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Small Business Coaching Basics: 8 Key Elements of A Top Notch Business Plan

Small Business Coaching Basics: 8 Key Elements of A Top Notch Business Plan

“It’s in my head.” That was Jim’s reply when I asked to see his business plan. He’d paid me $25,000 to consult with him about his fledgling company. I was shocked…

It was not that his business plan was terrible or even wildly unrealistic. He just straight up didn’t have one.

Let me bring you in on a little secret in the Business Coaching Services industry. “It’s in my head” is the adult equivalent of, “My dog ate it.” It’s just not going to cut it in today’s business world.

Here’s the thing, you’d be surprised how often situations like this come up with first time entrepreneurs. However, Jim doesn’t fit into that category at all. What if I told you that he had already started a dozen small businesses in his 20-year tenure as an entrepreneur?

Just like all the other companies Jim started, the one I was coaching him on was caught in the small business undertow, fighting just to stay afloat. None of Jim’s companies had ever produced annual revenues of over a million dollars.

Sadly, many of Jim’s companies eventually failed and he was forced to shut them down after a few unprofitable quarters.

Does this mean Jim is a terrible businessman?

Yes and no.

No, because he’s obviously a very prodigious entrepreneur with good ideas that will actually be profitable with a good business plan.

BUT, yes, because he suffers from a mentality that’s all too common in the world of start-ups…

Many entrepreneurs are borderline adrenaline junkies, who enjoy flying by the seat of their pants. That’s another way of saying they don’t understand the importance of creating a good business plan and then reviewing it regularly.

Entrepreneurs like Jim love to think of themselves as “self-made men.” That’s exactly why they’re hesitant to seek out business coaching services. Truth be told, they don’t want to share the credit if their business takes off.

It’s purely a vanity move for many entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, sharing the spotlight isn’t what they should be afraid of. It’s the downward spiraling feeling of their business crashing into the turf that should be guiding their decisions.

Those Who Don’t Plan To Grow, Won’t…

Sure, lots of successful entrepreneurs love to talk about how they just lucked their way into success…

That may work for some, but it’s absolutely NOT any kind of plan. For every one of these guys, there are tens of thousand more who crashed and burned, simply because they lacked a plan.

If you don’t develop a plan for growth, you may still grow, but your growth will inevitably be unbalanced and disproportionate — putting you organization in a very dangerous and unsustainable position.

That’s what most people don’t realize. Uncontrolled growth can actually put your company at risk. That’s why planning for growth is essential.

According to massive business coaching services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, a full two-thirds of all fast growth companies develop some type of business plan. Of the other third, I’d hazard to guess that two-thirds of them WISH they had developed one.

Here’s what most people don’t realize: The exercise of actually drafting a business plan is often more important than the plan itself.

Developing a business plans and writing it in pen forces you to focus on the fundamentals of your business. It makes you think through your next steps and specific strategies and tactics.

Most importantly, this exercise forces you to face the cold hard facts. It may sound a little cheesy, but the most important entrepreneurial/executive skills is being able to face the facts, all the time…

Not just the pleasant, happy facts — the cold hard facts.

In my career, I’ve known so many highly intelligent business owners whose businesses failed because they refused to acknowledge the struggles their business faced. Almost all of those enterprises could have been saved with a good business plan, or a small business coach.

The Eight Key Business Coaching Basics Of A Business Plan

1) Executive Summary: The executive summary is a clear and concise statement about what you want as a company. Make it a synopsis of the entire business, what you’re offering, how you’ll produce it, financials, etc. It should be no more than one page, tops!

2) Market Analysis: This is where you can get into the particulars of your market and how your company will gain a competitive advantage.

Once again, this is a great exercise. A market analysis pushes the entrepreneur to become familiar with all aspects of the market, so they can clearly define and understand their target market.

You can begin by defining the market in terms of size, structure, growth prospects, trends and sales potential.

Once you’ve accomplished this, you can work with your business coach to position your company for success.

The market analysis stage also forces you to get realistic about pricing, distribution and marketing strategies. Not the ones you scribbled down on a cocktail napkin… the real ones.

In addition, a thorough market analysis will give a glimpse of the health and growth potential within your industry, giving you the necessary ammunition to develop a reasonable forecast for your organization’s future.

3) Company Description: This section is basically the bird’s eye view of how all the different elements in your business fit together. A good company description should include information about the foundation of your company, how it will produce revenue, as well as the unique factors that you as an entrepreneur believe will help your company be a success.

4) Organization and Management: Just like it sounds, this section is where you’ll outline your company’s organizational structure, including all the details about the who owns your company, the functions of your management team, and the qualifications of your company’s leadership.

5) Marketing and Sales Strategies: Clearly, this is the real lifeblood of your company. Your marketing and promotional efforts create customers and those customers will generate the sales that bring cash in the door.

In this section, you’ll want to define your company’s primary marketing strategy. You’ll start with strategies, tactics and channels that have thus far created your greatest successes. After that, analyze other tactics that may be working for your competitors.

This section is constantly evolving as your business finds new ways to be successful.

6) Service and/or Product Line: This is the section in which you lay out your service and product. In other words, you define what is it that you are actually selling.

This one’s usually a big eye-opener, because it’s requires business owners to discern between benefits and features — a biggie. Benefits, not features, will allow you to establish your unique selling proposition.

If you’re still a little unclear on what the difference between a feature and a benefit is, consider this: A feature may be what makes your product different from the competition, but a benefit is what makes it BETTER.

7) Funding Requirements: This is where a small business coach is worth his or her weight in gold. A coach can help you determine the amount of funding you will need to start or expand your business.

They’ll help you analyze the best and worst case scenarios and keep you realistic. It’s not as difficult or painful as you might think.

8) Financials: There’s a reason that this is step #8. That’s because you can only develop your financial plan AFTER you have analyzed the market and set clear objectives. You should include three to five years of historical data.

Here’s the big takeaway: A good business plan is never meant to be written or read once. You have to revisit your plan quarterly at least, but monthly is even better.

Any good businessperson understands that plans evolve and change as your business grows and your market environment changes. It’s a lot like pruning a rosebush. You’ll cut off branches that don’t produce in your business, and those changes should be reflected in your business plan.

As a veteran in the business coaching services industry, I fully believe that if you take all of these 8 steps to heart, you literally CAN’T fail.

Small Business Advisors: Your Shortcut To Financial Freedom

Small Business Advisors: Your Shortcut To Financial Freedom

It’s often said that small business is the engine that drives the American economy. That may be true, but every engine needs routine inspection and maintenance from a competent mechanic from time to time.

That’s the only way to ensure the your entrepreneurial machinery is well-oiled and ready for the road ahead, free from any of the subtle warning signs that it takes a specially trained eye to diagnose. By analyzing market conditions, developing strong fundamentals, and anticipating future needs before they develop into serious problems, small business marketing consultants help growing businesses gain a sure footing, sidestepping all the pitfalls.

And in our current economic climate, there is no shortage of pitfalls for small business owners. Sluggish demand, high unemployment, and a very tight lending environment make it hard for start-ups to plan for growth.

That’s why the need for small business marketing consultants is growing at its fastest rate in history. Tough decisions about debt and hiring can paralyze small business owners and bring a thriving start-up company with a bright future to a grinding halt.

More than ever, business owners need a trusted third-party they can turn to for advice, perspective, and analysis. Small business marketing consultants offer exactly that.

The Five Most Common Pitfalls for Start-ups

The more experience a consultant has, the easier it is for them to spot a problem in the developing stages. Much like cars, to return to our auto-mechanic theme, most small businesses encounter very similar problems at similar times. There’s a different set of necessary check-ups that are needed at each interval in the life of a business.

In addition, businesses of the same type often encounter the same pitfalls, just the way cars of the same make or model often possess the same design weaknesses.

One of the most valuable services that a small business coach brings to the table is the experience and wisdom to diagnose these pitfalls before they do serious harm. Here are the 6 most common pitfalls:

Failure to Create a Detailed Plan

This one’s easy. Most entrepreneurs are used to storing complex and fluid plans in their head, only writing things down when it’s absolutely necessary. That often translates to a weak business plan, never taken seriously, “Because it’s going to change tomorrow anyway, right?”

When it come to a business plan, this type of thinking is never good enough. A good plan should to include information about the size of the market, pricing factors, financial goals, and clear parameters about how much the company is willing to invest. Optimism is a good motivator — it’s true — but a small business consultant can bring a much-needed dose of reality to the planning meeting.

Not Contacting Industry Experts

This one really hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it. By failing to consult with the current leaders in an industry, small business owners are doing themselves a major disservice. Many entrepreneurs are standoffish toward industry experts, considering them the competition.

Not only are these business owners missing out on the valuable advice an industry veteran may share, they’re also missing the opportunity to develop a network of support. Industry news travels at light speed through business networks, keeping all those “in the loop” up to date on the current challenges their peers are facing.

Small business marketing consultants can remedy this in a variety of ways. First off, an experienced business advisor IS an expert, particularly if they’ve spent their career specializing in a certain field. Second, business advisors know other business owners; it’s their job. So a small business advisor is a great resource in the quest to get linked in.

Failing to Conduct Market Research – It’s simply not enough to be passionate about something — there must be a healthy market for you product or service in order to sustain a business. Two of the quickest ways to get your business in trouble are to overestimate the size of a market, or underestimate the importance of targeting.

Markets typically seem larger and more vibrant right before you enter them with the stress and tension of a new business to run. First time entrepreneurs commonly get fixated on a particular pet product, losing sight of the fundamentals and overall health of their business. A small business advisor can offer an objective, bird’s eye view of your businesses profit potential while suggesting ways to target relevant customers and increase lifetime value.

It’s often said that 80% of your business will come from 20% of your customers. That’s a statement to how important it is to find those customers instead of focusing on the other 80%.

Underestimating Costs

If you think about it, this is roughly the same thing as overestimating your control on prices. New business owners often make optimistic forecasts about the prices of the goods and services their companies depend on, as well as the prices that their own goods and services may fetch in the marketplace.

By failing to factor in all the volatility of the modern marketplace, small business owners can be setting themselves up for failure. Understanding how much it truly costs to start a business, what the average sale and the average refund rates are in an industry — that’s where expert advice from a marketing consultant can mean the difference between success and failure. Cost and pricing factors are much too important to be left up to guesswork.

Failing to Seek Small Business Advisors

Yep, we saved the best for last! For every major entrepreneurial success story, there’s a business owner who got help form the right advisor at the right time. It doesn’t matter if it’s about selecting real estate, construction, or financial planning; the go-it-alone, maverick mindset is the opposite of what a small business owner needs.

Surrounding yourself with the right team of professionals is the ultimate insurance policy. Small business advisors are only one part of this team, alongside investors, visionaries, and coaches.

These advisors can help entrepreneurs gauge what’s around the corner for their businesses and how to position themselves to take advantage of it. Otherwise, a small business will be caught in the herd of entrepreneurs who are simply struggling to react to the changes.

Merging the Plan with the Execution

Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs that approach their businesses methodically — going down the proper checklists as they grow their companies — are far more likely to succeed than those who simply “go with their gut.”

Likewise, entrepreneurs that go with their gut often get heartburn, if not heartbreak — especially when operating within today’s razor thin margin of error.

Few entrepreneurs fantasize about accounting, marketing, and metrics. After all, many small businesses are formed with the express purpose of escaping the tedious realities of working for someone else. Yet these tedious things are the building blocks that support a successful enterprise in the long-term.

If routine maintenance and inspections are necessary for you car, you can imagine how important they are for something as complex as a business! Small business consultants offer the attention to detail, pragmatism, and accountability that gives businesses an edge in today’s exciting, yet challenging business climate.

Top 10 Mistakes Of Corporate Coaches & How To Use Them To Explode Profits

Top 10 Mistakes Of Corporate Coaches & How To Use Them To Explode Profits

Whenever I’m consulting with a client, I try to present all of my coaching suggestions in the most positive light possible…

I do this by highlighting the benefits my corporate clients can achieve through the prescribed changes and not dwelling on the often-stupefying mistakes that have led them to hire me.

I do it this way, not simply because it’s more pleasant (it IS), but because I think it’s the most effective way to motivate clients to make the changes and move forward.

They’ve already lived the mistakes, there’s nothing to gain from analyzing the flaws in their organization or leadership style over and over. That’s why they hired me. That’s my job.

Their job is to implement the changes, with a little help and guidance, to get their business back on the right track.

This is NOT a 10 Deadly Sins Article

Here’s the thing, because I like to approach these matters from a positive, results-based angle, I chose not to make this a piece about the “10 Stupidest Things Corporate Executives Do” or the “7 Deadly Sins of Entrepreneurs Who Think They’re God’s Gift to Business.”

Look, with the absolutely stupid, self-destructive, and borderline negligent things I’ve observed in my corporate coaching career, it’d be easy to write any of those articles. I could write books. But I won’t…

In the interest of better understanding exactly what many executives do wrong, AND what exactly corporate coaching professionals actually do, I’ve decided to flip the typical script. Here’s are the 10 major mistakes business consultants see on a recurring basis:

1. Leaders Don’t Have Clarity of Vision: If corporate leaders don’t understand why their company exists, then how can they teach that to their customers, employees, vendors, or funding partners?  It’s time to revisit your mission statement, study it and/or make the appropriate changes.

Because your mission says why your company does what it does, this is a great place to renew your commitment to your company’s vision. One more thing: In order to really engrain this vision into your organization at every level, your mission statement needs to be distilled into a phrase so short and simple, it can fit on a t-shirt.

2. The Company Lacks Identity and Core Values: All outcomes are not the direct result of those at the top of the corporate ladder… but it does reflect on them.

Identifying core values are one of the most powerful ways that corporate executives can influence and guide the behaviors of their team. Although leaders can’t DO everything, they can and should create the values the guide employees on HOW to carry out these responsibilities.

3. The CEO Isn’t Big On Org Charts: Lots of executives pay lots of lip service to running a tight ship, but never seem to get around to creating or updating the company’s organizational chart.

An organizational chart clarifies who occupies what role and who reports to whom, and for what. A good organizational chart increases your company’s efficiency and, perhaps more importantly, defines responsibilities.

If a business leader fails to make an org chart, they typically start to absorb more and more responsibilities, until the company’s structural hierarchy looks like the chart below.


Increase Your Companies Efficiency

4. Employees Don’t Have Job Descriptions: I meet with executives all the time that tell me that they need to hire help. When I ask them what the person would do, however, they look at me like a deer in the headlights.

You can’t possibly hire the right person if you haven’t decided what you want them to do once they’re on board. So before even think about hold a single interview, you need to write a thorough job description.  If you don’t, you’ll simply be wasting mountains of time.

If you’ve never written a job description before — you’d be shocked by how many corporate leaders haven’t — start by writing down everything you think you want your new employee to do. List the duties you want them to be responsible for. Next to each responsibility, write down the skill necessary to fulfill it. Be as specific as humanly possible.

Once you’ve taken inventory and created a skill set that defines your ideal employee… only then do you start scheduling interviews.

5. Leaders Confuse a Feature with a Benefit: Knowing the difference between a feature and a benefit is only useful for those in the marketing department. It’s absolutely critical that a company’s decision makers understand this concept as well.

Many of the mistakes we see in the corporate coaching world have to do with an executive’s love affair with an idea or product with a new feature. If that feature doesn’t provide an attractive benefit, or the company fails to position the products in a way that’s relevant to the benefits, massive resources can be quickly wasted.

6. Compensation: This one’s a big, sticky ball of wax. The main thing to remember here is that variable, performance-based compensation plans are no magic bullet — at all. In fact, more and more research shows that artificial pressures like bonuses and commissions don’t improve performance, the introduce stress that hinders it.

7. Leaders Don’t Communicate With Accounting Enough: Many executives have no idea what the “real” cost to run their business is. They don’t keep a close relationship with their accounting department and leave it up to “accounting” to make sure the numbers are good.

This is a lot like relying on the TV weatherman to deliver nice, partly cloudy skies. It works… until it doesn’t.

8. The Company Has Shinny Penny Syndrome: When leaders have a tendency to bounce like a pinball from one pet project to another, their businesses follow suit.

This will destroy profitability faster than just about anything else, because it draws resources away from the company’s core revenue sources. When you have several projects 50% done, that yields you zero revenue. However, one project 100% done brings money in the door.

9. Leaders Resist ALL Strategic Mergers or Partnerships: Look, not every merger, acquisition, or partnership that comes your way will be beneficial. However, the right partnership can send your company light-years ahead.

The thing we observe all too often in corporate coaching is a hostile attitude towards making beneficial alliances with likeminded companies. Even more damaging, this always seems to happen with companies that are struggling to take the next step.

If or when that company is able to make the progress its leaders desired, it’s out all the time and money it took them to do it all themselves. In a business landscape demanding “better, faster, more,” there’s no excuse for squandering resources.

10. The Company’s Leaders Avoid Confrontation: Too many executives are concerned about being well liked and have a terrible time making the tough decisions that are right for the business. If there is a problem, deal with it.

Even better yet, don’t allow potential problems to go unnoticed. If something unhealthy for your business seems likely to happen, jump on it before it becomes a serious issue.  There is a potential problem, jump on it before it becomes a real problem.

Letting problems fester tends to lead to:

-Bad Deals
-Bad Employees
-Bad Company Morale

Takeaway: If you see yourself in even one of these items, it’s time to bring in someone to help you work through it. Corporate coaching exists for a reason. Running a business made up employees and  rapidly changing markets is incredibly complicated — seek the advice of someone who’s seen it all before.

Coaching for Business: Your Key to Greatness

Coaching for Business: Your Key to Greatness

If you’re like most hungry self-starters with strong entrepreneurial tendencies, you probably think you don’t need an executive business coach. You probably don’t want much coaching in any aspect of your life or work, aside from the occasional consultation with your accountant or the swing doctor at the clubhouse.

For those of us further along in our careers, most of us have come to terms with the fact that everyone needs some coaching from time to time, someone who knows what you’re up against. Think about it for a moment, Donald Trump, Warren Buffet, and Sir Richard Branson all have entire teams of advisors that they keep around to make sure they’re staying on the right track.

I know what you’re thinking, “Why do they bother? Don’t these guys pretty much have the market cornered on executive know how?”

The Hard Way vs. Wisdom

Sure, it’s easy to build up these ultra-successful entrepreneurs as super human. And it’s probably true that there are few people in the world that know any more than these guys about building a business…

Yet they still bother to keep advisors. Why?

They’ve learned that coaches are a necessary part of staying on top one’s game whether in sports or business. So how did they learn this?

They either had the wisdom to listen to a mentor’s advice from an early age, or they learned their lesson the hard way. Kings, queens, presidents, and CEOs all have coaches, because coaches help to point out things that they don’t see, or gain new perspectives that they wouldn’t otherwise been aware of.

It’s a common misconception to think that a coach must be better than his or her team to be effective. Can Bill Belichick throw the football like Tom Brady? Could Phil Jackson dunk like Kobe Bryant? Can Butch Harmon play golf like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, or Greg Norman — all three champions that he’s coached throughout his career?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is no. So how can each of these elite coaches have anything useful to offer their exceptional pupils?

The Power of Great Business Coaches

There’s an old saying that goes, those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. While the original author of this cynical quote certainly had a way with words, the truth is that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s far more accurate to say that some people have the abilities, while others have the vision. Almost NEVER does one person possess all desirable leadership qualities in a single package. It just doesn’t happen.

In fact, it’s more accurate to say that, just because some can do, that doesn’t mean they can teach. Often times, genius manifests itself in very narrow spectrums. That’s why coaches can be so incredibly beneficial.

In fact, mountains of anecdotal evidence seem to indicate that the most extraordinarily gifted among us are the ones with the most to gain from coaching. It makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that those of use that fall in the fatter region of the bell curve don’t have plenty to gain from finding the right coach.

Executive Coaching for Results

Too many times, the word coach has a negative connotation. We’re not talking about that stern, crotchety coach that taught your high school biology class — the guy who spent more time criticizing “kids today” than talking about double helixes.

Executive coaches are usually extremely skilled experts in a subject. Perhaps the best way to think of an executive coach is someone who you can consider your strongest advocate.

The vast majority of people seeking business coaching aren’t doing so because they’re struggling to keep their businesses from going under. Usually, it’s the opposite extreme.

More often than not, it’s the already successful who opt for coaching, and not for re-training, but for improvement. These driven business leaders want to see positive changes in the way the handle their duties, manage their employees, and make personnel decisions.

According to a study published in the Journal of Management, 84% of executives who engaged in coaching reported having positive feelings about the experience. Of those, 32% reported experiencing improvement in their executive performance as a result.

What’s perhaps even more surprising, 24% of the participants in this study felt they’d achieved growth in areas of their personal life as well as in their career, maintaining that they’d learned to become more open to change or they’d developed more self-confidence.

Building You Up

It’s hard to overstate the psychological benefits of having a strong relationship with an executive confidant, because, in practice, your executive coach is truly your strongest advocate.

It’s all about having someone in your corner, a mentor who knows about the challenges an executive deals with on a daily basis. A mentor that’s seen it all first-hand and can offer good advice based on their own experiences is a common choice.

Thus, most coaching relationships naturally involve two executives at different levels of their respective careers, but that’s not necessary. While some executives may balk at the idea of having a coach that’s younger than them, or not familiar with their area of expertise, seniority and executive experience are not the primary tools that make up an effective business coach.

All that’s actually necessary is ability to listen and offer different perspectives in a way that builds the coaching relationship. Successful coach depends on the free sharing of relevant information.

Both parties can be on the same executive level, or vastly different levels, that’s not as important as the fact that learning is taking place — or as some psychologists call it, the “Transfer-of-knowledge.” The other most critical element is that the recipient of the coaching must feel that he or she is getting something out of the relationship; that’s where relationship building and personal communications styles come in.

The Phases of Coaching for Business

In many ways, the relationship is one of an advisor to a client, or even a therapist to a patient. Keep in mind, however, that most of the executives who seek out business coaching are already successful. Signing up for business coaching or mentoring isn’t an admission that your skill set is inadequate. Rather, it’s a statement that you want to become even better at your role.

For those who are curious about the process, those who may be wondering what coaching sessions may actually look like; the typical phases are fairly standardized. The first step is the Data-Gathering phase. This is where the foundation of the coaching relationship is formed and the coach works to get to know the executive. More often than not, this involves an interview session.

Phase two of the process is the Feedback portion. This is where the coach will present their findings to the executive and offer suggestions, backed up with data, for how they may change some of their business processes to be more effective.

After phase two, most executive coaching processes move to Periodic Coaching Sessions. These sessions are scheduled at regular intervals and designed to address difficulties the executive may be dealing with as they implement changes to their processes.

The last phase is Evaluation. This is where the accountability portion of the coach’s job comes in. The Evaluation phases is where the coach tries to determine if their coaching recommendations were actually helpful.

In some ways, this process resembles an exit interview, allowing the coach to learn if they were able to truly make an impact on the executive, and if their recommendations were effective.