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Beware the Mid-Year Urge To Revamp Your Strategic Plan

Leaders Evaluate Idea FirstHard to believe we are looking at the second half of 2015! That means it is time to review your strategic plan and your business plan.

Not a multi-day, multi-hour exercise

The mid-year review is not like the process you go through when you are setting up your strategic plan for the year. In the yearly planning process, you are looking at a longer horizon since it includes where you are going to be in three to five years. Within the overall strategic plan, there is a section for the year-long goals and aspirations. This is the part that you are reviewing in the mid-year meeting. The information from the living business plan lets you know if everything is on target.

Temptation lurks here

 Part of the role of CEO is to keep an eye out for opportunities. It is likely that as you go forward with your growth plan, you spot possibilities. The other side of this is when targets are not being met and it seems as if the plan is not working. One temptation is to chase the possibilities. The other temptation is to ditch the plan and make a new one.

Thinking shortcuts could interfere with effective decision making

It cannot be said enough…do your homework. We have a tendency to seek out information that corresponds with our thinking. While it does work in our favor because we can filter through the noise and get the data we need. It can also work against us when we allow ourselves to discount information because it does not fit in with our beliefs.

There are a few ways you can circumvent this so you and your team can make a grounded decision:

    • Involve your team. Have someone else do the research on your great idea. Another set of eyes, particularly from one of your team members, is a good way to sift through your own biases and hear what is possible and probable.
    • Do a quick pros and cons list. This can be a useful way to find out what you know and don’t know. It highlights if you have enough capital, in-house expertise and resources. By keeping it quick, it supports telling yourself the truth and what needs more research.
    • Know what your siren’s call sounds like.We all have areas that get us excited. It might be working internationally, noticing market trends, certain subjects that are our expertise or something else that you would love to do more of. Like Odysseus, tie yourself to your mast by reminding yourself that there is an agreed-upon plan in place. This also prevents you  from undermining your team.
    • Use a coach or mentor. Conversations with either a coach or mentor can help you hear your thinking. Plus you get the added bonus of questions that provoke deeper thinking.

Most small to mid-sized businesses do not have the level of capital, talent or other resources to go off the plan without running the risk of harming or even killing themselves. The idea may end up having merit and fits with the overall strategic plan. On the other hand, it might be simply the heat of the moment and adding some logic to the decision process illuminates this.

Creativity and science

Leaders who are creative foster the same in their organizations. It is a bit like the scientific process. Your idea is like a hypothesis. The testing part is much like running a scientific experiment. The four suggestions above show if the idea is possible and fits in with the overall direction of the company. The idea is to not stop seeking out new possibilities or even making necessary adjustments. It is simply to keep the temptation of revamping the year-long strategic plan simply based on a gut response.

*Image from Fotolia by densismagilov



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.


5 Ways to Avoid a Rose-Tinted Strategic Plan

Avoid rose-tinted strategic planReady to close 2011 and prepare for 2012?

It’s likely that you’ve already started thinking about how your small to mid-sized business will perform in 2012. Planning is an act of imagining what could be and letting go of what is. Are you coming to the planning meetings full of confidence or dread? Or maybe somewhere in the middle?

Weirdly, any of these attitudes could create a rose-colored strategic plan.

You know this already but how you see the world influences how you act. That’s why a paradigm shift feels so powerful. The very essence is that you have to change how you act.  Our mindsets create expectations, blindspots and beliefs that color what information we absorb and which we ignore or downplay.

  • Overconfidence leads to oversights or simply blindness to threats or opportunities. “We don’t have to worry about that”
  • Dread leads to analysis paralysis, self-doubt and focus on possible threats. “This has got to work”
  • The balancing act gets skewed by the day-to-day duties and not making time to maintain a global perspective. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

See through a clear lens with these 5 tips

1. Business analysis. Schedule quarterly reviews including a SWOT analysis so you can take a step back and be more objective about how your business is performing.  With the new year almost upon us, you may have to comply with changes in regulations or other variables that require adaptations. To make this easier, use a PESTEL analysis to more clearly identify potential threats and opportunities. Another possible analysis that will illuminate how your business is functioning within economic turbulence is Ansoff’s Strategic Success Model (check out page 3 for chart).

2. Communicate clearly and often. Make time to speak with your team and/or business partner as a group. This avoids wasting time running from one person to another to give the same message. It means you stop and listen to what they are actually saying. This is  your opportunity to gauge the morale of your organization as well as getting information for the business analyses. Even a 5-15 minute group meeting can be very productive when you keep it focused on 1-2 topics and schedule follow ups when issues need more attention.

3. Mentors, coaches, mastermind groups and/or trusted confidant. No matter the size of your organization, it helps to keep your head clear. As a leader, it is important to have a safe place to sort out your thoughts and feelings. Mentors, coaches, mastermind groups and/or a trusted confidant gives you that space so you can interact with your employees, vendors and customers effectively.

4. Know the difference between “nice-to-have” and “must-haves”. Sometimes strategic plans become wish lists. While taking audacious ideas and setting them as targets is desirable, it is also crucial to keep your “bread-and-butter” targets active. You can use the things that produce a steady revenue stream as a means to invest in your next “nice-to-have”. The tried and true parts of your business are the foundation. Be aware of how much energy and resources are needed for your newest offering so you can plan for them appropriately.

5. Take care of yourself. Thinking and the ability to keep emotions in check deteriorate when we don’t eat healthy foods or get enough sleep. Lack of sleep alone can lower your cognitive abilities. When we feel run down, it’s tempting to go with what makes us feel good. Exercise or just simply moving more is a great way to clear your mind so you can cope better.

Avoid the rose-tinted strategic plan.

The willingness to seek accurate information and use it to create your strategic plan will pay off. It all starts with your desire and commitment to see your business as it truly is.

 What tips would you add?


Testing the Givens About Your Small Business

Examining the givens in small businessWhat are the givens in your business? Are there things about your business that seem so definite and unchangeable?

I’ve been reading Killing Giants:10 Strategies To Topple the Goliath In Your Industry. It’s a very engaging read by my friend, Stephen Denny and the strategies he describes in the book run the gamut from gutsy to deceptively easy. Some of you may be considering taking a run at the giant in your industry. Others of  you may be wondering if you could just increase your market share and work around the giant. However, to move to the next stage in the business cycle, it’s important to know your capabilities, your limitations and the truth.

One theme that jumped out at me in Denny’s book was his question about what is a given and if it is constantly true. So, for you, are the givens really true in your business? Now that we’re entering a new quarter of the year, it’s a good time to review your strategic plan. Basically, check to see if you and your business are progressing well.

You’ve heard the phrase, “given the givens”? We believe certain things are true. Somehow they are immutable. What if they are not true? Maybe the givens are only partly true? Critical thinking is an important skill here. Imagine what would happen if you asked yourself what is true about your business. For example, who are your real clients? Sometimes small business owners are aiming for one type of client but they are actually paid by another. I’ll use my own business as an example. I thought I worked with entrepreneurs with small businesses. I really work with established small business owners who are transitioning from one stage of growth to the next stage in the business cycle..

 Another given people cite during planning sessions is the economic environment. It could be regional, national or even global. Certainly with the recent recession, memories are long. However, what is true about the economy you participate in? Even in the darkest days, there are businesses and industries who thrive and the opposite can be true when things are bullish.

And while we’re considering the  larger economic question, there is also being clear on what revenue streams are givens. What  really makes money for your company? Sometimes we believe that something is our primary moneymaker. Until you actually stop and look at all of your numbers and ask the question, you could easily assume something is set in stone.

A given is simply that…something we believe is set in stone. Maybe there are things about your competitors that aren’t true. Maybe there is something about you that’s not true. But you won’t know until you ask.

What are some givens that you believe need to be challenged?


Do You Even Use Your Strategic Plan?

Small business strategic planningAs I read today’s SmartBrief On Leadership, I came across the results of their weekly poll. The survey question was “How closely do you think you will follow your strategic plan this year?” The results were thought provoking.

According to the poll:

We’ll generally follow the plan but expect a few major deviations   76.15%

We’ll follow it to the letter    11.62%

We may do a few things on the plan but generally ignore it and do something else   9.54%

We don’t follow it at all   2.68%

Is this happening in your small business too?

At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, many small business owners started thinking about what they wanted their business to accomplish in 2011. So, if we, like most small business owners, got the bones of our strategic plan put together. The three questions most associated with the strategic planning process are

1. Where are we now?

2. Where are we going?

3. How are we going to get there?

So you sat down and probably reviewed your organization’s overall mission, values or principles and what you envisioned for the year.  You probably did parts or all of a SWOT analysis. After this, you noted what big goal you’d love to celebrate on December 31st. More than likely, you identified what makes your organization special or even the specific advantage in the marketplace. You probably finished off with setting goals that will make these great aspirations reality.

So, if you went to all of this trouble, why wouldn’t you follow your plan?

There are a variety of reasons why people don’t follow their plans. For some companies, the strategic planning process was an exercise in lip service. For others, they scare themselves with their aspirations and shy away from making these dreams into reality. Sometimes things  happen (natural disasters, personal crises, major market shifts, etc) that make the plan irrelevant.

The strangest number in the poll above is 11.62%. Why do so few business leaders actually follow their strategic plan? You have to wonder what is really happening in the planning process. On the face of it, it seems like a colossal waste of time to go through the whole process and then relegate the plan to a shelf somewhere.

What’s the deal?

Why do you think strategic plans are not followed?

*For more information like this live, check out my no cost webinar, “Achieving the CEO Mindset For Small Business Success” Thursday, March 31st, 7 pm BST/2pm ET. For more information and to register, go to Programs


Just Plain Good Old Goal Writing

Creating strategic and operational planYou can dress it up with terms like “strategic plan” or “operational plan” but at the end of the day, it’s just plain good old goal writing.  Really. I know it seems intimidating at times to put it on paper. If you decide to call it an action plan, that works too. For larger small businesses, there may be all kinds of meetings of teams or pertinent staff members but I’m telling you…when it comes time to figure out how to make the Big Ideas sing, you have to know how to write a goal.

We like predictability in most areas of our lives. According to Lars Andersen, a lack of predictability is a leading cause of stress in the workplace. When you’re the business owner or one of the executive team (no matter what your actual title says), you can create that predictability with clear goals that assign the task to specific people and embed accountability. This makes it clear and (dare I say it?) easy to follow through on what is desired.  You can even reduce the amount of procrastination that can accompany vague goals.

Goal setting has three components:  1) specifics, 2) measurements, and 3) deadlines.  It requires a step-wise way of thinking while you break a task down to its individual steps.  The first component, specifics, tells you what you are going to do.  This is why it is important to state the goal clearly.  You may even discover that you will have sub-goals to your main goal. (This is definitely true when you are setting up your 1 year, 3 year or 5 year plans). The second component, measurements, focuses how you will know you are successful.  Sometimes, measurements can let you know if you need to fine-tune the goal or even change the goal.  The last component, deadlines, gives you the necessary push to follow through with your chosen actions. 

See the difference here:

Vaguely worded goal: We will expand our reach to women-owned small businesses.

Do you know what to do here? I don’t and I hear goals like this all of the time. What does it mean to expand? Is it physical as in setting up a satellite office somewhere? Or is it really about marketing? Using social media, traditional media or what? Bad, bad, bad.

Clearly worded goal: We will contact 3 networking groups that focus on women-owned small business to inquire about speaking opportunities by Friday.

It becomes clear that you intend to use speaking as a way to connect with this particular market. This clarity is simple and easy to focus on.

The specific action is to contact the networking groups that focus on women small business owners. The measurement is that we will contact 3 of these groups. The deadline is Friday. Is it easy to imagine someone taking on this goal and completing it by the deadline? And he/she doesn’t complete it, they will be able to tell you what got in the way.

Some people believe you have to write your goals as SMART goals. Other prefer a more free-form style. There isn’t really one way to write the goals as long as you have the basic components.  Excessive words will make it hard to follow through as there will be too much to remember.  Keep your goal simple and succinct.  For measurements, use timers, logs, charts and a calendar.  Make your deadlines clear and realistic. This goes for any small business, no matter the size. Sometimes goals are long-term and will be accomplished over the course of a year or even several years. All of the goals and sub-goals have the same ingredients. Each goal is a note that enables your Big Idea, your vision, to sing.

What goals are you setting that will make your Big Ideas for your small business sing?