Business Challenge for Week of July 5, 2011

Success is not an accident, and hope is not a strategy.

It is officially the second half of 2011. Are you where you want to be? Are you on track to have a successful year? Are you measuring your progress against your plan? Are you achieving impressive results?

If you are not making the progress that you would like to make and are capable of making, it could be because your goals are not clearly defined. This week’s Business Challenge is to perform a Mid-Year Check up. Think how quickly we got to the mid-year point? Well, the second half of the year will go by just as quickly. Don’t miss the opportunity to have a successful year no matter where you are right now.

Read on for some additional insight and tools on how to get on track:

I often hear CEOs wringing their hands, complaining about how tough things are these days. Sales are down, profitability is off, or whatever. It’s certainly true that the economy is struggling, but you can’t control that. However, you CAN control how you respond to your current circumstances. So let’s focus on that: if you want to drive your company to the next level, even in troubled times, you are going to have to make a decision to take charge of your future. Random accidents of nature and hoping for better days will not drive your company to the next level. Achieving that is going to involve setting some goals, and holding people – including yourself – accountable. So, let’s get started taking concrete steps to make som e things happen by laying out a simple strategic planning process.

Let’s look at three simple steps to put a plan in place. This is a simple way to develop an effective strategic plan, and drive it down into effective tactical actions.

What are these three steps? They are:
1.1. Understand where you are.
1.2. Envision your (year) end-game.
1.3. Connect the dots.

Let’s talk about this in more detail:

1) Understand where you are.
To begin, management should ask some basic questions about the business today. Some examples:
What drives your revenue? Is it internet marketing, specific sales channel, particular advertising, or through ongoing business relationships? And which levers in each of those drive revenues?

What’s your average unit price? How sensitive is your market to pricing? Can you position your service or product to more positively reflect the value added? Does your pricing reflect the value offered? Does it contemplate every cost involved – even things like overhead or other sales, or administrative costs. If your average price seems appropriate, how can you drive unit volumes?

Have you defined, and are you monitoring your Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)?

2) Envision Your (Year) End-Game
Where do you want to be at the end of this year? Set stretch goals for:

1. Revenue
2. Number of Customers (You want more granularity to reduce risk)
3. Cash flow
4. Other relevant metrics or KPI’s

The intent of management to clearly define very specific goals to be achieved within a clearly defined timeframe.

3) Connect the dots to deliver
If you know where you are now, and where you want to be, how do you bridge the gap between the two? The answer is to set intermediate goals with accountabilities. For example, if you’ve identified your revenue drivers, and you have now set a revenue growth goal for the year, you can define the intermediate steps management needs to take to achieve the growth goal. For example, such steps might be:

1) Putting in place a goal of a minimum number of outbound calls per salesperson.
2) Hiring of new sales personnel to support revenue growth, with specific sales goals for these new hires.
3) Developing a specific number new contacts within local business community.

Your intermediate goals will obviously be specific to your situation.

To finish connecting the dots you will need to put together all of the intermediate goals that get the company where it needs to be. I would suggest that you set these goals by quarter. Finally, you will need to put in place accountabilities: which tasks must be completed to achieve these goals, who will do them, and by when. I would suggest at monthly follow-up meetings (or more often, if desired). With this in place management will be well on on its way to achieving the goals of the company.

Remember, accidents and hope will not bring the results that you want to see. You must carefully define where you are, where you want to be, and then take careful, disciplined steps – with accountability – that will get you there. No company has ever succeeded without its leadership initiating a process like this. And, like I said in the first few sentences, it all begins with you making a decision.

If you have any questions or feedback, please contact me by email brector@therectorgroup.com or phone: 954.356.0439

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Understand, and prepare for, your exit strategy – Business Challenge of the Week 6/27/11

Whether the owners of a company ultimately intend to sell to private equity, to a strategic investor, or pass the company to others (often family members) there are critical actions to be taken to prepare your company for that transition. What those actions are will often depend on what your ultimate exit strategy.

Is your strategy:
1. Sale to financial buyer?
2. Sale to a strategic buyer (another company)?
3. Sale to an individual?
4. Passed to a family member?

Each goal can have somewhat different requirements in terms of how you prepare the company – but you must make a decision about your exit strategy before you can proceed.

You can always pursue a different exit strategy when the time actually comes, but it’s much easier to change courses (and attract an exit partner) when you are on a course.

So this week’s challenge: Identify an exit strategy

If you have any questions or feedback, please contact me.

Clean Up Corporate Documents – Business Challenge of the Week for 6/20/11

Few things can damage a company more rapidly than an unforeseen legal controversy (often between owners) which relies upon proper corporate documents for resolution. Things can get particularly difficult if the shareholders have never properly ratified a shareholder agreement (or operating agreement, depending on the form of incorporation). These documents define the relationship between the shareholders, and deal with issues like disposition of shares, recording ownership of the company, etc.

Your challenge this week:
• Review your articles of incorporation, shareholder’s agreement, operating agreement or other corporate documents.
• Ensure that your corporate documents are up-to-date, properly executed, and accurately reflect the understanding between all parties.
• If there are any parts of the document that you do not understand or that you are not comfortable with arrange a meeting with your company’s outside counsel immediately (recognize that YOU are not this person’s client, but rather the company).

This is not the most exciting task that a CEO can undertake, say, compared to putting together a strategic plan with members of senior management; it can often be an uncomfortable undertaking if there are open issues between owners that must be resolved before documents can be signed. It is critical that this be put to bed as soon as possible. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you have any questions or feedback, please contact me.

Understand and Manage Cash Flow

One of the most important lessons business owners must learn is that cash flow is king. It doesn’t matter how much money is coming in the future if you don’t have enough money to deal with your business TODAY. Employees can’t wait on paychecks until your customers pay. Suppliers may not be willing to extend your credit any further and you may not be able to purchase the goods you need in order to deliver to your customer and receive payment.

More businesses fail for lack of cash flow than for lack of revenue or profit. Why?
1. Business owners overestimate income and underestimate expenses.
2. Business owners fail to anticipate a cash shortage and run out of money, forcing them to suspend or cease operations, even though they have active customers.

Entrepreneurs need to understand what their near and intermediate term cash requirements are – and why. How to do this? First make sure you understand the difference between profit and cash flow.
• Profit is the difference between revenue and expenses. Due to accounting rules, there can be timing issues that effect when you recognize revenue and when you receive the cash associated with that revenue. Likewise, similar timing issues can effect when you recognize expenses, as opposed to when you pay the bill.
• Cash flow is the difference between inflows (actual incoming cash) and outflows (actual outgoing cash). Cash inflow is not counted until payment is received and expenses are not calculated until payment is made. Cash flow also includes infusions of working capital from investors or debt financing.

Your challenge this week is to create a simple cash forecast, by month (or week, if you wish) for the next six months. A template to use as a starting point for your cash forecast is available HERE.
Getting Started:
1. Start with the amount of cash on hand – your current bank account balance(s) plus actual currency and coin.
2. Make a list of anticipated inflows – customer payments, collection on bad debts, interest or investment earnings, etc. List not only the amount, but also when it will be coming in.
3. Make a similar list of anticipated outflows – payroll, monthly overhead, payments on accounts payable or other debt, taxes payable or set aside for future payment, equipment purchases, marketing expenses, etc.

Assemble this into a simple Excel spreadsheet that you review with your management team on a consistent basis. If at any point you see you have a negative cash balance, you have a potential problem that you need to address immediately.

The time periods whereby management measures this can vary – if there are serious liquidity issues it may be necessary to project forward by week, otherwise by month or even by quarter may be sufficient. This should be monitored carefully by all appropriate members of senior management so that if cash issues appear on the horizon concrete steps can be taken to address them.

If you have any questions or feedback, please contact me.

Sincerely,

Bruce Rector
The Rector Group
Tel: 954-356-0439
brector@therectorgroup.com

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