Business Strategy - Vital in Getting Ahead of Competitors

Businesses need a business strategy to rise above their competitors. Formulating and planning the strategy for the business needs some goals as a basis though.

Start with Some Goals In Mind

It's very important that the business state its goals first. The business has to state its long term goal and short term goals as well. With that, a business strategy can be formulated. Strategies are formulated as to how such goals can be achieved.

Setting goals should be given a timeframe. This way, the strategies formulated for each can be evaluated after such time. Goals should also be measurable so there would be a way to indicate whether strategies and implementation were effective.

It's also important to keep the strategies up to date. If the business did not achieve its goal for a certain period, then the strategies need to be reviewed and adjusted. Markets also evolve and change, hence the need for updating strategies.

Coming up with a Marketing Plan

Completing a marketing plan is a very important part of formulating a business strategy. The marketing plan would contain a background of the business. More importantly, it would contain core marketing strategies for the business. Of course, strategies would generally be based on research and analysis. A list of strengths and weaknesses should be listed and analyzed. Opportunities and threats are also looked into if the business wants to be thorough.

Financial Forecasts Included

Well, this is usually included in the marketing plan as well. Financial forecasts should be included to assess how profitable the business is going to be or expected to be. Aside from that, it is from the financial forecasts that the business would know how to manage its finances and anticipate its cash flow, inventory and other financial matters.

Business Strategy: Evaluation

While the marketing plan is that important, checking how well the strategies did is really important if the business wants to achieve not only its short terms goals but also its long term goals. It is important that evaluation is done so strategies can bring the business ahead of its competitors.

Looking at Your Business and Knowing Your Customers and Competitors

The business strategy should not only be about the company. It should also look at what is happening in the market. The business must be conscious of what its competitors are doing so it can strategize on how to get ahead of them.

For instance, a business could decide to pursue a price based strategy in order to get a lion's share of the market. On the other hand, one can also pursue a differentiation-based strategy.

Again strategies should be based on what the company sees will bring it ahead of its competitors. But the other half it though is knowing the company customers. If the company knows its customers, well then it will be able to anticipate how it would react to every price change, for example, or how it will appreciate additional features.

Of course, the decision on which strategies to take should always be based on the combination of all these factors. Again, the time frame and evaluation is important. Keeping the strategies updated is vital too.

Business Strategy Fundamentals

Over the years, I have met and worked with literally hundreds of business owners. At one time or another, many of them have written a business plan. But very few of them have a working business strategy. A business plan and a business strategy are two very different tools. A business plan normally is prepared for a financing partner, either a bank or an investor. The purpose of the plan is to let investors know about the business and its potential for success in order to encourage them to invest in the business.

A business strategy is quite different. Rather than a document for investors, this is a plan for the owner to follow. It begins with an evaluation of the business' goals. Where does the business owner want the business to be in 5, 10 or 20 years, both in terms of fair market value and cash flow? What are the plans for exiting the business? Will it be sold to an outside party or to key employees, or will it be turned over to the owner's children?

Next, we have to do a thorough evaluation of the current state of the business. This includes a valuation of the business and an evaluation of the business' strengths and weaknesses. The more thorough the evaluation, the better the potential outcome, but even a cursory evaluation is helpful.

Most businesses have a tendency to identify strengths and weaknesses solely from input from top management. The approach needs to be broader than this to get a true assessment. A broader approach includes interviews with key personnel and surveys of all staff levels. A side benefit of the interviews and surveys is it provides significant insight into the opportunities of the business.

Also included in the evaluation should be benchmarking. Benchmarking identifies areas in which a business is above or below the industry averages. This analysis can immediately identify areas of opportunity.

Now we need to create a strategic plan to overcome the business' weaknesses and to use its strengths to create the desired value and cash flow. The valuation is key to this process. Most businesses never have a valuation done until they are ready to sell or gift the business. This makes no sense. If we want to target a specific value in the future, wouldn't we want to know the current value and the method of valuation that is used in our market? By doing a current valuation, we can develop a plan that will use the principals of value in the valuation to build the value of the business.

Once we have a conceptual strategic plan, we need to determine those tactics that are likely to achieve that plan. "Strategy" is most often defined as an elaborate and systematic plan of action intended to accomplish a specific goal or goals, while the "tactics" are the actionable steps that will carry out the strategy. Having a well thought-out strategy keeps the company focused and on target while implementing and tracking a list of actionable tactics ensures real results.

Tactics are the specific tools you will use to carry out your strategy. Your tactics will need to adjust to the conditions of the market. For example, your strategy may include multiple locations. Your initial tactic may be to acquire other businesses like yours in strategic locations. But you may find that there are not qualified or motivated sellers in your targeted locations. You may have to change tactics and build your own office in your desired location.

With tactics tentatively in place, it's time to begin implementing your business strategy. This includes building your team, developing your reports, creating your systems and procedures and putting in place internal controls. When building your team, be sure to have clear agreements in place with each team member regarding their roles and responsibilities towards you and your business. Clear communication is essential to implementing a successful business strategy.

Be sure that the reporting is set up to give you the information you need to make sure everything is implemented and running smoothly. Good reporting relieves much of the stress of running a business because you know what is happening and why it is happening.

Good reporting is also part of good internal controls. You must have internal controls in place, not only to prevent fraud and theft, but also to ensure that the work is being done in the way you expect.

Creating workable and efficient systems and procedures allow you to run the business by managing systems rather than managing individuals. With proper systems in place, you can build your business as large as you want while maintaining efficiency and high levels of profitability.

Blue Ocean Strategy - The Future Trend Of Business Strategy?

I was in Star Bucks Club Ultima this afternoon to talk with a friend regarding a new business that he is planning to start.

One of the things that he mentioned was this unique business strategy that's quite different from what we traditionally learn in business school. According to him, this strategy sorts of deviates from normal business concepts that we hear and read from the usual management gurus. This strategy is called "Blue Ocean Strategy"

I was intrigued by the idea so I did a little bit of research on the subject. Blue Ocean Strategy is a corporate strategy that aims to tap unclaimed markets making competition irrelevant. The strategy is embodied in the book entitled "Blue Ocean Strategy" by Professors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne and Published by Harvard Business School Press. The authors claim that the Blue Ocean Strategy is a result of several years of study of strategic moves by over 30 industries in a span of 100 years.

In the book, "Blue Ocean" refers to an untapped market, a market wherein there is only little or no competition at all enabling anyone to claim the market for his own since it is not yet too crowded. In contrast, "Red Ocean" refers to a market where competition is very high. The market is considered as very crowded already since almost everybody is producing the same type of service and the same kind of goods.

The Blue Ocean strategy is simply to innovate something; something that makes people gives a higher value for a certain product or service. Since doing this would require additional cost, the cost that is incurred by the value added is reduced by eliminating product or service features that the market does not really care about.

In order that this can be understood well a "local" application must be cited. According to my friend a classic example of how the Blue Ocean Strategy was used here in the Philippines is the strategic moves of the Gokongwei group. As we all know, the Gokongwei group owns Mobile phone company, Sun Cellular and airline Cebu Pacific among other companies.

Since the market for mobile phones has already been saturated by both Smart and Globe, what Sun Cellular did is to create a "new market" by adding value to products already found in existing markets. As a result of this "added" value, (By making sun to sun calls free) a new untapped market was opened. It could be said that Sun Cellular is not competing directly with Globe and Smart but rather they have raised awareness among the people to buy into this "new market." As a result, most people now have two cellular phones or two sim cards in a dual sim phone. In this way Sun Cellular is not "out-performing" Smart and Globe but rather they have created a new market, making competition irrelevant.

In the airline industry, Cebu Pacific has managed to apply the Blue Ocean Strategy by adding "value" to what people really want, which is to "fly." People don't care about a newspaper, a hot meal or a fancily dressed flight stewardess. What people care about is that they can "fly." In order to do this airline fares must go down since this is what people care about. This in a sense allowed Cebu Pacific to tap into the "untapped" market. The existing market is referred to as "customers who can only afford to fly." The untapped market is "every can fly." This is embodied in Cebu Pacfic's advertisement "Now every JUAN can fly" (A play on the words "every juan" = "everyone", with "J" being pronounced as "H", Juan is the "universal" first name of Filipinos just like John is for the Americans).

Cebu Pacific has managed to slash down fares by reducing cost on service features that most people do not really care about such as hot meals etc.

Being involved with the International Marketing Group (IMG), I can now clearly see that they have employed the Blue Ocean Strategy in the way they do business. I do not know if they have being doing this consciously or unconsciously. Instead of selling insurance products directly, IMG teaches it's clients and brokers the concepts of financial planning and management. (albeit not in a very organized manner) Product is not given primary importance. The financial broker shows his client his need for financial planning. The financial broker who is well versed in financial planning concepts then introduces products that suits the client needs. The untapped market of financial planning needs by the people is claimed by IMG and the added cost for this value service is compensated by reducing cost with regards to training agents and marketing efforts since IMG works on a model that allows insurance and financial services company to "outsource" their marketing and training. Other insurance companies have already followed this path. The trend now is that insurance agents are now becoming financial planners.

My friend's proposed business has a similar concept but it is something more than financial planning. He wants to introduce a value added service to clients that will enable him to add value to existing service in order to capture "untapped markets" However I could not discuss the details of the plan yet, but I am sure that employing the Blue Ocean Strategy would enable him to succeed in the new business that he is thinking. Perhaps in the proper time I could help him promote his business by writing an article on it, probably when the final details of the plan have been ironed out. However you might want to check out his website at []

In Traditional Business strategy we talk about "crushing the competition" whereas in Blue Ocean Strategy we talk about "Creating new markets with little or no competition." Instead of "Strategic Planning" Blue Ocean Strategist resort to "Strategic thinking." Instead of "cutting prices" to capture a market, Blue Ocean Strategy is to add "value" to products and services to claim an untapped market.

I could personally say the Blue Ocean Strategy is a unique strategy. Critiques may say that the Strategy has already existed a long time ago and that principles that are said to be unique to the strategy can be found in other traditional business strategies as well. For me, the critics may just be jealous that they were not the first ones to embody the "strategy" in compact form. The critic's contention are not valid at all since our way of discovering something or learning something is to build upon the knowledge that has been universally accepted by the majority. A new theory is always built upon something that has already been long time accepted as a scientific principle or even theory. (Just like the theory of relativity rest upon the foundations of the principles of thermodynamics, electricity, gravity etc.) Whatever the Critics have to say, the strategy certainly is here to stay and is sure to have an effect on the way future entrepreneurs, managers and leaders will think and do business in the years to come.

Business Strategy For Challenging Times

The importance of strategy to steer organizations during uncertain times in unchartered territories could not be overemphasized and the current crisis proves it. The role of business leaders is fundamental in strategy development and execution and key contributor to a successful strategy implementation.

Whilst one of the main roles of business leaders is to set and communicate vision, mission and strategic objectives, many fail in the execution process as they get sucked into the details of day to day tactics. With the "big-picture" view, the leadership is able to view the ever changing environment and decide on how the organization needs to respond and to steer the organization towards the longer-term objectives. Whilst the strategic vision remains the same, the route to reach the destination might follow different tactics and game plans.

The word strategy is attributed to the military as its origin was originally derived from the Greek word for "army". It describes a plan of action developed to realize a specific goal, bearing in mind the difference between strategy and tactics. Tactics is generally concerned with the manner an engagement is conducted, whilst strategy deals with how various engagements are interconnected.

Strategy is all about clarity, and if the strategy is not simple, clear and well-understood, it will not be accomplished. It represents the organization's main direction and prime focus and defines the way to get there. It can only be executed if everyone involved knows what is expected of them and their purpose is totally aligned with its direction.

In business, the term strategy is frequently badly and inconsistently defined. Business people involved in formulating the strategy understand it well, whilst the majority others do not, particularly if they are not engaged in its development or strategy is not communicated down to them. Others mix strategy with vision and tactics.

Strategy is a real differentiator, often seen as the secret for long-term success and one of the leadership characteristics. It unites the whole workforce, nurtures and develops opportunities and ensures endurance during crises or tough times.

Although strategy represents a solid and firm direction, it should not be built into stone. Instead, it should be adaptable to reflect changes in the environment, whether it is politically, economically, socially, technologically or legally related. Business leaders must have clear business goals and be flexible and brave to continuously recalibrate their strategy. When times are tough and visibility is not so clear, leaders must have the buoyancy to be pragmatic and adaptable, as in the mist of chaos comes huge opportunities.

Unsuccessful companies are those which do not embrace new ideas, broaden their thinking or are totally unaware of changes in their environment. Changing circumstances may necessitate a change in direction and stubbornness and fixed ideas can frequently be the enemy of business leaders.

Business strategy is all about developing a viable plan for sustained business growth, possibly diversifying into new markets or cross selling to existing customers. Adequately qualified senior executives tend to have clear views of what their business strategy means. Good strategies are not glossy documents produced to be stacked on shelves to collect dust, but rather to be communicated, executed and monitored.

Leaders are expected to champion and drive the process of strategy execution by putting the strategy into action; after all the strategy does not mean anything unless it is fully communicated throughout the organization.

The strategy can be viewed as the story of how a business plans to develop in the next few years; investments to make, markets to address, products to develop, territories to compete in, partnerships and alliances, etc. A good strategy is simple, clear, credible, motivating and reflects the distinctive features of the business. Whilst strategies may end up looking the same, the brands and the culture of the organizations will be different.

The real test to establish whether a strategy is good or not can be seen during difficult times e.g. the current global credit crunch, as business leaders are tempted under such conditions to lose their sense of direction and seek ways to cut costs and maintain margins. The leadership's thinking should be focused mainly on the strategy and nothing else. Companies are encouraged to continually health-check their strategy against various potential scenarios.

During changes in the working environment or tough times, the leadership should review their business strategy to assess whether it is still prudent and acceptable to adopt a more flexible approach to the execution process, for example accelerate making an investment or divesting an existing business segment. Business leaders should continuously be working on the company's strategy, since the business environment is changing all the time with lots of threats and lots of emerging opportunities. Therefore, business leaders need to be regularly monitoring their business environment and taking a view of where the market is headed and to conduct fitness-check of their strategy.

Business strategies succeed only when they are well-developed and formulated, well communicated to the whole workforce, business functions are aligned to the corporate strategic objectives, incentives are aligned with individuals' performance, and most importantly when the leadership is involved in the strategy formulation and execution process.