By Sam Ashe-Edmunds, Demand Media
Corporate planning requires marrying history with vision.
The most successful business owners don't wait for growth to happen they take well-planned steps to improve their products or services, operations and delivery systems. This type of forward thinking requires a combination of research, accurate business records and entrepreneurial instinct. Putting all three together requires thoughtful planning and continued effort.
One of the challenges of planning business strategy is having access to accurate, up-to-date business data, including detailed sales figures, financial reports, departmental budgets and customer service records. For example, it's not enough to have sales volumes numbers, even by year or quarter. To plan for the future, you must know which of your products or services have delivered the highest profit margins and gross profits. You must analyze your distribution channels by sales volumes, selling costs, margins and gross profits. Take steps to institute expansive and timely reporting procedures for all of your departments.
No matter what you're planning, you'll need to include multiple departments in your execution. For example, if you plan on adding a new distribution channel, your IT, shipping and marketing departments might be involved. If you plan on reducing your labor costs, you'll need to work with your production, finance and human resources departments. Call on experts in every area that will be involved with any planning you're doing, even if it means hiring a consultant or contract services company in one or more area.
Many strategic plans require money. Even if you don't need much capital to launch a new initiative, you might need to fund it with sales revenues. Strategic planning can be very challenging if you don't have accurate and up-to-date cash flow statements, master and departmental budgets, debt-service and credit reports and profit-and-loss statements. If you do your own books, hire a professional accountant to help you learn how to create a variety of financial reports you can keep current once the accountant has helped you create them.
Even if you've got all the internal history, data, reports and operational information you need to help make strategic plans, you'll need to know what's going on in your marketplace that might affect your decisions. Visit your competitors or the places where they're selling to see how they compare to your products or services. Visit the websites of trade associations, industry magazines or professional blogs to find marketplace research and learn about trends. Conduct customer satisfaction reviews, surveys of potential customers and focus groups to help you float ideas you are planning. Subscribe to business magazines to stay abreast of potential legislation or economic conditions that might affect your business plans.
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