7 Facets of
Strategic Startup Planning Success
by Adele Sommers
Whether you are just thinking about launching your business or are already well into the game -- how do you tell if you've considered all of the factors that will lead to continued success? Strategic startup planning [a subset of Phase 3 of my Strategic Business Planner, above] is a process by which your business can develop a roadmap to sustainable growth. In doing so, you can avoid the more superficial, opportunity-seeking detours that often lead to dead ends.
This article gives an overview of seven core facets that contribute to successful strategic startup planning. If you are just starting out, you may want to perform them in the order shown below. If you're in a re-planning phase, you may wish to revisit them periodically to see whether any changes have occurred. The seven facets are:
1) Identifying and researching your niche
2) Researching similar operations
3) Performing competitive analyses
4) Performing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis
5) Exploring blue ocean strategies
6) Identifying your vision, mission, values, and beliefs
7) Developing a unique selling position (USP)
Facet #1: Identifying and Researching Your Niche
Do you know which audiences are best suited to, or already seeking, what you plan to offer? Identifying your niche involves brainstorming a set of potential target markets, and then combining and narrowing down the lists by comparing them against various criteria.
After selecting a niche that clearly portrays your perfect client or customer, you'll want to research it further to gain a comprehensive understanding of it. The more you learn about the needs, wants, pain, frustrations, and challenges of your audience, the more precise your marketing and product development efforts can be.
You can do your own investigation by surveying prospects or your existing customer base, or by enlisting the help of professional researchers, such as Google Answers.
Google employs scores of researchers to track down information on just about any requested topic. You can also peruse its archives of completed research at no cost.
Facet #2: Researching Similar Operations
Are you opening some kind of storefront or bricks-and-mortar service business? If your operation involves a physical facility, it's ideal to research other businesses that have comparable sites and services, or at least similar operating constraints, parameters, and conditions -- even in other locations.
To learn what's involved, you can gather data from site visits, interviews, and Web sites, for example. For example, seek information on the offerings, physical layouts, staffing, and ongoing operational challenges of these businesses. Be sure to verify your assumptions with your own cadre of professional advisors, however.
Facet #3: Performing Competitive
Do you know who your competitors are? They consist of other companies currently offering the same or similar products or services, companies that could offer the same or similar products or services in the future, and companies that could remove the need for your products or services.
To ensure that you can compete successfully
with the very best providers of products and services
in your market, you first want to identify the key
features of your own offerings. You'll also
identify the value elements (the special,
intangible qualities, such as top-notch expertise, satisfaction
guarantees, or stellar customer service) that your business
offers or will offer. You then perform a competitive
analysis to see how well your features and value elements
stack up against those of your competitors.
Facet #4: Performing a SWOT Analysis
How well positioned are you to take advantage of the positive internal and external forces in your business? How well can you minimize or manage the risks associated with the negative forces? Using a SWOT analysis, you determine the internal factors under your control (your business strengths and weaknesses) and external factors (opportunities and threats). You then devise strategies to harness your strengths and opportunities while reducing or working around threats and weaknesses.
Facet #5: Exploring Blue Ocean Strategies
Are you planning to do business in a domain already filled with competitors, where there's only a small chance of thriving? Blue ocean strategizing helps you rethink the entire landscape.
Derived from Harvard Business School's bestseller, "Blue Ocean Strategy," this process will help you reposition your business if it's in a highly competitive niche. Following a careful analysis, you can rework your offerings to include new features and eliminate, increase, or decrease others. You can also target new audiences. In so doing -- much like the wildly successful CNN, Cirque du Soleil, Curves fitness for women, Southwest Airlines, and many other businesses -- you can chart all new waters and ultimately sail away from your competition.
Facet #6: Identifying Your Vision, Mission, Values, and Beliefs
Have you identified a purpose, a set of unchanging values, and visionary goals to guide your future business directions? Although this activity can occur at any time, it's ideal to revisit it periodically. According to Thomas J. Watson, Jr., former IBM chairman, "If an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except its basic beliefs as it moves through corporate life. . . . The only sacred cow in an organization should be its basic philosophy of doing business."
Importantly, your business values, once defined, can become screening tools to first attract, and then later evaluate, your personnel, partners, clients, and customers.
Facet #7: Developing Your USP
Do you know how to convey the benefits of your products and services? Based on the results of all preceding activities, this process entails creating and polishing a concise description of your offerings that differentiates them from those of your competition and positions you as the market leader.
Known as either a unique selling position or proposition, it's the unforgettable business promise that you share with the world. Example: FedEx's classic "When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight."
When you've completed this process, you'll have a powerful business manifesto. By creating a PowerPoint or similar presentation around it, you'll gain a set of guiding principles to inspire your staff, prospective employees, partners, or clients.
Copyright 2006 Adele Sommers
Tools You Can Use
For a Strategic Startup Planning Checklist related to the article above, see http://learnshareprosper.com/tools/strategic_startup_planning.pdf.