Planning for the next year always seems like a daunting task. Ideas trample over each other as budgetary and logistical concerns jockey for brain space. Whether you are new to this or a seasoned pro, the following can serve as a simple guide to 2021 business planning.
Now is the time to be more disciplined. This step-by-step process can help you in creating a strategic business plan:
1. Take Some Thinking Time
Before you begin, do a little prep work. Put together a wish list of what you think you would like to accomplish in the next year, analyze your current state of strengths and weaknesses, and review your financials. Take time to write this all down - just getting your initial thoughts on paper can help clarify and guide the planning process.
Also review your current marketing scope. What have you been doing that has worked? Where can you improve? Spending a little time analyzing your past and current marketing efforts will help you formulate a strategy for the year ahead.
The key to effective 2021 business planning is taking an integrative approach: traditional and digital marketing techniques need to coexist and work together seamlessly. Putting viable strategies in place is mission critical.
2. Identify and Clarify Your goals
The next step in creating a strategic business plan is to identify and clarify your goals. Where are you, and where do you want to be by the end of 2021 (and beyond)? Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) goals based on your analysis of current business trends and market opportunities.
Next, determine what resources you will need. Do you have them in-house? Do you need to outsource critical responsibilities such as SEO, content creation, etc.?
3. Revisit the Basics
Who are you as a brand, who do you want to reach, and how will you do it? Examine the following:
- Ideal Customer: who is your ideal customer? Start by thinking about your current customers, and create a short list of features/elements to describe them. Focusing your efforts on your ideal customers will help you to weed out any “less than ideal” customers so you can increase performance.
- Unique Selling Proposition (USP): what is your unique selling proposition? Why are you different or better than your competition? Don’t get caught up thinking you have no competition. Even if your product or service is revolutionary, how will people know about it or find it? What keywords will customers enter into Google to find it? Those results for that keyword can be your competition.
- Message / Mission Statement: knowing who your ideal customer is, and what your USP is, draft a mission statement. Touch on your training, experience, value you bring to the table. Spend a little time on this, as this will change very little year to year. This message will be utilized in part (or in whole) on most all of your marketing materials.
- Platform / Medium: there are many places where you can market your business - both on- and off-line (at THAT Agency, we just happen to specialize in digital marketing - therefore all things on-line). This is where some of that “pre-planning” work will help! Put together a list of 5 - 7 different places that have generated your best leads. Don’t forget - in theory, these leads would be your best customer!
4. Set Benchmarks and KPIs
This one is very near and dear to our hearts at THAT Agency. As a whole, we define one of our USPs on our vigilance with website analytics and reporting and our transparency in doing so. It is imperative that you measure everything, so that you can review and analyze the results, and make tactical changes as needed throughout the year. The benchmarks and KPIs will help you work towards your goals and measure progress.
5. Establish a Marketing Budget
Not to be confused with your overall budget, your marketing budget should focus on identifying the allocation of funds to various platforms so you can effectively market to, and capture the attention of, your ideal customer. Determine optimal funding levels needed for each platform in order to reach your goals.
6. Create a Marketing Calendar
While this is likely the most important part of the marketing plan, don’t let it become a daunting task. Start high-level, outlining each of the marketing tasks you will implement each month. From there, you can flesh out further, which will ultimately help you to determine how much money you will need on a monthly basis to market to your customers.
7. Don't Forget an Operational Improvement Plan
Including an operational improvement plan in your yearly business planning is a key requirement for any business that wants to excel in the ever-changing world of business. This part of your business plan may benefit from the assistance of your team. Schedule a few brainstorming sessions, and pick their brains to get feedback from their vantage points.
Topics to discuss and address as part of your operational improvement plan may include:
- Facilities: is your current space setup for growth? Outline all the costs associated with your facility. Do not wear your blinders - consider the costs your employees incur, whether it be transportation, parking, etc. What can be improved, and what is the cost of doing so?
- Equipment: are you setup for your employees to work effectively each day? What programs are used, and how often? Evaluate whether programs have become non-effective, and if there are newer/better ones out there. You may find that certain monthly expenditures are no longer being utilized, and you can let them retire.
- Culture: is your current company culture healthy? Are your employees happy? What improvements can be made to affect your culture for the better? Outline both the positives and negatives of your current company culture, as well as define new additions that your team feels would add value.
- Sales: review your current sales process. Where could improvements be made?
- Customer Satisfaction: review your customer list - including those won and lost. Outline the positives and negatives for all - note any underlying themes. Do not be discouraged with customers lost - they may not be the right customers for you. However, if they were lost due to an issue with your process, this is a great time to define a course correction for the future.
- Leadership / Organizational Management: review your current company’s leadership and organizational management. This may be a tough one to swallow with the team, but ask leading questions designed to extract details from your team, instead of just asking yes / no questions. For this task, create a friendly and open environment. Maybe hold a meeting for this out of the office - a lunch or happy hour - where your team is more likely to share.
Once you have met with the team and brainstormed within each of these areas, set some goals for yourselves. You may find it useful to have a champion for each goal - a teammate whose purpose is to ensure each goal is met.
Within each of the topics above, it also may be helpful to define any “quick wins." Quick wins are fairly easy operational changes that can be implemented with little-to-no effort or budget. Defining these opportunities will provide an immediate sense of accomplishment, which will serve in bolstering your confidence as you continue with your 2021 business planning efforts.
8. Develop Your Financial Plan
Last, but certainly not least, your financial plan. Analyze your income. Where did it come from? When did it come in - if your business is seasonal, this could be a biggie? What effect did your previous marketing plan have on it?
Now, take a look at the market and economy. Are there any anticipated changes that could affect your income in the future? Once you have analyzed the above, start laying out your income projections month-by-month. Don’t stress too much on this one, it is just your best guess, based on the data you have reviewed and analyzed.
Analyze your expenditures for the past year. Was it money spent well spent? Do you need to allocate more money to certain areas next year and less to others? Based on your marketing plan and history, create a budget month-by-month for the upcoming year.
You should now have a clear picture by month of your cash flow throughout the year. You can utilize this to measure each month’s performance, and compare as the year progresses.
This is, of course, a simplified guide. If you need help with 2021 business planning or putting your strategy into action, contact THAT Agency.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.