business finance 101, business finance definition, basics, and best practices


you have a great idea you have a product
or service for which the war has been waiting you’ve scraped together
enough cash to get your ID off the ground you have a location you’ve done
your advertising you just know this is going to work and six months later
you’re out of business statistics from the Small Business Administration
indicate that about half of new businesses fail in the first five years
many new businesses fail and the reasons are many and varied in this course we’re
going to address some of the primary financial reasons that new businesses
don’t make it there are of course many non-financial reasons that new
businesses struggle poor marketing poor location poor product quality we’re
going to limit this course to the financial reasons for business failure
if you get everything right but the financial side of things your business
is going to struggle of course if you get the financial side of things right
and drop the ball with the non financial aspects of the new business you’ll
struggle as well with this course we’ll stick with the financial aspects of
struggling new businesses because that’s what we know a little something about we
have identified five common reasons that new businesses that struggle seem to
face of course this is not an exhaustive list but these five reasons seem to
consistently pop up when it comes to new businesses that struggle those five
reasons are insufficient capital poor cash management poor record-keeping and
controls improper product pricing and uncontrolled growth before we get
started let me first say that several of these reasons for struggling are
interrelated uncontrolled growth can relate to poor cash management poor cash
management can relate to poor record-keeping and so on while these
topics can be interrelated we will address each one separately and then
comment on the interrelationships when they are apparent so let’s get started you let’s begin with the money needed to
start a business too many new businesses start their business without enough
capital they just don’t have enough money in the bank to support them while
their cash flows get up to speed it turns out that the rent has to be paid
the utilities have to be paid equipment may need to be purchased or rented the
employees have to be paid the inventory has to be purchased all of your expenses
have to be paid but you’re waiting for potential customers first to find you
and then second to pay you there’s often a lag between when you get paid for
providing a good or service and when you have to pay your vendors and generally
that lag is not in your favor also when starting a business it takes
time for your customers to find you and for you to get your sales and marketing
efforts up to full speed during that time your expenses will continue to need
to be paid it would be nice if all customers would pay immediately it would
also be nice if vendors would wait to be paid until you are paid yeah that would
be nice many businesses are forced to close
before they are able to find out if their business model has a chance to
demonstrate that its sound they just run out of money when starting a business
realize that it will take time for cash inflows to start flowing but the cash
outflow start flowing immediately make sure that you have access to sufficient
capital to allow your new business venture enough time to succeed so how
much cash is enough cash the answer to that question can only come through a
careful budgeting of cash inflows and cash outflows it is critical that is
part of your business plan you sit down and carefully and realistically map out
your expected cash inflows and outflows for at least the first six months of
your new business this exercise will allow you to
determine any forecasted cash shortage and will allow you enough time to
arrange for needed financing either from partners or from creditors knowing well
ahead of time that you will need cash allowed you to make necessary
arrangements for financing finding out today that you need cash tomorrow
puts you in an unnecessary bind we will talk a little later in the course about
the specifics of cash management but it is critical upfront that you have an
understanding that not having enough money to get started can result in a
good idea meeting and early demise make sure you have sufficient capital or
access to sufficient capital before you open the doors to your new business
again many new businesses with great business ideas don’t make it through the
critical first few months a great ideas not sufficient you need to ensure that
you have access to enough capital to get you through those first few months by
the way if you plan on going to a bank to ask for financing for your new
business one of the first things they will ask about is your cash forecast
they will want to know what capital you currently have available to you if you
plan on asking friends and family to invest if they are smart they will ask
about your cash forecast to obtain capital from others you need a cash
forecast you might as well prepare one for yourself the cash forecast will
allow you to determine how much capital you will need to get you through those
critical first few months you we know you’ll need sufficient capital
get your new business through the critical first few months let’s assume
you’ve made it through those first few months you will still need to track your
cash inflows and outflows to ensure that you have sufficient cash to pay the
bills that are surely coming whether you are at the start of your business or
well into the lifecycle of your business managing cash is critical for the
well-being of your business and cash management does not happen by chance it
is up to you to ensure that your cash is managed we will do this by preparing a
cash forecast or budget let’s start our discussion of cash management by
distinguishing between two types of costs fixed costs and variable costs
fixed costs are exactly that they’re fixed budgeting for fixed costs is
relatively straightforward the amount is fixed at least over the short-term
variable costs are costs that vary relative to some activity or cost driver
for a restaurant for example costs might vary based on the number of customers
first shop at the mall costs may vary based on the number of hours that the
shop is opened labor costs utility costs and so forth now there can be a number
of cost drivers or in other words costs can vary for a number of reasons it just
depends on how complicated you want to get adding more drivers makes the
arithmetic a little more complex but the concept is still the same now step one
in cash management is to identify all of your fixed and all of your variable
costs all of those costs it’s easy to forget an expense here or an expense
there and before you know it your cash forecasts are useless the cash forecast
is only as good as the inputs next we’ll talk about variable costs answering the question how many
customers can we expect is the hard part please don’t gloss over this question
your business will fail or succeed based on the answer to this question how many
customers can you realistically expect many costs will vary based on
anticipated customer demand answering this big question is beyond the scope of
this video but it would involve such things as scoping out your competitors
volume of business assessing expected population growth in
your area surveying potential customers a whole host of things your forecast of
sales will be critical in helping to prepare your forecast of cash inflows
and outflows we will do some sensitivity analysis with these numbers to determine
what might happen to our profits if more or fewer customers show up now that we
have a reliable forecast of our cost driver at least as reliable as possible
we can now compute our variable costs please note that as our business grows
and matures we will be able to determine a much more reliable estimate on the
number of customers we can expect let’s now turn our attention to the next
area where new business owners tend to drop the ball that is the area of poor
record-keeping most new business owners hate to worry about the record-keeping
they would rather worry about customers and sales and evasion and growth and
everything other than record-keeping proper record-keeping and internal
controls are the blocking and tackling of new businesses not very glamorous and
not very interesting but it needs to be done and it’s safe to say that it needs
to be done well you can liken proper record-keeping and adequate internal
controls to the keeping of statistics in a football game the person tracking the
statistics is not on the field playing the game but those statistics are very
helpful to those who are on the field playing the game as we discussed in the
previous video on cash management you need to track your inflows and outflows
of cash so that you can forecast future cash flows all we’re talking about here
is developing a system of tracking your inflows and outflows your obligations to
others and others obligations to you it can be as simple as that depending on
the size of your business you can purchase accounting software
off-the-shelf there are a number of great products that will do the job with
minimal training but it is critical that someone take responsibility for keeping
the books why is it critical well three reasons off the top of my head first
more accurate information about your business will assist you in running your
business better you will need information about cash inflows and
outflows and about who you owe and who owes you second if you ever need
external financing bankers or investors will insist on accurate financial
information they will need that information to assess business risk you
need that same information for that same reason and third taxes payroll taxes
property taxes income taxes the list goes on and on you need a system that
tracks your tax obligations to ensure that you pay the right amounts at the
right times if the government has to come in and do your taxes for you via an
audit remember they don’t work for you they work for the taxing authorities
they will not be looking out for your best interest that will not be their job
so get yourself a system for tracking your inflows and outflows get a system
that will keep track of who you owe and who owes you get yourself a system that
will provide you with the information that you will need to better run your
business now about controls what are they
controls our procedures that should be in place to ensure that one the
information that is being collected in your accounting system is accurate and
reliable thereby helping you to run your business better and to to safeguard your
assets and your records now what sort of control should I have on information
that I will collect you will need to answer questions like how will you
document that your cash outflows our legitimate business expenses
you better have proper documentation if I’m in a business that has inventory for
resale how will I know how much I have on hand how do I know how many hours my
employees have worked you better have a system for tracking
this information and of course you will need a system that collects information
about your cash inflows and your cash outflows and you also need to know who
you owe and who owes you we’ve talked about that what else well you’ll have
information that’s confidential about employees pay rates Social Security
numbers etc that all has to be safeguarded what about customer lists
what about pricing information as you can imagine there’s a lot of top-secret
information relating to the inner workings of your business that you don’t
want getting out you need to ensure that you have systems that protect your
information and ensures that the system producing your information is accurate
and reliable one last thing to mention that is often taken for granted you will
need to safeguard your cash you will need procedures in place to
make sure that cash and checks are quickly and correctly deposited in the
bank and that only authorized expenditures are made this is no fun to
talk about but we tend to assume that those with whom we work are looking out
for the best interests of the company now that is often the case but is also
often not the case many individuals are looking out for them you need to make
sure that those individuals are never given the opportunity to be exposed to a
situation where they might compromise their integrity that is done by
developing a set of controls within your business to ensure that information is
collected quickly and correctly and that procedures are in place to ensure that
assets especially cash are handled properly now remember we said at the
outset that this topic is the no fun part of business no one likes to
talk about paperwork if you don’t talk about and establish a system that
collects accurate information in a timely fashion and safeguard your assets
you will have plenty time to talk about that topic later when your business
folds up a good system of record-keeping and controls is what the scientists
would call a necessary but not sufficient condition a good information
system will not ensure the success of your business
but a bad information system will certainly contribute to your lack of
success you so what can be so hard about pricing a
product don’t you just figure out what your costs are and then add some sort of
markup for profit oh that it were that easy if your price is too high
regardless of your cost someone in the market will enter price you assuming
that the quality of product or service is similar in many cases you will be a
price taker and you will have to manage your costs so that you can earn a profit
given a certain price is determined by the market now let me say that again in
most instances you don’t price your product to cover your cost instead you
determine if given a certain market price your cost structure is such that
you can earn a profit the biggest mistake new business owners make in
product pricing is not considering and covering all of their costs when
entering a market now it is true that when you are initially trying to
penetrate a market you may be willing to lose a little money to gain market share
but that strategy is not sustainable over time over the long term you must
cover all of your costs all of your costs you now to our last topic uncontrolled
growth growth is awesome increased market share is good sales trending
upward is the dream and unmanaged growth has killed a lot of companies growth
must be carefully done or it could be fatal to your business the reason being
is that growth often requires cash and cash is often the one thing that new
businesses do not have a lot of in fact a lot of new business owners when faced
with the cash flow issues associated with starting a new business they
mistakenly think that the solution to their cash flow problems is to grow
faster not realizing that the fast growth is causing the cash flow problem
in the first place in other words they hit the gas when they should hit the
brake so how does growth cause cash flow problems well think about it in a
typical business that is selling a product to a customer on credit that is
the customer will pay and say 30 days you as the business owner need to pay
your rent pay your insurance pay your employees pay for the inventory that
sell that inventory and wait for 30 days to collect the cash to grow faster means
you need to buy and pay for more inventory and then sell that inventory
and wait for 30 days to collect the cash the more inventory you have to buy the
more inventory you have to pay for and then still wait 30 days to collect the
cash well let’s just have our suppliers wait longer to collect from us until we
collect from our customers remember this your suppliers are having the same cash
flow issues that you are facing they would like to receive their cash sooner
rather than later so what should you do next that depends
on what you identify is your particular small business problem are you having
trouble with poor records are you finding your financial reports to be
uninformative or too often non-existent and like it or not you need to learn
something about accounting why are you having trouble managing your cash flow
are you always feeling cash squeezed with not enough financial capital to
invest in the assets information of people that you need and you need to
learn a little more about the field of Finance maybe you feel like you are
operating your business blind your profitability seems low but you can’t
figure out why and you need some exposure to some simple techniques of
financial analysis finally remember that there are lots of qualified business
advisors out there sometimes it makes some sense to spend a little money to
meet with an experienced business adviser describe your business your
plans and your frustrations to the south side advisor she or he can then help you
sort through the weaknesses of your business to identify the things that you
need to work on first small businesses are the source of creativity in an
economy a small business is a precious thing the embodiment of a person’s ideas
energies and ambitions I salute those of you who have the entrepreneurial spirit
and have started or thinking of starting your own small business I wish you great
joy and success you

marketing strategy definition


to truly understand your customer you
need to understand their motivation what do they really need in breaking down the
different needs Tony Robbins identified six basic needs we have a need for
comfort variety significance connection growth or contribution for example
certainty you sell this when people like the way things are they don’t like
change they like reliability maybe nostalgia you can sell cherished
memories to this crowd because they like that certainty that comfort in certainty
also we like variety you see we like things to remain as they
are but we also like things to be different so depending upon what product
you have variety speaks to a number of needs such as risk or chances maybe even
a sense of rebellion the unfamiliar or challenged we also like significance a
product can be positioned to show us our significance or creating significance
maybe it’s social status maybe it’s our reputation or recognition by others this
is the need for celebrity in all of us another need is connection or love and
this is one of the strongest ones it’s that sense of belonging its attraction
it’s confidence because it’s a connection it’s a sense of personal
attraction that people like me you can also sell a product based on making you
a better person every January people like to make resolutions to go to the
gym to get in shape maybe before summer they want to have the Beachbody this is
all about getting better improving your skills or reaching some sense of
achievement and finally its contribution it’s going beyond yourself and doing
something for other people now that could be for recognition or
self-satisfaction now there are many motivating factors behind contribution
but it starts with wanting to do something for someone else
think about how people sell travel they don’t sell it as get on a plane and go
somewhere ultimately they’re selling vacations as a way to reward yourself
for working hard the rest of the year and now you deserve it or they sell it
as a way to reconnect with your significant other with your family with
relatives or friends you see in that way they’re not just selling the need for a
vacation they’re selling the benefits and the emotional satisfaction you’ll
receive through a vacation so in developing needs think about the need
behind the need the emotional satisfaction that you can produce in
your customer you when someone asks you what do you do or
what does your business do how do you answer that question most times we do
what’s called our elevator pitch our thirty second explanation of what our
business is all about unfortunately people don’t have that kind of time
we’re limited our attention span isn’t that great
and so we’ve got to narrow down our explanation I like to refer to this as
more of your twitter pitch can you explain your business and the value to
the customer of utilizing your business in 140 characters or less one value
statement or tagline that’s being used right now on the University of Phoenix
website is powerful I love this that a degree doesn’t just change you you
change more than your own life one course at a time and the picture is of a
baby it implies that the value of this degree goes far beyond what you do or
what you are able to influence it goes two generations beyond really a powerful
value statement that puts the value in the context of the customer and not the
company this is the purpose of a clear value statement and you can measure the
power of your value statement by three simple measurements number one is there
a tangible customer benefit nothing about you or your company it’s all about
what you do for the customer also is there a clear monetary difference
however if you remember back to the websites there was very little about
money the value was in emotional satisfaction the rebellious Ness the
legacy of future generations the lifestyle it’s all about the customer
emotional satisfaction and if you can hit that factor you will be effective
when developing your value statement make sure that you’ve identified a clear
emotional need that will connect to the customer make sure it does reflect your
business and also make sure that your statement is universal for all types of
customers that you’ll be dealing with so be sure that when you develop your value
statement it is clear value for all customers you

Earn Your Business Degree at the Southern Oregon University School of Business


Business is what makes the world go around. You need business skills in every industry you go into. I think one of the joys of being an an instructor, a professor, or mentor is that I get to see students transition or blossom, or develop, you know, from maybe as a freshman and then go through our program and then at the end of the four or five year program ready to face the real world, so to speak. We have students that are working all over this valley, in high level positions: at Lithia Motors, Asante, Harry and David’s. A lot of our students end up staying here in the valley because once they come here, they learn how great it is and they don’t want to leave. I decided to go to college at the age of 50 in 2008 because I wanted to further my career and expand my knowledge. I wanted to provide the best value I could back to Rogue. We have faculty from a wide variety of business disciplines. And all the faculty here believe to help students to success, help them to define what they’re going to do in the future who they are, and how they’re going to succeed in the real business world. What I love about SOU’s Business Program is that they work really hard in putting on activities that will help them better their future. They put on career fairs, where about forty to fifty different employers come and show what they’re offering. I bounced around to several very expensive private schools out of high school, and I never felt a connection with the faculty until I came here, and I felt like I found a home here in the Business department, in this program, with the faculty, I found people that were interested in talking to me, in connecting with me and really helping me accomplish my goals. I love teaching at SOU because I love the people I work with. I have great respect for my coworkers We have a lot of fun and everyone here cares about helping students succeed. I have actually been fortunate enough to graduate from SOU in three years instead of four, which is really fantastic because it saves a lot of money but it’s also really sad, because I don’t get to spend as much time with everybody. I decided to come to SOU because SOU is actually a partner university of my university back home. And I wanted to study in the US because I think it’s a great opportunity to study abroad and I love to travel Thanks to the classes that I have taken and the professors that I have met here, I was able to secure an internship with the Oregon Wine Experience this past summer and it was a phenomenal experience. I got to work with some of the top wine makers in the country and and also wine masters from all over the world. And that was just mind-blowing. So I tell students: “If you don’t want to major in Business, at least minor in Business because you’re going to need those skills sooner or later.” I can’t overstate the value that obtaining my degree at SOU has brought to me, the Credit Union, but also what it taught my children. My daughter now attends SOU and is so focused on obtaining her education Because she saw at the age of 50, that Mom could do it and so now she knows she can do it as well.

marketing definition


in marketing your brand value
proposition is a lot like your golf swing it’s easy enough to understand but
it takes countless hours of patience and practice to master a strong bvp doesn’t
just give your customers a reason to choose your brand it also drives things
like messaging special offers sponsorships and community events and
even R&D so just as the golfer gets out to the driving range for practice let’s
refine our BVP game with this five-step process step 1 set project objectives
and scope a good be VP starts with a clear plan central to this process are
two questions what value do we deliver to our customers and why do our
customers buy from us your answers should not only be reasonable but also
actionable and with an unwavering focus on your target personas when considering
scopes start designing a balanced strategy that includes content marketing
social employee advocacy in both traditional and earn media step 2 to
find your possible be VP’s this is the first thing people associate with your
brand for instance apple offers peerless
design Nordstrom offers superior customer service and Walmart offers the
lowest prices around what does your brand do whether you’re be VP is
functional or emotional your customers must relate to it if you’re a tech
company for example do your customers care more about performance and
simplicity or your commitment to green and renewable technologies in this phase
focus on idea generation and keep your options open step 3
refine your bvp narrowing this down begins with qualitative analysis namely
talking the customers what about your brand resonates with them what about
your competitors brands resonate with them don’t forget the monitor
social channels to get a better understanding of current conversations
surrounding both your brand and your industry next use quantitative analysis
to supplement your findings current market research customer needs data Net
Promoter scores competitive analysis and insights from your marketing team all
offer great data sources step 4 develop messaging architecture for key
segments so now that you’ve refined your BVP it’s time to get the message out but
how your messaging strategy should account for industry standards your
customers known preferences and a little bit of good old-fashioned creativity so
remember your goal is the foster of fundamental belief system about your
brand that is deeply rooted equally in both database strategy an authentic
storytelling step 5 determine your expected outcome
as Seth Godin says in a world of too many choices and not enough time it is
easy for people to ignore you you need to be remarkable
in other words Godin likes to say your brand needs to be like a purple cow both
conspicuous and intriguing recently CBS decided the pivot strongly in the
direction of health and wellness so they changed their name to CBS health and
stop selling tobacco products thus fostering a belief that their brand was
more concerned with people than with profits so as you set out to build your
own bvp ask yourself what lasting impression do you want to leave with
your customers why should they choose your brand and why should they keep
coming back so like the golfer by practicing and
continually refining your game you’re sure to come up with a compelling answer
that strikes your customers just the right way you who are you marketing to people or
robots I know the answer may sound obvious but you’d be surprised at how
many brands overlook this in their digital marketing efforts in a digital
economy we cannot forget the human side of the customer says Cheryl Burgess CEO
of blue focused marketing the world is becoming increasingly digital and as
traditional media struggles to stay relevant brands are realizing that the
digital movement isn’t just some fad it’s the future so how can you embrace
digital channels to build a dynamic brand and foster rich customer
experiences here are three suggestions number one know your audience think of
it this way if you set up a hotdog cart at the bottom of the Grand Canyon you
might get some foot traffic now and then but who really wants to buy a hotdog in
100 degree weather anyway recently the auto industry realized that customers
were spending less time at dealerships and more time researching cars online
specifically they found that while YouTube powered a huge percentage of
customer research automakers represented only about 5% of industry related
content knowing this made the goal simple for leading automakers share
relevant content on YouTube and guide prospects to interactive sites that
combine both product features with local listings it wasn’t rocket science just
smart marketing number to go visual the brain actually processes images 60,000
times faster than text to get your audience’s attention get visual after
all you’ve got plenty of options infographics 360 panoramas virtual
reality and augmented reality memes and animated gifs of course let’s not forget
both live and prepackaged video which remain a brand’s most important source
of visual content recent data shows that while online video revenue is growing
faster than any other form of advertising only a quarter
brands actually use video to market their products further according to
Cisco about 75% of mobile traffic will be video by 2020 and speaking of mobile
traffic number 3 it’s time to embrace mobile did you know that roughly
two-thirds of all digital activity occurs on mobile devices further
according to eMarketer about 20% of mobile use takes place on apps a number
that has risen sharply in recent years after use is generally concentrated
around five key activities listening to digital audio social networking gaming
watching videos and messaging consider which of these categories might be a
good fit for your brand and then work to design content that is eye-catching
and relevant but not intrusive recently Campbell’s teamed up with IBM Watson and
The Weather Channel to deliver targeted AI driven ads to mobile weather apps
through this mobile platform Campbell’s delivers customers interactive soup and
food suggestions and pairings that are perfect for any weather even more
integrated user-generated recipe and food suggestions create a broader range
of suggestions for customers to try you well the possibilities for good social
media marketing are just about endless here are some proven approaches for
making the most out of your marketing efforts number one so what you stand for
stakeholders don’t follow you on social media to learn what you do instead they
want to know what you’re all about in 2015 Hershey’s realized they weren’t
highlighting their social responsibility efforts they knew that social media was
a great way to do this but they didn’t want to just jump into the fray without
a plan so over several months they coordinated their efforts they worked
with HR on platforms like LinkedIn to create a unified voice and release their
first campaign which focused on the efforts to supplement the daily diets of
over 50,000 schoolchildren in Ghana the result better visibility for the brand
and better support for the humanitarian efforts number to focus your content
strategy as we always tell our clients at blue focus marketing the brands with
the best plans create the best content Intel is always improving their b2b
content marketing game one way to do this is by ensuring that the content
fits the platform then they let the day to do the talking if an unpaid organic
piece of content is performing particularly well they’ll pay to boost
its reach knowing that it’s something the target audience wants to see and
speaking of target audience number three know your audience and respect them
when Wendy’s rolled out its line of premium beverages they knew they wanted
to reach a millennial audience but how the answer get more specific as Brandon
wrote and VP head of advertising media and digital at Wendy’s noted when you
say millennial it’s the laziest way to define your target to find them by what
they actually care about beyond their age with this in mind they took a right
person right place right time approach Korea
hundreds of different pieces of content each were the message tailor-made to
specific kinds of buyers with different kinds of likes and interests why all the
effort well they knew that if they were to earn their audience’s business they
first had to earn their respect ultimately it is that final component
respect that will make or break your brand in the world of social media as
hell Connick wrote for the American Marketing Association customers trust
must now be earned at every turn these days when someone doesn’t like your
service they’re more likely to tell the entire Internet than to write a letter
good news travels fast on the social web would be careful bad news travels even
faster always navigate social channels responsibly focusing on two-way
exchanges shared experiences and authentic messages you

National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2018 | Ashford University


Ben: Hello Ashford! My name is Ben Gothia
and this is Promoting Awareness and Wellness in Students! The US Department of Labor’s
commitment to ensuring an American workforce for Americans of all abilities is echoed by
this year’s official National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme of “America’s
Workforce: Empowering All.” We sat down with Ashford’s Director of Career Services,
Grace Williamson, and discussed her thoughts on how Ashford supports its diverse population
of students. Welcome to PAWs. Ben: Observed each October, the National Disability
Employment Awareness Month is a nationwide campaign that celebrates the contributions
of workers with disabilities throughout American history, and emphasizes the importance of
ensuring that all Americans have access to the services and supports to enable them to
work. We asked Grace, what comes to mind when she hears the 2018 theme? Grace Williamson: When I think of the theme
“empowering all” I think of the endless benefits that come with a workforce of varying
strengths and experiences. At Ashford, and specific to supporting students with disabilities,
we serve a diverse community and we really are empowering all students/individuals into
the workforce. There may be students at Ashford using their degree to pursue a new opportunity
or direction in their career. It’s also possible that this pathway wouldn’t have
been pursued without access to higher ed. Ben: Next, Grace talks about the ways that
Ashford embodies this theme and the ways that these efforts serves all students. Grace Williamson: The University is focused
on equity and inclusion, with the Equity Council tapping into representatives across the University
to assess and advance efforts.  Accessibility and inclusivity are at the forefront of our
minds in the way curriculum is delivered within the classroom setting. While some students
may choose an online environment as a method of mitigating disability impact, we are proactively
and continuously creating a fully accessible environment from the beginning. This serves
all students regardless of ability.   Ben: Lastly, Grace talks about some of the
challenges that students with disabilities face when seeking education or employment,
and the resources students can look to when navigating these barriers. Grace Williamson: One of the greatest challenges
students with disabilities face is whether or not the job they are applying for will
require accommodations and how to go about disclosing their disability. I recommend that
students become familiar with their strengths and weaknesses in preparation for the interview
process. This way, they can ask thoughtful questions during the interview to help determine
whether or not the opportunity is a good job and career fit for them based on their disability. Ashford
University Career Services and the Office of Student Access and Wellness are available
to help students with disabilities strategize on the best way to disclose their disability
to employers, given their unique situation.  We can also provide students with helpful
resources to aid them in this process.

how to write a marketing plan? step by step guide + templates


perhaps the most vital aspect of any
business is the marketing function a business can’t really get off the ground
until it sells something a marketing plan provides a roadmap for running and
coordinating marketing programs it helps align the many people and organizations
involved in commercializing your products and services a formal written
marketing plan is a great way to document the planning process it serves
many purposes but a marketing plan doesn’t have to be a long and formal
document even a simple one that answers these three questions will help where
are we now where are we going and how do we get there first it captures all the
things you and your team have learned about the market the competition and
your customers this information is critical because it becomes the
supporting evidence for the strategies that you and your team decide to pursue
second the plan serves as a tool to help you align the organization marketing
involves many people so you’ll need to get everyone on board and going in the
same direction the written plan becomes a source document to create
presentations to conduct training and to give directions to external partners
believe me you’ll use it a lot finally the written plan lays out a coherent and
coordinated set of marketing programs with schedules in budgets so you can run
a smooth operation to write the plan don’t wait until the very end of the
planning process I like to start writing it right from the very beginning here’s
a tip that makes it easy create a blank PowerPoint presentation with just the
headings of each component on a separate page and keep it with you during team
meetings as you collect information or make key decisions write or type it into
the appropriate slide that helps you keep the document up to date as you move
through the process when you have enough written material go ahead and create a
first draft but be sure to date the draft as you’ll be making regular
updates and revisions a written marketing plan is I die
Namek document and you should expect to make changes to it as conditions in the
market change if you create a great plan and update it regularly it’ll help you
stay ahead of the competition you there are five steps to writing a
marketing plan step one is to analyze the market this is where you explore
important issues about market conditions your potential customers and the
competition this part of your plan is called the situation analysis once
you’ve analyzed the market you need to describe your strategy for achieving
success here you lay out your approach to segmenting the market targeting
specific customers and how you will position your products and services in
the marketplace next is the tactical section which includes your product or
service programs your pricing approach your promotion in marketing
communications programs and your channel design these are often called the four
PS of your marketing plan a good marketing plan explains how you will
implement the various tactics described in the last step it’s here where you
describe what steps you need to take when those steps will happen and who’s
responsible for getting the job done and finally is the financial section of your
plan you need to describe a budget that outlines the financial and other
resources needed to implement your marketing plan here you also lay out
your forecasts of what you expect in terms of future revenues or other
business goals this section of the plan may also describe how you will measure
success you can start the marketing planning process any time but an
important consideration is how and when your company does its annual business
planning process that’s where the company develops financial forecasts
investments budgets and so on generally speaking there are two ways to connect
the marketing planning with business planning some companies start the
marketing planning process first right around the middle of the fiscal year
each marketing team develops their own sales revenue forecasts for their
assigned products they also develop a budget to spend on marketing programs
that they think are needed to achieve those revenue forecasts
those forecasts and budgets are combined into a company level revenue forecast
and budget and that’s fed directly into the annual business planning process but
some companies do just the opposite they start with the business planning process
where they develop an overall revenue goal and spending target those are
divided and given to the individual marketing teams those teams now have to
take those targets and develop the best marketing plan they can to achieve those
goals so talk to your finance partner to find out which approach your company
uses another good idea is to create a calendar of when you’ll write each
section of the plan a good marketer is disciplined and doesn’t cut corners in
writing a marketing plan it takes time and lots of work but in the end it’s
worth it good marketers know the value of a
diverse and talented team of colleagues to help write their marketing plan
you’ll need to draw on their expertise their market knowledge possibly there
are resources and their network your team will include colleagues inside the
company as well as external partners like advertising and promotional firms
let’s review the various roles of your cross-functional team first is finance
your finance department plays a very important role in making sure you have
sufficient budget dollars to execute your plan finance partners will also
help you measure the results of your marketing efforts and help you find ways
to improve it in the next business cycle finance partners have a good eye for
whether a recommendation in your marketing plan makes sense financially
marketing research is another key role you’ll need on your team your company
might have a separate marketing research department or it may outsource it but
either way you’ll need their help understanding customer needs testing new
product concepts or perhaps testing a new advertising message your marketing
plan needs to explain what you know about the market so make sure you
involve your colleagues in marketing research next is your technical team
these are the people who develop your products and services they might be
engineers or scientists in an R&D department or perhaps software
developers it depends on the nature of your business
you’ll need their input to your marketing plan so you can explain what
new products might be coming down the pipeline now most companies have a sales
function and you should enlist their help in developing a marketing plan
after all they’re on the frontline day-to-day and they have a lot of
insights about your customers and your competition they’ll also have ideas
about the selling tools they need to succeed be sure to get their input
depending on your business you may also want to involve colleagues from
manufacturing or operations these are the people who make the products or
liver a service a good customer support team for example might have great
insights about customer complaints or service issues external partners might
include your advertising agency your branding company a public relations firm
and perhaps a marketing consultant they’re there to help you succeed so
make them a part of the team from the very start once you’ve identified the
key players on your team make sure they’re aware of the schedule you’ve
created if the team members know their role and understand your expectations
you can count on them to help you write a great marketing plan you before you venture out into the
marketplace with your products and services you’ve got to have a realistic
understanding of where you are today after all you don’t want to pick a fight
with your competition until you know what you’ve got to fight with this part
of the plan is called the situation analysis there are four parts to it
first is the market analysis analyzing a market means estimating how many
potential customers you might be able to sell your products and services to when
analyzing any market you want to group customers into three types first are the
customers that already buy from you today
second are customers that buy the same products and services you offer but from
a competitor and third are potential customers that might be interested in
your type of products and services but not buying from anybody now estimate the
potential number of customers that you might be able to capture for each of the
three groups you do this so you can decide where you want to concentrate
your marketing strategy in marketing it’s the old adage fish where the fish
are next you want to analyze how your company compares to your competition a
good tool for this is called the competitive matrix to create a matrix
list your company and your competitors across the top then down the side list
the things that you want to compare things like size market share strengths
and weaknesses and especially the key strategy elements like the value
propositions what does each company have in terms of key resources and how do
they use those resources to acquire and retain customers now let’s look at your
customers customers buy things for a variety of reasons but some are more
important than others if you know what’s most important to them you can appeal to
that need when trying to get them to buy or you can try to raise the sense of
importance they place on another factor you also need to measure how they rate
your product versus others and how it delivers each benefit
they may have misperceptions that you need to change you may be able to
emphasize a key feature of your product that is better than your competition
this analysis will be critical later when you begin segmenting customers to
complete the situation analysis you need to test the features of your product and
services compared to the same features on your competitors you need to
determine which features perform better than the competition which perform the
same and which perform not as well when you complete the analysis take a close
look are there features that need to be improved
are there certain competitors you want to avoid or possibly go after based on
product performance now keep in mind that the data and information that you
put into the situation analysis it doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate it
just needs to be realistic that allows you to step back and see what customers
to go after what to emphasize when marketing to them and what competitor is
to go after or avoid the situation analysis is an important step so you
want to take your time here a good technique is to leverage the team you
created to write the plan I suggest you break the situation analysis into the
various sections and assign the writing of each section to the team member most
qualified to do it having a good understanding of your situation can go a
long way to setting you up for success as you write your marketing plan the heart of any marketing plan is your
strategy this is where you describe how you plan to win in the marketplace the
strategy section has three parts first is segmentation where you break your
customers into homogeneous groups this helps you be efficient with your
marketing resources by focusing only on the most relevant customers there are
four ways to segment customers demographic is where you group customers
by their characteristics such as income level age gender or their height and
weight it’s useful for certain products or services that deliver a benefit
specifically tied to that characteristic if you’re marketing a shampoo for
redheads for example then you’d want to group customers by hair color geographic
segmentation groups customers by where they are physically knowing where your
customers are helps you know where to place stores for example and where to
communicate or sell to them behavioral segmentation is grouping customers by
the things they do it can be things such as who they purchased from now how
frequently they purchase or their price sensitivity finally is psychographic
segmentation which is how customers think their attitudes about the benefits
they seek in a product an example of psychographic benefit would be the need
for prestige or need for convenience segmenting this way tends to be very
powerful in targeting you make decisions on which specific segments to go after
it’s a process of narrowing down your audience to a selected group let’s go
back to our shampoo example using all four types of segmentation you might
have a target audience like this women over 40 with red hair who live in
certain metropolitan areas who buy shampoo once a month and who seek the
benefit of natural looking hair color now you have a specific identifiable
group of customers for the next step called positioning positioning
is determining how you want your customers to think about your products
versus the competition so they’re more likely to buy yours it may seem a little
abstract but positioning happens up here in the mind of the consumer think of the
consumers mind is a three-dimensional space and in that space they form
beliefs about products and services in a particular category and you can change
those beliefs so they have a favorable opinion of your product you do that by
making a claim and by supporting that claim with credible reasons to believe
or RT B’s as we call them the claim becomes your positioning statement what
you’ll say to customers when you communicate to them about buying your
product let’s use our shampoo example a positioning statement might look like
this for women over 40 with red hair that want to look their best our shampoo
gives you a more natural looking color to your hair than our competitors
shampoo now to support this positioning claim you might include photographs of
customers who have used the product and perhaps some testimonials of how much
they liked it notice how I included my target audience in the positioning
statement as well as the primary benefit that they want and that our shampoo can
deliver so what benefit should you emphasize go back to your situation
analysis this is where you compared your product to the competition to find out
what benefit you deliver better than they do when you position your offering
around your strengths you’ll get an important edge over the competition and
that’s what great marketing is all about a great marketing strategy only comes to
life when you take action now it’s time to dive in and write the tactical
section of your marketing plan this is where you describe in detail your
product or service programs your pricing approach your promotion and marketing
communications programs and your channel design in marketing we call these the
four PS by product and service programs these refer to all of the aspects of how
products and services perform their job in delivering benefits it includes
things like the design of the product how it feels to use it the packaging of
the product and the people and processes involved in dealing with customers now
be sure to describe the entire customer buying experience which typically
includes the following steps first is the need recognition phase this is where
customers realize they want something the next step is information search
where they gather information from a wide variety of sources now this is a
critical step because this is when a customer is most receptive to your
message once a customer gathers information they evaluate the
alternatives based on what features are most important and which product does
the best job in delivering those features eventually they go to the
purchase phase where they actually buy the product now you might think that the
buying process ends here with the final purchase but there’s one last step
called the post purchase behavior phase once customers start using the product
they compare the results with their expectations pricing involves two things
setting the actual price that customers will pay and communicating those prices
in an effective way the price of your product or service
implies their value that the consumer should expect from buying it and using
it your written plan should list the prices you intend to charge and why
they’re set at that level describe where and when prices will be communicated to
the customer this might be a simple price sticker on your packaging or you
might have prices on your website from Oshin includes all the things you say
outside of the company to the market this is where you broadcast the value
proposition and other information about the product it includes advertising
in-store promotions email campaigns perhaps social media and sales promotion
your written plan should outline the specific programs in terms of where and
when you’ll promote your products and finally distribution these are the
programs that create an effective pathway to get the product from the
factory into the customers hands somebody has to take the product ship it
store it place it on the shelves sell it and possibly service it once the sale is
made including your written plan the specific
details of where customers can buy your products which might include store
locations online distributors and so on to be an effective marketing plan all
four P’s have to work together to convey the value proposition no one of the four
PS can carry the load a good marketer uses all the tactical tools available to
make the biggest impact possible once you’re confident you have a
thorough comprehensive marketing plan for your business you need to take steps
to implement the actions outlined in the plan here are the specific factors you
should address first is how and when you’ll communicate details about the
plan make a list of specific audiences or individuals that need to hear about
it then write in the schedule with exact dates and locations for these
presentations next are the marketing programs that you created in your
tactical section for each program I like to use a simple framework that describes
who what when where and how this section should describe who is responsible for
the program it should show the timeline they have to complete the program
including when implementation starts and when it finishes you should also explain
where the implementation actions occur and maybe some details on how your team
will implement that program finally you want to set up key performance
indicators or KPIs for short key performance indicators help you keep
track of your overall strategy and your individual marketing programs they alert
you when it’s time to intervene and take action to get things back on track
without KPIs you’re flying blind so to speak and you run the risk of falling
short of your overall goal now to be most effective
each KPI should be quantifiable and measurable you can have as many as you
want but don’t measure a KPI just because you have the data if you’re not
going to use it don’t bother it’s a waste of time measure something only if
you plan to take action from it that’s why I like to set thresholds around each
one each KPI should have a target of what you expect to happen plus a high
and low number around that target for those thresholds you and your planning
team should agree in advance what action you’ll take if those thresholds are
exceeded here’s an example assume you create a KPI about the number of new
customers acquired each month you set your target at 500 and you also
specify a high and low threshold of 600 and 400 respectively if your actual
customers per month is more than 600 you might consider taking an action such as
reducing advertising spending or in the low end if you’re below 400 you could
consider increasing sales incentives good marketers not only reach their
marketing goals but they also know whether those goals were achieved the
way they expected them to be achieved they also take immediate action when
they detect something is going in the wrong direction
a well-written marketing plan will help your team do just that Marketing takes time and money so it’s
important that you develop a budget in a forecast of what you expect in terms of
business results let’s look at each of these a good budget helps you allocate
the right amount of resources to the right marketing programs to make the
most impact now there are two ways to develop a budget you can decide on how
much you have to spend in total and then allocate it some companies do this by
taking a percentage of sales revenue as the total budget for marketing that
amount then is assigned to different teams and programs I call this the
top-down approach the other approach is from the bottom up
each marketing team develops a budget to spend on marketing programs that they
think are needed to achieve a revenue forecast and then those budgets are
combined into a company level budget if you recruited a finance member to your
marketing planning team they’ll be able to tell you what approach your company
uses whichever approach you take you still need to decide where to spend the
money and how much to spend how much you spend depends on a number of factors
look at each of your tactical programs the four P’s product price promotion and
place estimate the required spending in each one for example do you need to
spend money to upgrade your product or its packaging how much do you need to
spend on marketing communications to reach a sufficient number of people and
still achieve the communications objective what are your sales people and
distributors need to do their jobs effectively next is your forecast or
what you expect to achieve as a result of implementing your marketing plan now
you can set any type of goal whether it be a revenue forecast
perhaps units sold or maybe new customers acquired and so on for a
marketing goal to be the most effective it should meet the following criteria
first it should be specific just saying that your goal is to increase market
share that wouldn’t be specific enough
increasing market share from 15% to 17% is much better as a goal because it’s
specific second the goal should be
setting a goal that can’t be measured will become frustrating for you and the
team especially when you try to gauge your progress in reaching it next the
goal must be attainable setting an unrealistically high goal won’t do you
any good in fact it could hurt your campaign by causing you to spend more
marketing dollars than is warranted the fourth criteria is relevant that means
the goal is directly related to your marketing strategy and finally the goal
must be time bound meaning that the goal will be achieved during a specific
period of time a year or perhaps a quarter or even monthly once you’ve
estimated what each program will cost you’ll probably need to make some tough
choices and this is a great time to use the talents of your marketing planning
team let them help you decide in my experience a team decisions ends up
being better than any single individual decision after all you’re in this
together so put them to work in helping you develop the most effective budgets
and forecasts possible an effective marketing plan is one that
lays out a coordinated set of strategies and tactics to win in the marketplace at
some point in the process you’ll need to gain support for that plan and perhaps
the most important audience is your senior management they’re the ones who
allocate financial and human resources to various projects in your company
without their full support you may end up not getting what you need here are
some tips on how to make a big impact with senior leaders when presenting your
marketing plan first try to lead with the story perhaps focus on a customer
who had a great result using the product this is a really good way to remind
people how your products bring value to customers next share what’s changed in
the marketplace what new threats or new products or perhaps trends are out there
that are creating a challenge for you we call this creating the burning platform
you want people to understand the difficult situation you’re up against
then share the process you went through to create the marketing plan give credit
to your team members it builds your credibility when you’ve collaborated
with a cross-functional team now be as brief as possible because you probably
won’t have a lot of time you should be prepared with different length
presentations for example you should have a 10 minute version a 30 minute
version and a 1 hour version really savvy marketers also know how to
present their strategy in 30 seconds or less the so called elevator speech
afterall it’s all about getting people on board now you don’t have to share
every detail about your plan just the highlights present the market conditions
the competitive situation and your strategy in terms of who you’re
targeting and how your positioning approach will convert customers be
completely upfront about the weaknesses or risks with your plan you gain trust
when you’re upfront and honest about potential issues then share your
forecasted revenue and budget needs make sure they completely understand your
assumptions take your time here if you see that someone has a different
view around the assumptions clarify it on the spot not aligning around the
assumptions can create real problems for you later remind them that funding your
marketing plan is an investment not a cost assure them that you’re committed
to getting them a good ROI return on investment given their experience be
sure to ask them for feedback on ways to improve your plan finish the
presentation by asking them for their support it’s the old sales adage always
ask for the order you’re there to get approval so look them straight in the
eye and ask for it hey you’ve invested a lot of time to write a great marketing
plan so now it’s time to gain support from senior managers great marketers
show passion and enthusiasm for the products and services they manage to do
just that your retina ting plan is a great tool to
help educate some very important audiences if you created a
cross-functional team to help you write the plan those team members can help
spread the word but there are two other audiences that may need special
attention first is your sales force they’ll need to understand your
marketing plan because they play a key role implementing it the first thing
they need to know is your strategy especially your value proposition they
should know who the target market is and they should know where and how to find
them share your customer analysis with them what buying factors are most
important to the target audience once they understand your strategy give them
the tactical tools they need to sell the product first they need to understand
how the product works and how it compares feature by feature to the
competitor’s product next you should share your pricing strategy in how
prices are communicated explain how the price was determined in relation to the
value delivered now you might get some resistance here because salespeople
generally like the prices to be low that’s why it’s essential they
understand how pricing supports the overall positioning finally share any
selling tools you’ve created to make their job easier these could include
product brochures or tools to demonstrate the product you might even
have a suggested selling script for them to use the second key audience is your
internal or external marketing communications agencies now your
marketing plan has all the information to create a creative brief it’s a short
overview of a creative assignment it answers key questions like what needs to
be created how it’ll be used what are the deliverables for the project and
when are the deadlines it’s like a contract whatever format you use it
should include the following first give an overview of your situation analysis
next describe the objective of the creative piece is it a commercial a
sales brochure a website and so on then describe the target audience who are we
to the more precise and detailed you can be the better next outline your value
proposition and the reasons to believe or are tb’s what are the supporting
rationale and emotional reasons to believe and by the agency may use these
points in the creative piece complete your creative brief with the schedule
and a budget for the project but keep in mind that the creative brief should be
brief don’t just hand the agency your marketing plan and expect them to sort
through it a creative brief is much more detailed than your plan but very focused
on just one specific marketing program in that plan with the proper guidance
from our well-written marketing plan your support teams will work better
together to achieve your business goals you

how to write a business plan? step by step guide + templates


you may ask why do I need a business plan why can’t I just launched my business and get to market the importance of a business plan cannot be understated first you have to define your business and how you’re going to compete you need to understand the market and where is your business going to occupy its space in that market versus your competitors you’ll need to clearly define your product and why your customers should be interested in it once you’ve defined that product have a good understanding of how you’re going to take it to market after you’ve decided how you’re going to take a product to market you need to understand and articulate how you’re going to operate that business and create an operating plan to support those operations now that means you’re going to have people and you’ll need a plan for managing your people and the resources that come along with them you’ll also need to define the administrative responsibilities and how you’re going to fulfill them once you’ve got all that down you’ll need to project your financial results and create a clear financial plan that helps you understand how should the business perform over time now with all of that done you’ll need to think through what are some of the major pitfalls that you could face as you launch your business and make sure you incorporate those into your plan now depending on the type of business you’re running not all of these elements will be relevant however these are the major components of the business plan and why you need to put them in place the first step in writing your business plan is articulating the problem that you solve is this a problem that people are willing to pay you to fix you’ll need to define who has the problem is it companies is it individuals spell out what your typical customer looks like then think through how big is this problem how does it show up for your customers is it a question of things are expensive and they have a cost problem do they have a time problem is it a quality issue with the products that they’re turning out and you can help them improve that quality when you write this problem statement you should be able to take it to your target customers and they should read it and say I have that problem please come fix it and that’s where the demand for your product or service is going to come from as you’re writing your business plan having a clear understanding of the size of the market is going to help you understand how attractive is the business you’re trying to get into does the market consist of businesses or is it consumers how many people are in your addressable market articulate how does the market organize itself is it organized by product by segment by problem is it organized by geography spell out some of the common characteristics of the customers in that market now how big is the addressable portion of the profit pool that profit pool is the dollars that are available in that market and how much of it can the problem that you solve address now some ways that you can size the market are things like looking at market research gathering analyst reports even looking at what some of your competitors are doing and how they’ve reported the size of the market a good market sizing will tell you what you need to do to scale your business it will also help you understand is this an attractive enough market for me to make a return you’re going to be investing as you build this business you need to know how much market is out there that you’re going to be able to capture now obviously bigger markets are exciting however niche markets can be just as lucrative so as you’re running your business plan articulate what the market looks like and how much of it you think you can capture your business plan needs to clearly define your product explain the product in simple non-technical terms avoid buzzwords and also assume your audience is completely unfamiliar with your product describe how that product solves a problem and talk about the benefits in a very concrete way so as you’re writing your business plan make sure your product description is clear and simple and articulates concrete benefits for your customer your business plan has to spell out your revenue model for your product or service this is a huge determinant of how successful your business is going to be how are you going to make money at this is it going to be a one-time charge or are there recurring or subscription charges for your product are there going to be cross-sell or upsell opportunities are you going to sell add-ons that complement the product or service how are similar products priced in the market what are your competitors do what’s their revenue model if you’re looking for ideas also ask what are your customers willing to pay conduct some pricing market research or look at competitive offerings and how they’re priced then analyze the value of your product and the value it creates and price as a portion of that don’t leave value on the table and your choice of a revenue model is going to determine how much of that value you’re going to capture so when you articulate your revenue model make sure you think through what’s the value you’re delivering and price accordingly once you’ve described the market you’re going to compete in and the way your product solves that problem you need to do a SWOT analysis and describe why you’re going to win in that market it’s not good enough to just have a product you need to understand how you stack up versus your competitors and what your competitive advantage is going to be you’ll conduct a SWOT analysis strengths weaknesses opportunities and threats those are going to highlight implications for how you’re going to approach the market and compete there so when you conduct your SWOT analysis don’t just leave it at doing the analysis think through the implications of those strengths and weaknesses and the threats and opportunities you face and turn those into a plan for how you’re going to compete effectively your business plan needs to spell out the major customer and market trends that you’re going to face and more importantly how you’re going to react to those trends what are the major trends do they help you or do they hurt you is the market growing is it flat is it shrinking is the market fragmented or is it consolidated and how are people behaving in that market are you seeing acquisitions are you seeing divestitures who makes the buying decisions from a customer standpoint and are those patterns changing at all think through what other products and services do your customers want and need are there emerging trends where customers are asking for new things some of the sources for this information are things like market research conducting focus groups doing some competitive analysis for your business plan articulate what the major trends are and the actions you’re going to take either to offset the negative trends or take advantage of the positive ones your business plan should go into great detail in terms of how your product or service ranks versus your competitors now be honest about your standing versus your competitors I like to create what I call a moon chart and that’s where you lay out all of your competitors and then articulate how you stack up versus them one thing you should never say in a business plan is we have no competitors that’s not believable and it’s risky because it’s pointing out that you have a blind spot in terms of the market and where you stand now when you create this moon chart what you’re going to do is list all of the competitors across the top and then down the side you’re going to list out all the performance dimensions and how you stack up and within each square on that matrix you’re going to spell out whether you’re the best the worst or somewhere in between and again that’s compared to your competitors offerings this document is going to help you pitch your idea and how you’re going to position yourself with your customers so when you look at your business spell out who those competitors are lay out the evaluation dimensions and then compare yourself on each dimension versus those competitors then at the end of that section of your business plan spell out the implications of that positioning in terms of how you’re going to pitch your product or your service to your customers your business plan has to spell out what the threats are to your product and one of the biggest threats you’ll face is substitute products what can replace your product what can solve the customers problem just as easily and do it cheaper what substitutes are competing for the same dollars that you are and remember it may not be a direct competitor to you be able to articulate what those substitutes are and why your customer is going to choose your product versus that substitute so when you spell out your business plan lay out what those competitive offerings are and what those substitutes are and more importantly what you’re going to do to make sure the customer chooses your product versus the substitute your business plan has to spell out your go-to-market strategy both in terms of building awareness for your product or service as well as how you’re going to deliver it how are you going to reach your customers what are the channels you’re going to use again to market to them as well as to deliver to them are going to go direct are you going to go through distribution how are you going to build awareness for your product or service will it be through partnership or licensing understand the economics of each of those channels so as you’re writing your business plan make sure you articulate both types of channels and understand the economics involved in each one your business plan needs to spell out the value proposition of your product or your service what are the tangible benefits that your customer is going to get from using your product are there things like cost or time or quality and you need to quantify these things to the extent that you can perhaps you include testimonials in the business plan or test results if you can’t quantify it because you’re selling softer benefits there’s an approach that I call the what do you have to believe approach for quantifying it so you need to articulate your value proposition for your product or service and to the extent you can quantify it in terms of the benefits your customers is going to receive your business plan needs to clearly spell out the points of differentiation for your product or service compared to your competitors and those points of differentiation need to be things that your customer cares about now the differences need to be substantial relative to competition by saying you’re one to two percent faster than your competitors that won’t get a customer’s attention 20 percent faster now you have their attention second they don’t just have to be substantive differences that to be meaningful if your customer cares about cost but not at all about speed it doesn’t matter if you’re twenty percent faster so make sure as you’re articulating these points of differentiation you look at substantive differences as well as meaningful ones now knowing how you’re differentiated is going to help you know where to invest your time and money because this is a planning exercise and you’re going to focus on those differentiating factors and where to compete or not compete in the marketplace this is the part of your business plan that’s going to keep your strategy focused and staying on strategy is going to make you more effective and more competitive it’ll prevent you from chasing work you shouldn’t pursue it’ll prevent you from investing in things that are going to be diluted that your customers won’t care about so as you articulate your business plan make sure you think through those points of differentiation that your customers care about and that you have a meaningful performance advantage on versus your competitors and by spelling those out clearly you’re going to make sure that you focus on strategy and you have a more competitive offering just because you’ve built a business it doesn’t mean it’s safe and in your business plan you should articulate how you’re going to protect what you’ve built how are you going to protect another company from taking your customers maybe you look at things like proprietary rights that you have to the product or service you may look at things like patents or copyrights do you have trade secrets that nobody can replicate perhaps you put in place some non-compete agreements or other proprietary knowledge and skills that’s going to keep your business safe from competitors taking your customers now recognize a lot of people want to go down the patent or copyright path however that’s costly and it takes a lot of time additionally just because you have a patent or a copyright it doesn’t mean it can’t be defeated there are companies out there that will infringe upon your patents there are companies who will sue you in court and while you may ultimately win the case it’s gonna cost you a lot of time and money to defend it so just be aware of the pros and cons of each of these defensive mechanisms also don’t underestimate speed and size as defense mechanisms for protecting your market in your business plan lay out what mechanisms you’re going to use to protect your business from the threats you’re invariably going to face your business plan has to lay out your product development roadmap that roadmap should spell out what the major phases are in product development as well as the timelines that go along with it describe what’s in your Minimum Viable Product the first product that you put in the market what are the features you’re going to release then discuss what the next level of prototypes are going to be as well as when that final product is going to be available and released into the market the business plan should also describe your approach to testing research and development and what that future product roadmap will be explain the key risks in your product development lifecycle and how are you going to mitigate or account for those risks when you layout your product development roadmap lay out those features and functions at each stage of development and articulate what the gates are for you to build that next level of functionality the next section of your business plan needs the layout product or service delivery how are you going to get your product in the hands of your customers if it’s a product who’s going to ship it are you going to ship it the rack through the post office or UPS or Federal Express are you going to sell your product through retail if it’s a service are you going to go to the customer or are you going to deliver your service remotely or you going to have the customer come to you to be serviced and then once you’ve laid out how you’re going to get that product and service to them explain the operational hurdles and challenges you’ll face as well as how you’re going to get over them make sure you lay out the channels you’re going to use to deliver your product or service and how you’re going to overcome the challenges you’re going to face a brand is a promise and you should spell out what you want that promise to be also lay out why are your customers going to care why is that promise important to them then how are you going to advertise and promote your product or service in a manner that’s consistent with and builds that brand how are you going to communicate with your customers will it be online advertising public relations perhaps it’s personal selling or printed materials are there other promotional opportunities you’re going to take advantage of spell these things out in the branding section of the business plan then how are you going to emphasize your points of differentiation are you going to point out the problem you solve and why you’re better than anyone else at solving it so in your business plan spell out what the promise is that you’re making to your customers why they’ll care and how you’re going to get that message out into the market pricing is one of the most critical decisions you’re going to have to make and your business plan needs to spell out your pricing model as clearly as possible you need to understand even a 1% differential on pricing can have a disproportionate impact on your total profitability let’s assume your business has a 10% profit margin if you raise prices by just 1% on the top line for revenue you’ve increased your profitability by 10% that 1% will go from your revenue line all the way to the bottom and your pricing will drive margin from 10% to 11 pricing is huge do not under invest in thinking about it so how do you come up with your pricing benchmark some of your competitors look at their pricing model as well as their price points and use those price points as anchors for pricing your own service also determine your pricing model and the rationale behind it are you going to sell on a cost-plus basis are you going to sell on a value basis is it going to be a one-time fee or ongoing fees or some combination thereof laying out this model is critical because you’re going to have to message it to the market as well as build the model into your ultimate financial model as part of your business plan in the sales section of your business plan you have to spell out how are you going to sell your product or service will you use a sales force or will you just go direct consumer maybe from your website if you’re using a sales force what’s the sales cycle going to look like how long will it be what’s the conversion rate from prospect to customer and make sure in the business plan if possible have supporting evidence for that how are you going to compensate your sales force will it be a base salary we pay them a commission is it going to be a combination of the two because that’s going to drive your sales forces behavior and in the sales section how are you going to conduct contracting will you have long-term contracts will you have certain payment terms that you’re going to expect what type of salespeople do you need and how are you going to compensate them and having that clarity in your business plan is going to make it clearer how those people will perform as well as how it will show up in the financial performance of your business another operational area to cover in your business plan is how are you going to support your product or service just because you sell it doesn’t mean you’re done what’s it going to take to deliver aftercare to handle returns to deliver customer service when your customers have questions how are you going to staff that service are you going to insource it and have people within your organization who do it or are you going to outsource it to another organization or are you going to make it self-help what are the expectations that your customers are going to have for this support how many calls do you expect how many incidents are you going to handle what’s the return rate on your product going to be and what expertise is going to be required to handle some of these issues you need to spell out all of these operational components in your business plan because if you don’t think about them you’re going to have operational challenges down the road the lesson here is think about how you’re going to support your business before you make any operational changes and this is exactly what you’ll be doing as you write this section of your business plan your business plan needs to lay out your people plan and that people plan needs to be built from the bottom up you need to look at the demand factors that are going to drive how many people you need what job families do you need and where will you hire them from do you need operational folks do you need finance HR IT will they be employees or will they be contractors how are you going to use vendors to augment your internal personnel strategy you have to think through what are the ramped up times and the training requirements for somebody just because you say you need someone doesn’t mean they’re going to be effective in the role on the day you hire them you need to work backward and say it’s gonna take us three to six months to find this person and after we have them it’s gonna take two months to train them this all needs to be part of your people plan how are you going to staff as you grow your business and what’s going to drive that staffing growth so if you take on new customers how many new customers do you have to have before you hire an incremental person and when do you achieve those scale benefits when is that hiring going to flatten out while the business continues to grow you’ll also need to lay out how much do these people cost what’s the turnover going to be how much are the benefits you’re going to pay them all these numbers are going to feed into your financial plan and by building your people plan based on the demand factors as your business grows and laying out that plan on a quarterly basis you’re going to be able to more accurately predict what your financials will look like so as you lay out your business plan think through all the different job families and what’s going to drive their growth how much they’re going to cost you and what the pace of hiring will be a major component of your operating portion of your business plan is how you’re going to manage production where are you going to make your product are you going to insource or outsource but suppliers are you’re going to use will you own or lease the equipment you’ll also need to discuss how are you going to meet demand manage facility utilization and deal with peak or slack periods of demand once you’ve built your operating plan ask do your operations match your product strategy and it’s something you should think through in this section of your business plan for your business as you write your business plan think through what your major inputs are to make in your product and then who are the suppliers do you have backups for those suppliers do you have a diversity of sources to mitigate supplier risk how are you going to manage the costs of the things you buy from your suppliers do you intend have long term contracts will you conduct a scheduled bid will you have any partners joint ventures alliances for key components supplier risk is a huge risk for your business if a major supplier goes down or decides to renegotiate rates what’s your backup plan what financial risks do you face from supplier concentration and how are you going to mitigate those risks what operational risks do you face by in sourcing things that you’re not great at things that aren’t your core competency what reputation risks do you face in your supplier strategy if you partner with someone or you buy a lot of product from a supplier and they do something wrong what’s the risk to your business think through some of the large companies who have partnered with famous athletes or movie stars and that athlete or star does something that isn’t so great and look at the risk that that company who sponsored them faces these are all risks that you should be articulating in the supplier section of your business plan so understand where you’re going to get your product what the concentration risks are and how you’re going to mitigate it to have a clear and compelling piece of this operating plan as you build your business especially if you’re seeking outside investment the leadership team is going to be something people will evaluate very closely some investors say they’d rather invest in a great management team with an okay idea than in an okay management team with a great idea the leadership team matters a lot and this is your opportunity to show people how great that team is in this section of the business plan define who the executive team is and draw the organization chart who reports to who put in the blank boxes with job descriptions for people you’ll hire in the future you should include brief bios of each leader and include their relevant experience that shows how they’re going to contribute to the team link their past experiences and accomplishments to the role they’ll be playing in this organization you should also describe the ownership structure of the company including decision-making authority you may be smart but it’s even smarter to surround yourself with other smart people this is the role of advisers for your business and you should spell out who those advisers are within your business plan there are several types of advisers you can pursue there’s an advisory board an advisory board typically gets brought together during the earlier stages of your business they can help you get customers investors they can help you build out your team and they may play an ongoing role as your organization grows there’s a board of directors these people are formally elected and have legal responsibilities they’re typically not needed until you receive outside investment and you have shareholders the board serves as experts on special topics they’ll be responsible for compensating management and holding management accountable to shareholders other advisers you can have our specialists they’re brought in to advise on a specific topic they’re not usually involved on an ongoing basis and they can be paid as consultants or you can pay them with equity and your board should change as the business grows and as the needs of the business evolve so think through your advisory needs for your business identify who those people are and what the structure of those advisory boards will be your business plan needs to include a perspective on how you’re going to compensate management there are various ways that you can compensate your leadership team you can give them cash bonus or equity and there are a variety of forms of equity that you can issue things like stock or options I highly suggest you get some legal assistance from somebody who has done this type of agreement before when you are awarding equity that equity needs to vest over time even for the founders this way if a founder quits they don’t walk away with a big chunk of equity just for having a good idea cash is also tight when you first start your business so equity tends to be the preferred way to compensate management but you have to realize that equity is the most expensive form of financing and give it out wisely this is why it’s so important to spell this out in your business plan deferred cash or a bonus is another option for compensating management if your executives don’t need cash right now and doing so it’s cheaper than equity but it preserves the cash you need to start up the business no matter what put employment agreements in place that specifically spell out compensation because when your business plan is complete and you think about taking it in front of investors the way you’re compensating management is going to have an impact on the return those investors might get these can be very complex transactions and you do need legal and financial assistance as you set us up but it’s a section of your business plan that has to be completed especially if you’re going to seek outside investment when you run a business there are a lot of administrative matters you’re going to have to handle these are non-negotiable many of them are regulatory requirements which firms are you going to use for your finance HR legal intellectual property who’s going to represent you and who on your team is going to manage administrative matters for your company there are some key questions you need to be able to answer as you build your business plan are all your licenses and business filings complete and accurate are you sufficiently insured are you compliant with all laws like tax law employment law safety law if you’re doing some manufacturing is your business legally protected do you have the right legal structure intellectual property and copyright protections are your contract solid and are your finances correct are you issuing 1099s and w-2s and filing your taxes appropriately these aren’t fun things to deal with however they’re critical especially if you get them wrong so spend some time find some external service providers who can help you with this and make sure you have these things buttoned up before you launch your business a major component of your business plan is your financial plan and the first step in building that financial plan is documenting your assumptions what are you going to assume and what’s the grounding for those assumptions maybe you look at comparables market research or basic estimates to figure out what that ingoing assumption is you’ll also need to lay out what the best case and worst case scenario is for each assumption because they’ll drive different financial performance then explain how large of an impact each assumption has on your overall financial performance by having your assumptions clearly articulated you can track your financial performance and revisit those assumptions over time to make sure your forecasts are as accurate as possible your financial forecast is the heart of your business plan without a good forecast you don’t know if you even have a viable business or what financial results you can expect when you build your financial forecasts build them from the bottom up and build them I month based on unit drivers so how many courses are you going to sell how many widgets are you going to produce understand how those drive the financial performance you’ll need to build a full profit and loss statement with all line items accounted for and use the assumptions you’ve already created to drive that financial forecast you’ll forecast your revenues your costs how much cash you’ll have what your balance sheet and income statement look like and if you don’t know how to do this seek professional help from a financial firm when you build your forecasts you’re going to want to have several cases build a worse case where you have accelerated and increased costs and delayed or lower than expected revenue build an expected case which should be conservative and build a best case which is your costs are as expected and you have accelerated revenue by looking at that complete picture you’ll understand what happens if things don’t go well and what happens if things go great invest the time in building forecasts that are as accurate as you possibly can because they’re going to tell you what your business will look like in the future and help you plan accordingly it takes money to run a business and there are three critical numbers you’ll have to know how much capital do you have on hand what’s your burn rate and how much runway do you have capital on hand is how much cash do you have in the bank your burn rate is how much money are you spending every month to pay your staff to run your business and then runway is if you look at how much cash you have on hand and assume no more money comes in how long do you have before you run out of money obviously the longer the runway is the safer your businesses you’ll also need to create a perspective on when you’ll hit cash flow breakeven which is when is the business generating enough money enough profit to pay the costs of running that business every month and your investors are going to want to know at what point are you going to hit cash flow breakeven because that’s when you don’t need any more money invested your business plan should also spell out where you plan on getting your capital from will it be from the owners loans friends and family will you seek outside investors or grants will you work with partners who will give you money also what are you going to use the capital for by the way the only good uses of capital in the early years of running your business are things that drive sales marketing sales force or product development if you’re spending money on anything other than those items your investors are going to question it so as you’re thinking about your business be very clear about how much money you’re going to need to hit the point where the business is self-sustaining every business faces financial risks and you should lay out in your business plan what those risks are and what you’re going to do if they come to pass some of the risks you might face what happens if you lose funding what happens if you don’t get that loan or the investment you are counting on what if you lose a big customer or the economy turns south what if that marketing campaign you thought was gonna be huge turns out to not work what happens if you get sued for intellectual property or a major competitor emerges all of these are bad things that could happen to your business but if you think about them now and plan for them you can put contingency plans in place you could do things like cut expenses or lay off staff you might seek additional loans or additional investment or the founders might put more money in you could drop prices market more offer retention discounts for some of your customers you may even say we would sell out to a competitor or partner with another firm having these contingency plans in place enables you to react more quickly so think through what the risks your organization faces are and put them in your business plan along with the contingency plans to go along with it as you build your business make sure you’re clear on whether it’s a lifestyle business or if you’re looking to exit because it has huge implications for how you’re going to fund it if your business is built to exit your investors will want to know how are you going to exit will it be by acquisition and who might buy your company will it be a sale just to other owners now if you say we’re gonna do an IPO it sounds a little bit silly especially in the early stages of running a business so be practical about saying what your exit might be if it’s a lifestyle business just understand that you’ll get fewer people who are willing to invest in it when you lay out your exit plan expect an ROI your investors will what’s the return on the investment that they’re going to get what’s the timing they should expect it on your investors will want their money back and then some so your business case needs to spell out is it going to be a lifestyle business for you where you’re not seeing external investment and you’re just looking to build something to give you personal income or is it something where your investors can expect a return you

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