Thursday, June 30, 2011

Taking Your Business to the Next Level

“How can I evaluate new business opportunities?” “How can I determine whether to sell one of my three businesses?” “How can I better plan for future contingencies?” “Will I be able to sell my business in ten years and afford to retire?” These questions and others like them are ones that small business owners should be  asking themselves. As often happens, we become complacent when all is going well. We can breathe--and even take a vacation! However, businesses often take on a life of their own and may be headed down a path that is different from what the owner envisions. The owner just hasn’t told the business of his or her vision. Taking your business to the next level is that type of planning. It asks: “Where is my business going? Where do I want it to go? How can I get there?”

The First Step—Your Current Reality

To begin this type of planning, you need to know where you are—what is your current reality? This involves some data gathering and analysis. While this will be different for each business, there are four main areas you’ll typically need to look at to assess your current situation: finances; marketing; employees; and facilities. Let’s briefly look at some of the issues in each of these areas.

• Finances: Do you prepare monthly financial statements? If not, then this is the place to start. If you do, do you analyze them? What do you see when you look at trends in revenues and major expense categories? Are they changing? Is the change positive or negative? By calculating a few standard financial ratios, you can better understand what’s going on. You will also gain an idea of how your business compares with others in your industry.

• Marketing: How much do you know about your customers? Who are they? Where do they live? What other demographic data do you know about them? What influences their buying decisions? Has your customer base changed over the years? Is one type of customer more profitable than other ones? Who are your competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What is your competitive advantage—why should customers come to your business and not the competition? What about your prices—are they too high or too low?

• Employees: Do your employees know what you expect of them? How do you communicate this? Can they take over for one another when necessary? Do they know what values your business is run on? What is your employee turnover rate? And why do employees leave?

• Facilities: Is your space adequate? Can you expand? How would your customers and employees evaluate your location and facilities?

The Next Step—Creating a Vision and a Plan

Where do you want to go and what do you want your business to accomplish? Now that you know where you are—what the current reality is—you can begin creating a vision of what you’d like to see as a future reality. Your vision can be broad in scope, including personal goals and goals for your community. Now ask yourself what part you want your business to play in fulfilling that vision. Your answer to that question becomes your mission statement. Armed with a firm understanding of your current Taking Your Business to
the Next Level  reality and what you’d like to create as your future reality, you can prepare an action plan that will help you to realize your vision.

How the SBDC Can Help

At the SBDC, we work with small business owners to help them gain an understanding of their current situation, create a vision, and develop a plan to get there. For example, a few years ago we worked with an entrepreneur who owned three businesses. He had a good understanding of his current situation and he had some components of a vision: he wanted more personal flexibility to enjoy life as he got older, and he wanted to be able to take advantage of opportunities to sell one or more of his businesses. We worked with him to fine-tune that vision, and we helped him to develop not only an action plan, but also a series of analytical tools for decision-making.

Businesses are never standing still, they are either moving forward or backward. By using the approach outlined above, you can move your business forward to the next level of success. Let us know if we can help you with this.

Kathleen Purdy is the Center Director of the Olympic Peninsula Small Business Development Center (SBDC),  This article was first published in Olympic Business Journal

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