Business Planning is Great!

The other day I had a great session with Rachael Wheatley from Bluegreen Learning looking at my marketing strategy.

In truth I have been pretty good at creating marketing collateral but not so good at using it effectively and strategically. Most of the items I have published have been – like this post – written.

However, I did some radio interviews with Glastonbury FM a couple of years ago, which have been broken down into bite sized chunks. I am pretty pleased with them so am going to republish them on LinkedIn.

Below is the first bite sized piece on Business Planning and can be downloaded from Soundcloud – enjoy.

How is your contingency planning?


You will remember that many homes and businesses in Somerset were flooded in the winter of 2013-4, and even with the dredging which took place in the summer, others may be flooded in future winters. Subsequent winters have seen flooding in the Lake District and in other areas close to rivers.

It is a sad fact that at least half of those businesses devastated by flooding will never recover, and those that do, may take a long time to get back on track.

Before they can repair and rebuild there is often the initial wrangling with the insurance company about how much they should pay out, but there are far wider implications to a business than just putting right the premises.

The problem is not just the flooding itself but the downtime the business experiences whilst the damage is repaired, and the consequences of that downtime.

Do you continue to pay your staff even when they are not able to work and if you do so, how do you afford a wages bill when you have no income coming in? Once even loyal customers have gone elsewhere, how do you persuade them back when you are up and running again?

These are the type of issues many businesses do not consider until forced to do so.

Flooding is one type of business catastrophe but there are many others all businesses should consider and plan for. The scale of the catastrophe will be linked to the importance of the occurrence to the business.

For example, if your business server fails how big an impact would that have on your business? If all your staff need to access information on that server 24/7 it could cost you dearly and clearly in that situation it is vital that you have a backup plan to cover just that type of emergency.

Alternatively, if you are heavily reliant on one employee what would you do if that employee goes off sick for an extended period of time?

Every business has its own ‘flood’ scenario and it is hugely important that you have a disaster recovery plan to mitigate against the worst effects of a catastrophic event. You need to build your flood defenses – first identify the scenarios which could do the worst damage, plan for how you would deal with those scenarios in the most effective way, and ensure you have the ‘backups’ in place.

Of course we hope never to use our backup plans, but at least if we have one in place, we are as prepared as we can be if the worst happens.

Fiona 🙂

Welcome to 2017!

dancerAfter a fairly turmultuous 2016, a year which was surprising and sometimes shocking, what will the new year bring? If 2016 has taught us anything it is that it pays to expect the unexpected!

In the next couple of years we will see some big changes – perhaps – in the environment in which we do business – or not! We just don’t know.

But whatever happens it is likely that any changes will be difficult to predict and to plan for robustly. This is because many of the decisions our suppliers, customers and staff will be making are likely to be based on their gut feelings rather than facts. Surely the EU Referendum has shown us that!

So what can we do to make sure we ride any storm?

Well, of course, this time of year is the time when many of us make New Year’s Resolutions and promises about what we are going to change in the coming year. Some of us want to be fitter and/or more flexible so our bodies are better able to meet our needs as we get older (I myself have a big birthday this year – 21 is a great age!!). Some of us want to lose the excess weight that seems to have crept onto our bodies over the years without us particularly noticing.

And some of us want to take control of our finances and to strip out unnecessary spend so we are better able to afford the things that are most important to us.

All of these goals are ones we can apply to making our businesses better able to cope with the change which is coming.

Make your business fitter and more flexible by reviewing how you and your team work. Ensure everyone is motivated to work effectively as part of a well oiled machine.

Strip out any surplus fat. Businesses which has been around for any length of time are likely to have areas which need to be slimmed down or stripped out altogether.

Take control of your finances. Look at what you spend your money on and make sure in the future you don’t waste your hard earned cash. A great place to start is to look at your bills to see where easy money can be saved – in particular utilities, rates, insurances, and IT costs.

And, of course, have a clear contingency plan detailing how you will reduce the risks in your business model. Although you may not know how the business environment will change in 2017 you can fortify your business against failure.

Fiona 🙂

Have yourself a merry little Christmas!

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As a business owner the festive period can be a challenge.

Our families have a set of agendas for Christmas we are expected to fall in with, and at the same time we are trying to ensure that our business does not struggle because of the reduced working days at the end of December.

However, with a little planning it can be possible to keep everyone happy.

Firstly, it is important to manage your business issues.

A key part of this is managing customer expectations of what can be accomplished before Christmas. If you are a service provider you may often be set Christmas deadlines for projects you are working on. This deadline is generally arbitary and there is no business reason why a deadline of 24th December, or 31st December, is necessary. So make sure you have the conversation with your client from the outset to find out what their ‘real’ deadline is. This will take the pressure off you without inconveniencing your client.

One aspect of the Christmas shut down is that companies, particularly large ones, use it as an excuse for not paying their suppliers. If you have invoices which are due for payment just before the holiday period make sure you contact your customers to ensure you are on the last payment run before they shut down. If payment is due over the holiday period see if you can persuade them to pay you a little earlier, so it will hit your bank over the three working days after Christmas.

If you plan to shut down your business over the festive period make sure all your customers are well aware of the fact in advance, so they can contact you if there is anything they need before you close.

For many business owners it is possible to take a break from their business completely. If you fall into this category I would definitely advise you to do – you will return to work refreshed and raring to go in the new year. In any case, most businesses find their customers are on holiday anyway and so taking the break has very little negative impact on the business.

If you do have to work try to compress the work you have to do into as small a time as possible to maximise the time you can have off.

Secondly, it is important to manage your family’s expectations.

If you have to work, make sure your family are aware of your committments so that they plan key events at times you are available to participate. Do not overcommit yourself or you will find the Christmas period very stressful indeed.

If you have staff it is also important that you balance their needs for a break with their families with your own. Many business owners will allow their staff to have a break over the whole Christmas period and then fill any gaps themselves. This means their staff are happy but their own family is not so happy. Your need for a break is as important as your staff’s – as long as you adopt a fair approach to who can take holiday, on which days, you should prevent any big problems.

Fiona 🙂

Planning to retire

Dark jenny thinkingHow many of us know what our business needs to achieve to deliver against our personal goals in the long term?

We all know that the state pension will be unlikely to meet our retirement needs in full. Most of us will be looking for our businesses to provide a safety net of income/capital value to make sure our retirements are secure.

However, as Steven Covey says you have to start with the end in mind. This means that you have to plan NOW to ensure you get out of your business what you need for the future.

If, like me, your business is largely centred on you as an individual your business is unlikely to be worth very much to someone else when you decide to stop. This means that your business needs to earn enough for you to make decent pension contributions now to fund your retirement.

If your business employs other people to deliver the product/service then you may be able to sell your business to realise value when you retire. However, you can only maximise this value if you start to plan several years ahead. It is vital that you can distance yourself from the business and that it can run without you, for example.

Whatever your goals it is never too early to start positioning your business so it is in the best position to meet them. If you don’t, you may find your retirement dreams end in cash strapped nightmares.

Fiona 🙂

Groundhog Day

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 09.04.342016 was the 130th anniversary of the Punxsutawney Groundhog day.

As some of us will know on 2nd February each year Punxsutawney Phil – the Groundhog in question – comes out of his hole and either sees a shadow or not. If he doesn’t see a shadow spring is on its way – which is apparently the prediction this year!

Even more of us will know of the 1993 Bill Murray film in which an arrogant TV weatherman is forced to re-live Groundhog Day thousands of times. It seems he is destined to be forever stuck in Groundhog Day until he sees the light and focuses on improving himself and the lives of those around him.

I often come across business people who seem to be stuck in their own Groundhog Day – not because they are arrogant like the Bill Murray character – but because they just can’t seem to find the right way to solve recurring problems.

Sometimes this is because they don’t have the skills themselves to find a solution. However, they believe that, as the business owner, they should be able to address any issue in their business.

So they carry on as they always have re-living their Groundhog Day because the issue just never gets resolved. Sometimes, because the problem is so critical to the business’s health, the lack of solution means that the company goes under.

But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Whatever your particular Groundhog issue is there is a business expert out there who can help you find a solution once and for all.

If finding the right customers is your problem there are excellent sales and marketing mentors out there who can help by giving you tried and tested routes to market.

If you are constantly having staffing issues HR consultants can help you manage the relationships in your business and keep you on the right side of employment law.

If you never seem to have enough cash in your business there are experts who can help you better manage your business finances and forecast cash in your business.

So put a stop to your Groundhog Days and, if you need expert help, bite the bullet and find someone you like who can help you.

What’s your plan for 2016?

Welcome to 2016
Well, the new year is just around the corner, but do you have a robust plan for the year ahead?

Unfortunately for many small business owners the answer is a resounding “No” – or, “yes, it’s in my head”, which is actually the same as no!

If you don’t have a proper plan for your business the chances of it moving in the direction you want are drastically reduced. Your business is more likely to grow by luck, rather than design, and luck is often in short supply in times of economic difficulty.

For many the very thought of putting a plan down on paper leaves them in a cold sweat – but it doesn’t have to be this way!

Firstly, remember that the person for whom you are preparing the plan – and the most important person in your business – is YOU. So, think about planning in terms that you can relate to rather than trying to plan with someone else in mind.

If you like mind maps plan using them. If you are a picture person try to build lots of pictures into the plan so you can engage with it.

Secondly, if you really don’t know how to plan – ask for help. You may have a friend or family member who can help you. Alternatively, there are lots of professionals who can help you with specific areas of your plan.

If you struggle to put together a marketing or sales plan engage a marketing or sales expert to help with that particular section. If you struggle with the figures your accountant should be able to help.

The key thing is that once the plan is finished it properly represents your business and your ideas for the coming year.

Your plan then becomes the foundations against you can measure the performance of your business going forward. You will be able to see whether or not your business will help you to meet your personal goals, or not, and you can use it to get finance if you need to.

Fiona 🙂

The price is right


The new year is looming and now is the perfect time to review your pricing.

Many business owners struggle with putting their prices up, particularly during times of economic downturns, even though their costs are increasing. They leave their prices the same for several years and then have to put their prices up significantly in one go to stay profitable.

However, reviewing prices on a regular basis (say, once a year) is a much better way. Customers are much happier to accept rising prices if increases are regular but small, than they are with irregular, large price increases.

So, make sure you review your prices regularly.

The key to doing this successfully is to make sure that your customers know that you have a particular time when you review prices – the new year is perfect for this. Preparing your customers properly for price increases means that the change does not come out of the blue, and they are more likely to accept it.

Remember, pricing is all about asking for a fair value for the product or service you provide. So, it is important that you are clear on what the fair value is.

Make sure you know what your competitors charge, but more importantly, talk to your customers regularly so you know what they particularly value about what you provide.This will make it easier for you to assess what price is appropriate.

If you are in the service sector the new year is also an ideal time to review the service you are giving your clients, to check if there is any additional work they need.

So, if it has been a while since you reviewed your prices bite the bullet and start planning for one now.

Fiona 🙂

Is your ‘flood’ plan in place?

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Many homes and businesses were flooded in the winter of 2013-4, and even with the dredging which took place in the summer, others may be flooded in future winters.

It is a sad fact that at least half of those businesses devastated by flooding will never recover, and those that do, may take a long time to get back on track.

Before they can repair and rebuild there is often the initial wrangling with the insurance company about how much they should pay out, but there are far wider implications to a business than just putting right the premises.

The problem is not just the flooding itself but the downtime the business experiences whilst the damage is repaired, and the consequences of that downtime.

Do you continue to pay your staff even when they are not able to work and if you do so, how do you afford a wages bill when you have no income coming in? Once even loyal customers have gone elsewhere, how do you persuade them back when you are up and running again?

These are the type of issues many businesses do not consider until forced to do so.

Flooding is one type of business catastrophe but there are many others all businesses should consider and plan for. The scale of the catastrophe will be linked to the importance of the occurrence to the business.

For example, if your business server fails how big an impact would that have on your business? If all your staff need to access information on that server 24/7 it could cost you dearly and clearly in that situation it is vital that you have a backup plan to cover just that type of emergency.

Alternatively, if you are heavily reliant on one employee what would you do if that employee goes off sick for an extended period of time?

Every business has its own ‘flood’ scenario and it is hugely important that you have a disaster recovery plan to mitigate against the worst effects of a catastrophic event. You need to build your flood defenses – first identify the scenarios which could do the worst damage, plan for how you would deal with those scenarios in the most effective way, and ensure you have the ‘backups’ in place.

Of course we hope never to use our backup plans, but at least if we have one in place, we are as prepared as we can be if the worst happens.

Fiona 🙂