If you own a business, you’ve set goals. Maybe there’s a series of benchmarks you’d like to hit or a clear vision of where you’d like to see the business in 10 years.
But long-term success is built on short-term tactics and medium-term strategy, as much as drive and vision. How will your business have changed six months from now? How about in one year, or three? If you don’t have clear answers to these questions, it’s time to develop a business growth plan.
Why is a business growth plan important?
A business growth plan is a detailed roadmap for where you want to take your business in the short to medium term. The plan views your business objectively, taking a full account of its strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and limitations. It positions you to build on what you’ve already achieved by helping you define where you’ve been, where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
A well-constructed growth plan enables you to:
- Measure your market share and penetration, helping you to grow your slice of the pie
- Offset the losses you probably took during the earliest days of your business
- Reduce your risks by having concrete plans for every step of the growth process
- Stabilize your revenue streams by helping you envision what tomorrow will look like
- Attract potential investors by demonstrating that you have solid plans to grow their investment
Simply put, your business will be more successful with a growth plan than it would be without one. And if you don’t have a plan, you’ll probably end up losing ground to your competitors who do.
TIP: You don’t have to start from scratch: There are a lot of detailed templates for business growth plans available free online to Canadian entrepreneurs. Just make sure you find one that’s a good fit for your needs and the challenges of your industry.
What are the most important things to include in my business growth plan?
Here are key must-haves that your business growth plan should include:
- A clear assessment of your business, including its position in the marketplace, its advantages and where it needs to improve;
- Statements of your goals for the business in six months, one year, two years, and so on;
- The steps you plan to take to get your business from where it is to where you want it to be.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. But the good news is that your plan doesn’t have to be perfect—circumstances can and will change over time and you’ll have to revise the plan accordingly. The critical task is to explicitly lay out these elements, both for yourself and for the other vital players in your business, to get everyone thinking about the future along the same lines.
Assessing the business
Here are a four key questions to ask when assessing your business:
1. What’s my value proposition?
You’ve probably thought about this already, but it’s important to break down your value proposition into its most basic elements:
- What makes you better than the competition?
- Why should potential customers come to you instead of them?
- Why is your business relevant and why does it deserve to grow?
By answering these questions, you can focus on what’s most important and hone your message to your customers.
2. What are my company’s strengths and weaknesses?
There are many things that your business does well, just as there are probably areas where it struggles. It’s essential that you identify which is which. This will help you figure out how to reposition the field to maximize your company’s strong points and minimize—or even eliminate—its weaknesses.
3. What are my strengths and weaknesses?
At first, this may seem like the same question as above, but there’s a critical distinction between the two. You may live and breathe your business, but you aren’t your business. And its strengths and weaknesses aren’t necessarily the same as yours. For example, maybe you excel at customer service, but you have trouble managing your supply chain. Identifying your own shortcomings is a vital step—even if the process is painful-- towards helping your business succeed.
4. Who’s my competition and how can I learn from them?
Let’s face it: No matter what industry you’re in, you’ve probably come up against tough and savvy competitors. And odds are, they’re doing better than you in certain areas. You can gather valuable insights by observing your competitors closely, noting what they do differently and why they’ve made specific choices. Culling ideas from—and even improving on—your competition is a smart business practice and a good reminder that we can all learn from each other.
Here are four questions to ask when setting business goals:
1. How am I measuring success?
You’ve heard the old maxim: “What gets measured gets managed.” If you have no objective way to measure your business success, you can’t be certain where it’s succeeding—or falling short. Make sure to identify the key indicators having the biggest effect on your business growth, so you can focus your efforts on them.
2. Who’s my ideal customer now and in the future?
Your business was built to provide a service or solve a problem for certain people. Who are those people? What are the characteristics that identify them as potential customers? Is this group likely to change as you grow your business? The ideal customer often changes just as the business does, so be ready to adjust your approach.
3. What are my biggest revenue streams and how can I improve them?
It’s critical to have a firm idea of your revenue streams, so you can make detailed plans. Are your current revenue streams expanding, and is that expansion sustainable? What new revenue streams could your business tap into and at what cost? Revenue is the lifeblood of your business—any activity that isn’t associated with revenue generation might be a waste of your time and resources.
4. What are my targets?
It wouldn’t be a growth plan if you didn’t lay out specific, achievable targets. While it’s OK if some of your goals are more intangible—after all, not everything can be measured exactly—make sure most of the targets you set are measurable. For example, you could aim to increase your online revenue by 15% in the next six months or break into a specific target market within two years.
Remember: You may not be able to reach all of your goals, especially if they’re overly ambitious. But that’s OK—even necessary. Understanding how and why you fell short, and how you can do better, might be the best way to strengthen your business overall.
Developing a strategy
Here are key questions to ask when developing your strategy:
1. What kind of growth strategy is right for me?
This is a big question, but luckily, it’s not as complicated as you may think. While there are almost as many growth strategies in the world as there are businesses, they can all be sorted into a few major types:
- Development strategies refer to breaking into new markets. They’re best suited for businesses that have done all the growth they can within the limitations of their current markets.
- Diversification strategies mean broadening both your product and service offerings and your target markets. This is a big ask, so they’re usually best suited for smaller, newer businesses that have lots of room to grow, but on a modest budget.
- Market strategies refer to how you’re interacting with and developing your current market. If your business has access to a big market, but is only getting a fraction of its business, you’ll probably want a market strategy to increase the proportions.
- Product strategies focus on evolving the products and services offered by your business. This can mean increasing their quality and selection, lowering prices through efficiencies, and more.
When you’ve done a thorough assessment of your business and your goals, you’ll be in a good position to assess what type of growth strategy fits your situation best.
2. What goals are my top priority?
You probably can’t tackle all of your goals at the same time, so triaging is necessary. Which of the goals you’ve listed would be most beneficial—and which are the most urgent? Do your top goals depend on accomplishing others first or are they standalones? Do you have all the resources you need? If not, how can you get them? Having a clear list of priorities will be a big help in deciding the best way to tackle the challenges in front of you.
Summing it up
You know your business better than anyone, so don’t be afraid to expand on the above guidelines as needed. It’s almost impossible for you to hurt your business by planning too extensively, but it’s all too common for businesses to be hurt by not planning enough. No matter what your specific challenges are, engaging with them now is the best way to start coming up with solutions. The sooner you get started, the better off you’ll be.
All this can seem intimidating, but you’re not alone. There are many free resources available to help Canadian entrepreneurs grow their business nationally and internationally. Here are a few examples to help you build a greater understanding of how you can develop your growth plan.
What is MyEDC?
MyEDC is a free service we provide to all Canadians. We've gathered the resources, services and tools you need to protect and grow your business—all in one spot—get clear answers, make smart moves and succeed anywhere in the world.
You can find out more about MyEDC here. If you’re running a business in Canada, we can help you grow and expand into international markets. MyEDC is one of our best avenues to support your business.
Note: The contents of this article are intended to be used for general information purposes only and are not to be construed as legal advice. Please consult a legal representative for advice on your specific circumstances.
Our partners at Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) have spent a lot of time thinking about how you can grow your business. This is a free collection of their most valuable resources.
Government of Canada–Small Business Services
This resource hub is focused on small business development in Ontario, but almost everything it has to offer applies anywhere in Canada.