It’s that time of year: changing colors, chill air, thoughts of holidays coming, the shock of another year ending. Does your business slow down during December, like my business planning software business always does, and so many other do? If so, then this becomes a good time for a planning refresh.
My business has always had slowdowns in the end of November and December. We recognized the pattern years ago and started to work with it. December became our time for pulling away from the business, looking out at the horizon, talking to customers and potential customers, evaluating potential new products, checking in with major clients, and so forth. We called it a planning refresh.
Here are some important elements of a good planning refresh:
1. First, your long-term goals: Review your definition of success. That could be fame and fortune, or maybe just independence and peace of mind, or time for other things. Has it changed? Are you making progress? Have you forgotten where you’re trying to go?
2. Second, your SWOT: Review strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Have they changed in the last year? Does your strategy reflect your SWOT? Is it time to revise strategy, or stick to the same thing?
3. Third, your target market: Are you still focused well and on the right potential buyers? Have market developments changed the strategic value of one segment over another? Does your market focus match the opportunities and your business offering?
This is an especially good time to refresh your sense of the customers. How often do you talk to them? Are you in touch with what customers are thinking and saying about your business? Has it changed? One of the best things you can do is talk to a few random customers, in depth, provided of course that you can find customers to talk to you. Market knowledge is critical to business success, and it’s too easy to get lost in the routine and not realize that the situation has changed.
4. Fourth, review your competition. Think broadly about competition, looking not just for the competition you know, but also for new competition that you don’t realize is out there. Maybe customers are discovering new ways to solve the problems and fill the need that your business offering is supposed to – and you haven’t realized it. Just as an example, competition for business plan software includes courses, classes, books, magazine articles, television shows and consultants – not just other business plan software.
When it’s about autumn leaves, snow, spring blossoms, or summer heat, we call it the change of seasons. When it’s business, we call it seasonality. The two are not too different from each other. Both can be used as automatic reminders of change and cycles.
This post was originally published in October 2013 on the SBA website. Written by Tim Berry, Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com.