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Pieces of a Puzzle

Have you ever had one of those days when the pieces of life’s puzzle just don’t seem to fit together? You know you have all of the necessary pieces right in front of you, but you just cannot get them in the right order.

Pieces of a Puzzle

PUTTING TOGETHER A PLAN FOR LONG-TERM SUCCESS

By Fran Carville, CRM, Carco Awards/Carcoawards.com

Have you ever had one of those days when the pieces of life’s puzzle just don’t seem to fit together? You know you have all of the necessary pieces right in front of you, but you just cannot get them in the right order.

If only you had a picture of the completed puzzle to use as a guide, like the picture on the front of the puzzle box. But this puzzle has no directions, no diagram, no picture, no instructions of any kind to help put it together correctly.

For many of us, the past year and a half has been somewhat of a puzzle. Media seemed filled with frightening news of company closures, bankruptcies, layoffs, and just bad times all around. What used to work in your business stopped working, customers you could always count on canceled their events, and consumers in many marketplaces lacked reasons to buy your products.

All in all, this has been a challenging time for retailing and has presented a completely new puzzle to figure out.

But no matter how difficult the puzzle, no matter how challenging the times, it is our job as business owners and managers to survive and grow. We have all of the pieces to move forward; we just need to take a little time to determine how to fit the pieces together successfully. Because for us, anything less than success is simply not an option. It is our job to change the focus from “business as usual” to reinvigorate our businesses by putting the unfamiliar puzzle pieces for success together.

It is time to focus on our business priorities for the second half of 2021 and beyond. Time to get our ducks in a row. Time to turn the focus away from “what used to work” to “how we move forward successfully.”

So, when was the last time you focused—really focused—on making a plan for continued success? When was the last time you did more than just survive in the current retail climate?

Been a while, you say? Well, today is the day you start to put the puzzle pieces together for your future success—for your livelihood. Today is the day you start to make a plan that will position you to move your business in a healthy direction for today’s retailing environment. Today is the day you start to move your business forward!

THE PUZZLE PIECE GUIDE

The first step to putting the puzzle pieces together is to develop a business plan. I know, I know! Not as exciting as creating a beautiful, one-of-a-kind award sure to thrill the recipient. Not as challenging as learning a new engraving technique. Not even as much fun as working with your most difficult customer (you know the one). Let’s face it: A business plan can be just plain boring. Borrrrring!

But crossing your arms, stomping your feet, and yelling “No!” over and over will only postpone completing your puzzle for success. (I know this from personal experience.)

And while planning may not be as exciting as other aspects of your business, it is something that can make a real difference in tomorrow’s marketplace.

I am guessing that most of you already have a business plan. Maybe a college professor suggested it to you years ago or you needed one to secure a loan. How long has it been since you even looked at your plan? If it was written pre–COVID-19, it may not be as relevant as it once was. The lack of a good, revised plan can cause you to wander aimlessly through the second half of the year. No revised plan means no new ways to grow and no path for greater profits. No revised plan means no way to start putting those puzzle pieces together and growing your business in a changing marketplace.

Let’s look briefly at four parts of a plan that will help you start moving forward.

1. THE PUZZLE CALLED ‘YOU’

The first major component needed for future success is a revised company description of who you are in 2021 and beyond.

  1. A mission statement answers the question, “Why does my business exist?” In 2019, the answer may have been different from what your business stands for today. Maybe your mission is to “provide the best shopping experience available.” That experience may have changed for your customers in the past year and a half, but is that now why your business exists? If you can’t answer this question, if your employees don’t know the answer, it will be hard to move forward. Your mission must be about more than making money and building awards. It must be what defines your business every day.
  2. A company definition is a description of your business, your business philosophy, and your company’s identity. To successfully define your company, it is important to have a clear understanding of your core business, which may be totally different than it was in 2019. What sets you apart from your competition, and how does the marketplace view your store?
  3. A customer definition comprises the demographics of your customer base and of your target audience. For many, this may be the most important part right now. As an example, one of our largest (and most profitable) groups of customers in 2019 was conventions. With COVID-19 restrictions, that market has completely evaporated, and we must now reevaluate how to replace that business. Will conventions come back? Probably, but there is no guarantee when or in what format, so we can’t wait around!

2. THE NUMBERS PUZZLE

Every plan must have a financial section. Chances are good that financial planning has become very important to you recently. This is a part of your business that is easy to ignore when you are doing well, but when times get tough, you must know your numbers.

I once heard it said that you can’t cut your way to success, and I believe that, but I also know that desperate times call for desperate actions. Did you ever think you would have to furlough a great employee or dip into your personal savings? As the economy recovers, review your financials to determine if you made the correct cuts and revise your budget for the second half of the year.

Your budget needs to be very realistic—no “pie in the sky” planning—and must reflect your plan to move forward. This is not the time to spend money you don’t have with offthe- cuff discounts and sponsorships that give you nothing in return. Every dollar you spend must be a necessary expenditure that will help your business grow.

3. THE PROMOTIONS PUZZLE

A well-thought-out marketing plan is your blueprint to attract customers, increase your market share, and earn more profits. Today’s marketing plan may be different from those in past years for several reasons: your promotions budget has been reduced, you are no longer comfortable going into offices to make cold calls, your target audience has evaporated, or you don’t know how to develop new customers in the changing marketplace.

Take a little time to regroup and determine if your target audience is still available to purchase your products. If not, do your research to determine what group of customers you might add to your base. (Since the spread of COVID-19, Insights has been talking to retailers who started offering different products or catering to new markets in the pandemic. It is possible to pivot, but you need to pay attention to what’s happening in your area and with your customers to make informed decisions.)

Let your marketplace know that you can service them through in-store purchases or your website. Remind customers that you are ready to serve them and are honored to do so.

4. THE VISIONS PUZZLE

Think about this: if you have no vision, what kind of future can you expect? An important part of any business plan is a set of well-thought-out goals.

In 2019, a reasonable goal might have been to add a new product line, increase overall sales by 10%, add an outside sales rep, or have the best year of profits in the past 10 years. For most of us, goals like that vanished in spring of 2020.

But now our goal must include rebuilding and growing. The path to that goal will be different for each of us, but it is very important that we take the time to determine what steps we need to take to reach our new goal and start working toward achieving it.

THE COMPLETED PUZZLE

Taking the time to update a workable business plan is the next step in moving your business forward in uncertain times. A plan will help you move forward in a world filled with new possibilities and challenges. A plan will give you a complete understanding of where you are, where you want to go, and how you will get there.

Remember this: making or revising a business plan is an important part of completing your puzzle for future success, but, as business expert Sam Geist said, “Execution is the strategy.” Having a great plan is nothing if you do not actually work your plan. Execution is what will bring your plan to a reality. So, go forth and complete your puzzle!

Fran Carville, CRM, is an Awards and Personalization Association past president, educational speaker, 2008 Speaker of the Year, a member of the Hall of Fame, and winner of an Award of Excellence from the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Fran and her husband, Tom Carville, CRM, own Carco Awards in Baton Rouge, LA.

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