Technology, consumer behaviour and the internet are three of the most powerful drivers of business decisions in the modern day. And with the three going through blink-and-miss phases of transformation almost every moment, a business plan (that neatly lays out the stops, turns and fly-overs even before the journey has begun) is, at best, a distraction smart businesses can’t afford.
Indeed, some of the greatest teams out there - be it Facebook, Google or Apple - didn’t quite start with a quote PLAN unquote (not in the conventional sense anyway). Sure, they had a vision. Yes, they had plenty of gut. But a roadmap? Not quite. And the one they did have, was edited fiercely on-the-go. Not very different from jumping off the cliff and building your parachute on your way down.
But like just a ship, every ‘self-made’ organization leaves a froth of experiences in its wake – one predecessor can (and will do well too) use as vital learnings to adjust their sails accordingly.
What follows is a fistful of such ‘wisdom-on-hindsight’ – chronicles culled from the lives of organizations and teams across industries and niches that have successfully scaled themselves – which should stand entrepreneurs, start-ups or businesses in good stead. Either to get started on the right foot or - if already in mid-sea - to correct their course in time.
Needless to say, these are broad templates and perspectives – and each item on the list must be interpreted and internalized in the specific context of one’s own situation.
Before you look ahead. Sounds weird, right - why start off by looking behind your shoulder? Make no mistakes – A quick reflection on your performance over the past year or two (with special focus on lacunae and speed-breakers) provides you valuable and customized insights on the directions you should face in the future.
Before you take that first step, figure out your purpose. That doesn’t just mean clearly outlining your business mission (and aligning everyone else with it), but also identify the frustrations of your audiences, and the big market needs you want to fill.
Gap analysis (SWOT can be a synonym, but not always) is an art, and the more you practise it, the better you get at it. So be it the chasm between strategy and execution, marketing and sales or roles and skills (or, well, anything in between and beyond), use the brightest models and frameworks to systematically identify, analyse and address the lacunae in your machinery. It’ll help you cut costs (of all kinds), boost competitive edge and make you growth-ready for the future.
Focus on planning, not ‘the plan’. Think process, not rules. Make the organization flatter. Keep the doors open. Mix things up. Give sufficient leeway. Be okay with failures. Go easy on the policies. Remember, the bottom line is results. And you’ll probably taste it faster with a little sugar (and reasonable doses of patience) than by anything else.
There’s no substitute for discipline. You need the method to rein in the madness. So drive home the ground rules and values your business rests on. Bring in the accountabilities. Make results sacrosanct. And ensure every member of your team (and your clients and partners, too) clearly understand the vision and passion on which the enterprise was built.
Whether it’s your quarterly targets, emerging buyer personas, new marketing KPI’s, training programs or employee reviews, it pays to set tangible goals. The more specific, the better. It cuts down the fat of confusion and makes systems meaner.
Your business runs on one resource, and one resource alone - human resource. So onboard the best players (within your budgets) – then go ahead and give them the finest playground possible: Be it meaningful responsibilities, ‘alone-time’, hi-tech workstations, tickets to their fav shows or an in-house bakery. The last one’s probably a bit of a stretch, but well, you get the drift.
Never underestimate the power of research. And, of course, analysis. The two, more than anything else, help you take better (read informed) decisions on everything from strategy formulation to product development to process re-engineering to performance management to negotiate a change to scaling the next level.
Keep a tab on your competition, a watch on your fans, and a finger on trends. It doesn’t just ensure you don’t go off the radar but provides you with a relevance compass against which you can measure every endeavour across the organization.
It’s all very well to strategize in the boardroom, but people have short memories and nasty schedules. Writing things down in black and white is a great way to get members on the same page (and get them to stay there till the job is done). It also ensures you give every task your best shot.
Whether you are in the B2B or B2C space, you can’t do yourself a greater favour than by learning as much as you can about your customer’s needs & behaviours, striking up meaningful relationships with them, and serving them in new & better ways. And that, all told, is what a CRM worth its salt is all about.
Don’t do it all. Certainly not by yourself. So go ahead and automate as much as you can. Not only does that make for better measurabilities, but it also frees up your best talent for the really important tasks.
The best ones will help you make sense of the big data that surrounds you at all times and give you a clearer view of your business – at a glance. Don’t forget to: Use actionable matrices customized to your specific line of work (resist the temptation to use vanity matrices), keep things brief & easy to use (the operative word here is great UX), and make sure your dashboards are device-agnostic enough to be accessible from anywhere, anytime.
Businesses aren’t just built by people – they are built on people partnerships. Remarkable associations are the secret engines of your organization – making the sail smoother during peace times, and steadying the ship when you hit a rough. Spot, nurture and reward them, whenever you can.
Taxes may need to be renewed. Insurances will require top-ups. Legal nitty-gritty may need follow-up. Industry Codes of Practice may require brushing up. Contracts re-checked. To make sure your growth-engine doesn’t grind to a halt one fine afternoon (when ‘the guys’ pay a visit), it’s important to keep a tab on every compliance point of your business. If there are too many vying for attention, prioritize.
You’re only as good as your last performance. This one rings as true in business as in any other arena of life. Monitoring, measuring and iteratively improving is a way of staying on your toes. Stop doing it, and your customers stop smiling.
We’ve kept the juiciest for the last. Ok, there may be some debate whether marketing is the department with the maximum juice on your ship. But there’s no denying its position of primacy. So be it a carefully constructed content strategy, powerful PR networks or personal branding, get the show on the road in the grandest you can.
Getting these right will help you define the factors essential to your organization’s success. They may not guarantee success – nothing in the universe can (in any case success is relative) – but it will help insert vital miles between you and potential failures. And that’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?
What would YOU add to the list?