I am fascinated and excited by the growing number of professional women entrepreneurs all over the African continent. Women who dreamed of being in the corporate world, then went on to leading universities at home or abroad, and then joined and rocked the corporate world in the business and financial enclaves of Nairobi, Johannesburg, Lagos or Accra.
Women who then decided that they wanted to own their own corporate world. Brave, heroic and adventurous women. Women determined to dream, and women courageous to pursue those very dreams. I salute you all, my sheros.
Accolades aside, it’s a tremendous undertaking starting and running a business. As a management consultant and business adviser with two decades of international consulting experience, I have seen the highs and lows, the joy and the pain, of running a business.
The joy and pain of those who want fame and celebrity from their venture, the highs and lows of those who want to execute their enterprise demonstrating best practice, the success and disappointment of those who pursue business for purely monetary gain, and the frustrations of business owners as they deal with the inefficiencies of their value chain.
Yes, it is immensely trying. Tremendously tough.
Plan: Think deeply about your business aspirations
But many women generally start their businesses out of a passion. Why else would you leave that well-paid management position in Citibank, GE or MTN? They want to serve that deep cry within them to step out into the deep and start their very own entrepreneurial odyssey. When they separate from their employers and well-paid jobs, the new business card is printed, the website is set up and one or two well-meaning and even carefully chosen employees are recruited.
A few years down the line, things start getting complicated and the business’s reality may not match expectations and aspirations. Then disillusion sets in. Whilst this is ‘normal’ and or to be expected, I often think one of things that smaller women business owners on the continent do not do at all that could ease this dark phase of their entrepreneurial journey is strategic planning.
Whilst to some that may sound like a big phrase, something that only big corporations indulge in and something that is not necessary for the small business, a documented strategic plan is a critical planning tool for the endurance of a business –even in the small and growing business sector. I would even say, especially in the small and growing business sector because of the aspiration to GROW.One is already tested by the very fact that one is an entrepreneur in the SME sector – with many more established, larger, older, and trusted businesses around the corner.
Add to that the desire to make profit, satisfy customers and be responsive to their needs, listen to and train staff, and deal with third party suppliers. Exasperation then sets in.
Envisioning the future of your business
Whilst a business plan is used to assess the viability of a business opportunity, a strategic plan provides focus and direction for moving a business from where it is now to where it would like to get to. It is a futuristic document that documents your vision, your mission, your goals and the ensuing activities for your business over a specified period –usually 3 to 5 years.
Not that you cannot run a business without one, but a more deliberate and focused picture of where you are going and what activities and initiatives it will take to get you and your business there is a valuable exercise in horizon planning and scenario mapping.
Let’s start with the envisioning. Having to deliberately consider a vision statement for your business forces you to think of the purpose of your business, ‘the Why’. And ‘the Why’ is where it all starts. Your response, a succinctly documented vision statement, puts a lot into perspective.
Let’s move on to your mission. What do you do? More importantly, what do you do expressly well than other businesses? What will distinguish your business? In many ways your response to these questions (in a mission statement) will then shape your goals for your business.
I always say it is best to have a maximum of five goals –have one on organisational and people issues, one on branding and communications, including social media, have another on revenue targets, and yet another on your products focused on how you will distinguish your service, your brand and your brand outputs.
Having documented the goals, we then move on your initiatives and all activities. For each goal agreed on, you need to articulate the activities you and your business will undertake to realise each goal. These can be as many as six or seven, but I would say ideally limit it again to five –we want to ensure the possible, let’s KIS and keep it simple.
Have Done All, Do
Having done all that, do. Execute. Have timelines for the achievement of each initiative- I like to say these should be quarterly targets. To support you in execution, for accountability purposes I would say institute a small Advisory Board, or a group of friends who you trust and who are professional enough to respect and value your business aspirations but also comfortable enough to ask you the tough questions about your business.
Alternatively, you could also get a business coach. Many of us doers are driven by our passions and our passions alone. A runner wants to run, a golfer wants to golf and a business owner with a passion for jewelry wants to make and sell jewelry. That’s all very well and good, but if you really want to excel at what you do, whether you are a golfer, a runner or a CEO, a lot of the time you need a little, or a lot of, extra help.
Strategy planning is a tremendous exercise in self-examination and business planning. It takes a lot out of you. It’s hard. You must ask yourself the tough questions, and you probably need someone to guide you through the process so that you don’t just document the first things that come to you mind as you think –it’s more to do with strategic thinking.
And yes, for a small business, it should be done. I promise you.
Have you tried strategic planning for your business? Which aspects were most helpful? What tips do you have for small and medium size enterprise owners?