As we assist clients in reviewing the elements of a business plan, we ask the clients how they are going to deal with a particular issue. The response we often hear is, Ill cross that bridge when I come to it. In other words, Ill deal with that problem if it occurs, but I dont want to be bothered with it now.
One of the things weve learned about highly successful entrepreneurs is they almost never use this phrase. Rather, theyre continually thinking about problems that might occur in the future, and they develop contingency plans to deal with them. As a result, if the problem does occur, they're ready, and the problem is resolved without much of an incident.
Our experience indicates these same issues can become major problems if theyre not anticipated and contingency plans are not developed. The lesson here is that anticipating the future and planning ahead can make the business journey a lot smoother.
The issues that we have found to be the most difficult for clients to address include:
What are the assumptions behind your sales and earnings forecast?
Have you identified your competition? Have you looked at your competitors websites and checked on prices, breadth of their line, etc. If your competitors have storefronts, have you counted the number of customers per hour or day? Most folks overestimate sales and underestimate their expenses and the amount of time it takes to gain market share.
How will you go about finding customers?
Its a rare business that has customers find them. Have you developed a website? Does it contain the key words to get you on page one of a Google search? Do you have social-network experience? Have you developed a marketing plan?
How much contingency funds might be needed to cover unanticipated events?
Stuff happens. If sales are slow or if payments are extended, do you have a reserve to carry you until you have sufficient income to pay your bills?
How do you handle possible threats to your business?
Consider events such as a new competitor or a competitor significantly cutting his prices. Suppose you get sick; what then? What if another recession occurs, a key employee resigns or quality issues occur?
What is your distinctive advantage over your competition?
You can claim better quality and better service, but you need time to demonstrate those claims. Cutting prices will likely result in your competitors matching. Longer life, demonstrated gains in technology, two-hour response on service requests and back-up inventory are examples of an advantage vs. your competitors.
Do you know how to close a sale?
Its tough enough to get prospective customers in the door or to access your website. But to have a business, you need to close the sale. Having a competitive advantage will help, but you will need the skills to build relationships and establish trust.
If you have not thought through these issues and have contingency plans to deal with them, the toll for crossing the bridge could readily be your business.
C. Norman Beckert, Idaho district director for SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. firstname.lastname@example.org