Intro to Business Planning

business planIf you’re in business or considering starting a business you’ve no doubt heard of the business plan. Some view the business plan as a long, confusing, and pointless process. Yet many lenders insist that you have a written plan in place before they invest in your business. Key employees in your business as well as partners often rely on a business plan to guide them and their strategic decisions. For many it’s a valuable, if not indispensable guide.

In recent years the business plan has come under scrutiny. Many companies operating using lean start up business models throw the idea of a business plan as a starting point out the door.

I won’t argue the value of a business plan against its alternatives. Instead for this month’s blog series, I will discuss elements of the business plan that every business needs to know, and for those of you still uninterested in the traditional business plan model, offer a few alternatives.

First off, let’s define the elements of a business plan and its basic definition.

A business plan is a calculated future of the business of your venture. It can includes everything from the initial concept, to the marketing, financials, and sales projections. Some detail the step-by-step process and description of how your business will enter the market and succeed. Numbers and predictions are projections based on market research, comparable industry benchmarks, and even historical data.

Let’s take a quick look at the core elements of a business plan broken down into three major parts:

Part One. The Business Concept.

Dictionary.com defines a business concept as “An idea for a business that includes basic information such as the service or product, the target demographic, and a unique selling proposition that gives a company an advantage over competitors. A business concept may involve a new product or simply a novel approach to marketing or delivering an existing product.

Any and every business exists to solve a problem(s). The best business ideas understand how they solve that problem and whom they solve it for in a way that provides a valuable advantage recognized by its customers. If you don’t know why you exist or cannot explain it in 25 words or so, you need to work on your business concept.

To understand how succinct your business concept can be, check out the descriptions of The 14 Best New Business Ideas for 2014 from Business News Daily.

Part Two. Marketing.

Marketing is essential to any business. Without it, how will customers know that you exist?

There are several definitions of marketing, but one of our team’s favorites is borrowed from Randall Chapman at MarketingProfs, “Marketing means solving customers’ problems profitably.”

Marketing goes hand-in-hand with the business concept. It includes the management of the process, objectives, strategies, tactics, benchmarks by which you’ll measure success and more. It includes customer personas and deeper analysis of why you exist, what problems you solve better than any of your competitors. It’s easy to get lost in marketing. There are so many channels for communication and strategies that keep evolving. With marketing you need to not only what you’re going to do today, but what you’ll be looking for tomorrow.

For more, check out Forbes’ The Top 7 Online Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2014.

Part Three. Financials.

Numbers are usually the entrepreneurs’ least favorite area to work on in their business. Numbers include the balance sheet, profit and loss statements, benchmarks, ratios, cash flow projections, break even analysis, and more. A full set of financial projections are often required by lenders or investors before they even think twice about funding your business or project.

Investors want to know not only how you’ll spend the money, but how you’ll make money with the money they invest in you. This is true of traditional lenders as well.

 

If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank or 1MillionCups you’ll understand how many entrepreneurs struggle with these three core elements of a business plan – explaining their business model, their marketing pitch, and how a Mark Cuban or Daymond John will make money by investing in the entrepreneur’s small business.

Thinking twice about a business plan? Or are you at least open to looking at business planning tools? Check out Kansas SBDC at FHSU’s online business planning tool or download the Kansas SBDC business plan outline for a step-by-step guide.

Still not interested? Stay tuned for a post on business plan alternatives and more!

Feel free to check out our business plan outline below!

KSBDC Business Plan Outline

 

About our Author

Logan Hildebrand is an aspiring intern at the Kansas SBDC and is currently attending Washburn University in pursuit of three degrees: business marketing, management, and entrepreneurship. She has a passion for capturing the awes of consumers through social media and marketing, and has been interning at the state office and the Kansas SBDC at WU for the past 2 years in order to develop her experiences. Adapting to the ever-changing field of marketing and social media is a strength of hers, as well as making a delicious cup of coffee. Her dream is to one day open her own coffee shop and continue her marketing aspirations through that venture. Until then, she will be providing this blog with insightful, interesting, and useful posts to help aid in the development of marketing in businesses that need assistance.

 

Social Marketing Do’s and Don’ts

dos and dontsTime to go over those social marketing do’s and don’ts! Over time small business has learned more and more about what works and what doesn’t when communicating online. While there isn’t a perfect formula to engagement, there are a few do’s and don’ts that seem to hold true.

Here are a few don’ts that we encourage you to avoid in your social media marketing.

 

Don’t: Ignore your customers and fans.

DO:

  • Social media is all about interaction and response. Your audience of both current and future customers want to hear from you and feel as if your business cares about them. Check out these brands for example!
  • Answer their questions, take in their concerns, throw in some surprises, and give them attention.

Don’t: Let opinions scare you.

DO:

  • Consumers will react positively as well as negatively, but that’s your chance to face your foes and listen to what they have to say. Answer politely and be patient with them. Deleting their comments and messages typically does more harm than good and will often egg the naysayers on.
  • Opinions are opinions and are going to be diverse. Use the negative opinions as a way of showing how your company reacts and handles criticism. This can help you gain more customers, respect, and awareness through the good that you give in return. There are some great examples in this article!

Don’t: Become stagnant.

DO:

  • Constantly remain active on social media, it’s not a place to rest. Keep consumers up-to-date, and keep renovating your sites, profiles, and posts to match the changes. Don’t sacrifice your brand, but keep the conversation fresh.
  • Use multiple social media tactics to create a cross-over value for your communities. Consider providing incentives such as contests to engage your audiences.

Don’tAssume one message fits all.

DO:

  • Knowing your target markets or audience to reach is critical to your marketing. Do you know your customers? Once you identify your targets ensure that you are using the correct social media to reach them. Spend your time and resources on the appropriate targets for your business.
  • Choose wisely what to post, share, like, tweet, etc. These choices will define who you are to your customers.

Don’t: Become “THAT”business.

DO:

  • Don’t bombard your audience with multiple promotions, discounts, and constant status updates about yourself. Instead, use social media as it is meant to be used and be social. Focus on what your audience wants to know.
  • Try posting a Q&A session or give them some tips based on the nature of your business; intrigue them to begin looking for your next post. Let yourself get noticed, don’t push so hard for attention.

Check out other recent posts on our blog including last weeks, Social Media Analytics!

About our Author

Logan Hildebrand is an aspiring intern at the Kansas SBDC and is currently attending Washburn University in pursuit of three degrees: business marketing, management, and entrepreneurship. She has a passion for capturing the awes of consumers through social media and marketing, and has been interning at the state office and the Kansas SBDC at WU for the past 2 years in order to develop her experiences. Adapting to the ever-changing field of marketing and social media is a strength of hers, as well as making a delicious cup of coffee. Her dream is to one day open her own coffee shop and continue her marketing aspirations through that venture. Until then, she will be providing this blog with insightful, interesting, and useful posts to help aid in the development of marketing in businesses that need assistance.

 

Who should you be watching on Twitter?

twitter

As social media, especially Twitter, plays a bigger role in how businesses are operating and marketing, it’s time to take a look at who’s doing it right.

Ever ask yourself what your small business should be doing, or how the businesses that use social well make it so big in social media? As a network of small business consultants, we get this question frequently.

Sometimes it’s the delivery that makes all of the difference, while other times it’s the response that blows them away. Take Twitter for example. Ever tweeted and received a real life reply from the business you tweeted too? One woman did when she tweeted Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. She was enjoying her time at the hotel even though she wasn’t feeling well. When Kimpton’s team read the tweet, the marketing team notified the hotel. Soup, a card, and hot tea was delivered to her room.

This is par for the course for Kimpton. The team makes it a regular habit to pay attention to birthdays and other events. Kimpton uses social media as a key component in customer relationship management.

In January of this year, Fortune Magazine published the Social Media Superstars 2014. In the article, Fortune includes a list of businesses that have mastered their market when it comes to social media. These businesses are great staples to include in your research, but here are a few more instances where social media involved businesses shine:

Tesco Mobile: A difficult tweet posted by a customer was answered so well that other businesses joined in on a long-lasting twitter feed that resulted in many amused followers. Check out their example to see how they handled the situation and even made it worthwhile here.

Taco Bell: Tweets from Taco Bell can never be predicted. Their humor and seriousness in tweeting can change in an instant and they are not afraid to talk back, send some love, or even butt into another conversation. They do not let the customers run them, but instead collaborate in creating a humorous, but great relationship through tweets. Read Buzzfeed’s “The Best of Taco Bell’s Twitter Account” for some Taco Bell examples.

Delta Airlines: Delta catches a customer tweeting that they’re waiting for a flight. Delta responds by offering to check alternate flights. How’s that for customer service?

These are just a few instances where brands were able to live the brand promise and show the brand personality by listening and then effectively responding to their customers via social media. There are many more examples out there. I encourage you to check out brands you admire through their social media pages, especially their twitter feeds to learn how they’re reacting to both positive and negative customer comments. Remember, a negative tweet or one that is a complaint/concern can be transformed into a strong customer relationship with the right amount of humor, a little sincerity, and some apology gifts.

Interested in reading more? Hootsuite also has a few of the top tweeters and how they brand themselves through their tweets: http://blog.hootsuite.com/brands-awesome-conversations-twitter/.

About our Authors

Logan Hildebrand is an aspiring intern at the Kansas SBDC and is currently attending Washburn University in pursuit of three degrees: business marketing, management, and entrepreneurship. She has a passion for capturing the awes of consumers through social media and marketing, and has been interning at the state office and the Kansas SBDC at WU for the past 2 years in order to develop her experiences. Adapting to the ever-changing field of marketing and social media is a strength of hers, as well as making a delicious cup of coffee. Her dream is to one day open her own coffee shop and continue her marketing aspirations through that venture. Until then, she will be providing this blog with insightful, interesting, and useful posts to help aid in the development of marketing in businesses that need assistance.

Lisa Roberts is the associate state director/marketing and product manager with the Kansas SBDC statewide network. Lisa brings a background of marketing, sales, and media with a Masters in Integrated Marketing Communication to the Kansas SBDC network. She’s been with the team since February 2013. She believes that entrepreneurship is the lifeblood and small business is the backbone of an economy built on free enterprise.

Social Media ABC’s

social media abc building blocks

A social media alphabet for small business

As a small business owner you know that social media is no longer just a way to connect with friends and relatives. It’s a tool, a resource, a series of channels that have transformed into a worldwide marketing and advertising tool for businesses.

On any given day you’ll find a plethora of advice for businesses on how to, when to, and why to use social media. You could spend hours on learning about Facebook or Twitter alone. So, we thought to ourselves, wouldn’t it be nice to have a short list of the basics all in one place. Thus, we’ve created the Social Media ABC’s – an alphabet for small business. Enjoy!

A-   Authentic Behavior: Be authentic to your brand, your business, and yourself. Do not let social media change the way that you do business. Personal feelings to a bad review or other negative things can ruin a response to a post, message, or review. Be genuine to who you are as a company and how you run typically.

B-    Brevity: Any post on any social media site should be short and to the point. Long messages will get ignored and passed by. Tell the consumer what they need to know in about 140 characters.

C-    Communicate and Create Content: Communicate with consumers, create a call to action by asking them to respond, share, like, etc. This will increase interaction with content. Content itself should be constantly created. Try not to copy from others, but create raw content through your company. Consumers like to see new things and uniqueness can help your business stand out among competitors.

D-   Disclosure: Disclose only information that is appropriate to be shared among consumers everywhere. Do not go in depth on items personal about the business or leak information that could harm the business or offend other businesses.

E-     Evaluate and Measure: Use analytics provided by the page, analytic measurement pages, or hire a measurement and evaluation team to complete your analytics for you. Watch how customers react, what is popular, how many like there are on posts, how many new likes have been generated as well as views on posts. Base posting techniques on these results as well as compare them to sales increase in your product or service.

F-     Feed Their Curiosity: Show your customers what is going on behind the scenes and bring them into your business. Help them relate and show them that you want them to be a part of your business and not just another customer. They want to see what is going on in order to create the product or service they are purchasing. What is normal work for you, may be something that intrigues and entices consumers.

G-   Generosity and Giving: Giveaways, contests, deals, and specials bring in new customers. When used wisely, these offerings of generosity will bring in new customers that can be maintained for repeat purchases. Too many will lose you money, so be careful. If possible show the behind the scenes of how winners are picked so that consumers better trust that someone wins fairly. Before you begin, however; you must know the rules.

H-   Humor vs Harm: Use humor as you see fit, but watch the type of humor you are using. The jokes and funny posts that you share could be offensive to some. Taking risks is ok as long as you are willing to take the judgment. Beware of appropriateness and the image/voice you are portraying for your business.

I-       Interaction & Influence: By interacting with your market through social media you have another advantage when it comes to influence on their interest and their purchases. The relationship that you create through social media sites will remind those possible customers that you care and they will remember the experience. The better the experience, the more influence you have among interaction with consumers.

J-      Join In: Join in on the fun and show consumers that you are up for the new and innovative. Get them to join in by asking for ideas, comments, and reviews. Ask them what they would like to see, new products or services they would like to have offered, and even what is the most popular things in their life when it comes to choosing products/services like yours.

K-    Know Your Stuff: Know what is appropriate, what is currently trending, and what social media sites attract what customers. Know the type of social media to use in your industry or to reach a certain objective. Know how to answer consumer questions and persuade them to buy via your business.

L-     LISTEN: Pay attention to feedback and what other companies are doing. Listen for your company being mentioned and for other companies /products similar to yours making the headlines. Listen to the changes in social media policies and stay up to date. Listen to what new social media is entering the market and how it is being perceived by consumers. Here are some free tools that can help!

M- Maintain: Maintaining your social media sites is just as important as content and interaction. Maintenance must be constant both with simple posting as well as information updates. As the business changes, the sites should change to match. Hours should be up to date as well as links; pictures should be current and relevant to the company. Keep content appropriate and accurate, keep up-to-date ownership of the site to ensure correct and honest posting, keep privacy as privacy and don’t allow too much personal information out. Bad maintenance can lead to failure or worse, the damaging of your brand.

N-   Network and Niche: Network with the right people and create your niche market to hit. The more people you can connect with, both personal and business-to-business, become connections that can be used later when needed. You can get referred, provide referrals, or even suggest a partnership for something that you both need.

O-   Own the Offline Opportunity: Use social media, but also incorporate it into offline events involving social media through consumers’ eyes. A tweetup for example.

P-    Publish, Publish, Publish: Create a publishing schedule for media to be added and updated. Manually publish everything and do it on a schedule that is constant so that consumers never miss a beat and lose track of you. Daily post, have a weekly update for events and coupon deals, create at least one giveaway or special a month, have a quarterly re-vamp of pictures and content, bi-annually hold a large contest, and annually measure the sites to check posting progress. Most of all know when to post, tweet, and e-mail!

Q-   Quality Questions: Hold Q&A sessions or Tweet events, etc. in order to get response from consumers. Create questions with a purpose to discover more about what your customers want and hope for.

R-    Response: Respond to all inquiries, posts, messages, etc. in a timely manner so that customers recognize that the business cares about their involvement as well as get customers will be happy to get a reply.

S-     Share: Share posts from other businesses that you support, interesting topics, and posts from related to the business social media site.

T-     Trust: Trust is trust; just like in life you must create a means for the consumer to trust you. Make sure that your site is free of bugs, viruses, and infected posts. Make sure that links are secure and that your website locks the customers’ information so that nothing can be stolen. Also show them that they can trust your product or service by providing testimonials, warranties, and stories through social media. Be open with the good and bad to show them how you take care of a problem.

U-   Understand Ubiquity: Social Media is 24-7! Everything is everywhere all of the time. Your business is available to consumers every second of every day, there is not break or shut down period. Businesses must maintain their social media presence and make certain that the business social sites run the same from morning till night.

V-    Value: Create value with posts and other items shared on social media. Do not post just to post or share just so that you have activity that day. Provide a value with your posts that customers can perceive and understand. If there is a value to them, then they will be more willing to click through the post. Value can be created in many ways, but here are some lessons.

W- Work: Social media is no easy task, it takes work, work, and more work. Content needs to be made, posts shared, customers analyzed, information received, questions answered, deals given, contests held, options given, information updated, and much much more! It is a full-time job, not just something that many can handle in the background once the business is on its feet.

X-    Xerox: Copy from anywhere and everywhere, but make sure to give credit as needed.

Y-    You: Be you, be personable. Customers are not robots and hate being treated as such. Be the person behind the social media, but maintain a personable and professional stance when it comes to running social media. You are what connects the consumer to the product/service you offer. You drive the passion and fuel the fire behind what customers are looking for so keep the “you” behind the media. Stay true to who you are.

Z-     Zero Excuses and Catch Your ZZZs: Do not provide excuses to customers or yourself for not keeping up with social media. If social media cannot be up kept then do not take on the challenge of that opportunity yet. No social media is better than a social media that is not present, out-of-date, or taken over by fake and spam accounts. Also catching ZZZ’s when it comes to social media means to take breaks. When social media getting on the nerves or long hours are causing trouble to you, then take a break. Get sleep at night and set scheduled times to post and work on social media for both you and/or the employee in charge of the paged. Don’t let social media run anyone’s life.

 

About the author

Logan Hildebrand is an active intern at the Kansas Small Business Development Center and is currently attending Washburn University in pursuit of 3 degrees: business marketing, management, and entrepreneurship. She has a passion for capturing the awes of consumers through social media and marking and has been interning both here and elsewhere for the past 2 years in order to develop her experiences. Adapting to the ever changing field of marketing and social media is a strong point of hers, as well as making a delicious cup of coffee. Her dream is to one day open her own coffee shop and continue her marketing aspirations through that venture. Until then, she will be providing this blog with insightful, interesting, and useful posts to aid in the development of marketing in businesses that need assistance.

Networking? What’s your pitch?

networking pitchWhen meeting folks for the first time in a business networking situation I’m often asked, “Now, who is it that you work for, and what do you do there?” To which I used to respond with a mouthful, “I work for the Kansas Small Business Development Center Network where I’m the associate state director slash marketing and product manager.”

As you might guess, my response was either met with either a short “Oh” or a puzzled “I’ve never heard of it. What exactly is that?”

I learned quickly that this was NOT the response my inquirer wanted to hear. After all, they were networking. And when they’re in networking mode they don’t want to hear a long drawn-out explanation of someone’s job responsibilities or an About Us page regurgitated. They want to hear how they’ll benefit from doing business with you or by referring business to you. They want to hear how you’ll help their business or them personally in their career.

If you’re networking, isn’t that what you really want to know?

So, how do we – you and I – ensure that we’re not boring our audience with something that sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher and instead leave them with something memorable?

Here’s some food for thought when networking.

elevator pitch sentence structureDevelop an elevator pitch.

Some argue that this is a canned pitch and is ineffective. I would argue that it has its merits. A well-crafted pitch can be repeated by every person in your small business. It gives those that struggle with articulating your message a quick tool to use and delivers a consistent message. And consistency is critical to your brand development.

On the flip side, an elevator pitch is most effective when tailored to the audience at hand. You wouldn’t pitch the Shark Tank sharks the way you’d pitch a potential employee. Want more? Read about the best and worst shark tank pitches according to Mark Cuban.

My favorite approach is to answer a question with a little more fact gathering. Using the networking example above, I’ll pause when asked what it is that I do and respond with, “First tell me about your business, and your role, and then I can better explain what it is that I do.” This usually results in the person of interest opening up and revealing what’s important to them. I then respond in kind with “In light of what you’ve shared, this how the Kansas SBDC can help you and your business.” And I proceed to tell my story using what they’ve just shared with me.

Develop a memory dart.

In his blog post, Steve Woodruff suggests that the elevator pitch is one step premature and suggests the memory dart as a verbal business card to accomplish three things:

1. Leave an image behind – preferably an effective analogy.

2. Establish quickly if there is a potential area of need. This includes not only the individual you’re talking with, but includes someone they might know.

3. It opens the door to say more. This is where you want the listener to invite you to tell the rest of the story (“So, how do you do that?”).

 

The idea behind any approach is to get at what resonates with your audience – and get there with very few words. Still not feeling it? Here are Six Simple and Irresistible Alternatives to the Elevator Pitch.

Remember, we can tell you all day long how to do it, but actually developing any short story will take several hours, days or even weeks of hard work. You’d think that fewer words are easier to put together, but they’re not. Choosing the right words for the right audience while staying true to your core message is and can be a daunting undertaking.

One of the ways we help small businesses succeed at the Kansas SBDC is by helping them, by helping you, develop their/your short story. Whether you want to call it an elevator pitch or memory dart or “the best response in the world” to what it is that you do, our team of consultants can help you develop the most priceless response to this often asked networking question. And only we can do it for free.

Ready? Contact a center near you.