Is An Annual Plan Enough?

Around this time of the year, many companies already have their plans and budgets for the next year. This used to be a routine effort. This year’s planning requires more due to the climate of uncertainly and tensions.

The Covid-19 pandemic is an important whack on the side of the head for independent business owners. We need to do way more than just one year. Envision the future as far as you can go to sustain and grow your business. Courageously write down or draw a picture of what could happen that is great, good and hard over the next 3, 5 or 10 or more years for your business activities.

Put on your hard hat and acknowledge the complex conditions that exist in your industry and your community. For example, if you are in the food industry you must tackle:

  • Short food supplies due to drought and fires
  • Shipping delays
  • Labor shortage
  • Consumer preference for takeout dining
  • Consumer pent up demand for socializing in safe groups

How To Get Started:

Start with a list like that above identifying conditions your business must deal with in the next 12 – 18 months. Then ask a lot of questions of peers and google search to look for gaps and problems that you are really good at fixing and filling. Go through the list of challenges again and have write down what the risk means to your business. Also, write down how you can narrow gaps or fix problems. These ideas for solutions that you can confidently act on are future opportunities are potentially future valueWrite your solutions down so they make it into your future plans. Then consider time and resources to address risks and act on opportunities. With that information you can start you planning and just lay it out over time 12 to 18 months.

Given the deep impact and uncertainty of the Covid-19 conditions, owners should look ahead for at least 3 and better 5 years to lay out timing for closing gaps and making major changes. Why look that far ahead. Because, if you have a clear plan and realistic timing and steps to get to your end goal it will be much easier to get essential resources

You can find forecasts of industry trends, market shifts and changes in local business districts that help predict future sales. Your City Economic development officers, local chambers or libraries can direct you to information sources and organizations.

What if you are planning to retire? Then you need to look even further into the future. Retirement planning is essential no matter what your age. If you had to go into your savings to get through the pandemic, then you have to revisit and reflect long-term saving goals as part of business expenses.

Make sure you have an exit plan in case you do decide to close your current business in 2022 or 23 for any reason. Know how to find current selling value your company. Learn what you must do to transfer the business to relatives or employees or a creative merger into another organization.

Make It a Habit to Plan for 2022 and Beyond!

  • One-year plan to guide your immediate operations activities
  • Three-to-five year to plan for operating improvements or growth steps to pursue opportunities you are uniquely qualified to successfully complete
  • Five-to-ten or more years ahead long-term strategies like acquiring commercial property, retirement needs and wants, emergency reserves in case of major economic, social disruptions

The Future of Small and Mid-size Businesses

I am pleased to see more research going on about micro-businesses – The GoDaddy study done with the Milken Institute

Search the link to the Milken data and maps on micro-business density in the Metropolitan Areas. I checked out the City of Oakland. It was interesting to see that high density was concentrated in the Downtown area. My guess is it’s where the larger co-working spaces are located. Quickly, the density of micro businesses fades out the further you go East and West across the City of Oakland.

I am disappointed that these massive studies are, primarily, for influencing policy. It is a lack of rich information and data on the millions of micro-, small- and mid-size businesses in this country. This segment makes a major contribution to GDP yet deep knowledge especially about diverse business enterprises is limited. This lack of knowledge limits design and delivery of innovative and effective learning experiences and solutions.

Current Trends in Small Business Recovery

As we talked deeper about the current trends of the recovery, we focused on the long-term risks to the restaurants. He commented on the strangle hold that the delivery companies have on small businesses. They make it difficult for customers to order directly from the restaurants. The high fees of the delivery companies eat away at the potential for profitability for small restaurants.

Restaurant owners are right to be worried if the consumer preference for take-out ordering and delivery goes on through 2022. More business closures are going to occur or they must make long term improvements in their business models.

As we go into the holidays, this is the time for consumers to make reservations and actually go out for sit down dinners. Keep going to your favorite restaurants and bars after New Year’s because that is the slowest time of the year for this sector. Support your restaurants beyond Restaurant Week.

Launching New Products in Post-Pandemic Times

As a business owner stay focused on your customers and their needs. It is important to make good decisions about the right balance between in person and online communications with customers. Search for the right technology products and services that amplify your messages in a way that enhances connections to your customers. Learn and use technology at a pace you can commit to. Check out our expanded comments on these topics:

Stay customer focused with all your marketing and sales efforts

If customers are coming to your store front, talk to them. If key customers are staying away, give them a call to just talk and find out what they are thinking. Create a short survey and email it to customers to find out what they will want to buy in the next 3 – 6 months. Thoughtfully review customer comments and needs statements.

Customer needs are the heart of good marketing and communication. Imagine the conversations and keywords you would use with customers if they walked into your store, restaurant, or retail space. Imagine how you would use these key words in conversations in the future.

Then create three sets of messages to communicate your products and services for use in three situations:
1. In person conversations
2.Text stories about your products or services have helped customers through your social media feeds
3. Brief and clear messages with a great picture that tells the story that you have created in text

Now, ask the questions about which technology products will communicate the message best to your current and prospective customers. Use the right messages and images within the scope of the three communications vehicles. It is better to think more and communicate less frequently but with more meaningful content. Keep in mind that technology is an amplifier of messages and content, NOT the end in itself.

Look to the Future

At this point being able to say I am fully vaccinated is a relief and a dilemma. I feel my whole body relaxing because the risks of the worst effects of the Covid-19 virus are lower. Now, the future is here. Wondering what the right strategies, plans and actions to take creates a whole new level of stress. There is a desire to return to what was normal pre-pandemic. But do I want to bring back the frenetic pace that I was working, just to keep up with what was happening around me. After about 15 months of slowing down and letting deeper thoughts surface as the pandemic progressed, the clients that are coming to TCW are ready to leap forward.

Looking backward at 2019 is a risk since customer and buying behavior shifted dramatically in the pandemic. Learn to do your own market research in your industry, local operating territory, customer segments, and specific niches. This is the first step that we take our program participants and advising clients since 2008 to the present.

Now is the time to contact loyal customers by phone, email or in person and ask them what they need and want in the coming months

  • Prepare five to seven key questions and actually write down the answers.
  • Go back and read the answers and mark the most frequently used words
  • Their answers are literally telling you

• what products they will buy

• why they need them

• when to deliver them

This current data will make it much easier for you to plan through the end of 2021. Frequently, the responses trigger deeper and more insights understanding of your customers that leads you to innovative ideas for new products or enhancements that lead to major growth steps.

Turn this information and your insights into an action plan and a budget. Then you can focus your work efforts. Combine the insights from customers with your expertise and experience to take your business to a much better place.