Alisha M Pennington is the owner of ATvantage athletic training and a business development mentor.
As the end of the year approaches, entrepreneurs usually have a laundry list of tasks. Of them, there are three tasks in particular that leaders cannot overlook. While they don’t have to be completed before the end of the year, they should be covered annually for annual planning. The information this gathers can help you understand how the market has changed over the past 12 months, understand what shifts have occurred, and provide clarity on next steps.
1. Market Research and Competitive Analysis
If you have a regular customer base, it’s important to hear their opinions, collect feedback, and look at what others have been doing since you entered the market. Each of these exercises should then be used to help determine how services, products and/or the customer experience can be adapted into the next year.
When talking to customers, you want to be precise and to the point with your questioning. Specifically, you want to identify their pain points and desired solutions. Ask questions like:
• What are you currently struggling with regarding (product/industry)?
• What do you need support with related to (product/industry)?
• What bothers you most (product/industry)?
• What doesn’t work for you related to (product/industry)?
To understand their desired solutions, ask questions like:
• What is your ideal version of (product/industry)?
• What would be your (product/industry) dream solution?
• If you could have anything you want related to (product/industry), what would it look like?
When it comes to competitive analysis, consider how others have changed, who remains or is no longer a competitor, how your customer base may contain demographics you did not originally consider, and/or research new products or services that have entered the market. Areas of focus when conducting a competitive analysis include:
• Who do your competitors primarily serve, and how is it different or similar to your audience? Consider age, industry, geographic region, career or life stage, gender, etc.
• What are their strengths and where do they excel? Look at testimonials and reviews, aesthetics, customer experience, and whether they have more or less deliverables or products.
• What results do they deliver? Are there points in their reviews that you could improve in your business? How do they make people feel and how does your brand differ? What are the results clients have after working with them?
The main takeaways to take away from this research are the following.
• What things can you borrow that they do well?
• What are the strengths of your product or service that you should emphasize in your messages?
• What is something that you previously did not think you would need to implement in the future?
2. SWOT analysis
As I’ve written before, after ten years of starting and scaling businesses, I’ve found that a SWOT analysis is one of the best tools for assessing a business and deciding on the necessary next steps. Here’s how to run one.
• Do what I call a ‘business brain dump’ first. Research all aspects of the business, including but not limited to legality, accounting, quality control, marketing, communications, leadership, and more.
• Then divide your answers into four primary groups: what you and your team do well; things you and your team struggle with; areas to benefit from and look forward to; and concerns and risks that may arise. You now have your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
You can now prioritize potential opportunities, minimize threats, and find solutions to weaknesses – all while doubling down on strengths. This creates an efficient way to monitor the entire company and develop a roadmap for the next steps.
3. Set Intent
Probably best suited as an end-of-the-calendar or fiscal year activity, setting intentions is an opportunity to think about what you want next with yourself or your team. This is different from goal setting as goals are generally set as a result of understanding intentions. A quick way to approach an intention setting exercise.
• Identify verbs that describe actions you want to take within the company, such as grow, share, shift, develop, engage, promote, assure, identify, improve, promote, consult, or distribute.
• Add phrases to these verbs that indicate where you want the company to go. For example: “Growing our audience into a different audience.” “Spread the message of our mission further.” “Company engagement with current customer base.”
• Use these intentions to create the goals and subsequent key performance indicators for each leader or department, including yourself.
Intent setting allows you to move towards an end goal without having to define it with a specific yardstick. It creates the opportunity for everyone to feel they can participate in an activity that moves the company forward and allows them to identify the goal and/or associated KPI for themselves. It allows team members to commit while still giving general direction to where you want them to go.
The three tasks suggested above are often overlooked as they are usually done at the start of a business and rarely completed again afterwards. When writing business plans, developing new ideas, or pivoting, you often use and then forget about these techniques as practical, foundational tools to continuously substantiate your next business moves. Leaders often forget to keep asking questions and remain curious about the needs of their customers, overlook the need for an audit of their company or lose sight of their vision while working so hard in the company.
Frankly, this is an opportunity for you to zoom out and work on the business rather than in it. Implementing these practices into your annual calendar will increase decision-making efficiency and make it easy to see next steps while avoiding potential pitfalls. As you perform these tasks, make sure you prioritize the customer experience while keeping the company’s vision in focus.