Step 1: Start with a SWOT analysis
Identifying your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is called a SWOT analysis. Your strengths and weaknesses are viewed from within your business. Opportunities and threats are external to your business. Make the four lists, or optionally use one of the many SWOT forms online. Some of the forms contain leading questions for each of the four areas. Think about each department (sales, marketing, finance, operations, etc.) in your business as you go through the four sections.
Your goal is to uncover possible ways to rely on your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, capitalize on opportunities in market share, and mitigate threats from competition.
If you’re feeling real ambitious, this would be a good time to begin working on a longer term strategy, typically three to five years out.
Step 2: Complete (or update) a business model canvas
One of my favorite tools is the business model canvas. A canvas is a very high level business plan on one page. The canvas is divided into nine sections. Each section (or box) on the canvas touches neighboring boxes for specific reasons.
There are many versions of business model canvases, lean canvases, marketing canvases, and more available online. I like this one in particular because each of the nine boxes follow the structure defined by the original creator, Strategyzer. This copy of the business model canvas contains leading questions and prompts to help you complete each box.
Here’s a quick video I created showing you how to complete the business model canvas.
You should be able to fill out the canvas in less than an hour.
Step 3: Test your assumptions
Most people are not aware of the assumptions they make while completing a business model canvas. Your document will be full of assumptions. It’s important at this point to become aware of these assumptions and to begin testing their validity.
Some assumptions are critical to know and can make or break the viability of your business. Some of the most critical go / no-go decisions will be based on answers you uncover to these questions:
- Will your ideal customer pay for the product or service you’re bringing to market?
- Are they already accustomed to paying for your service through a different method than the one you’re proposing (cash vs credit for example)
- Do you know where to reach your ideal clients?
- Can you generate more revenue than the costs you’ll encur?
- Can you build the product or service you want to deliver?
Make a list of the assumptions you’ve made. Next, develop a strategy to test these assumptions. Create a survey, phone scripts, etc. and plan on contacting potential customers.
Here’s a link to an 86-page book that delves deep into this topic: Talking To Humans
Step 4: Define SMART goals for the next quarter
Rather than worrying about an overwhelming year of goals, I’ve found it much easier to focus on the current quarter. There’s only twelve weeks. You can define actions to take each week and easily track whether you took those actions or not. You can also define some outcomes you hope to achieve, such as the amount of money in your checking account and the number of customers that hire you. Each of those outcomes and many more, however, not directly within your control. The activities you perform each day and each week that lead up to customers hiring you and contributing to your checking account, those are the things you can control.
When you define your goals, be sure to focus mostly on the leading activities that you have control over. For every lagging indicator (a final state of being a month or a quarter from now) be sure to include about four leading activities that will drive behavior and contribute to the final state you hope to achieve.
Again, there are plenty of SMART goal planning tools elsewhere online.
Step 5: Set up a tracking system
Set up a simple spreadsheet. Down the left side of the spreadsheet should be each of the leading activities you plan on taking. The second column should contain the number of times each week (or month if it’s only 1 or 2 per month) that you plan on taking that particular action. Define twelve more columns, one for every week in the quarter. Finally, add a final column to the far right that contains a sum of the values in each of the 12 weekly columns.
At the bottom of the worksheet, include a row for each of the lagging indicators. These are the final state metrics like bank account balance or number of customers you hope to achieve if all your planned activity actually does what it’s supposed to do.
Step 6: Execute your weekly plans, documenting your activities and results
It’s important to track your progress. By spending just a minute at the beginning of each day reviewing what you plan to accomplish will take you far. Add to the weekly totals at the end of each day. Your competitors are not focusing on their goals twice a day. And you’re not wasting much time on this activity, very simple to execute. The key is having a scoresheet readily available. This can be a printed sheet pinned to your wall or an electronic spreadsheet and it’s link embedded in a daily calendar entry. Either way you’ll see the goal tracker daily.
Step 7: Adjust mid-course as needed
After a few weeks, you’ll know if your initial thoughts about goals were achievable. If you’re getting through all the activity that you wanted to accomplish each week but still not seeing results, one of two things could be going on. It may just take more time for your activities to pay off. The other possibility is that your are not contributing towards the financial and customer levels you expect. Only you can answer which condition is the case for your business. Either be patient and continue on the same course, or make a subtle (not radical) change. You may have also realized that you didn’t have something in place needed to perform the activities. Add an activity or two that will close the newly identified gap.
Step 8: Evaluate the end-of-quarter results
You should have some new sales and customers once you’ve completed an entire 12-week cycle of marketing activity. Reflect on the following questions:
- What percentage of activities I wanted to accomplish actually get done? Why or why not?
- What did I learn about my potential customers during this quarter?
- Did I identify any gaps in my marketing, internal operations, or customer fulfillment workflows that need corrected?
- Did I have all the resources I needed going into this quarter? What resources do I need to add?
- Did I generate more business revenue this quarter than business expenses?
- Before I begin the next quarter of marketing, are there any adjustments I need to make to this plan?
Step 9: Repeat the process
Keep your marketing engine running.
- Re-assess your SWOT analysis and business model canvas
- Are there more assumptions to test? More customer surveys to conduct?
- Revise / Update your SMART goals for the quarter
- Create a new tracking score sheet for this second quarter and follow it
- Reflect, evaluate, and repeat