Creating a business plan is essential to articulate how you will morph your business and reinvent your benefits practice to remain relevant to your clients and prospects. Perhaps you intellectually understand that you need to have a business plan. But then why haven't you gotten around to drafting one? Procrastination caused by fear of the unknown? Well, this is the perfect time of year to start thinking about how to create a roadmap for your business that can guide your day-to-day tactical or operational decisions.

OK, so maybe you have bought into the notion that having a business plan is in fact important. But does it need to be in writing? Yes! Drafting a business plan forces you and your management team to address those inevitably thorny, strategic issues and put a stake in the ground about the focus of your business going forward. So how do you go about creating one? You may be concerned because you have never written one before. Who should be involved? What does it need to say? What is the process your team should follow? Where do you begin? It may seem a bit foreign and perhaps even overwhelming, but you can relax. As a forward-thinking benefits adviser, you are already ahead of the competition. Besides, we can help.

 

Get started

Let's talk about the process from a very high level to start. Business planning is a strategic exercise that will, by its very nature, be an iterative process. That is, it will undoubtedly require multiple versions or iterations. The content will need to be refined several times until you are satisfied that you have accurately captured all the key elements.

Information gathering to establish the base line for your business is a logical place to start. Knowing where you are is essential when starting a journey. Gather the key financial metrics for your business. But also pull together information about your marketing positioning, service standards and any guarantees, client perceptions, etc.

You may be asking yourself, who should you get involved in the process? Obviously, availability and the time commitment involved are factors. On the other hand, how many people do you involve in the planning of the holiday party? Isn't the future of your business at least as important as that? Engage key members of your staff to help you to gather the factual data about the current status of your business. A select group of team members that interact regularly with clients and employees (business development resources, producers, consultants, account managers) would be likely participants. After all, they are the face of your business to your clients and prospects. And they presumably also possess the institutional knowledge regarding client expectations and perceptions. So their input will be very helpful.

Schedule a strategy session several weeks from now (preferably off-site away from operational distractions) where collectively you will discuss the key issues involved in your business.

At a minimum, you will want to assure yourself that the discussion, and ultimately the plan document, accurately articulates answers to the following questions:

* Who does your business serve? Who are your target customers? Who should be interested in your services?

* What is your business? What services and products does it sell? What will your firm sell in the future? What is your value proposition? What is your competitive advantage?

* What have your financial results been for the last three years? What will they be for the next three years? What strategies will you employ to grow your business? What strategies will you employ to improve profitability? What role will technology play in your business?

* Where will a prospect be likely to hear about your firm? Where is your business located? Where will your future clients come from? Where will you grow your practice?

* Where do your best leads come from? Where will your future management come from?

* How will your business grow? How much will it grow? How quickly? How will you recruit the talent that you need? How will we know when success is achieved?

These questions are a great place to start, and should lead to some lively discussions. Designate a team member to keep notes to capture the commentary and suggestions. Some of the dialogue will be interesting to know, but may not materially alter how you conduct business in the future. However, invariably you will hear some real "nuggets of knowledge" that can provide breakthrough insights. If you are uncertain about your ability to objectively facilitate such a session(s), a qualified business adviser may be of assistance.

 

Drill down

At the outset, collect a wide range of comments and input. But as the discussion evolves, the potential significance of certain elements should become more pronounced and your thinking should begin to gel. Drill down on the topics that have real impact on business development and customer interaction initiatives. Think broadly and strategically about how to accelerate the growth and profitability of your practice. And keep it real. That is, focus on what is realistically possible within the time horizon that you are considering. You should begin to develop action plans and goals that are realistic but that cause your organization to stretch or reach to achieve.

Ultimately, a plan should begin to come together, including the financial resources and human capital that will be required to achieve your objectives. As you begin to draft your plan document, consider the following table of contents:

* Executive summary of your business, including an "elevator pitch" statement of your business purpose

* Client value proposition

* Target markets

* Products and services to be offered

* Capabilities required

* Marketing strategy and positioning

* Growth strategies

* Competitive advantages

* Sales and distribution

* Client and customer interaction

* Enabling technologies

* Operational support

* Organization structure

* Human capital recruitment and development

* Summary of key business relationships (carriers, vendors, service providers, etc.)

* Corporate structure

* Capital structure

* Succession planning

It will be challenging and sometimes frustrating. But ultimately it will be worth it to have a written guide for your business that will influence the key decisions that will set your future direction. A well-conceived business plan will become your road map for success, and it will enable you to transform your business model to respond to the changing market conditions.

Kwicien is managing partner at Baltimorebased Daymark Advisors. Reach him at jkwicien@daymarkadvisors.com.

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