Strategic business thinking: helping innovative, ambitious and potential high growth businesses to succeed
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  • Does your business have a social media strategy? Jun 11, 2013

    This post is taken from my recently updated blog page, the full content of which can be viewed at Fire London.

    I am not an expert on the intricacies of social media but I have started to take a keen interest in this channel of communication. That you are reading this blog means that we likely both have a mutual appreciation of the medium!

    As I learn more about social media I have been adapting my consulting brain to think long and hard about what all this means for small businesses. This post is aimed at those of you who are seeking to adapt your business to a rapidly changing marketplace but are a little unsure as to how best approach it.

    Why is social media important for businesses?

    For businesses large and small the keyword is adaptation. Adaptation is a means of competitive advantage, with its roots in biology and natural selection: those that are able to adapt to their surroundings survive and prosper. The rapidly evolving pace of change in the digital world represents one of the greatest adaptation challenges for businesses of all kinds. Brian Solis continues with a biological theme and calls this Digital Darwinism: where technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of many organizations to adapt.

    It is very important to emphasise that social media is just one element of business adaptation but it is an important one. How companies use social media to adapt over the next few years will be critical to their long term success. My strong personal view is that companies that choose not to adapt do so at their peril.

    Thinking about social media for your business

    Whether you are already doing social media (which I suspect a lot of you are) or are seeking inspiration to begin your campaign, here are 3 questions to ask yourself:

    1. Why are you engaging with social media? The answer should most definitely not be “because you think you should” or “because everyone else is”. Is it to raise your profile and increase brand awareness? For customer service purposes? Or another reason?
    2. How will you use social media to do achieve these objectives and how will your social media engagement support the delivery of your overall business ambitions?
    3. What social media activity are you going to undertake? Use this to underpin your social media strategy. I define what good strategy looks like in an earlier post, and your social media strategy should follow exactly the same principles: it must be action specific.
    In order to help you answer the questions above and arrive at a robust social media strategy, here are a few more things to think about and remember:

    1. Choose social media channels that align with the usage characteristics of your customers. Not sure what I mean by that? Then look at incredibly helpful infographics such as this one. Consider the demographic of your customer (typical gender, age range etc) and how they will likely engage with your business. Use these informed assumptions to focus your efforts through the most appropriate social media channel. There is a great blog post from @econsultancy on how Nike uses different social media channels to target its customers which you should read to inform your own strategic thinking.
    2. Learn from your established competitors. In helping a friend of mine devise her approach towards social media for her aesthetics business, we did a quick review of competitor’s social media channels. One very successful key competitor had both Facebook and Twitter accounts but their Facebook following (number of Likes) outstripped their Twitter following (number of Followers) by 6 to 1. Obvious statistics like this can be used to make informed assumptions about where competitors are likely seeing the most social media ROI (Return On Investment) and hence where my friend might want to focus her efforts. Of course, this was based on quick analysis and I’d always recommend further digging as there may be underlying reasons for such trends, but it’s a starter for ten that you can use to inform your approach.
    3. Think realistically about the time that you have to deliver your planned social media activity. Take a ‘resource realistic’ approach. Focus on those channels that you believe will benefit your business the most and execute your engagement through them well. You can add others in time.
    4. To reiterate the point about being action specific, remember that signing up for a Facebook page and Twitter account does not mean you are ‘doing’ social media. The best comment I have heard recently was a call from a senior individual to colleagues to “start Twittering”. If that doesn’t worry you then it should!
    5. Also remember that ROI from social media may not be as obvious as, say, a traditional advertising campaign and it is notoriously difficult (though by no means impossible) to measure. This is another reason to be clear about why you are engaging in social media.
    6. Finally, be sure to set yourself a clear social media strategy but don’t be afraid to experiment and go where the results are good. Remember adaptivity is the key!

    I’ve been talking to a number of small business owners who are only too aware of the fact that they are behind in their thinking about how to best use social media to develop their business.

    The above is intended to provide you with a helpful starting point to think creatively and strategically on this topic. A clear and well executed social media strategy is a source of competitive advantage for your business. So think about how you can use your agility to take on your bigger competitors in the market and grow your own business accordingly.
  • Business planning - is it worth it? May 30, 2013

    Hello, this is my first blog post on UKBF.

    It is taken from a post I put up on my own blog a few weeks ago entitled To business plan or not to business plan, that is the question. Everyone has a different view on this subject so these are just my own thoughts based on my experience of working with a range of businesses of all shapes and sizes. I'd be very interested to hear your views based on your own experiences.

    There is an lot of healthy debate ongoing at the moment about the value of the traditional business plan, that document that businesses have, for a long time, prepared to formally present their business idea and share with investors in order to attract funding.

    In this post I want to summarise the debate and give you my observations set against 3 forthright theories.

    Theory 1. Traditional business plans just say what you want them to

    There is no precise definition of what a business plan is and what information it must contain. According to conventional wisdom though, your business plan will likely be prepared against a set of headings that look something like this:

    • Mission and vision
    • Product or service
    • Organizational structure and leadership
    • Market opportunities, customers and risk
    • Action Plan
    • Financial data, including profit and loss and cash flow
    In relation to the above headings, the task of preparing a traditional business plan can be an academic exercise, involving the simple transfer of a business idea from someone’s head onto a piece of paper.

    I have lost count of the number of business plans I have seen prepared in this way, just a collection of thoughts about what someone thinks their business will look like. Such plans are dangerous because they use untested assumptions and lack any real analysis or strategic thinking. They are also totally inflexible to first customer contact which brings me onto my second observation.

    Theory 2. In the start up world, traditional business planning comes later

    It was the American World War II General , Douglas MacArthur, that is reputed to have said, “No plan ever survives its first encounter with the enemy”. Something that Steve Blank has adapted to say that “no business plan survives first contact with customers”.

    Steve Blank is the leading proponent of the ‘lean start-up’ movement. You can read all about Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything in this fantastic article from the Harvard Business Review.

    He proposes that, instead of writing a full-fledged business plan, start ups should initially focus on their business model. A business model describes how your company creates, delivers and captures value and is designed to change rapidly based on early contact with customers.

    His view is that “the primary objective of a start up is to validate its business model hypotheses until it finds one that is repeatable and scalable (it continues to iterate and pivot until it does). Then it moves into execution mode.” It is at this point, he argues, that the business needs a business plan: “a document that articulates the model, market, competition, operating plan, financial requirements, forecasts and other well-understood management tools”.

    Theory 3. But traditional business planning should not be discounted

    Steve Blank’s methodology is heavily focused around the start up movement. I don’t want to get into detailed definitions, but by start ups, I am referring to technology-orientated entrepreneurs as distinct from ‘small businesses’ which can be thought of as a more generic definition for any new, small scale business operating across a range of sectors and industries.

    For start ups, the lean / business model approach is gold and it is gaining significant momentum as a methodology around the world. But for many small businesses the traditional business planning approach can be a very helpful way to articulate thinking and get it down on paper. It provides a logical format and plan to be followed. In my view, this is helpful to experienced individuals and businesses that are operating in more traditional and less technology led sectors or those new to the world of entrepreneurship with less direct business knowledge.


    Think carefully about your business and your own experience. Decide what type of business plan you need or whether you need one at all. For some businesses , the lean start up methodology will be more appropriate.

    For those of you, and I suspect it will be the large majority, who believe that a traditional business plan is more appropriate to meet your needs then I’d urge you to think creatively about how you prepare that plan. Rigorous examination is required of the market that you will operate in and who your customers and competitors are. Think carefully about what your business model is and incorporate this into your business planning – the two concepts are mutually supporting not exclusive.

    It is up to you what approach you choose to take to ‘business planning’ or otherwise: “there is no precise definition of what a business plan is and what information it must contain”. If you choose to produce a business plan then remember that it is your tool for guiding the success of your business, be creative in how you produce it and use it wisely.