Strategic planning: an ongoing effort

About the only constant small business owners can count on these days is change. The interdependent nature of today’s marketplace means that the ripple effect of events around the world or on Wall Street could very well reach your small business in Anytown, U.S.A.

That’s why ongoing strategic planning is essential to the long-term viability of a small business. Keeping on top of current and emerging trends, and evaluating them in the context of your business goals, allows you to anticipate and respond more quickly to shifts in the business landscape.

Entrepreneur, author and nationally syndicated columnist Rhonda Abrams says that short and long-term planning is a must for every entrepreneur, even those who are doing quite well.

“Many small business owners think the path to success is doing one thing and then doing more of it,” Abrams explained. “If the market falls off, your instinct is to make more sales. But you can’t make sales if there’s no market to sell to. That’s why you need to continually be aware of things that can affect your business.”

Your business plan is the foundation for your small business’s strategic planning efforts. It should be reviewed at least annually, but many experts recommend more frequent assessments, particularly as growth opportunities emerge or your market undergoes sudden changes (e.g., a natural disaster, arrival/departure of a major employer, price spikes, etc.).

Along with examining the marketplace and how it’s being influenced, perform a S.W.O.T. analysis on your small business. Identify your Strengths — the areas that are giving you an advantage — how they can be enhanced and consider whether they’ll remain positives in the future. Also examine your Weaknesses — areas where your business may not match up so well — and what can be done to address them.

Similarly, look for immediate and emerging Opportunities that you can capitalize on and Threats that might compromise your operations and profitability now and in the future.

You’ll likely find no shortage of resources to assist with your strategic planning — from industry websites and online publications to business magazines or your community newspaper. Blogs and social media channels are also a great resource, according to leading small business consultant Melinda Emerson.

“Every business owner should be using social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as a listening device to understand how their marketplace is changing,” Emerson said. “It allows people to get real-time information from current and prospective customers, and the competition.”

Someone once said: “Change is a switchyard for freight that’s moving on.” Be sure that your train is on the right track. Remain aware of the change agents that might have an impact on the direction of your business.

At SCORE, we want to be the foundation of the small business owner’s ongoing education. You can get expert, objective advice and ideas from certified, experienced mentors, in person, or online — and all for no charge. To attend certain business seminars and workshops offered for a nominal fee, along with other FREE workshops, contact the local SCORE office @ http://northcentralflorida.score.org, or Media Contact Doug Crotty at 352-213-2555 or doug.crotty@scorevolunteer.org.

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