Innovation Is The Heart of Strategy. And Survival.

For Business Owners Only

I’ve been writing about television’s business landscape recently. A reader told me that Australia’s Channel10 is in “voluntary administration.” Death’s door, in other words.

At the same time, I’m teaching an entrepreneurship course at the University of Victoria. We’ve just finished discussing strategy, innovation, and industry life cycles. Sounds complicated, but it’s actually simple:

Strategy tells you three things:

  1. Be unique
  2. in a way that your customers will pay well
  3. so you can defend yourself from inevitable competition.

How do we know competition is inevitable? Because the industry life cycle tells us so:

  • An industry starts with a significant innovation that drives fast growth,
  • followed by more innovation and increasing competition,
  • followed by intense competition, shrinking profitability, and industry decline – including “voluntary administration” 🙁

Many CEOs and business profs discuss strategy and industry life cycles as if they were linear sequences. Which resigns them to the “inevitable” decline, and blinds them to the solution:

Innovation is at the heart of strategy.
Strategy ain’t linear.

Let’s rewrite bullet #1 above. Instead of “Be unique”, let’s say “Innovate”. And rather than a linear list of bullet points, let’s make it circular:

in a way that your customers will pay well
so you can defend yourself from inevitable competition.

You see, not only does innovation get your business going, but it prolongs its longevity.

Apple is one of a few great examples. It’s had several major innovation cycles with each cycle driving its own growth curve. And each has combined to reinforce the strength of Apple’s other innovation cycles. Computers, iPod, iPhone, iPad. All great businesses by themselves, but they’ve combined to create the world’s most valuable company.

Are there lessons here for Channel10? I think so:

1. Forget about the past. It’s gone. Sunk cost. Can’t fix it or change it.

2. Embrace your voluntary administration process. It’s a gift that allows you to rethink, recast, reset yourself.

3. Place innovation at the heart of your strategy.

4. Examine these trends and aim for the future.

Come to think of it, these are good lessons for all of us. Including Apple!

Commoditization Kills

GUEST POST For Business Owners Only

Almost every business owner knows EXACTLY why her business is the best. But most have trouble communicating it briefly and powerfully.

Which means they don’t get the recognition or revenue they deserve.

They need Marc Stoiber. Heck, we ALL need Marc Stoiber.

Marc is a brand consultant, speaker, and writer. In this article he tells you EXACTLY how to communicate what you do best. Powerfully. So you stand out.

Best article you’ll read all week. You have my word.

Commoditization Kills – by Marc Stoiber

Our world has grown incredibly small.

Remember geographically putting a fence around your business? Gone. Now, if you want to set up shop, you can do it anywhere in the world. From your laptop.

Linda Kozlowski, head of operations for Etsy, pointed out there are only three things you need to go global from day 1 – even if your business is selling chickens in brassieres. (Yes, this is a real business, it’s on Etsy, and it’s global.)

What are the three things?

  1. Data – Where are all your potential customers, and what are they looking for?
  2. Technology – How do you build a platform to get your stuff to them? Like, a website?
  3. Payments – How can you get their money?

Data, a website, and a payment system. It’s that simple.

Of course, because it’s that simple, every other person who does what you do, anywhere in the world, can do it, too.

There is no such thing as ‘your territory’ anymore. The earth is your territory, but it’s theirs too.

Which makes it a bit hard to stand out.

You may be the best financial manager in your town, but are you the best in the world? And if you’re not the best, how is anyone going to remember you? People can only remember #1. If you’re second best, you don’t exist.

The good news is there’s a solution. A way for you to profile yourself as #1. It’s called a brand.

Today, I want to talk to you about how brands work. And I want to touch on three very important things you need to build that #1 brand. They are:

  1. Expertise
  2. Importance to your customer, and
  3. Communication

Finally, I want to show you how to wrap it all together with a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). A tool I use all the time to help my clients build brands that build business.

But first…

What are brands?

Most people think they’re logos, colours, or maybe a jingle on a radio ad.

Brands are much more than that. They’re a symbol of the promise I make to you. And the expectation you have of me.


Brands have been around thousands of years.

From the day we dropped from the trees and looked around our scary world, brands were there to make things simpler. They were like shorthand.

Even then, how we painted our face, what sort of bones or feathers we wore as jewellery, even actual burn marks or tattoos we branded ourselves with – they were promises to people around us – this is who I am, this is my tribe, this is how I behave. And they were expectations – from your tattoos, I know that you’re a friend, and you’ll share food.

Nature was masterful at branding. With colours, shapes, and sounds, she provided plenty of promises.

Tiger = I promise to eat you.

Rabbit = I promise to taste good.

Fire = I promise to cook your rabbit, and burn your hand.

This was a big deal. It meant we didn’t have to walk up to tigers again and again, to see what they were all about. Very handy.

As our society developed, we developed ever more complex symbols to help make life simple, and clear. Roman eagles, Masonic icons, swastikas, Namaste icons, Persian lions. The list is infinite.

If the symbols worked, they stuck.

These symbols had incredible power.

Let’s take the crusader’s white tunic with a red cross. From 100 yards, without saying hello or even seeing his face, you knew what you could expect from him.

As time went on, brands became closely connected with business.

This violin is a Stradivarius. Today, it’s worth about $1.7 million. But even in 1700, when Antonio Stradivari made it, it was a big deal.

Want to know a dirty little brand secret?

Neither acoustic analysis, or blind listening tests have ever, ever determined a difference in the sound between Stradivarius and other high quality violins.

The value of a Stradivarius is brand value.

A lot has changed since the days of Stradivarius.

Mass production, for example.

Antonio Stradivari made 960 violins. Apple sells that many iPhones in 2 minutes.

But one thing is truer than ever. A successful brand doesn’t need to involve a better product.

Lucky Strike cigarettes toasted their tobacco. Every other cigarette toasted their tobacco. But Lucky Strike said so, and it became their brand.

Marlboro went one further. They didn’t even talk about a product difference. They just said cowboys smoked their brand. And rode that pony all the way to the bank.

Just a hunch, but I believe you probably would like to be more of a Stradivarius, less of a Marlboro. More of a finely crafted instrument, an expert brand.

So how do you become that?


This is a heart surgeon. He’s a highly trained expert.

This is a financial advisor. He’s a highly trained expert.

Both provide a valuable service. But there are a few big differences. The heart surgeon doesn’t go looking for clients. The financial advisor does. The heart surgeon charges top dollar. The financial advisor doesn’t.


Three reasons:

  • First, chances are the surgeon has declared a very specific expertise. I am not a GP. I am a surgeon. Or even better, I am the only triple bypass surgeon in the Pacific Northwest. You want a triple bypass; I’m the only game in town.
  • Second, the surgeon surrounds himself with other, complementary experts. Brain surgeons, cancer specialists. People he learns from, people who learn from him. Being seen in this company elevates his standing in our eyes.
  • Finally, the surgeon publishes. Like a scientist, a surgeon does research. And to maintain his esteemed position, he stays in the public eye, keynoting at conferences, writing papers, being interviewed.

To the first point, how many of you have declared a very specific expertise?

It’s hard, isn’t it? Because the second you do it, you feel you’re excluding 99% of the potential clients out there. And that’s true. But think of it this way – if you get just 1%, and these folks really, really need you, and will pay top dollar to get you, is that better than getting 99% of the people who don’t really see any big benefit in you, fight every charge, and will leave you at the drop of a hat?

How many of you surround yourselves with other declared experts?

Think tanks? Organizations that are pushing the limits? This is not a networking group, where you’re all just trying to send each other referrals. It’s a brain trust, where you push one another. How many of you?

Finally, how many of you publish?

Again, I’m not talking about putting out passive aggressive sales pitches disguised as blog posts. How many of you put content into the world, on a regular basis, that actually makes the world better for people? It’s hard.

But that’s what experts do.


OK, you’re saying. You got me. I want to be that hyper-specialized expert. I want to declare my expertise. But I’m a general financial planner. How do I do it?

Let me show you a neat trick, guaranteed to produce your expertise, right in front of your eyes.

I’m going to use the example of tires. Bear with me.

When cars were first invented, somebody was clever and figured out how to make tires. That person could perfectly, legitimately claim to make the best tires in the world. He made the only tires in the world.

Now we know that cars became a pretty successful thing. And naturally enough, our tire manufacturer made out like a bandit. So what happened?

Another guy started making tires.

Now let’s say the new guy, having studied our original tire manufacturer, incorporated some new technology. Now his tires were indisputably the best tires in the world.

So did the first guy just pack up and go home? No. He took a look at what people needed. He saw that trucks had been invented. So he invented a truck tire. And voila, he could claim to make the best truck tire in the world.

Now let’s say the same thing happens again. This time, five other manufacturers start making truck tires. Give up? No way. Our genius decided to specialize even further.

He decided to make the longest wearing truck tire. Or the best off road truck tire. Or the safest truck tire. Or the luxury truck tire. Or the cheapest truck tire.  And when he’d picked his niche, he told the world.

Sure he wouldn’t capture the entire truck tire market. But he won a hardcore audience, who would buy his tires no matter what, because they knew they were custom designed for them.

No haggling. No chasing. No negotiations.

Can you do that? Can you start with financial advisor, and keep adding modifiers until you get to a place you can rightfully call your expert zone?


There’s one final critical piece involved in creating your expert brand. Finding out if what you’re creating actually matters.

Today, thanks to the internet, brands are a full-fledged dialogue. Ads don’t get the message out. Consumer reviews do. Bloggers do. Customer service does. Where you rank on Google matters, and we the people determine where you rank.

This may sound scary, but it’s actually awesome.

Before, you didn’t really know if people liked what you were doing. You just lost sales. Today, you can track how long they’re on your site, how many of the right people read each one of your posts, what price point works best for your audience.

Of course, asking people what they want, is hard. It shows your vulnerability. Being vulnerable, and being open to change, stands out like a sore thumb in the business world.

To most of us, there is one thing worse than the fear of death. That’s the fear of looking stupid.

Most companies are so afraid of looking less dignified that they prefer to build a brand that looks proud, stiff, and inhuman, like a stuffed shirt.

So instead, we do anything to cover up any sort of weakness. That way we won’t stick out or get noticed.

In a pre-internet world, this just created brands that looked like Disneyland – perfect, in a kind of plastic way.

In a world of reviews, bloggers, internet transparency, trying to look perfect is a very, very dangerous strategy.


So we’ve talked about becoming an expert brand. Declaring your expertise, surrounding yourself with experts, and publishing.

We’ve talked about how to get to that expertise. Starting with your profession, then adding modifiers until you arrive at a place where you are absolutely the only game in town.

We’ve talked about aligning your expertise with what people want.

Now what?

Now, you create a unique selling proposition. I’ll give you the broad strokes here.

A unique selling proposition is:

  • What you do best in the world
  • That’s important to your clients
  • That you can prove you’re best at.

Answer this question:

I am absolutely the best at ______________ because I offer ____________, ___________ and ______________, and this is super important to my clients because ____________.

Hard, isn’t it?

I’ll give you some examples.

EHarmony is the #1 dating site for folks aiming for serious relationships. That’s because they have a 29 point questionnaire that digs deeper into my real priorities. That’s important to me because hookup sites are just depressing, and I want to move forward!


Nike is the #1 choice for elite athletic shoes, because it’s worn by more sports stars than any other brand. That’s important to me, because I need the inspiration.


John Smith is the #1 knee surgeon in Victoria, because he does twice as many knee surgeries as any other doctor. That’s important to me because, well, it’s my knees!


I teach marketing at university. And I know the difference between me standing up here talking and you nodding your heads, and real learning.

To really learn, you have to commit to doing it. Turning it into a habit. So I have a set of promises for you to make to yourself.

First, promise that you will think of yourself as an expert, not a supplier. You will not let yourself get into situations where you’re bidding against others, where the lowest price wins. You are a surgeon.

Second, promise that if you aren’t the expert you want to be…yet, you will make every effort to become that expert. You will attend every seminar, read every book, and speak with every acknowledged expert in the field until you become that expert. What’s more, you will publish – whether it’s blog posts or podcasts or speeches or books – ideas that clearly demonstrate your expertise. These will not be passive aggressive sales pieces. They will provide value!

Third, you are going to narrow your focus. You will not be a GP. You’ll be a heart surgeon.

Fourth, you are going to diagnose before you prescribe. You are going to listen to what people want, before you create any kind of solution. Dialogue, not monologue.

Fifth, you are not going to sell. You are an expert. Experts don’t sell, pitch, or do any of that nonsense.

Sixth, you will work hard to create, and keep creating your unique selling proposition, or USP. This never ends.


So there you have it. The tools, the USP, the vow that will take you from being a commodity brand to being an expert brand.

Now, the trick is in execution.

I have a workbook that can help you. It’s called the BrandDIY.

But even that won’t take you to the finish line. For that, you need to depend on yourself.

Getting it right is all about getting to work, and making this a practice, not just a neat thing to do.

Sure it takes a bit of effort. But it beats being a commodity any day.

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world.

Are Business Manifestos Worth The Time?

For Business Owners ONLY

Mark Zuckerberg recently published an updated business manifesto for Facebook. Which begs the question, so what?

And these other questions may also jump to mind:

What the heck is a business manifesto?

Why is it important?

Should business owners spend time creating one?

A manifesto is…

“…a published declaration of intentions, motives, or views.” (1)

When applied to business, a manifesto says, “Here’s what drives our business. Here’s where we’re going. This is how we’re going to act along the way.”

It’s strategic. Aspirational. And hopefully authentic.

A business manifesto is important…

…for at least three reasons:

  1. Management must think deeply about its business to create its manifesto. The time and effort it invests produces insights into the business; it shapes and clarifies direction, and it helps make critical decisions.
  2. The business manifesto unites the entire company. By working through the process, managers identify, explore, and resolve a variety of differing views. Done honestly, the process broadens their understanding of the company. It aligns their thinking with company direction and each other.The resulting document then serves as a guide for the entire staff.
  3. The business manifesto influences how the world views the company. It underpins everything that’s visible to outsiders. When created authentically, and when reinforced by management, the manifesto’s themes are reflected in product design, marketing materials, legal contracts. It guides decisions and behaviour. It is felt by customers on support calls; it is experienced by suppliers in the specifications they receive.

As a public document, the manifesto acts as a self-selection vehicle for staff, suppliers, and customers. Powerful and dangerous stuff! Those that like the manifesto will be more inclined to work with you. Those that don’t, won’t.

The ability to guide, to align, and to influence self-selection makes the business manifesto a powerful tool. This power comes from its authenticity which is rooted in introspection, honesty, and trust. However, a failing in any of these will cause it to sound hollow, insincere, inauthentic. Which is worse than having no manifesto at all.

We’re going through the business manifesto process…

…at the FaceToFace Broadcasting Corporation. Difficult, interesting, and necessary work. And we’re not done yet! Read what we’ve come up with so far in our business manifesto, and let us now what you think.

What IS a business plan?

For Business Owners ONLY

This week we’ve been discussing business plan tools and the questions they answer. Lots of great information, for sure, but what’s the SIMPLE answer to “What is a business plan?”

Simply, a business plan is a forward-looking document that helps our business achieve its medium- and long-term goals.

A full business plan should answer all 4 questions that we’ve covered this week:

• How will we make money?

• How will we continue to protect our ability to make money?

• What must we do to achieve our goals?

• How will we afford to make it all happen?

The contents of the business plan depend on how it will be used, and this depends on the intended audience:

A lender wants to know that we can repay their loan with interest. The numbers – the cash flow statement – is key to them. They also want to understand the assumptions that created the cash flow. They want to read our story – the narrative – behind the numbers.

An investor is usually interested in growth and exit because they want a VERY healthy return on their investment. Can we quickly grow our venture? Can we then sell it in three or five years? The business model helps them make investment decisions very quickly: does our business have high margins that are scaleable? How will we reach our intended market and convince them to buy?

Staff want to know what they need to do and by when. So project plans are super helpful. But staff also respond very well to the strategic stuff. What is our long-term direction? What are the key over-arching things I should keep in mind as I do my job?

Management (you and me) are interested in all of it. We probably won’t create very formal documents unless we’re speaking with a lender or investor. But going through the process, and creating some kind of documentation is important. Helps us think. Helps us share our thinking. And helps us manage.

In their simplest forms, each of the four questions can be reduced to a single page: a business model canvas is a great overview. A strategy map tells a very clear story about our company’s medium-term focus. A Gantt chart breaks things down into projects and tasks, deadlines and responsibilities. And a six-month monthly cash flow projection avoids nasty surprises. These are the arrows in our management quiver…

…which are only useful if we use them. They must be referred to regularly – weekly – to check our progress. Hold the team accountable. Adjust, as necessary. And then, every three months, revisit and update to ensure that they reflect our new reality.

This review, this updating, this accountability: THIS is management and it is THE most important part of the business planning process.

I hope this has been helpful…

…and if you’d like to learn more, including seeing live examples of some great planning tools, please join me in one of my live, online sessions on January 19.

Join me on January 19 for a free 60 minute live training on business planning.
Woo hoo! 🙂
Two times to choose from:

What Kind of Business Plan Do I Need?

For Business Owners Only

Yesterday we learned that business owners do “business planning” because they’re trying to answer one of 4 fundamental questions. Today, let’s look at the 4 types of planning tools that answer those questions.

1. A BUSINESS MODEL helps us understand if what we’re doing makes business sense.
Simply, a business model tells us if we’re going to make money.

“I buy pencils for one dollar and sell them for seventy cents.”

“It costs us $100 to acquire a new customer who will pay us $700 in the first year. It costs us $300 to deliver one year of service. Our overhead costs us about $200 a year for each customer.”

Understanding a business model is powerful. It can prevent a new business from starting, as in the first example. It validates when we’re doing something right (the second example). It serves as the basis for focused improvement: “Becoming 10% more efficient at service delivery will generate an additional $30 gross profit per customer.”

Business models are often taught to startups as a way to assess whether a business idea is worth pursuing. But being able to sketch out a business model is a very useful tool for a business owner at any stage. Owners can quickly highlight ways to fine-tune a business, point out potential difficulties, and even uncover new business opportunities.

Business models can be quickly sketched on paper, or created with several purpose-built software products, several of them free. Google “business model canvas” to find templates and software.

Interestingly, a business model diagram (or “canvas”) is now the first thing some investors want to see.

2. A STRATEGIC PLAN discusses differentiation over the long-term.
A business strategy tells how a company will generate value in a way nobody else can.

A strategic plan answers, “Who are we important to?”, “Why?”, and “How will we stay important to them?”

It tells us how we will create a unique and valued space in the market, and then defend that space against all comers.

It is concerned with the medium- and long-term. It tells us to focus on certain key things, to become better than anybody else at those things, and to ignore everything else.

A strategic plan has traditionally been the tool of large consulting firms and larger companies. These firms have enormous momentum, and require long timeframes and significant investments to alter course.

Smaller firms benefit from this type of thinking, too. Having customers that perceive our offerings as unique and valuable is necessary for long-term success. Achieving this takes insight, focus and discipline.

How will YOU create unique, valued and defendable offerings?

3. A PROJECT PLAN helps us get things done.
All the high-falutin’ thinking in the world has zero value unless we can execute.

Successful business owners break their goals down into bite-sized pieces: projects and tasks. They let their team know who’s responsible for what. They communicate expectations such as completion dates. They use metrics to monitor progress along the way.

Project plans range from very detailed and formal to casual and dynamic. Traditional approaches use paper and linear models; modern approaches use software that supports a fluid, organic model.

Regardless of the approach, a project plan tells the team who needs to do what by when.

4. A CASH FLOW PROJECTION tells us if we have sufficient fuel for the journey.
Can we afford to get from here to there?

A cash flow projection is the most potent (and underused) arrow in the business owner’s quiver. It points out ahead of time when we may not have enough money to pay our bills. It tells us if we can afford to invest money in equipment or marketing or expansion.

Further, it helps us fine-tune our operations, to squeeze more juice from the orange.

Even further, it shows us where to invest excess cash in our business to accelerate growth and profit.

A cash flow projection is required by virtually every lender and most investors. It doesn’t guarantee that their loan or investment will be repaid. But it does demonstrate that the business owner has at least thought about it, and is sophisticated enough to warrant their consideration.

After all, isn’t business about making money? Or, at the very least, about not running out of money?

Let’s bring these pieces together…

…in tomorrow’s post. How can we most effectively use these 4 planning tools? And, finally, just what IS a business plan?

Join me on January 19 for a free 60 minute live training on business planning.
Woo hoo! 🙂
Two times to choose from:

Is Business Planning Bull-Oney?

For Business Owners Only

Lots of response to my 10/10/10 business planning approach and my own 2017 strategic plan. No middle-of-the-roaders on this topic! People either love this stuff or get angry about it. Why is that?

Neil Tuckwell, an Australian consultant, pointed out that there’s still no consistency in business plan terms and approaches. “Business plan” means different things to big firms, to small firms, and to startups. Some industries (high tech, in particular) even argue against business plans and business planning.

So where does that leave us? Are business plans crap? Is business planning bull-oney?

It depends on the question we’re trying to answer

We business owners need to think about our businesses. A lot. How is it doing? Where is it going? How is it going to get there? This thinking is what business planning is all about.

And the planning approach we use depends on which of these 4 key questions we’re trying to answer:

1. Does what we’re doing make business sense?
This is the key question that startups need to answer as they work to discover their business model.

And not only startups. This is a good exercise for any of us to go through. Not only does it answer the question YES or NO, but it can highlight a weakness that needs to be shored up, or a strength that we can capitalize on.

What if we could tune up a little here, and polish a little there, and add 10% to our gross margin?

2. How do we (continue to) differentiate ourselves?
Business success rests on uniqueness in some way. Having a product nobody else has. Delivering a service that the competition can’t match. Having a secret process, a special sauce, a perfect location, an amazing marketing approach. Something that attracts customers, frustrates competitors, and strengthens margins.

And once we have this uniqueness, how do we keep it, strengthen it, protect it?

This question should be in the mind of every business owner. Healthy businesses work out the answer and place it at the center of everything they do.

Imagine having a better, higher-margin mousetrap that customers love buying!

3. How will we achieve our goals?
What projects and tasks do we need to do? Who’s going to do them? By when? How will we track our progress?

Business owners need to create direction and accountability. Structure and process. This is the essence of management, and fundamental to any medium- and long-term success.

These are the steps in our 1,000 mile journey of business ownership.

4. Can we afford to get there?
Ah, yes, better make sure not to run out of cash between here and there…

We know we need to create a cash flow projection for the banker when we’re seeking financing. But what about for ourselves? Isn’t it important to keep a close eye on our cash all the time?

Of course it is. And businesses that do, out-perform their peers by miles.

These four key questions determine what kind of “business planning” needs to be done. In my next post, let’s explore the four types of business planning that match these questions.

Join me on January 19 for a free 60 minute live course. Two times to choose from:

How to Use Your 10/10/10 Business Plan to Make Decisions [HINT: FREE ONLINE WORKSHEET]

For Business Owners Only

We’ve been exploring the 10/10/10 Business Plan which I created for those who hate or mistrust business planning. In just 10 minutes a day for three days we’ve explored our company’s aspirations, threats and opportunities, and strengths and weaknesses.

If you’ve reached this point, congratulations! You’ve thought through your business, and you should have already realized some good insights.

But I think there’s more we could do, don’t you?

The problem with writing things on paper is that it’s tough to really dig into the information. Paper notes don’t help us do deeper analysis, and they certainly don’t help us do it quickly.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could instantly answer the following critical questions using information we’ve just recorded?

  1. What things could we do quickly and inexpensively?
  2. What things are potential game changers?
  3. What items carry the greatest risk?
  4. What items don’t support our aspirations?
  5. What could we get done fastest?
  6. What could we get done cheapest?
  7. Which items have been assigned to Sam?
  8. Which high risk items have been assigned to Pat?

Awesome? It would be AMAZING!

I’ve created a terrific online worksheet that is free for you to use. Simply plug in the information you wrote down, and you can instantly answer all of the above questions, and more.

Go here to see a short video demonstration, get the complete workbook, and get your copy of the 10/10/10 Business Planning Worksheet. All with my compliments.

So that next time somebody asks you about business planning, you can tell them that you LOVE doing it!

CLICK HERE to get all the 101010 Business Planning resources.

Business Planning in 30 Minutes, Part 3

For Business Owners Only

Do you hate business planning more than hearing nails on a blackboard? Perfect. Join the rest of us business owners as we search for a better way…

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, we looked at the 10/10/10 business plan. Think about one aspect of your business for 10 minutes. Do this for three days. Voila! Business plan!

So far, we’ve written two sentences that describe our business’s aspirations, and we’ve thought about the OUTSIDE forces that could significantly affect us.

Now onto the last bit: let’s think about our capabilities, those things within our direct control, typically things that are INSIDE the company. This worksheet is a good guide.


What are our strengths? Those things that our customers rely on, things that our competitors aren’t as good at. They could be people, skills, knowledge, procedures, equipment, location, technology – you know what they are. They make us proud of our business, they’re the things we like to talk (brag!) about. And they keep our customers coming back for more.

Ready to do a little more writing?

What should we do to preserve our strengths and capitalize on them? How can we make them even better, even stronger, even more effective? How can we use them to increase our reach, our revenue, our gross margin, our customer satisfaction?

Describe these things at a high level. Perhaps you teach business owners using the Internet – just a random example 🙂  What about using a cool new technology to help ANY business owner, ANYWHERE, in a LIVE public setting? Let’s write it down:

Use the CZ technology to offer free, online advice to business owners around the world.

By achieving this, how much will your business measurably improve? Circle one: Lots  Little

How much money / effort will it take to achieve this? Circle one: Lots  Little

How much time will it take to achieve this? Circle one: Weeks  Months

How certain are you that this can be achieved? Circle one: Very  Unsure

Is this consistent with your corporate aspiration? Circle one: Yes  No

Who from your team would be responsible for this?

Use this worksheet and write down a few potential objectives. One is good. Three is better. Eleven is probably too many.


I hate to admit this, but we’re not perfect. D’oh! In fact, we could be downright awful at some things. Those things could be hurting our business significantly. Hurting the quality of our products and services. Hurting our reputation. And hurting revenue, gross margin, and customer satisfaction.

The good news is that we get a fresh start. We’ve got a whole new year to solve these problems. Let’s use it to become as good as we possibly can!

Use this worksheet and write down how we’re going to improve on things we don’t do well.

For me, marketing is my weakness. I love to teach, I love to write, and I love to help business owners. But I don’t do nearly enough effective marketing. So I need to…

Find more effective marketing channels and partners.

If we do NOT achieve this, how much could our business be HURT? Circle one: Lots  Little

How much money / effort will it take to achieve this? Circle one: Lots  Little

How much time will it take to achieve this? Circle one: Weeks  Months

How certain are you that this can be achieved? Circle one: Very  Unsure

Is this consistent with your corporate aspiration? Circle one: Yes  No

Who from your team would be responsible for this?

Use this worksheet. Write down your improvement suggestions.


You’ve made it this far, and you’ve done a great job. Well done!

And, as a reward for your hard work, I’ve got a special holiday gift for you in my next blog post. It’s going to make planning even easier for you…


Business Planning for Those Who Hate Planning

For Business Owners Only

Hate business planning? Think it takes too much time, is inaccurate, and doesn’t add any value to your life? Join the rest of us… 🙂

The 10/10/10 business plan may be for you. Spend ten minutes a day for three days and you’ll create a wonderful plan. It may be all you need to guide you through the year. Or it may be a good start on something more comprehensive. Either way, time well spent.

We started yesterday by writing two sentences that describe your business’s aspirations. If you haven’t done that yet, do it now.

Today, let’s think about the situation OUTSIDE your company (this worksheet will be useful).

These are things beyond your control. Significant things. Things that could really affect your business in 2017 (or beyond), for better or worse.

What are the opportunities?

What is happening outside your company that, if properly managed, would be really good for it? Think about industry trends. New technologies. Exchange rates. Regulatory changes. A new set of potential customers. A competitor leaving your market.

What’s going on in the world beyond your doors that could really help you?

Now – and this is where you’ll need to write things down – what could/should/must you do to take advantage of these opportunities? Describe things at a high level. For example, perhaps you do commercial building maintenance and you hear about a new elevator refinishing technology. Can you get exclusive rights to it for your city? Write it down.

Get exclusive rights to the Acme elevator refinishing technology for Victoria.

By achieving this, how much will your business improve? Circle one: Lots  Little

How much money / effort will it take to achieve this? Circle one: Lots  Little

How much time will it take to achieve this? Circle one: Weeks  Months

How certain are you that this can be achieved? Circle one: Very  Unsure

Is this consistent with your corporate aspiration? Circle one: Yes  No

Who from your team would be responsible for this?

Use this worksheet and write down a few potential objectives. Ten is probably more than enough.

What are the threats?

What outside forces could negatively affect your business in 2017? Similar to the opportunities above, think about industry trends. New technologies. Exchange rates. Regulatory changes. One or more customers leaving you. A new competitor entering your market.

What could/should/must you do to defend yourself against these threats?

For example, imagine that a government regulation will eliminate 40% of your customers in 6 months.

Significantly increase sales and marketing efforts in non-government areas.

If you do NOT achieve this, how much could your business be HURT? Circle one: Lots  Little

How much money / effort will it take to achieve this? Circle one: Lots  Little

How much time will it take to achieve this? Circle one: Weeks  Months

How certain are you that this can be achieved? Circle one: Very  Unsure

Is this consistent with your corporate aspiration? Circle one: Yes  No

Who from your team would be responsible for this?

Use this worksheet and write down as many as ten potential objectives.

Great job! You’re two-thirds done. See you tomorrow for Step 3.

Busines Planning Season. Ugh! :-(

For Business Owners Only

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I’m supposed to be thinking about 2017. Charting a course. Setting direction. Yada yada.

But business planning sucks.

It takes too much time. It gets too finicky and complicated – especially the numbers. And worst of all, business planning never turns out the way I planned. So why bother?

Yup. I agree with everything you just said. Business planning IS awful. In fact, there’s only one thing worse than planning. And that’s NOT planning.

I think I have a solution. Let’s do a 10/10/10 business plan. 10 minutes today. 10 tomorrow. And 10 the day after that. I guarantee you’ll have a plan.

It may not be perfect. But no plan is.

It won’t be long. But who wants a long plan?

It WILL show your clear priorities, and you WILL be able to use it every day.


‘Kay? Let’s do it!

Take 10 minutes and write 2 sentences about your company’s aspiration (use this worksheet if you like).

Yeah, it’s only two sentences, but take your time and use the whole 10 minutes. It’s important to get the RIGHT two sentences!

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where do we want our company to be in 5 or 10 years?
  • Who do we serve, and why do we serve them?
  • What does our customer’s success look like? How can we help them achieve it?

Make your two sentences inspirational. Uplifting. Write them so that your staff and customers can connect to them emotionally. It isn’t about money or numbers, it’s about something greater than ourselves and the day-to-day activities we do.

Imagine you’re with a class of sixth-graders. Their teacher just asked you, “What is your business trying to achieve?” Answer simply and authentically.

A bookkeeper might say, “We love helping small businesses succeed. We take their numbers and turn them into awesome information. We want our clients to unhesitatingly recommend us to other growing businesses.” Yeah. I know. Three sentences. Believe me, it’s fine… 🙂

What about a sheet metal manufacturer? “We want to be Vancouver Island’s most innovative sheet metal manufacturer. If a business problem can be solved with sheet metal, we want to be there.”

A carpenter. “I love making people’s homes warmer and cozier by adding wood finishes and furniture. When Victoria homeowners think of renovating, I want them to think of me.”

Need a hand getting started? Write “We want to become…” and see what shows up on the page.

You’ve got 10 minutes. Print out this worksheet, and I’ll see you tomorrow for Step 2.