He urges business owners to use planning for the year ahead not only as an opportunity to reflect on the performance of their business itself, but also on the wider context in which it operates - where it fits into the market and how to gain market share.
Lang’s advice is do year planning as a proper exercise, and not merely as a bit of light day-dreaming. “Take a day or two out of your business. Sit to one side, where it is quiet. Focus and document your thoughts. This is too important an exercise to end up in the bottom drawer,” says Lang.
When you are ready with your plan, sit down with your team and start working on their buy-in. Do it with an open mind and accept some of their suggestions that are relevant, he says. A plan cannot be fully implemented without the collaboration of the whole team.
To help you structure your year-planning exercise, Lang provides the following checklist of things that need to be contemplated:
- Look at the wider picture: What is happening globally, nationally and regionally regarding micro and macro-economic factors such as global demand for goods and services, exchange rate, interest rates, fuel costs, inflation, electricity supply and water supply?
- Check the resources and infrastructure available to your business: equipment, staff, storage, administrative capacity, transport and logistics, as well as IT and communication.
- Review your insurance policies: Can you bring your premiums down? Shop around for better options and update the value of your insured assets to make sure that you are not over- or under-insured.
- Check your liquidity: Any growth that is not underpinned by a plan to make sure that you will have adequate cash can be very dangerous and can bring the whole business down even as it expands.
- Look at your your efficiencies: How can you do things better faster and cheaper without compromising quality?
- Investigate alternative suppliers: Who else is there in the market? There is a business case to be made for staying loyal to your stalwart suppliers, but there is no excuse for sticking to the same old suppliers just out of habit. Scout the market and renegotiate your supplier terms.
- Think of targeting new markets and creating new products: If you don’t renew and innovate, your business runs the risk of falling behind and becoming irrelevant. Consider how to use new technology to improve your products and services.
- Spend some time with your financials: look back in order to see what went wrong, and why, and what you can learn from it.
- Scan your competitors: Business owners often say that they don’t bother with the competition - they just focus on doing the best they can. This is a good principle to follow when you are in the swing of things. But when you are in planning mode it is entirely appropriate to spend some time on scouting out your competitors. You can be sure they are watching you carefully too.
- Marketing: Because business owners tend to be mostly focused on operations, they often find what works when it comes to marketing, and then they neglect to develop their approach. Marketing channels and methods are changing rapidly, and you cannot afford to rely only on old methods just because they worked in the past. Are you on top of social media? Are there other platforms that you can use, or get better at using?
- Think of ways to preserve your current customer base: There is scarcely any growth in the economy, so not only are new customers hard to find, but you can be sure that other businesses will be coming after your existing customers. Reach out to your regular customers, listen to them, and focus on improving your service constantly.