Do You Have a Plan B for Your Business Tools?

Nothing is constant like that of change. Last week there were numerous counts of hacking, DDoS attacks and random internet naughtiness. TweetDeck was hacked; Feedly and Evernote suffered DDoS attacks because they wouldn’t pay a ransom amount, leaving me without my proper tools in my Virtual Assistant toolkit that I utilize to do my job in a timely and efficient manner.

It made me realize that it’s really important to have a Plan B. Just like in life, you should have a back up plan for when things go awry. Plan B for the tools in your Virtual Assistant toolkit are a must. Here are 5 Plan B’s for your general everyday tools.

-1- Notes

On the occasion that Evernote goes down, there are a few options that are still free, are cross platform (desktop, phone, tablet), and can do the job when that one tool goes dark. Microsoft OneNote would be my first suggestion. In my pre-Evernote days, OneNote was my favorite note taking tool. I loved the look and the functionality! At the time however, it did not seamlessly sync with my phone and my desktop and was clunky at best, so I moved on to Evernote and haven’t really looked back since. Another option for note taking is Google Keep. Again very similar to Evernote, Google Keep stores your notes on your Google Drive making access with your Google account very easy, however its tools are somewhat limited.

-2- Cloud Storage

Do you get concerned when you hear that Dropbox is down? Don’t worry there are alternatives to Dropbox. Google Drive is an easy way to think and store your files on the cloud and allows you to share files or entire folders with others for collaboration and access. A second option would be Microsoft’s OneDrive (fomerly called SkyDrive).

A third option would be Box. Box has a few handy features that are missing from Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. The capability to tag files within your folders and subfolders is one such feature.

A paid tool that is very similar to DropBox but smoother, sleeker and more secure would be SugarSync.

-3- RSS Feeds

When Feedly was under denial of service attack last week, that made my life very difficult, as a healthy chunk of my daily task involves reading through RSS feeds for content for my clients. At the time I really just need it if feed reader that would work on my desktop. I didn’t need a cell phone app or a special widget.. I just needed a desktop app. FeedReader is a simple basic RSS feed reader that met my needs. Luckily as part of my monthly backup plan I export out all of my RSS feeds into an OPML file and store that on Google Drive. When it became clearly evident that Feedly was not going to be up anytime soon I quickly downloaded my OPML file and an imported it in to FeedReader and was able to continue on with my daily workload.

-4- Spreadsheets, Documents and Presentations

Well many people still use Microsoft Office, others have migrated to Google Docs. Unless you are delving deep into the functionality of either Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, usually Google Docs will suffice for general documents spreadsheets and presentations. As another alternative productivity suite is Apache OpenOffice. It is a traditional download-and-install to your desktop software package and it is free.

-5- Social Media Scheduling and Monitoring

When TweetDeck was down last week, many folks simply switched over to HootSuite – probably one of the most common social media scheduling and monitoring platforms out there. In addition, you can use Buffer, DoShare, Klout (yes, they have a scheduling module), and many many others.

If you are looking for a more robust social media scheduling and monitoring system, Sprout Social is a great option, however there is a cost for Sprout Social. All the other social media tools offer free packages and most offer a pro/premium upgrade.

In conclusion think about all the tools that you use on a daily basis – the ones that make and drive your business. If one of them were to disappear or become irrevocably unusable, do you have a Plan B? Do you have a backup for your main tools in your VA toolkit? If you don’t, sit down and really think about your tools and your productivity and the impact of not having a backup system. Without a Plan B, if something goes awry (and things will go awry), you need to have a plan, a process, and a procedure, to keep moving and keep your productivity levels high. Looking for a great way to promote your business. iPromo provides all the information on branded power banks. What is a dst

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Is Your Company Making Time For a Strategy?

Running any business can be all consuming, there is always so much to do. I don’t care whether it is a large public company or a small private company, the challenges are significant, if different, and the resources available to tackle them are also different.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

One of the constants, regardless of size, is the need for strategy… which can come in many forms. It can be the company’s strategic plan, divisional plans or even account plans. At every level there is a need for a “roadmap” and a need to keep that “roadmap” current, which requires regular “checkpoints” to ensure the strategy is still good, and that the execution against strategy is happening as planned.

The problem executives and managers have is that, because they are so busy, it is easy to let these checkpoints slip, or to pay them “lip service”. The result is that companies operate in a very tactical manner… even IF they did the initial planning process well (which is often not the case). They become driven by their days and weeks, rather than driving the activity to meet a strategic objective.

“It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date.” Roger von Oech

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Do you have an annual planning process that REALLY looks at the strategy for the coming year? Or do you go through a pure numbers exercise, that looks the same every year?
  2. Do you set aside time to revisit the strategies throughout the year? Are they “rubber stamp” exercises or do they get very focused on the execution against the plan?
  3. Do you have measurable goals that are not just focused on the bottom line?
  4. Do you have account plans with regular reviews?
  5. How do you track you progress against plans?
  6. Do you hold people accountable for their goals?
  7. Do you help managers, salespeople and executives to find time in their busy schedules to actually plan?
  8. Are the management team, in your company, driven by their days, or do they drive their days?
  9. Do you get surprised by events at clients? Decisions, activity levels, competition etc.
  10. How comfortable are you that you have a roadmap for the next year… that has goals, action items, timelines and accountability?

Developing Your Business Strategy – 10 Tips

Strategic planning is a critical component of any company’s success.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” Sun Tsu.

Developing plans does not need to be onerous, but it does require effort and a commitment to taking the time required to the process. At my company we schedule a quarterly management meeting off site which we use to create plans, to review how plans are going and to address tactical problems. I believe this is a good practice and a big part of any success that we have enjoyed.

There are many benefits to taking the management team offsite for these kinds of sessions.

1. In a fairly short amount of time you can develop a roadmap that your team can execute against.

2. You will take advantage of the collective brainpower of your management team.

3. By getting away from the office you can bring a fresh look at the business.

4. A planning session should focus on the potential, but also recognize the challenges.

5. Some companies prefer to bring in external facilitators; we have had more success handling it ourselves. What you do need is someone capable of leading the sessions.

6. The sessions should be structured, following a process that “teases” out the ideas, encourages participation and is not constrained by “group think”.

7. The sessions need lots of space to write… we use the large post it note sheets all over the walls.

8. One traditional approach, and a good way to get into planning is a SWOT… Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

9. All participants should feel safe, everyone should be treated equally and nobody should dominate the talking.

10. The end result of this exercise should be ACTION Plans… with measurable outcomes, assigned to people AND with deadlines.

“Strategy is thinking about a choice, and choosing to stick with your thinking” Jeroen de Flanders

It is unlikely that your first strategic planning session will result in a major change in your direction… but it might!

It will result in positive action, supported by the whole management team that will advance the company’s goals.

It will result in a more engaged management team.

It will show who the strategic thinkers are.

It will allow the “quiet voices” (who often have the best ideas) a forum to get their ideas out.

If you don’t already conduct strategic planning t then I would strongly advise any business owner, executive, entrepreneur to engage in such an exercise and see what it can do for you.

Strategic Succession Planning – Part Two: Critical Position Identification

In the first article in this series, we discussed the differences between replacement planning and strategic succession planning and identified capability gaps between your organization’s current capabilities and those you need. In this second article, we will discuss the process used to identify critical positions for which you will need to succession plan.

Recall: It’s Capability, not the Incumbent, You Must Plan For.

Most organizations are structured to deliver capability. The Accounting Department is designed at the highest level to provide a capability in support of the larger organization’s operations – as are most of the other divisions. If your organization is like most, the lower level organizational chart has developed over time – when Joe retired, Lisa assumed part of Joe’s responsibilities and so did Tom… or Joe is so capable that over time he has assumed greater responsibility than intended when he was hired. This is very common and leads to an organization that is shaped the way it is because the workforce “ended up there” rather than an organization designed around capability and associated identified critical positions that is conducive to strategic succession planning.

So what is a “Critical Position?”

First of all, let’s define the term “critical position.” A critical position is a position with responsibilities that cannot either be distributed amongst peers or assumed by the supervisor without operational impacts if the position becomes vacant. This is a key concept for succession planning – you have critical people in non-critical positions. Think about Joe. When he retired, his duties had to be distributed between two peers. Joe was a workhorse, he was an incredibly important part of your team – he was not in a critical position. This is absolutely essential for succession planning – you are not going to succession plan for Joe’s position. If however, Joe had a role that was essential to the operation, for example he is your internal quality assurance manager – a role that cannot be assumed by the supervisor without eliminating two levels of review and for which he has no peers, then his position is critical… and you will succession plan for it. This is a step that will require solid back and forth, candid discussion and a self-critical mindset. Start from the assertion that no positions are critical and then work to prove that assertion incorrect.

People versus Position.

Ensure that all involved parties understand that there will be critical people in non-critical positions… and you will probably find non-critical people in newly identified critical positions. This second circumstance likely will correlate with a perceived capability gap. Without effective communication and solid unflinching leadership this step can feel extremely personal – we identify with our position in a company and no one wants to be labeled as non-critical. If you are not sure how hard this can be, start from the assertion that Deputies are non-critical… by definition, they are there to support the Director and while they off-load substantial work, there should be nothing they do that cannot be assumed by the Director or delegated amongst the subordinates.

Once you have identified your critical positions, you will need to step back again from current staffing and derive a list of attributes an ideal candidate in the position should have. This will link to the role of the position in the organization and your capability requirements you created in the earlier steps of the process. These attribute lists will serve many functions for your organization.

The attributes for each position, which link to your overall capability requirements, will facilitate employee development in support of succession planning for your critical positions.

So far you have created a menu of organizational capabilities and identified your organization’s critical positions and the associated attributes of ideal candidates for those positions. In the next and final article in the series, you will compare your organization’s capability requirements and its current capabilities, identify gaps against the identified critical position attributes and begin the process to mitigate those gaps.

Steps to Building a Successful Business

Building a business requires having a smart and solid strategy of how you will reach specific goals to help ensure that your business is a success. Once you have achieved a certain level of success or if your business is going through a slump, having business or financial advisors can be a boon to your business. Business advisors have usually been in their specific field of business for a number of years building their reputation and establishing successful businesses of their own.

Now strategic planning requires a lot of research and analysis of data to determine how feasible a possible venture is. Things to study and analyse include:

1. The current market atmosphere – How well are your competitors doing? Has there been an upswing or downturn in the overall market?

2. What’s your niche? What service or product are you bringing to the table that is unique or better in its offerings?

3. What ideas have worked in the past that are no longer relevant to today and what can you learn from companies that didn’t stay in touch with what the customers needs or expectations are? Learning past history and mistakes can help to prevent you from making the same mistake in the future.

4. Who is your target audience? What demographic are you trying to reach? – This is very critical as this will determine how you market to that particular audience and where a lot of resources will be spent trying to reach that core audience.

5. How will you market to your target audience? Consider how your target audience communicates and how they travel. Also, how can you make their lives more convenient? What do they care about? What matters most to them?

6. If your business is in a slump it may be time to hire a business advisor. Business advisors can identify weak areas of your business and suggest ways in which to remove those weaknesses. Think of it as trimming the fat and getting rid of areas within your business that no longer hold true to where your business is headed in the future and removing unnecessary expenses that may have been an oversight.

7. In addition to having a business advisor, having a great team around you is equally important. Choose persons that are reliable, trustworthy, and loyal towards seeing your vision come to fruition. Working with family can get complicated and I would stay away from this route. Not to say that a family business can’t survive and thrive as there are thousands that do. They do however, put a strain on family relationships and can cause irreparable damage that can last for generations.

With all my suggestions above, it will ultimately come down to the passion and drive that you have for establishing your business. In today’s society, the mentality is to earn money quickly and easily, however creating and maintaining a successful business requires; time, sacrifice, strategy, having a great team around you, and timing. The clich√© saying that anything worth having isn’t easy, also rings true for starting your own business.

How Do You Choose Your Competitive Advantage?

Three Solutions, Three Strategies

When consumers choose a product or a service, they consider three variables: the price – and in this case they go for the cheapest option, a specific attribute – and in this case they go for the brand providing a unique feature, or a tailor-made solution – and in this case they go for the company that can propose a unique product. If price, quality, and anti-conformism always matter, consumers eventually always put one of those three variables at the top of their pyramid of priorities when deciding to buy something. Companies then have to make strategic choices whereas to focus on the first, the second, or the third option. Yet, one of them is clearly more advantageous than the two others…

The Illusion of Concentration

Concentration consists in proposing tailor-made solutions or products that are so unique that neither competition nor substitutes can be considered as such. An example was the launching of super computers by Cray Research in the 70’s. Yet, despite specific attributes making the Cray computer unique in itself, competition would once step in and eventually propose similar performances at lower prices, with additional features. Consequently, choosing concentration as a strategy would anyway end up in competing either on prices or on specific differentiation elements. Exit concentration.

The Danger of Price Wars

If concentration is no longer an option, the temptation to compete on prices can be high, especially when the business has a critical size allowing economies of scale and synergies. In this case, the company can easily reduce its costs, thus impacting its price to reach unexpected abysses. This approach through cost domination yet raises important strategic issues, which can eventually prove to be liabilities instead of assets. First of all, the market has to be elastic to price. But since all consumers somehow care about prices, we can reasonably consider that most markets are nowadays elastic to prices, especially after undergoing economic turmoil. So money matters! Secondly, price wars can only be effective for the starter. Whoever comes next will less benefit from it, especially that the proposed price should be below the pioneer’s one. In this case, the risk to reach the break-even point and to perform dumping is high. Anyhow, even for the starter, the income life is short since, in such circumstances, consumers are never loyal to brands: only the cheapest ones win. And this leads to the third point: sustainability. When starting or getting into a price war, businesses not only reduce their profit margin, they also harm their positioning, their value, their quality while reducing the costs, and eventually their brand power. If such a strategy can prove to be attractive on the short run, it is a serious liability on the long one.

So what to do?

If concentration eventually summarises as competing on prices and/or features, and if price wars threaten business sustainability, the only valuable remaining strategy is logically differentiation. The latter not only ensures branding penetration, but also quality, employment, and improvement. Yet, the threat of both concentrated and cost dominant competition is still alive. In order to optimise one’s differentiation strategy, companies should then first optimise their own cost structure.

To do so, after investigating precisely the components of their cost, companies should identify the business environments worldwide where each cost component can be produced at the lowest possible amount, yet ensuring the requested level of quality. Once done, this total cost should be optimised thanks to the value chain. The later determining what contributes the most to the creation of value in the consumer’s mind, the brand could easily decide to delocalise its production where the most important part of its cost is the cheapest. At the end of this journey, the company should reach an asymptotic cost, i.e. lower than any competitor on the market, yet ensuring quality, respecting the brand’s positioning, and keeping the same selling prices, so not following any cost domination strategy.

When dealing with a concentrated company, time and patience would eventually force the latter to either compete through price or through differentiation. And the optimised brand would then easily cope with such a threat. When dealing with a cost dominant company, the optimised brand would keep its positioning and sustain its activity by developing new features, as well as probably also dominate by cost since its optimisation strategy was certainly not equally implemented by a price war freak. Lastly, when dealing with a differentiated company, both would know the danger of price wars, so both would have certainly optimised their costs, not to challenge prices, but to protect themselves from such a war, resulting in an unsaid agreement to only compete on differentiation, i.e. quality, creativity, and marketing decisions.

Differentiation, Only Differentiation, Nothing Else But Differentiation

In a globalised world where competition is fierce, especially from emerging countries such as the BRICS, where labour costs are so low and technology transfers are so common, companies can no longer expect sustaining their activity on the basis that they produce something that no one else produces, or that they can decrease their prices to thresholds that no one will be able to cope with. Indeed, the only serious strategic option any company should follow is to keep understanding what consumers need in order to provide them with creative solutions while, in the meantime, keep optimising its costs and quality through international investigations and deals.

Tips for An Effective Online Business Strategy

Many people are gazing for ways to increase their earnings through the Internet. The existing world economy has worried a lot of people as to how they will be able to cater their current requirements, and at the same time about funding their retirement. The Internet is hugely striking, since computers are available in almost every home and the prospect of earning money via the Internet is attracting the working class. There has been a great rush to accomplish business online, and you must know how to stay competitive and in front of the pack.

Identify your product

With the intention of staying ahead of the competition when it appears in online business, you must clearly identify your product. This engages getting systematically familiar with what you are going to market and how you will be able to persuade all the budding customers. An acquaintance of your products occasionally may also engross familiarity of the competitors’ products.

Try to be exceptional

Due to the intense competition existing in the world of online business, there is no place for weakness or careless workmanship. Your business must be able to perform with a high degree of brilliance, ranging from the appearance of the product to customer service. You can ask for expert advice on facets such as presentation. This means that if you have to design a website it has to be expertly done by a specialized person. You have to go for a website design that is truly exceptional and make an attempt to do things like graphic design, presentations and everything related to the products or services offered. The website that looks poor and unethical ends up doing extensive harm than benefit.

Always remain active online

There is a definite amount of involvement needed on your part being an online business proprietor. In case, you establish a website, you must be able to market it properly. Even otherwise you’ll be unable to know your target market. A certain level of involvement is required in forums, answer bags and the social media. These types of activities definitely generate a buzz about your website and bring about traffic.

Conduct marketing of your business

Beginning an online business is one aspect; however marketing is another significant one. Deficient in marketing denotes a business without any potential customers, and this leads up augmenting your business expenses to a greater level. You can check online for the steps you necessitate to accomplish marketing of your website, such as content management, press releases, product description, blog submission, forum discussions and pay-per-click promotions.

Year End Jobs for Your Business

1. Get your books ready for year-end.

2. Use the information you gathered to create a test budget for 2016 using last years prices. TIP: You can create this budget using QuickBooks or you can make your own Excel Spreadsheet.

3. Check your profit margins in each area of your business i.e. lessons, boarding, horse sales, shows, camps etc.. Identify both your top profit centers and the areas of your business that are financially troublesome.

4. Schedule client meetings now (rather than waiting until January) so that you can review their goals and also gather information about what they value about your business.

5. Write value propositions for each segment (boarding, shows, lessons, camps etc.) of your business. Use a customer empathy map to help you get started and also a feature/benefit list.

6. Decide how much you need to raise your prices in the upcoming year. Base your pricing increase on a combination of three factors. First, the financial needs of your business (what it needs to be profitable). Second, what the market will bear. Third, implement a value based pricing strategy. If you have taken the time to talk to your clients and write value propositions for each segment of your business you will have a very good idea of areas where you can price according to value.

7. Set growth goals for both your career and your business. Since you have already identified the most profitable areas of your business in step 3, you can make an informed decision on where to focus your growth efforts. Write down what resources you need to achieve your goals – i.e. a new truck, horse, replace arena footing etc..

8. Write down your typical sales processes for each area. For example: How did your last customer find you and what follow-up steps were taken in order for them to turn from being a prospect into a customer. Look for areas where you can actively progress the sale by having the right marketing materials and a well thought our follow-up strategy.

9. Create a marketing plan and marketing budget for next year. We recommend marketing in 90 day increments and using a marketing calendar so that you can measure the effects of your marketing and make adjustments as necessary.

10. Update your website and social media channels so they are consistent with your current branding, newly clarified value propositions and for a fresh look for the new year.

11. Identify opportunities to increase your expertise. Make a list of clinics, coaches or other training/educational activities that will help you hone your skills as an equine professional.

12. Schedule down time. Put it on your calendar for next year now. Taking vacations (even mini vacations) will keep you fresh and far more able to excel in your career and business.

Who Are Your Customers? Where Does Your Business Really Come From?

These two questions will forever be important to the lifeline of your marketing and general business activities. More often than not, this is hit or miss for small business owners. They either wing it and play it by ear or they see it as too tedious because they think they already know.

Let’s start with who?

How do you create marketing messages (and any communication for that matter) for someone without first knowing who you’re talking to? When I was a technical communications student, my technical writing professor encouraged us to be thorough and intimately interested in knowing who we were talking to before we even started writing. She was downright adamant about it. In fact, she didn’t even want to see our writing without a thorough breakdown of who we were writing to.

As a marketing consultant, for each and every project, whether it be social media management, business coaching, or managing a marketing project, the first thing we do is create a clear profile of the who-and sometimes there’s more than one who in your customer profile.

As you capture the essence of who (however many there are), you will be able to learn their patterns, needs, desires, problems, and where and how to reach them.

This is more than good practice. This will make the difference in your return on investment for the marketing dollars you spend and this will most certainly make the difference in your ability to create profit-bearing services that your prospects and clients really want and not just what you think they want.

Where does your business come from?

Oftentimes, I come across small business owners who are somewhat resistant to the newer marketing methods like pay per click advertising and social media marketing, but are plunking down a couple of thousand dollars on marketing/advertising mediums like yellow pages, radio ads, and some kind of flyer-but that’s not the biggest problem.

The problem is that when I ask, where does most of their business come from-they usually don’t know.

Don’t let this be you.

Knowing where they’re coming from helps you to do more of what’s working and less of what’s not. Sometimes you’ll need to re-purpose your marketing and advertising budget to get closer your real prospects. If you’re not tracking, how can you do that?

Think of this as following the money trail. Become a stalker of who they are, where they’re coming from, how they’re accessing your business, who’s spending the most, and how to get more of them.

7 Steps to Writing an Effective One-Page Business Plan

Writing a business plan doesn’t have to be boring or complicated.

And it certainly doesn’t have to be long.

In fact, the longer your business plan, the less likely you will use it.

A business plan is meant to be used. It’s meant for you to make use of and revisit often. It’s not something you create once and store in some remote part of your hard drive.

If you have been avoiding creating a business plan because you find it overwhelming, tedious and time consuming, then I want to introduce you to the simple 7 steps to writing a business plan on a single page.

Yes, a one-page business plan.

Writing your business plan on a single page can be much less daunting and something you can easily use and modify as needed.

It’s a much more efficient and faster way of writing a business plan – one that you will actually use – and won’t take a lot of time or effort on your part as a traditional business plan.

So don’t waste too much time starting a business plan, and start with the following 7-step plan to developing a business plan from scratch for your online business.

Step 1: Know Your Target Audience

If you’re going to create a product or service that people want to buy, then you’re going to have to first understand the needs of your customer – their fears, frustrations, challenges and desires.

If your customer doesn’t have a need for your product, then there is no point in creating it in the first place.

But that is exactly what many aspiring entrepreneurs will do. They will often spend months and sometimes even years developing a product or service that no one has any interesting in buying. This is probably the most inefficient way to create a sustainable business that will create real results.

Instead, it’s better to get input and feedback from your customer while developing your product.

First ask at least 5-10 prospective customers or clients what challenges they are facing and if they have a need for your solution. If not, keep digging deeper until you have something they might be interested in buying.

Armed with this knowledge you will find it much easier to develop your solution.

Step 1b: Create an Ideal Customer Profile

You probably already know the importance of demographics (age, gender, location, etc.), but what many entrepreneurs often overlook are factors like customer interests, buying behavior, etc. Knowing these things may seem trivial, but it’s extremely insightful to have this data at your disposal.

For example, if you do any sort of advertising on Facebook, then knowing your audience’s interests can help you target the right people. If you are going solely on basic demographics, then you won’t be targeting your ideal customer and will end up paying more for traffic.

To find out who your ideal target audience is you can use tools such as quantcast.com and Facebook graph search. These tools will give you little known insights about your consumer – their interests, household income, purchasing behaviour, etc.

Once you create a basic profile of your target audience, then you will be in much better position to create a solution that they will be interesting in buying.

Step 2: Know Your Competitors

If you don’t know who your competitors are, then it’ll likely be an uphill battle to become relevant in your industry.

One of the most important first steps you can take is to identify your top 5 competitors and study their business – their products, services, pricing, sales funnel etc.

Once you’ve identified your primary competitors, then it’ll be much easier to find a way to differentiate yourself from them (step 4), as well as knowing how to price your products, what solutions to develop and creating your sales funnel.

There is no point in re-inventing the wheel if something is already working for your competitors. All you need to do is create better products and services, offer something they aren’t offering (such as a better guarantee, lower prices, more value, etc.).

This way you’ll be much more likely to create a business that has been proven to work and your job is to develop the best possible products and services for your clients and prospects.

Step 3: Develop a Simple Solution

If you’re going to develop a product (solution) centered around customer’s problems or needs, then it’ll be much more useful to think about creating your solution with the bare minimum features that will solve their problem.

It’s important to realize that you won’t build a perfect product the first time around. And you certainly won’t develop a perfect product without any input from your ideal customer.

So when developing your product or service, first focus on creating a minimum viable product (MVP), which is a bare minimum product that your customers be willing to pay you for (even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles).

Once you create and test your MVP in the market place, you will know if there is demand for your product or service, and you can go onto developing version 2.0, 3.0 and so on. By the 3rd or 4th iteration your product will start to look much more polished and something your customers will be lining up to buy (they’re the ones that helped you build it!)

So initially, when writing down your solution on your business plan, think of the top 1-3 features that your product will have that will solve the problem.

For example, if many of your prospective customers problem are finding it challenging to stay motivated and consistent with their diet and exercise routine, then you can create a solution that includes an online community or personal online coach that will help them stay on track and break through any barriers when they lose focus.

It important to create your solution around their needs and only include the minimum set of features that will capture their interest in trying out your services. As you learn more about your customers and get their feedback, you can start to add more features if needed as your product or service develops.

Step 4: Create your USP

The reason why many startup entrepreneurs fail to gain any traction in a competitive marketplace is because they don’t have anything that differentiates them from their competition. Too often they are simply copying what’s already out there, instead of uniquely position themselves to give themselves an upper hand on their competition.

You can do create this unique positioning by creating what’s known as a unique selling proposition. It’s the answer to the question, “what do you do differently then your competition?”.

A lot of entrepreneurs will simply say things like, “we’re better, we’re faster, we’re high quality, etc”. But anyone can claim that they are better, faster and higher quality. It’s not enough to call yourself these things.

Instead, it’s much more effective to offer something that your competition won’t be able to copy that easily. And if they do, it may affect their bottom line since they can’t offer it the way that you do.

For example, many business owners won’t give a money-back guarantee if the customer isn’t satisfied. And even if they do, it will only be for 30 days. So if everyone in your market place is offering a 30 day guarantee, then why not offer 60 days, 90 days, or even 365 days?

A lot of entrepreneurs would fear that they will lose money because a customer has more time to refund their products, but in fact the opposite is true. If you create a quality product that actually delivers results for the customer or client, then they will most likely stick around long term. They will appreciate that you have placed enough trust in them to provide them with that sort of guarantee and in turn will trust you even more.

So when creating your USP, think in terms of what you can do differently than what’s already being done by every other competitor out there.

Is there something they are not offering that you can offer? Can you deliver results faster than your competition? Is your customer service experience better than theirs in terms of quality and responsiveness (I.e available 24/7 or with reply within 3 hours?)

Step 5: Know Your Pricing

When creating your first product or service, it can be challenging to know how to price it. A lot of times entrepreneurs will simply guess what is the ideal price point for their product and will pricing it accordingly.

However, instead of guessing, why not first see what prices your competitors are using, and then use that as a starting point.

Once you have your starting price, the next step would be to test 3 different price points for each product. This way you can determine which price point is ideal and settle on the sweet spot.

It’s important to note that your pricing also depends on how well you position your product and build value on your sales pages. If you don’t do a good job of building value and interest, then it won’t matter how low you price your products – people simply won’t buy them.

But if you do a good job of conveying that value on your sales pages, then you may even be able to price your products much higher than your competition – especially if you do things they don’t as described in Step 3.

Step 6: Choose a Marketing Channel

Knowing which platforms you’re going to use to create awareness about your products and services is very important when launching your business.

There are many ways to market your product, so it’s important to pick the one best suited for your business.

Choosing the right marketing channel doesn’t have to be complicated. You simply need to find out where your ideal target audience congregates or hangs out (as determined in Step 2), and use that as your starting point.

It’s usually a good idea to start marketing on one platform before moving on to the next. You don’t need to be on all platforms. For example, if you’re primary channel is social media, then pick one (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). If you find that most of your customers are on Facebook, then create a Facebook Page and start using this platform as your primary marketing medium.

Here’s a list of some marketing channels:

  1. SEO
  2. Social Media
  3. Ads (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, Bing Ads)
  4. Guest Posts
  5. Banners
  6. Joint Ventures

Step 7: Know Your Business Model

When starting your business, it’s important to know how you’re going to monetize. Knowing your business model answers the question, “how do I make money?”

There are many business models to choose from, but it’s important to identify and select the one that will make the most sense for you and has the greatest ROI.

For example, if you’re an online instructor, then it make sense to utilize the membership/subscription model as your primary business model.

Or if you’re going to be blogging, then it might make sense to use advertisements and affiliate marketing.

And if you’re going to be podcasting, then it will make sense to get businesses to sponsor your show.

Here are some business models that you can integrate into your business:

  1. Membership Site
  2. Software
  3. Done-For-You Service
  4. Email Series
  5. Newsletters
  6. Group Coaching Calls
  7. Teleseminars
  8. Webinars
  9. Coaching/Consulting
  10. Service
  11. Affiliate Marketing
  12. Ads
  13. Subscription/Membership
  14. Software/App/Tools/Templates
  15. Speaking
  16. E-commerce
  17. Physical Products
  18. Books
  19. Mastermind Programs

So as you can see, creating a business plan doesn’t have to be long and arduous. If you follow these 7 steps and write everything down on a single page you will have a business plan that will be easy to use. Once you go through these 7 steps, you’ll find that you not only have a solid business plan, but something you can use again and again.