One day to get your small business on track

Matthew Levington and Rod Davies of Business Doctors reveal how to give yourself one day to get you working on your business, rather than in it.

Every successful business has a strategy. But if you aren’t being strategic enough right now, the main resource you need to get things moving is time – just enough of it to set aside all the operational issues so you can stop and think.

How long? A committed day involving all the company’s stakeholders and a clear agenda. One way to ensure that a day of talk isn’t time wasted is to bring in an outsider to facilitate it and make sure it stays on track. That’s probably essential, in fact.

OK, so you’ve got everyone’s buy-in and the day is in the company calendar. Here’s an agenda:

1. Why are we even doing this? Understanding stakeholders’ personal aspirations
2. What’s important to us? Core values and the business DNA
3. What business are we in?
4. What’s the vision?
5. Future proofing
6. Market opportunities for growth
7. GIVE analysis (Great, Improve, Vulnerable, Edge). Understanding our capabilities and difference
8. Strategy: defining the focus for growth
9. Making it happen: critical success factors and an action plan
10. What gets measured gets done

That’s ten points to work at – so lots to do!

The first point on the agenda – shareholder aspirations – is a big topic in its own right. Why are we in business? What do we all want personally from this business? It makes sense to start here because you can only begin to work on a strategy for the business once the personal aspirations are known, in order to align the two.

What kinds of issues come up? For some it might prompt reflection on a work-life balance that has skewed out of all recognition; for others it might lead to other kinds of soul-searching; for others still it might be easy to articulate some business-related and personal aims.

The next two points on the list are about understanding the core values, goals and purpose of the business – why it was started, what its purpose is now – as seen through the eyes of its directors and stakeholders. Here you sometimes get some extraordinary insights emerging once everyone engages.

Next, the question of a company’s vision and goals comes up under that business vision / destination heading and also under the next point on the checklist, future-proofing. The first exercise, about visionary goals, is a chance for everyone to get excited and think about how big the company could become and what new opportunities it might grab if everything worked out perfectly. It can be cathartic just giving everyone the permission to dream big.

By contrast future-proofing is grounded in what’s known. This is a chance for a step-by-step walk through of the social, economic, technological and political factors that could impact on the business. And of course it’s a chance to ask some important questions and swap insights. Are there any opportunities or threats to explore?

Next up is the part of the day called your market, moving into the related area of opportunities for growth. These are similar is that the discussion will be grounded in the known and the knowable. What does the current products-and-services mix in the business look like? What financial value attaches to each market opportunity? Who are our top ten customers? Do we know them?

This top-ten customers question in particular usually gets minds racing once explored. It can be startling how companies fail to make the most of their customer base.

The your market section of the day covers much more than customers, of course – it might be your sourcing strategies and costs that come under the spotlight, say. Equally the opportunities for growth follow-up could head off in myriad directions. For now, though, let’s move on. GIVE analysis is next.

GIVE is an acronym: Great, Improve, Vulnerable, Edge. It’s a chance to be analytical and take a long, hard look in the mirror. Do we as a company understand our capabilities? What are we great at? Where can we improve? How and why are we vulnerable? What’s our edge on the competition? Are we really distinct or sometimes pretty ordinary?

Important questions. If a company has aspirations to take business away from others and to grow beyond the market through innovation it needs an advantage. What is that advantage?

The final three points on the list for the day will often take a lead from GIVE and what has gone before, as the headings suggest: strategy, making it happen, and what gets measured gets done.

If strategy sets out the beginnings of a way ahead in broad terms, the question of implementation – making it happen – is a first try at identifying the elements that will be needed to deliver, with measurement at the heart of things. It starts with the people and with the suitability or otherwise of the current management and reporting structures. It will usually also look in detail at things like sales opportunities and strategies and at performance indicators for individuals and for the business. There will be a lot of work to do here beyond the big-picture stuff, but you can still make headway.

OK, that’s your day over – and your starting point for forging a winning strategy. It sounds simple; we all know it’s not. Good luck!

Breaking Big: The Business Doctors’ No-Nonsense Guide to Achieving Breakthrough Growth for Your Business is available now from Amazon or other good bookshops.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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