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Tim Berry:
Business Plans

Get Back to Business Planning Fundamentals

In a recession, it's important to know what adjustments to make to your business plan. Here are three fundamentals to remember.

I'm a baby boomer, born in 1948. I've seen recessions before. I was job hunting during the recession of 1971. My wife and I were deeply in debt and trying to buy a house during the recession of 1982. We sold a house in California and moved to Oregon during the recession of 1992. We had to lay people off--five of 35--during the recession of 2001. And this recession seems like the worst I've seen.

So it's time to go back to fundamentals. That doesn't necessarily mean cutting costs, dropping products or selling off inventory. And it definitely doesn't have to mean cutting people.

The first fundamental is your planning, which essentially means watching things more closely. Track your progress on cash, sales, expenses, new projects, customer satisfaction, internet traffic, ad spending--all of it. And track it more closely.

Look for built-in indicators. It's your business; you know what they are. Think about what drives your sales--or expenses--and how you can get early warning about changes that might affect you. For some, it's as simple as street traffic or floor traffic. For others it's internet traffic or e-mail response rates or deal flow or lead generation. Don't wait for the results to play all the way through your system--look for them early.

One of the first things to do when things get tough is tighten the planning and shorten the planning cycle. Review your progress more often than usual. Think of it as zooming in on the detail--look at things by week instead of by month or by month instead of by quarter.

If ever there were a time for careful planning, it's now. It brings me back to one of my favorite quotes from Dwight D. Eisenhower: "The plan is useless; but planning is essential."

The second fundamental is watching the drivers of cash flow. Keep a very close eye on burn rate vs. revenues. Burn rate, in this context, is a lot like fixed costs, but more. Fixed costs are what you'd pay even if your business closed down. Burn rate is what you pay regularly every month to keep your business running, but without the variable costs of sales or direct costs. That includes probably all of your salaries (unless you have some assembly labor or part-time labor that goes up when sales go up and down when sales go down), your rent, your ongoing marketing expenses, your office expenses and all the rest. If your revenue goes down, you can maintain your burn rate for a while, sacrificing profits; but you can't let revenues stay under the burn rate for very long without losing capital and, if the problem continues, going under.

I know you know that, but I put it here because the vocabulary helps. Revenue vs. burn rate: keep the revenue higher than the burn. And don't forget that if you've got business-to-business sales, business customers are likely to take longer than usual to pay. That involves factoring in collection days--the measure of how fast customers pay what they owe you. If the collection days increase, cash decreases.

The third fundamental is people. Don't make the mistake of laying people off too soon. No matter how carefully you follow your plan, layoffs might be necessary. But don't be too quick because the recession will end. People are hard to find--especially trained people who know your business.

Tim Berry is the "Business Plans" coach at Entrepreneur.com and is president of Palo Alto Software Inc., which produces the industry's leading business planning software, Business Plan Pro, as well as other popular planning applications for businesses. He is the author of The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan and co-author of 3 Weeks to Startup with Sabrina Parsons, both published by Entrepreneur Press.

Susan Gunelius: Marketing Communications

5 Myths That Kill Marketing Copy

If you're going it alone, avoid these pitfalls. 

In my book, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, I teach small and mid-size business owners who can't afford to hire professional copywriters how to write effective copy that will bring the results from their marketing efforts that they want and need. However, just as there are steps you must take to write great copy, there are also mistakes you can make that can destroy your marketing messages and reduce your ROI to a fraction of what it could have been. Whatever you do, don't believe the five myths described below.

1. Consumers care about me and my business
No, they don't. They care about what's in it for them if they pull out their wallets and hand over their hard-earned money to buy your product or service. They don't care that you've been a member of the local Chamber of Commerce for 20 years, and they don't care how cute your kids are (so leave them out of your commercials, please). Consumers care about having their needs and wants fulfilled. The goal of copywriting is to convince consumers that the product or service you're
selling will meet their needs and desires, even if you have to create perceived needs and desires for them. In other words, your copy must focus on the benefits consumers will receive if they buy your product or service. It's great that your business has operated from the same location for 10 years, but for the most part, consumers only truly care about what your business can do for them and how your business can make their lives easier or better. Those are the messages your copy should focus on in order to drive results.

2. I can use the same copy everywhere
No, you shouldn't. Your copy should change depending on the medium where you're using it. For example, if you're writing copy for an outdoor billboard that consumers are likely to have only seconds to view while driving 65 miles per hour on a busy highway during rush hour, your message must be short and to the point with no room for confusion. However, if you're writing copy for a direct-mail piece that will be sent to customers who have requested to receive
information about your business, your copy should be far more detailed with messages that explain, answer questions, and create a sense of urgency to boost response rates.

3. I can use the same copy for everyone
No, that's not a good idea. Different audiences will respond to different messages depending on their demographics, behaviors, experiences and so on. For example, if you're writing copy for a direct-mail piece that will be sent to prior customers, your messages should be very different from those that would appear in a mailing to prospects. One audience is already very familiar with your products and services, while the other has no prior experience to draw from. Clearly, the messages to both audiences must be different to achieve the maximum response rates possible.

4. I need to sound smart in my copy
Not always. The language and tone of your copy should speak directly to the people who are likely to see it. For example, if you're writing copy for teenagers, your copy should be quite different from copy targeted at senior citizens. Consider McDonald's, which goes so far as to change references to its brand name depending on the audience. Turn on MTV and you're sure to see a McDonald's commercial referencing the fast food chain as "Mickey D's". It's also important to omit jargon unless your copy is intended for an audience that will understand and expect it. For example, a business-to-business ad might be an appropriate place for jargon. Again, it always depends on the target audience that you ultimately want to respond to your
marketing message.

5. It's easy to write copy
Never. Writing marketing copy is like no other form of writing. It defies many of the rules you may have learned in English class, and it relies more on subtle persuasion, psychology, creativity and an understanding of your specific business and consumers than any other type of writing. Not all writers are good copywriters, and not all copywriters are good writers. If you decide to write your own copy, study the craft prior to putting pen to paper. And if you decide to hire a copywriter to help you, remember that not all copywriters are the same. Only
invest in a copywriter who has experience and takes the time to understand your business and your customers.

Susan Gunelius is president and CEO of KeySplash Creative Inc., a full service marketing communications provider and branding consultancy, and owner of WomenOnBusiness.com, one of the leading blog communities for business women. Susan is a marketing, branding, social media and copywriting expert with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Her clients include small and large businesses around the globe. She is the author of several marketing, branding and social media books, including Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps published by Entrepreneur Press.

 

 


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