Whether you're growing your business or maintaining your business, these 7 questions will help you navigate the journey your business - and customers - are on.
How far ahead are you planning your business? Historically, pre-COVID19, you likely had various future plans like quarterly, semi-annual, annual and even a 18-month strategy. All business owners know that future planning is critical to survival and growth. What COVID-19 has taught us is that things can change in the blink of an eye and all those plans can quickly become irrelevant. Your plans may have changed as a result of COVID-19 as well. Until we understand our 'new normal' it's important to at least have a rolling 3-month calendar. Once we are settled, then revisiting your longer term strategies will be key.
How are your customers and prospects needs changing? If you go beyond the geographical changes (in office to working from home), there are likely other changes from challenges keeping them up at night, priorities, where they spend time consuming information and availability. This question is important to ask yourself because if you haven't changed what you're doing to market your business - or changed the messaging around your marketing to be understanding, empathetic and helpful - you're likely missing out on short-term and/or long term revenue. Even if your customers and prospects aren't buying anything right now, you need to keep your brand in front of them. You'll only know how the changes impact their lives (personal and work) through conversations (talking via phone or Zoom is more insightful and helpful than email or text).
Are you creating solutions for today or the future? Change is a constant and it's never been more apparent in our lifetime as it is right now. Yes, it's important to create solutions for today's problems if those solutions are quick and easy to make. Today's problems, however, may be different or outdated tomorrow or next week. Referring back to #1 above and the need to plan a short term future, is important here as well. Evaluating your existing offerings will give insight into what changes you need to make, if any. You'll only know once you take action on #2 above.
What obstacles are getting in your way? What's holding you back? There are likely a lot of obstacles if your environment and customers just did a 180. Instead of worrying about it, take action. Make a list of your top 10 obstacles, worries, challenges, roadblocks, etc. Then make two columns: one with likeliness it will happen and one with level of severity. First, go through the list and realistically rate how likely each of the 10 items is likely to happen. To keep it simple, use a scale of 1 - 5 with 1 being 'not at all likely' and 5 being 'completely likely'. Once you've completed that part, rate the level of severity of those 10 items (you can use the same 1-5 scale with 1 being 'not at all severe' and 5 being 'completely severe'). Now look at your list and identify the top 3 items that have a 4 or 5 'likeliness' rating and highlight those. Then look at the severity ranking. Which one/s are highly likely and completely severe? Tackle those items first then work your way through the list.
What would you be doing now if you only knew how? No, this is not part of a Dr. Seuss poem. It IS, however, referring to obstacles that might be overcome if you could identify what's holding you back and create a solution based on existing resources, budget and time. Do you need more employees to get a business goal achieved? Instead of hiring a new person, have your team evaluate their workload and re-prioritize so you can determine which existing employee wants to acquire new skills or develop professionally. If there's a match, it's a great opportunity to help others grow and evolve their career. What technology do you wish you had to streamline an existing process? The extra time you had at home was spent researching internal processes and you've identified an opportunity to streamline BUT your existing technology doesn't integrate with the technology you want. Research other options not as a replacement but as a supplement even if it's a temporary solution. It's likely going to help identify gaps in the process and help you further streamline so when you do have the budget or resources to migrate to something new, you know exactly what you need. How do you convert your brick and mortar business to an online business? This can be a major overhaul of your business or it could be simply adding an e-commerce plugin to your existing website. If your website doesn't accommodate e-commerce, there are other options through social media and sites like Etsy or Amazon you could use. Knowing where your customers are spending time (buying items on Amazon, spending time on Etsy, spending time on Instagram, etc.) will help you with this part.
What are the biggest issues you're having right now? Again, these questions are geared more for the here an now - since the future is still so uncertain. Separate issues with your company vs. competition vs industry. You can go through the same process as in #4 above using the same scale in order to better understand issues and brainstorm how to solve each. List out each issue, who is going to be responsible for solving and when it needs to be resolved by. Creating accountability helps everyone involved take action and see progress along the way. This doesn't have to be difficult or burdensome as it may seem. Incorporate fun into the process by rewarding employees with something they'd love. It will create a fun and competitive camaraderie among them as well.
What sacrifices have you made in your business to get where you are now? This is an important one. As business owners, we often focus so much on the business, partners, customers and employees that we don't spend time to think about the sacrifices we gave up along the way. These sacrifices are more opportunity costs; knowing we said 'yes' to one thing meant we were saying 'no' to something else. What if you had changed one of your answers....where would you be today? How can this self assessment help you with the future of your business (if at all)? What rewards have you received along the way? What goals and benchmarks have you reached ahead of your plan? There are so many things to appreciate about the choices we made along the way to get us to where we are now. Reminding ourselves of the successes, failures, challenges and complete roadblocks that stopped us in our tracks and we had to backtrack or pick a new path, is helpful with what we need to continue on this journey we started - and why we started it.
Invest some time, even block off time in your calendar, to go through these questions. Which one is most important to you right now? What action are you going to take to move the needle in your business?
Let me know by leaving a comment below! I'd love to hear from you!!
Vicki O'Neill is a fractional CMO in Ohio who helps small businesses go from plateau to grow. The problem she solves for small business owners is visibility resulting from lack of relevant marketing and engagement with the target customer. She founded KenKay Marketing in 2011, started the marketing and sales podcast, Connect the Dots, in 2018 and launched a 2nd podcast, The Power of 3X, in 2019 with her Gen Z daughters. Connect with Vicki on social media wherever you spend the most time. And subscribe to the weekly email for more! tips, news and what's coming soon!