Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sex Sells for Plumbers, Planners and Communicators

Plumbing, planning and communications professionals have something in common.  Our job is to save potential embarrassment, clean up costs and help offset other forms of unfortunate nastiness. We manage that which flows downhill. It's not sexy but it's necessary.

There is one distinction between plumbers, planners and communicators. In the world of plumbing, it's pretty clear as to why you need a plumber.

It's not always clear as to why you need a planner and a communicator.

As a planner and communicator, my job is to create the elements that ensure a smooth operational flow of your business and help you get the message out.

Business plans describe why you exist in the first place, where you are going, who you are serving, your goals, and the strategies and tactics that will take you there. You say, "but I already know that, why do I need to write that down".

To that I answer, you and your business affect your family, your employees, your suppliers, your community, and your banker.  If you do not have a plan that considers the full implications of your life, then chances are something is out of balance, including your finances, your family life, your health and your future.

The business owner must think of her life's business in cycles. In the start up phase, there is investment of time and resources that is subtracted from time and resources from your family. The start up phase is tenuous and full of questions and risk. Most entrepreneurs are technicians.  They begin working at what they are good at without having business skills or the time to develop those skills. They need to be delivering the product, marketing, creating and visioning, and taking care of administrative demands. According to Industry Canada, 80% of start ups and small businesses fail because they are not good at business, and do not acquire the professional skills because they don't know what they don't know.

If the business does progress to the next phase, and employees are hired, the need for management expertise increases as complexity increases. Consider the following:

  • People and Culture. Job descriptions, performance plans, and benefits helps keep people on track, and engaged. 
  • Product Innovation.  Your product needs to be competitive and responsive. You need to keep your eye on what's next and make decisions as to how you respond.  
  • Effective Operations.  The way you get things done becomes your reputation. You need to manage suppliers, and ensure our business is being run responsibly. Policies, processes and procedures help keep things on track and moving in the right direction. 
  • Financial Security. As you move into the succession cycle, you need to think about the legacy of your life's investment, and who will take it over.

Business plans are used to create budgets, not the other way around. Putting a budget in front of a business plan is like starting a race at the end, rather than the beginning. It is putting the cart in front of the horse. Putting a budget in front of a business plan is the sure fire way to kill innovation, imagination, creativity and risk. It is short term thinking.

Yes, creating a business plan is time intensive, terrifying and not fun. It is hard work to define what it is you do and why others would be interested in your big idea.  It requires in depth market research and an in depth investigation of your competitors to the point of dreaming about them. I guarantee that if you are painstakingly investigating the thousands of companies that are out there doing exactly what you think you do, or want to do, you will become terrified as you come face to face with the reality that you can indeed fail.

At this point, you will probably need a break as your wounded ego will need to heal a bit. Plus, you need to go make some money to fuel your dream. In that healing time, if you are really passionate about what you want to do, you will come to the realization that competitors are only a risk if you are duplicating their offering. That's when the sun begins to shine again, because now you know that you can circumvent the flow of matter by virtue of differentiation.

Once you have a plan in place with clear measurable targets, you need to get creative, concise and brave in communicating it, because once you start getting the word out, your potential customers and your competitors will immediately form a reaction. You will need to be able to answer the question, "so what do you offer" eloquently and in 10 words of less, as if you were being grilled on the  Dragon's Den.

I would like to add a cautionary note: a tag line is not the answer, nor is a funky logo unless you can back it up with something insightful, unique and compelling that fills a gap your customer's mind.

I once attended a business meeting of entrepreneurs who introduced themselves around the table with the name of their company and their tag line. When it came to my turn, I told them I create business plans, and they said, for who? "For you", I said, "For anyone in business and wanting to be in business".  Most of them told me they did not have a business plan.

The bottom line is  plumbing is important, and so is planning your business and communicating it. Most of us need help with this. We need someone to facilitate the process, and keep it moving while we (the entrepreneur) needs time to heal our ego. We need someone to ask the tough questions and take us to those places that we are afraid to see and who can help us create that clear message.

I have never met a successful CEO who was not surrounded by professionals who facilitate the planning, communication and strategy development process.

Admittedly, business planning and purposeful communication are not sexy, nor is plumbing.  But as the CEO of your own making, you quite honestly need this support, whether you know it or not, just like you need a good plumber when the going gets tough.

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