Your Business, Positioned To Succeed

Since you’ve made the commitment to go into business, as a Freelance Solopreneur who offers B2B or B2C services or an Entrepreneur, who employs a leadership team to operate a complex venture you, the founder and leader, will be expected to position your enterprise for profitability and success.

Strategic planning is the process by which business leaders aim to create sustainable success for their organization and it is the essence of business planning.  Strategic plans typically forecast the upcoming 36 months.  Strategic planning is eventually undertaken by all business leaders who fully grasp their responsibilities.

Freelance Solopreneurs might request that their advisory board members participate in the strategic plan development.  Entrepreneurs can count on their team leaders and they may also invite other staff members to contribute to the process.

Step 1: A SWOT Analysis to reveal where the organization is today

Suggest that the planning team use the classic strategy planning tool, the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis matrix.  SWOT asks the planning team to acknowledge and document the current reality of the organization, in preparation for deciding how and when to move forward with plans for growth.

In the SWOT, basic information such as identifying resources that can be considered competitive advantages and factors that are considered minuses, start the process. Note that the Strengths and Weaknesses categories ask the team to acknowledge internal factors, that is, conditions that the organization can influence.  The Opportunities and Threats categories hold external factors that the organization can strive to exploit or avoid as needed, but are unable to control.

Perhaps the most important document for the planning team to examine is the Income (Profit & Loss) Statement.  Over the previous 8 to 12 quarters, have total net sales revenues met the forecast projections? What is the trajectory of (top line) gross sales? The P & L includes categories for each product and service that is sold and reveals the history of sales, gross and net.  That data allows for reasonable projection forecasts to be made for sales revenue performance in the near term and up to three years out.  From the P & L. the team will also acknowledge production or acquisition costs of goods sold for each product and service; all marketing and advertising costs; selling costs; fixed operating expenses; payroll expenses; and taxes, local and federal.

Your accountant will be an excellent resource for financial data analysis (whether or not your team includes a fiscal controller) and will be able to recommend attainable goals that will strengthen the company’s fiscal future, information that is essential to the SWOT process.

Statistics and other Information on market share, current and newly arrived competitors and changes in technology, government regulations, or the priorities and preferences of target markets, which can either help or hurt the plans for long-term growth and success, can be culled from quarterly or annual marketing data and reviewed during the SWOT process.  Quality control, operational processes and customer service protocols should likewise be included in the SWOT Analysis.

Step 2: Use the SWOT results to determine your company’s best growth goals

Once the strategy planning team has a clear picture of the current conditions of the business, the next step is to decide what growth could look like for the organization.  It is strongly recommended that the team research potential growth opportunities for the business, to first understand where expansion can be expected to be sustainable and second, the short and long-term expectations for the proposed expansion.

Plans for operational efficiencies, such as improvements in service delivery, customer service protocols, quality control and inventory management could also be evaluated and strategies for improvements formulated during the SWOT, since these elements can impact business growth and perception of the brand.

Decision-making is a huge part of leadership and the team will demonstrate its prowess here. in Step 2. Your team will have been guided by a comprehensive and candid SWOT Analysis, which allows the team to develop plans and move forward with confidence.

Step 3: Strategies, Action Plans, Monitoring and Review

Once the direction for growth has been determined and the financial and operational upgrades needed to promote that growth have been identified, then a list of growth objectives can be proposed and agreed upon by the planning team.  Once the growth objectives have been officially accepted, then the affiliated strategies and action plans, with time tables and milestones to mark interim demonstrations of success, can be developed, discussed and accepted by the team,

Major planning initiatives benefit from monthly or quarterly review, so that incorrect assumptions and forecasts can be quickly revealed and corrections made.  An internal communications plan designed to keep plan participants and non-participating staff apprised of the strategic plan’s progress supports the motivation to continue to carry out the action plans that drive success on the ground.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

SWOT Your Brand

Freelance consultants and small business owners rise and fall on the marketplace perception of their brand, also known as one’s professional reputation.  As a result, the brand/reputation merits ongoing enhancement, promotion and monitoring as a component of a strategy designed to support new business acquisition and encourage repeat business—in essence, the strategy you implement to build and maintain a good client list.  The brand can be reviewed and evaluated in several ways, one of which is through the prism of the gold standard of strategic planning, the SWOT Analysis.

Every year, self-employed professionals will benefit from examining the viability of their brand, to become aware of what actions and behaviors enhance the brand and what might undermine that precious resource.  Using the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats metrics will reveal this information.

Strengths: Professional expertise, competitive advantages, prestigious or lucrative clients, referral sources, valued business practices, strategic partnerships, educational or professional credentials, financial resources, influential relationships. This element is internal, within your control.

  • How can you leverage your resources to upgrade the types of clients you work with?
  • How can you persuade inactive clients to call you back for more project work and stimulate repeat business?
  • How can you obtain more billable hours?
  • How can you persuade clients to hire you for more complex and therefore more lucrative projects?

Weaknesses: Whatever undermines your brand, the opposite of your strengths, gaps in what or who you know, or deficiencies in the value that you bring to clients.  This element is internal, within your control.

  • Which of your gaps has the most negative impact on the business?
  • Which of your impactful detriments appear to be quickly, easily, or inexpensively remedied?
  • What can you do to shore up those handicaps and minimize your liabilities—are there business practices that you can modify, professional credentials you can earn, relationships you can successfully cultivate?

Opportunities: Conditions that favor the attainment of goals and objectives. This element is external and beyond your control, yet you may be able to position yourself to gain from the benefits created by its presence.  Good information about business conditions in your marketplace helps the Freelance consultant to objectively evaluate and envision the potential of short-term and long-term benefits and what must be done to earn the pay-off.

  • What new developments can you possibly take advantage of to bring money and prestige to your business?
  • Do you see financial reward in offering an additional service or product?
  • Is there a good client you should be able to successfully pursue and sign, or a lapsed client who, with some outreach, could be willing to reactivate?
  • Is there a developing niche market that you can pivot into, with some uncomplicated adjustments?

Threats: Conditions likely to damage the brand, or your ability to acquire clients and generate sufficient billable hours. This element is external and beyond your control, yet you may be able to position yourself to escape or minimize the catastrophe caused by its presence.  This category requires the immediate attention of you and your team, since it carries the potential to end, or seriously cripple, your brand and business.

Developing and implementing a strategy of protective action, for example a brand facelift or a pivot into more hospitable business turf, is absolutely necessary for survival, but inclined to be time-consuming and difficult to bring about.  Staying abreast of what is happening in the industries that you usually serve and the viability or priorities of your largest clients, will give you the resources of time and good information and prepare you to react and regroup.

  • Has a well-connected and aggressive competitor appeared on the scene, ready to eat your market share and client list by way of a better known brand, more influential relationships, a bigger marketing budget, or other game-changing competitive advantages? If that is the case, then do everything possible to offer superior customer service, assert your expertise, step up your networking, enhance your thought-leader credentials and nurture your client relationships (holiday cards really do matter).
  • Will some new technology soon render your services obsolete? If so, what skills do you possess, or what can you learn, that will allow you to successfully repackage your skills, reconfigure your brand and continue to appeal to clients who already like your work?
  • Has an important contact left his/her organization, leaving you at the mercy of the new  decision-maker, who has his/her own friends to hire? Or has there been a merger that resulted in the downgrading of the influence of your chief contact, who may lose the ability to green-light projects that you manage? If your client contact has moved on, absolutely take that person to lunch or coffee and do what you can to make the professional relationship portable.  If your contact has lost his/her influence, ask to meet the replacement, who may employ you at least for the next project if one comes up quickly (but may boot you out for all others, unfortunately).

Thanks for reading,

Kim