November 2002 Issue #3


IN THIS ISSUE

  • Marketing feature: Back to Basics - Part 3 - You've gotta have a system!
  • Offer extended . . . exclusive to Business Odyssey!
  • Entrepreneurship feature: Do you really need a business plan?
  • We want to hear from you!

Marketing feature: Back to Basics - Part 3 - You've gotta have a system!

To build the kinds of relationships that will sustain your business, you will need a system for gathering, organizing and storing information. A good marketing support system will enable you to keep track of the source of your prospect, when and how the first contact was made, what the prospect is interested in, what was discussed, and dates of this and subsequent contacts. With this information at your fingertips, you will be able to focus on what needs to take place in order to close the sale.

In many businesses, personal relationships are important in the selling process. Where that personal chemistry is needed to close the sale, your will also need to include more personal information such as prospects' hobbies, children, birthdays, and so forth. Having this information available when you talk to your prospective customers will enable you to talk to them like they were a friend. (Everyone would prefer to do business with someone they know.)

As your number of prospects grows, the need to have this information written down in an orderly fashion becomes very important. You can't be expected to remember it all! Fortunately, there are a number of tools available to help with this task.

The simplest is a card file system. If you are working with a small prospect base and you do not need to keep track of a lot of information, this kind of system will work fine to start with.

A step up from a card file is the address book feature that comes on most computers. The computer address book has predetermined fields and usually includes spaces for personal, family and business information as well as notes. While convenient, there are several disadvantages to the computer address book.

  1. Data fields are pre-set and few or none can be customized.
  2. Usually, searches to produce lists based on specific criteria must be done manually. You cannot do a "sort" and get a list of prospects who are in a given zip code or who have been contacted two times, for example.
  3. It is very difficult to export the data into another database.

For more flexibility and to be able to store more information, use a "contact management" software package designed for this purpose. There are several available for around $200 (ACT!, Maximizer and GoldMine are a few) which can store virtually unlimited information on a prospect and are useful for client records also. These packages enable you to customize many of the data fields so that you can keep track of any kind of information you deem important. Sorts on nearly any field are possible so you could get a list of all prospects who have birthdays in October, for example or prospects that have been contacted four times, if you wanted that. Most also allow you to manage mass mailings and will record in each prospect's record what mail piece has been sent. Some include appointment scheduling features making it easy to stay on top of face-to-face visits, phone calls, and mailing dates. These programs are user-friendly and usually take only a few hours to master.

If you understand database software, then you are in a position to develop your own system. Microsoft Office comes packaged with Access and Corel WordPerfect Office comes with Paradox. Both have templates that can help get you started and offer a lot of flexibility. If you have not had training in these systems though, they can be complicated and confusing to use.

As your business grows, you might want to invest in "customer relationship managment" software or CRM. These include all of the features of contact managment software plus other functions including order fulfillment and invoicing. They integrate all aspects of your business into an automated system.

The greater the number of clients and prospects you have, the more sophisticated the system will need to be. In the next installment in this series, we will talk about what information is important and how to use it in a systematic approach to marketing.


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Entrepreneurship feature: Do you really need a business plan?

Of course you need a business plan!

Most entrepreneurs do have some sort of business plan - usually locked away inside of their own heads. The problem with that is the plan is not available when you need it the most. When business gets challenging or you get off track, your mind is working hard on coping and you, most likely, cannot take the time to ponder what you had intended. As the old saying goes, "When you are up to your $%# in alligators, it's hard to remember that the objective is to drain the swamp." A written business plan keeps your goals clear and out in front of you where you can use them.

There are two primary purposes for a business plan:

  1. to accommodate the requirements of securing financing, and
  2. to guide the development of your business.

Reason #1 is what prompts most people to write a plan but reason #2 is actually more important.

When you have written goals, written budgets, written marketing strategies and written financial projections, you can measure your actual progress toward achieveing your goals. This keeps you on track and gives a realistic picture of your progress. Sometimes our perceptions can be clouded. I have worked with a number of entrepreneurs who thought that they had hit a slump and were doing terribly. When they looked at their actual progress against what they had planned, the picture actually looked pretty good. On the other hand, some think they are doing great when actual accomplishments as compared to the plan do not support that feeling. When you are running a business, it is important to know the truth.

There are two basic kinds of plan - a strategic plan (a term often misused) and a business plan.

A strategic plan focuses on broad, longer term objectives. The written document is often very short - just a few pages. In developing a strategic plan, it is important to have information about long-term trends in your industry, your market and in the technology you use. The strategic plan usually covers three or more years. It should be reviewed annually and rewritten at least once very few years to accommodate changing trends.

A business plan is a longer document but usually covers a shorter time span - usually one to three years. It contains specific goals which must be met in order to achieve the strategic plan. It also contains all of the details which are needed to support the plan and measure progress. This includes a detailed marketing plan, financial projections, staff planning, capital plans, operational and administrative plans, and what ever else is relevant to your particular business. It should also include data and research that supports the assumptions that are used to make your projections. If you are using the business plan to secure financing, you will also need to include the credentials and experience of the management team. Successful, well-organized businesses use the business plan to track progress on a regular basis - either monthly or quarterly and revise it annually.

You can hire a consultant to write your plan for you. Be forewarned, you will still have to do the thinking behind the plan and set your own goals. Hiring a good consultant with experience in writting business plans will usually cost $1500 and up depending on the complexity of the project. Some consultants will "coach" you or guide you in developing your own plan, minimizing the expense. Business Odyssey offers both approaches.

Lots of entrepreneurs follow the do-it-yourself approach. There are many books on the market to help. Adams Streetwise Complete Business Plan by Bob Adams provides a detailed, step-by-step process for creating your own business plan including sample verbiage and financial statements. This is the best book I have seen on the subject. Another very good book is The McGraw-Hill Guide to Writing a High-Impact Business Plan by James B. Arkebauer. Clear and easy to follow, this book is written especially for the novice and anyone who finds the task of writing a plan distasteful but necessary.

A good intermediate step - between doing it yourself and hiring a consultant - is to find a workshop. Business Odyssey offers a seven week program which will provide you with the support you need to complete the task. See the Training & Seminar Schedule on our web site for details.


We want to hear from you!

We would like to spice up our content with some real-life stories from our readers. The subject this month - the sale that launched your business. Tell us how you made that milestone first sale. We will publish your story along with the name of your business, a brief description of your business and contact infromation. Please submit items to editor@businessodyssey.com by December 16, 2002.