How to improve business planning
Whether you already are business planning and find yourself exhausted from all the work each day, or plan on opening a business soon, there is still plenty of time to get into the swing of systemizing your business venture.
Many of the steps in the process are common sense, once you actually begin to work on them. Let's take each step in turn and talk about what you want to accomplish with that step.
A. Make a list of all the general functions that apply to any type of business planning. It doesn't matter if you are thinking of a brick and mortar business, an online business, or a hybrid business that involves an Internet presence as well as a physical site. Some examples of the general functions that will always apply are:
Business planning and customers
Accounting. Simply put, you have to create some sort of process for keeping track of what comes in and what goes out. Not only do you want to make sure that your business planning is working its way toward profitability; you also have to deal with making sure there are records to back up your tax filings, that you have indeed paid your vendors, and that your customers are paying you within terms.
In addition, someone has to make sure you and any other employees you have get paid on time, have the right amount of taxes deducted from their gross pay, and all those other little things that keep the finances in order.
Product Development. The bottom line is that unless you have something to sell, no one is going to buy it, and your company ceases to have a reason to exist regardless of your business planning.
Business planning and profitability
Product development is not just about coming up with a better widget. It is also about making sure that better widget is likely to offer something that people want. Extra bells and whistles are of no value if nobody wants to play with them.
Marketing. No matter how good your products are and your expertise in business planning, people must know that you are around, there is no chance of ever getting your Internet business off the ground.
Marketing involves creating strategies, learning how to reach niche markets among consumers, how to position your product to best advantage, writing effective marketing copy for use on your web site and in general marketing collateral, etc.
Sales. While many people lump sales and marketing together, they must be treated as different functions in order to truly be a systemized business planning. Think of marketing as the way of getting the general word out and creating the basic tools that Sales will use to go after and win specific customers.
Administration. Somebody has to mind the store and make sure the day to day tasks are being accomplished properly. Depending on the size of your venture, this may involve one central manager or supervisor, or several managers who oversee one or more departments or sections of the business planning. Keep in mind those managers will be your pipeline to what is happening in every area of your business.
Tech Support - No Internet business can function without someone who knows how to build and manage a web site and keep the equipment running.
Sales, Marketing, and Customer Support. Again, you can possibly begin with one or two people who handle all three of these functions. Over time, your goal is to segregate all of them into their own sections or departments, but for purposes of getting started, these three distinct components do compliment one another enough to put them under the direction or one or two people.
C. With your priorities in order, it is time to talk about developing policies and procedures to keep each of these functions moving along smoothly. Keep in mind that even if you are placing two or three functions under one umbrella initially, you want each of those functions to be clearly defined, with specific processes and responsibilities attached to each one.
Essentially, you are creating a logical process that can be documented in a training manual, and have it be as relevant for a team of three as for a team of three hundred. Here are some examples to help you begin crafting the procedures for each of the essential functions.
For Accounting, include guidelines as to how frequently posting must be done to Payables and Receivables. Daily is a good option, even if you only have one post to make per day. At least your books will always be current.
Technology Support. It is nearly impossible to operate any type of business these days without some sort of resource that can help keep your web site functioning, your servers running and your work stations from losing important data.
Human Resources. It doesn't matter if it is only you and one other person involved in the business venture. The bottom line is someone has to make sure you are functioning within any guidelines or regulations that may apply to the type of business you are operating.
Managing HR policies and procedures can get very involved, so this particular function must be managed by someone with an eye for detail and the ability to assimilate a lot of data.
Purchasing. No matter how lean your Internet business runs, you will have to buy items for your business planning from time to time. It may be nothing more than general office supplies, a software program now and then, or promotional materials that Sales and Marketing can use as giveaways at conventions and other venues.
In any event, someone has to establish relationships with vendors, maintain the rapport, and make sure your company is getting the best price on any goods or services purchased.
At the same time, whomever handles the purchasing has to make sure you don't run out of something important and slow down the processes of filling orders or meeting any expectations of your established customers.
Customer Support and Service. Somebody has to keep the customers happy. CS functions include responding to questions regarding services, dealing with client concerns, and in general making sure each customer will come back again and again, as well as recommend your products to their friends, relatives, and acquaintances.
Get the idea? Your initial list needs to break down all the essential functions related to operating any business from a simple home affair to a multinational corporation. Once you have the list in place, you can move on to the second step in the process.
B. With your list in hand, the time has come to organize and prioritize those functions. Depending on the size of your company, what you will find is that it is possible to combine some functions under one general category, at least as long as your business remains relatively small. Keep in mind you can always split categories at a later date, as they become necessary. Here are some examples on how to prioritize.
Before you even have a company, you must have a core product. This means Product Development is at the top of your list. It is also likely to remain high, since you will want to refine your product over time to remain competitive in your market, as well as come up with new products that compliment your core line.
Administration and Accounting. For a small business, you may want to consider an office manager who can take care of the day to day clerical duties, including posting credits and debits in the books. As you grow, these two functions can be split between different teams. In any event, this group must be structured and in place before you start and is a big part of your business planning.
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