At this point in the year, many astute benefit advisers are thinking about the results that were achieved last year and whether their initial organizational goals for 2014 will be achievable and sufficient to meet their income needs. Now is the time to reflect upon what you can do differently to improve results and to make adjustments in operations to respond to the changes in a very dynamic and recently tumultuous marketplace. Waiting until late summer will not cut it, and too much is at stake, right? So where should you start?
Clearly having a written business plan for your business is absolutely essential. Since we know that the majority of you do not have written business plans, now is a great time to consider the creation of a written document for your business. If you dont know where you are going any road will get you there. So give it serious consideration.
Consider a business plan a road map; a guide to running your business. It should articulate your business purpose and your mission. Who are your customers? What is your value proposition? How will you grow your business? How much realistically can it grow? Will it remain profitable? And what resources will you need to make it all happen? These are some of the myriad of questions that need to be answered in a thoughtful, cogent manner.
You may be asking yourself, why does my business plan need to be written? After all, you have it all in your head and youve gotten this far, right? First, the very discipline of writing out the plan forces you to think through all the issues that are involved in managing your business and to succinctly articulate why your business matters. It forces you to put a stake in the ground and make some hard decisions. Putting your plan in writing makes it more definitive or permanent, and it will solidify your commitment to the plan. And it will be easier to clearly and effectively communicate your plan to internal and external audiences without any misinterpretation. Need another reason? Historically, businesses that have a written business plan have a higher success rate. And given the market conditions, succeeding should be high on your priority list.
Business planning is a strategic exercise that will by its very nature be an iterative process. Consider starting with information gathering to establish the baseline for your business. Knowing where you are is essential when starting a journey. Gather the key financial metrics for your business, and also put together information about your marketing positioning, service standards and any guarantees, client perceptions, etc. Engage key members of your staff to help you to gather the factual data about the current status of your business. Involve a select group of team members that interact regularly with clients and employees (business development resources, producers, consultants, account managers, etc). Consider scheduling a strategy session (preferably off-site away from operational distractions) where you can discuss the key issues surrounding your business.
At a minimum, think about:
- Who does your business serve? Who are your target customers? Who should be interested in your services? Who are the critical business relationships? (carriers, vendors, advisers, etc)
- What is your business? What products and services does your business sell? What will your firm sell in the future? What is your value proposition? What is your competitive advantage? What strategies will you employ to grow your practice? What strategies will you employ to improve profitability? What role will technology play? How will you compete with public and private exchanges?
- When was your business established? When do your clients need your services most? When the marketplace changes, as it inevitably will, will your business be ready? How will you morph your business model in light of ACAs impact on compensation?
- Where will a prospect be likely to hear about your business? Where will your future clients come from? Where do your best leads come from? Where will your future management talent come from?
- How will your business grow? How quickly? How much? How will you recruit the talent that you need? How will you know when success is achieved?
These are important questions to be considered and you should spend an appropriate amount of time thinking about the answers. Contact us if you need help.
Ultimately a plan will begin to come together, including the financial resources and human capital that will be required to achieve your objectives. Consider these topics for your table of contents:
- Executive summary
- 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
- Financial goals and projections
Clearly, the document you will be creating can be used with your own management team to run your business. It can be referenced when important strategic decisions need to be made. You will want to periodically update it so that it remains current and reflective of how you are conducting business at a point in time. Consider sharing it with your trusted business advisers, including your attorney, accountant, and tax adviser. Raising money? Seeking financing? Considering a merger? Youll need a business plan for certain. Share it with your staff and new hires. Help everyone that impacts your business to better understand your business and what their role is. Help them, so that they can more effectively help you.
So plan for success, because the alternative is not very attractive.
Kwicien is managing partner at Baltimore-based consulting and advisory services firm Daymark Advisors and a monthly columnist for EBA. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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