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Starting Your 2018 Business Planning - Where to Begin?

Posted at Nov 6, 2017 8:00:00 AM by Michelle Sternbauer | Share

2018 Business Planning | THAT Agency

Each year, as we begin our planning for the next year, it always seems like a daunting task. It seems as though, when you try to even start planning, no matter how organized and thoughtful you are in your job, your every day life, your being - when we have to start planning for the year, we become overeager teenagers - feeling like we have zero consequences, and can concur the world. Most likely, we also become scatterbrained, and somewhat unfocused, as we jump from idea to idea - doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing, which is putting together an organized plan.

Whether you are new to this, or a seasoned business planning veteran, the following can serve as a simple guide to creating your 2018 Business Plan.

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 & weaknesses, and review your financials. While I am sure you have done this every day for the past month, as you drive to work, or wait patiently for your kid to fall asleep, or as you are awake another sleepless night at 3am with the “thinkies.” Take a minute, and get it all written down - just getting it out on paper can help with those sleepless nights!

Once you are ready, let’s get started putting together our simple 3-part business plan. 3 PARTS! - that’s not so bad, right? Well, there is a bit more to each of those 3 parts, but by separating them out, we’ll be able to tackle them in no time.

The 3 parts of a good annual business plan, are as follows:

  1. Operational Improvement Plan
  2. Marketing Plan
  3. Financial Plan / Budget

Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these 3 parts now.


Operational Improvement Plan

Including an operational improvement plan into your yearly business planning is a key requirement for any business that wants to excel in the ever change 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 point.

Topics to discuss and address as part of your operational Improvement plan, may include:

  • Facilities: is your current space setup for growth? Outline all of 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 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 - both those won, current customers, and lost customers. Outline the positives and negatives for all - note any underlying themes. Do not be discouraged with customers lost - they may not be an ideal customer; however if they were lost due to an issue with your process, this is a great time to analyze and 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 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.
  • Marketing: (do this before you complete your marketing plan) 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 state, will help you during this next section.

Once you have met with the team, and brainstormed within each of these areas, start by setting yourself some goals. You may find it useful to have a champion for each goal - whose purpose is to ensure each goal is met. Within each of the topics above, it may be helpful to define any “quick-wins”. Quick wins are often very easy operational changes that can be implemented with relatively little effort or budget. Defining these, will provide an immediate sense of accomplishment, which will serve in bolstering your confidence as you continue down your 2018 Business Planning efforts.

2018 Digital Marketing Guide | THAT Agency

Marketing Plan

Arguably one of the most important parts of a good business plan (but maybe that is because it’s what we do for a living), there are “8” components that should be focused on when putting together the marketing portion of your business plan. The GOOD news is, that once you do this the first time, most of these don’t change a whole lot from year to year!

Begin by identifying your primary product or service offering, and then develop your plan around 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 that you can increase performance.
  • Unique Selling Proposition (U.S.P.): 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 marketing your business - both on- and off-line (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!
  • Benchmarks & KPIs: this one is very near and dear to our hearts at THAT Agency. As a whole, we - at THAT Agency - define one of our USPs on our vigilance with website analytics and reporting and our transparency in doing so. After all, there is no better way to tell our customers how awesome we are - it’s right there in the numbers! For this last step of your marketing plan, 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. Define 5 - 10 KPIs, along with their current benchmarks.
  • Goals: this one can be difficult depending on how eager you (or your boss) wants to be! Based on the above benchmarks and KPIs, define reasonable goals. If you haven’t done this before, take a look at the numbers and start with a 10% increase - you may need to adjust this depending on the KPI (while this may work for something like website traffic, it might not apply for click-through rate).
  • Marketing Budget: not to be confused with your overall budget, your marketing budget should focus on identifying the allocation of funds to the various platforms defined within a few steps above, so that you can effectively market to, and capture your ideal customer. Define funds needed for each platform, in order to reach your goals.
  • 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.


Your Financial Plan / Budget

Last, but certainly not least, your financial plan. Begin, by looking in the past (I am starting to see a theme here). 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 forecasted changes that could effect 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.

Now, take a look at your expenditures for the past year. Was it all good money spent? Do you need to spend more money in any areas next year? 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.


Okay, phew…you are done. You have listened (or read) to me blabber on for I am sure what seems like forEVER now. In summary, keep the process simple. If you find yourself off the straight and narrow, don’t be discouraged. Pick-up where you left off and keep moving. If this is your first time, business planning - don’t worry, it gets easier, especially once you have an initial plan in place.

Lastly, if you need any assistance with developing your 2018 Marketing Plan, I know some good people…check us out!

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