Village Think: How can small businesses get motivated to think more strategically?

I have been reading recent Linkedin Group posts about what it takes to have a successful business. The discussions and debates remind me of the days I served as a university technology manager. In technology management (aka tech transfer) the great debate is whether the best tech managers are the PhDs, MBAs or the attorneys.

The truth is that it takes a Village. I suppose it is self aggrandizing for any one of these groups of people to believe they can do it all by themselves better than the other groups. But, you gain more from having complimentary know-how.

Most participants in the online debate over what it takes to have a successful business list bits and parts of what is required. The following items have been noted:

1. Initial Capital Injection
2. Differentiated Niche Products and/or Services
3. Business Plan
4. Marketing Plan
5. Plan Implementation
6. Marketing Tools
7. Passion
8. Positive Energy
9. Physical Stamina
10. MBA
11. CPA
12. Business Lawyer
13. Great Customer Service
14. Organizational skills
15. Time Management
16. Leadership skills
17. Continuing Education
18. Staff
19. Customers

The truth is that it takes all of the above. It takes a wide variety of people with a wide variety of know how. It takes a Village!

There is free or low cost help out there. In Georgia, I have tried the following:

1. Small Business Administration (SBA)
2. SBA funded Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) – University of Georgia, Georgia State University
3. Georgia Governor’s Mentor Protégé Program
4. SCORE
5. Defense Logistics Agency funded Procurement Assistance Center – Georgia Tech
6. Count Me In program for Women’s Economic Independence
7. Clean Water Atlanta Small Business Development Program

These programs provide classes on business planning, business loans, marketing, government contracting, business law, and accounting. Some may advocate that if you do not have a MBA, you do not know enough about business and will fail. The truth is that much of what you need to know, you can learn.

Further, it also takes strategic plans that move off dusty shelves and into actual implementation. Again, we are back to the people factor. You need people that have the know-how, positive energy, and physical stamina to take strategies and implement them. When I worked as a city planner, I coordinated the drafting and approval by City Council of Comprehensive Development Plans (CDP) and Capital Improvement Programs (CIPs). This enormous effort would result in a wish list of projects in two thick plan documents 3-4 inches thick that would get shelved. The plans would collect dust; and we would do it all over again the next year for the annual update. The same is true for most strategic plans, business plans and marketing plans.

Small business counselors will encourage business owners to have plans. Some small business programs will help them draft their plans. However, I have yet to come across a small business program that encourages business owners to dust off their plans and review them. Perhaps no one wants to take the time. Business owners need performance measures. They need to ask themselves if they followed their plans; and if not, why not. This should be done annually, biannually or quarterly. Why have strategic plans that do not get used?

A huge problem for small business owners is that they may not have the money to hire employees to delegate plan implementation to. Where there is a will, there is a way. Ask family members, friends, retirees, neighbors, and students to help. Some students can work for course credit. Finding help takes time. But, this is time well spent.

I had a clothing business in the 80s. I tried a law office. I have had a consulting business that has gone through ups and downs. The key is that you cannot do it all yourself. I am an academic. I have three degrees, licenses and certifications. I love to learn. The learning part of it came easy to me. My credentials cover the full gamut of organizational management, law, and technical know how. I am a certified public manager, certified planner, patent attorney, and engineer. I manage well. I am organized. I plan everything. I know the law and I think analytically. But, I do not care how many degrees you have. If you do not go out and learn what you do not know; and get help in order to expand the ground you cover, your business will fail.

Of course solo practitioners will balk at this. What I am referring to is achieving the vision of building a corporation. Corporations may start with one person. But, to be successful, the organization has to grow in numbers. I serve as a procurement counselor and recently advised a client to look at a $20 meal tab in a restaurant. The $20 could get a business owner nearly three (3) hours of minimum wage help. A lot can be accomplished in 3 hours: database entries, contact relationship management, social media marketing, filing, and direct mailing.

If a business owner approaches business growth with the understanding that it will take Village Think, she may survive the first five (5) years. She will need to balance all 19 of the items noted earlier and manages to keep costs low overall. The key is to be willing to give each item some real thought and effort.

Author Bio: Clovia founded Lemongrass Consulting in 2005 with 25 years of government work experience and serves as a procurement counselor in the Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC). Lemongrass Consulting provides strategic planning solutions including government contracting strategic marketing plans. http://www.lemongrassplanning.com (@lemongrassplans)

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