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Category Archive: Strategic Thinking

STARTING EXPORTING TO EUROPE – PLANNING IT OUT

It is my pleasure to introduce you to a talented colleague. This guest post is by Stuart Allcock, a business consultant and entrepeneur based in Ireland. His company Applied Business Support Ltd helps businesses internationalise their activities, removes barriers to business growth, and works with universities to commercialise their technologies.

US business exporting into EU, export planningThis article is intended for the small to medium-sized US business looking to export for the first time and thinking about selling into the European Union (EU).  Realistically this article’s tips could apply to any part of the world you’re thinking of exporting to, not just the EU.  There’s plenty to do to prepare yourself before you think about jumping on a plane going eastwards.

 Business planning

Planning for exporting isn’t really much different to formal business planning for any organisation.  Some owner/managers argue that you can’t really plan a business strategy until the company has already got some hard trading experience behind it.  This may have merit.

 However, the flaw is that sound business planning is done on a foundation of diligent market research (MR).  If it’s done properly, it’s designed to uncover important facts about what pitfalls and risks to avoid in the venture as much as opportunities to exploit.  Risks in exporting can be costly so mitigating those risks with good MR makes good sense.

Planning starts with diligent market research

It’s like arranging a car vacation to a region you’ve never visited before.  First you need to research what the region is worth visiting for such as culture, countryside, coast, food specialities etc.  Otherwise you could be unaware of all these tourism opportunities, at best coming across them by chance.  Then you would plan out where you are going to visit, which route you will take, and where to stay.

As best you can, you’d maximise the best use of your resources – mainly your quality time and money for an enjoyable vacation.  With no planning you might go nowhere of particular interest and pay a lot for mediocre hotels and food.  See any analogies with business planning?

 Export planning is no different

Simply put, with export planning you’re still looking at selling products or services into markets and territories, taking into account all the resources needed, calculating the financial impact for commercial viability, and addressing risk.  If export planning wasn’t already part of your original business planning, then there are quite a few additional things to consider.

 Some of these points are mentioned below.  It sounds a bit dramatic to say ignoring them is at your own peril – that might be a “worst scenario” situation, but there’s some truth in the statement.  Realistically exporting can be fun (if you like travelling and experiencing different cultures!).  It also has to be lucrative so it helps if a bit of common sense and good MR and planning is employed from day one.

Some suggestions

Risks can usually be reduced and costs minimised if a few general things are observed in the export initiation process.  A few suggestions are:

  • Do your research diligently.  You don’t even need to leave your desk to collect a lot of usable MR information.  All you need is online access and a telephone.
  • Supports might be available from your local government agencies to assist with export preparation.  There are other sources too.  For example in Ireland, if you’re considering setting up your own offices and maybe such as production or assembly, you should talk to IDA Ireland (www.idaireland.com) to see if and how they can help you.  Each EU country has its own inward investment government agency.
  • An exploratory visit to your selected country/ies will be essential as part of the initiation process and even before selling starts properly.  This could be for visits to potential end-users for validating the product or service, meetings to evaluate future sales partners, or research at local exhibitions.Differences in cultures (= the way we do things) may mean your existing products/services aren’t quite the right specification – or even could be downright inappropriate for some countries!  There are 28 sovereign countries in the EU, most of them with distinct cultures between them.

Selling in the EU

 Broadly, Ireland and the UK and maybe even the Benelux countries don’t differ too much in the way business operates and products are accepted.  In any case, wherever you’re intending to sell in the EU, it’s almost certain you will come across this issue at some time so these facts need checking out very carefully before selling starts.

  •  Different ways of doing business in different countries can impact on various business processes.  For example – impacting on debtor days, how your goods are sold such as needing field trials beforehand, and the extent of shared responsibilities with in-country partners such as resellers and who pays for certain marketing outlays.
  • Be cautious about proliferating the number of countries you try to sell to when you start exporting.  This especially applies to the small business with limited external sales resource – who is often the owner/manager in any case.
  • Are you personally geared up for exporting?  Often, unsociable travel times and lugging suit cases around required a certain level of fitness.  Spending time away regularly can also impact on family relationships.  All this needs taking into account time because different people react to this in different ways.  Do you need to carefully schedule time away or should you consider recruiting a sales person – even part time if you can afford it?
  • Last but not least, with all this focused activity going on to get your overseas sales off the ground, be careful not to take your eye off the ball with your established home customer base.  There’s no sense in losing lucrative home market customers through poor service because you’re focusing all your efforts on getting sales in export markets.

 Happy exporting!

About the author: Stuart Allcock  is a business consultant and entrepreneur.  He’s a Brit who’s made Ireland his home and base for his work.  Stuart has a passion for growing businesses and developing international markets.  He’s been running export-oriented companies for over 20 years and before that, virtually lived out of a suitcase for many years to care to remember, selling European products and services on a global basis.  His company Applied Business Support Ltd helps businesses internationalise their activities, removes barriers to business growth, and works with universities to commercialise their technologies.

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Boost Your Strategic Planning With Game Theory

Strategic planning, game theory,This post started when I read the Forbes post how aspiring CEOs can prepare for the top job. Joel Trammel recommended that budding leaders learn about game theory. Since the number one job of CEOs (and managing directors) is to make decisions, familiarity with game theory can be a useful tool in strategic planning.

Very basic definition of game theory

While some of game theory makes for dry reading, it is intriguing in its business applications. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, game theory is “the study of the ways in which strategic interactions among economic agents produce outcomes with respect to the preferences (or utilities) of those agents, where the outcomes in question might have been intended by none of the agents.” In essence, it is the idea that people and organizations take into consideration benefits and risks to make decisions on what they perceive to be in their best interest. It is important to remember that there is an assumption of rational thought behind the process and decisions within situations of competition, conflict, cooperation and interdependence. Game theory is often associated with decision theory.

Game theory and strategic planning

It’s important to not get too hung up on the word, game, when looking at this theory. As you know, much of what you do as leaders of your organizations is handle uncertainty. With strategic planning, it is a guessing game to some extent. You have a vision of where you want to bring your company over the coming year and you have some information about the market you operate in. One of the key things to remember is that you are making decisions with your team regarding the future and these are not made in a vacuum or in isolation. Game theory encourages one to know the variables and to be cognisant that the business is operating in a dynamic environment.

How do you make game theory work for you?

To identify potential avenues for your strategic plan,  there is some information which will highlight the variables:

  • Experience. Very simply put, what did you learn this year? Mistakes, near-misses and gains are all lessons for you and your team to use.
  • Feedback from your staff. One of my clients was telling me this week that his staff has asked him to get out of the nitty gritty. They want him to take time to follow through on goals that were set already, work on his leadership skills and tell them what his next set of expectations are. In other cases, you might hear information about customers, new contacts and other opportunities.
  • PESTEL Analysis. This analysis (learn more about PESTEL) allows you to identify more specifically what is going on in the environment outside of your business. That means everything from politics, social change or industry regulations become more clear in its relationship to your company.
  • SWOT Analysis. This is a smaller picture than the PESTEL analysis but still provides information about what is currently going on in your business.
  • Identify the assumptions underlying all of the opinions put forth. We’re all susceptible to making assumptions. There is a tactic called the 5 Why’s. Simply asking “why” can  illuminate the information gaps, biases and faulty thinking.
  • Challenging/upsetting the current system. Using the 5 Why’s is one way to challenge the system. Keeping yourself and your staff fresh is simply done by asking open-ended questions with an attitude of curiosity. Doing things differently might not mean you’re introducing a new product or service, it might be how work and communication gets done internally.

By taking a look at all of these, you gain information about potential opportunities, risks, trends, outside events that influence your business and much more information. Then you can identify various scenarios and how your strategic plan can flex in response.

 Your strategic plan does more than provide the roadmap for the coming year

While you and your team do need to identify the goals, the steps and the responsible person for the coming year, there is more. Underlying each yearly strategic plan is the overall aim for the company over a period of five, ten or more years. Using game theory in the strategic planning process gives you alternative scenarios so that you are more able to anticipate the turbulence and dynamic quality of the business environment.

 

 

 

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Latest Posts On TweakYourBiz, Corpnet.com and KaizenBiz

If you haven’t seen these posts, let me tell you about them.

On TweakYourBiz

This site is designed for small business owners. Since it’s based in Ireland, I often write posts that are useful to Irish small business owners. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing John McSweeney, project manager of Small Business Advice programme to learn more about this free service. If you are a small business owner in Ireland and would like to get some advice regarding a dilemma or opportunity, read Small Business Advice Programme- Interview with John McSweeney.

 

On Corpnet.com

With the new year upon us, many of us are looking at our strategic plans to see where we might go in 2013. It might be time to make a new friend out of a SWOT Analysis so you have the best data available for your plan. You can read why a SWOT Analysis Really Is Your Best Friend on Corpnet.com.

 

On KaizenBiz

Each week, I lead a conversation on Twitter in which we take a look at an business idea and delve a bit deeper. Before each conversation begins, there is a framing post to help guide the conversation. You can read the latest post, Negative Feedback and Performance: Can You Handle the Truth? (you are all welcome to join us any Friday on Twitter at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT. Just use the hashtag, #KaizenBiz)

 

I hope you’ll take the time to look at these posts and any past posts that catch your attention. Let me know what you think and continue the conversations!

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Just What Is A SWOT Analysis Anyway?

I realized recently that I have never written a post entirely devoted to what is a SWOT Analysis. What?! The weird thing is that I have referred to SWOT analyses in various posts like this one or this one. This tool can help you design your strategic plan, objectively see how you and your small business are performing and even provide a few other advantages.

A straightforward tool
SWOT analysis and small business

You wouldn’t mind but I encourage people to do a SWOT analysis every time I present my webinar, Living Business Plan-The Best Kept Secret For Small Business Success. (Typically, I recommend to clients to make it a part of their quarterly review.)

It sounds so business-y and arcane but it’s really a straightforward tool. The four parts of the SWOT analysis are: Click here to read more »

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Using Your Living Business Plan: Measuring Results

Measuring your small businessHave you been using your living business plan? As many of you know,  a living business plan is the internal business plan that is written for your use and that it follows this basic outline;

Basic Outline:

  • Executive summary
  • Services and/or products offered
  • Marketing plan
  • Financials
  • Goals and objectives

This is all well and good but how do you know if your business plan is working? Click here to read more »

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How To Manage Change So Your Growth Stage Stays On Track

Keep your business growth on trackGrowth = Change.

And  yet, so many forget that when you lead your business through a growth stage, you’re really leading a process of change. Most owners/leaders of small to mid-sized organizations generally know what they want to accomplish when they decide to grow. There is a tendency to trust their instincts and fly by the seat of their pants. This is misguided when you are aiming for a new class of customers, a new organizational model or expanding outside of your home region.

See, there are two things going on in your head. The growth plan is one and your emotions are the other. This is some serious multitasking. Now, add your responsibilities as leader, manager and worker. Now,  if that’s not enough..there are other things like social media, marketing advice and possible opportunities mentioned over coffee or lunch.

Is your head spinning yet? Click here to read more »

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7 Questions To Keep Your Strategic Plan Aligned With Business Purpose

We’re into the third month of 2012 and it’s a good time to see how your strategic plan is unfolding. IBM’s Lou Gerstner once said that having aStrategic plan is roadmap to realizing business' purpose strategy was better than having none at all. See, you can tweak a plan since real life often has some challenge that makes you stop and reassess. A strategic plan is a reflection of your thinking and choices about how you (and your team) shape actions that are taken over the year.

Your plan could reflect:

1. New offerings of products and/or services

2. Back to basics

With the economy remaining turbulent, there comes a point when you have to choose what is best for your business and yourself. Waiting for things to settle is certainly an option but you might be waiting a long time. So, it’s time to back up and remind yourself, why does your business exist? What is its purpose?

How do you make sure your strategic plan is aligned with the purpose of your business? Click here to read more »

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Business Trends-What Happened in 2011 and What’s Coming in 2012?

Trends of last year and coming yearAs someone who encourages business owners and decision makers to take a look at what is swirling around their businesses, it seems natural to take stock of what happened in 2011 and to take a guess at 2012.

What just happened? 5 of the many 2011 trends

1. Daily deals- This trend seemed to gain a lot of momentum in 2011. Many of the companies offering these deals got funding in 2011. Groupon, LivingSocial and Coupons.com have given both businesses and customers opportunities to meet one another. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a trend that is going away any time soon.

2. When I asked for trends from 2011,  Christina Giliberti of CG Online Marketing responded with enthusiasm on how video and podcasts grew in popularity over the year.

3. Another trend Giliberti pointed out was how local business groups formed groups to encourage support and business growth. One example of this is Small Business Can.

4. QR codes – Are you seeing these everywhere? I sure am. Some small businesses have them as part of their contact information and they are ubiquitous in print ads for all products. They may be abused as Jim Nichols posited in his post or maybe a transient trend.

5. Apps – Sticking with the theme of mobile devices, there are apps for everything and multiplying by the second! Amanda Webb of Spiderworking.com described them as the “new niche social networks.” Mobile applications like Instagram, Goodreads and iMapMyRun combine both an interest or activity with networking with others.

 What’s coming in 2012?

1.  Social media- This is a large topic but there are a couple of trends worth noting. Influence sites, such as Klout seem to be gaining currency as a measure of one’s expertise and ability to engage with others. Some people are even including their Klout score on their resumes.

2. Gamification is another social media trend of people adding games as a marketing tool. One example of this can be seen at Sage Ireland.

3. Another emerging trend is the shift from ownership to access to goods or services.  ZipCar, Airbnb and cloud services allow you to have something you want without the details of ownership.

4. But it’s not just marketing, goods or services or even social media that has emerging trends. The workplace has some changes that could very well become sticky in 2012. One trend that seems to be gaining ground is working remotely. As mobile devices and networking sites (including Skype) make it easier to stay connected to the office, collaborate with colleagues and get work done, more people will opt to work from home or other off-site locations. Deborah Busser has some other interesting predictions for 2012 in this post.

So what do you think?

In this week’s Twitter chat, #kaizenblog, we’re going to take a look back at 2011 and try to peer into the future of 2012. Please join us on Friday at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT and share your observations.

Happy New Year!

What trends did you notice in 2011?

What trend surprised you the most?

What didn’t happen in 2011?

What do you see emerging in 2012?

 

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Your Business Vision and a Smaller Lens

Zooming in on your business visionDo you focus on the long horizon or the short horizon? There are limits to doing either strategy exclusively. However, the short term business vision of 1 year is a building block to making your overall vision an everyday experience. How do you make sure that your current actions will lead to the big prize?

Using a PESTEL analysis or a SWOT analysis is a great way to highlight what is going on in and around your business. You need the data. It is easy to assume that the data will point out just the weaknesses or challenges. It also illuminates the strengths and opportunities.

This is the stuff that affirms your organizational vision

When you see what is working, it reminds you that you are on the right path. It’s that simple. Staying aware of the overall vision of your business is part of your foundation.

Take a moment and make the lens a little smaller. What about 2012?

See, when you engage in strategic planning for the coming year, you’re really articulating your vision for that year. Done right, it provides a stepping stone to making your overall organizational vision an everyday experience.

To make your lens a little smaller, start by answering the following questions:

1. What will be accomplished as of December 31, 2012?

2. Why is this so important?

3. Why now?

“Because the business is supposed to make money” is not an answer.

That’s a given. Any business can say that. Well, any business should say that. You have a a variety of choices of what you can offer, which service or product gets a certain focus and how you will market and sell your services and products. Why are you and your team making the specific choices you’re including in your strategic plan?

What do you see for coming year?

How is this part of your overall vision for your whole business?

About the author:  I’m Elli St.George Godfrey, a small business coach and trainer who guides established small business owners to be comfortable in their own skins, unlock the CEO within while leading and managing change in their organizations.  Whether you are expanding locally or internationally, my 3 keys coaching process helps clients move from being excited about a new business opportunity to having the tools to make it actually happen. Curious? Schedule your complimentary coaching session here.

 

 

 

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PESTEL Analysis- Snapshot of Your World

Skip the whole half-empty or half-full glass.  Economic news is so mixed that it is easy to paint everything with the same paintbrush. Depending on where you are, you could be optimistic that things are looking up or be convinced that the economy will never improve.

However, that’s unlikely to make your strategic plan useful. You can’t write, “It just all stinks” in big letters (even if it does). As you do a SWOT analysis, how can you get a grip on all of the factors that have an impact on your business?

Use a straightforward tool to take a snapshot of your world

That’s all a PESTEL analysis really is. You may already be familiar with this analysis as PEST, STEEP or STEP. Or maybe you do this informally within your SWOT analysis. Given all of the turbulence small to mid-sized businesses have encountered over the last 3 years, staying aware of your business environment can help you prepare for changes in regulations, respond to your customers more readily or identify emerging trends that your business is well suited to capitalize on. And like a lot of my recommendations, keeping it simple and straightforward is best.PESTEL Analysis

What factors are identified in a PESTEL analysis?

Political- This is how the local and national government might intervene with tax policy, laws, trade policies, subsidies for certain industries, industry-specific regulations, infrastructure and political stability.

Economic- It’s a given that whatever economy (or economies) that you do business in is a factor. Other things to identify within the economic factor are interest rates, changes in taxation rates or policies, inflation and currency exchange rates.

Social- Spells out demographics (age, gender, race/ethnicity, location), employee/career expectations and tolerances, population growth and national cultural trends. Keeping track of these may point to customer wants/needs or finding potential markets.

Technological- This factor includes how quickly technology changes and how your customers use technology to buy from you, technological options (mobile device applications, cloud computing, collaborative tools) that make it easier for you to get the work done internally, social media, e-commerce, research and development and manufacturing practices.

Environmental- There is an increasing emphasis on using more environmentally friendly practices and products. It may be important to your business and your industry to keep track of weather or climate changes.

Legal- Awareness of consumer laws, health and safety regulations, employment law, competition laws, international law, electronic data laws and privacy laws among others may be necessary for your business.

Not all of the factors will apply to you

As you go through each area, you and your team will notice that not everything included in each factor is applicable to your business. This is to be expected but still well worth having a complete picture of the business environment in which you are involved.

Highlights questions you need to answer

 Reviewing each factor supports finding what you and your team don’t know. It’s not unusual for a new regulation to be put in place and questions about compliance and potential penalties to come up in discussions with your team. When it comes time to do your SWOT analysis, you will be able to just plug the information into the Opportunities and Threats categories. This snapshot of your world will remove the emotional overtones and make it easier to design your strategic plan and determine which goals to act on.

About the author:  I’m Elli St.George Godfrey, a small business coach and trainer who guides established small business owners to be comfortable in their own skin. I have a deep appreciation for learning and understanding my client’s business style and culture. Visit my Services page to see how we might collaborate on a PESTEL anlysis for your small to mid-sized business or schedule your complimentary coaching session here.

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