12 Most Common Excuses Why SMBs
Are Afraid of Strategic Planning

While this is the time of year many SMBs have developed their plans for the new fiscal year, many more used some of the 12 most common excuses not to.

It reminds me of the spittle-prone Sylvester the Cat. If you’re a fan of classic Warner Brothers animation (like I am), you’ve undoubtedly been exposed to the Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn song “You Never Know Where You’re Goin’ Till You Get There”.

No truer words have been spoken about businesses that don’t plan. If there’s no destination, how will you know when you’ve arrived, or at least headed in the right direction?

No time
The workday is filled with the day-to-day business drumbeat and emergencies, both large and small. How is there time to focus on the long-term when the short term needs so much attention? Understand where you’re spending time, and then segment time to work ON the business. You can’t execute all day, every day, nor should you

The culture doesn’t allow it.
“The sky looks the same anywhere you go”, my grandfather would say about his aversion to travel. The same goes for SMBs that say what worked yesterday will work tomorrow.  Change is the only constant. Your customers change, your competition changes.

Marketing is married to an outdated set of tools
If a company says that print advertising is as effective as it ever was, it isn’t looking to divorce old-line thinking. They heyday of mass marketing is gone. Today’s marketing kit is wider and deeper because there are more ways than ever to interact with customers and prospects.

What are we buying?
Consultant speak, academic nomenclature, and business jargon can be off-putting to small business owners. They worry that the theoretical won’t translate into the real world. Be open to the idea of planning, but do not be a pushover on what you’re paying for. Ask for a definition of terms so you and the consultant are speaking the same language.

Too costly
Instead of viewing strategic planning as investment, company leadership will see it as an expense. You invest in people, equipment and technology. There’s no difference in investing to discover a better path forward. An effective plan will produce a pay-off. 

Planning takes away from selling
Daily, weekly, quarterly and annual numbers. No matter the duration, the only thing that is of importance to many companies is growth. Without a plan, the growth will come by luck.  Numbers tell a story, but a numbers-only focus is like putting blinders on a horse. Peripheral vision lets you see more than just straight ahead. 

“Stuff” is easier
While addressing real issues, someone throws out a kernel of an idea and “Boom!”, everyone starts popping down the tactical solution highway.  Ideas based on what you’re already doing are easy; understanding how to plow new paths takes work.

The process is overwhelming
Fear, uncertainty and doubt clouds many smaller business owners and leaders about what strategic planning is about. Intimidation leads to not even starting the process. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is good strategy. Like anything else, chunk the process down into smaller portions that are easier to execute.

Lack of control
Business owners fear that the facilitation process, no matter how well intended, will be rudderless, focusing on past faults and head toward the weeds without a clear purpose. You are a participant in the process; if you don’t understand something, speak up.

Fear of commitment (and failure)
A commitment to anything means taking action. Management that is fearful of change can talk themselves around issues and out of anything, especially when one’s livelihood is on the line. Give yourself some credit. You’ve been flying without a net since you started your business.

No accountability
The reason most small business owners started their firms is because they didn’t want to be accountable to anyone. Therein lies the problem. Strategic planning introduces a layer of accountability into the process, producing fear and anxiety among some owners. Like the smart solo practitioner who toils in near total independence most of the time, move outside your comfort zone and get a different perspective and direction from someone else, sometime.

Past experiences
Previously negative strategic planning experiences produce the “once bitten, twice shy” organization.  An unqualified consultant produced an inferior plan or a poor facilitator spent weeks in meetings without accomplishing anything.  There are the good and the bad at everything. You have the experience to ask the right questions to find the right guide.

Sufferin’ succotash! Are any of these the reasons why strategic planning is the plan of last resort?

Digital Spells Opportunity (and Impact) for Attracting Customers

Jack Kraft talks digital marketing.

A conversation with Jack Kraft, business consultant, venture capitalist and former executive at Leo Burnett.



Note: Jack is a long-time advisor to Element-R.  Even a short conversation with him is thought-provoking — and always right on target.  We got together recently to talk about one of his favorite topics – marketing.

ER: We’re expanding the purpose of No Silver Bullet to provide insight on marketing and on other business issues for SMBs. Obviously, with the recession, all of our clients are looking for ways to build sales – even the larger corporations.

Jack Kraft (JCK): In every business, there is a gateway activity to gaining new customers.  For small firms in particular, the fundamental issue is managing resources.  That’s the bane of effective management for most companies.  And the one area that is most foreign is how to manage marketing resources.

Resources have to be managed. Clients have to be managed.  And you need strategies for managing those resources, to ensure you are doing the right things right.

The highest result from managing resources is attracting clients.

ER: What are you seeing in all of your current consulting gigs?

JCK: The biggest marketing breakthrough, digital technology, is not really new any more. But, it continues to evolve and continues to reduce the cost and speed of communicating with the marketplace.  It has never been easier.

The impact a company can have with even a modest investment is enormous.  Digitally, you can reach more people; address specific market segments and measure the effects quickly, effectively and economically.

Exponential growth can be achieved using only digital tools.  I continue to see it happen!

ER: In our B2B space, we see a fear of some of the newer social media tools – mainly out of misunderstanding. Plus, there is usually a lot of room for improving companies’ existing digital presence, so we generally start there, and add a set of basic social media tactics to get their feet wet.  It’s a real shift in how you ‘do’ marketing.

JCK: Yes, it takes special skills to use digital technology effectively, and those skill sets are still evolving so rapidly that professional input makes a lot of sense.

ER: What should companies keep in mind as they approach – or delve deeper – into the digital world?

JCK: The same basics of marketing apply to using digital tools, but perhaps to an even greater extent than before because results are instantly measurable:

  • Understanding your market
  • Knowing what you’re selling from the customer’s perspective (not the product per se, but the soft stuff)
  • Translate the sell into a compelling message that the market cares about and constantly measure results

Digital tools reach the market but produce results only if you know how to use them. If you don’t, find someone who does.

ER: Right.  You can’t just go in and start Tweeting the same commercial messages you might place in an ad.  It takes thought … listening … and planning good content.

JCK: I also see a strong need for PR planning in conjunction with social media.  The more “right things” companies have to say, the more exposure they’ll receive on the web.  The desired result is higher results in organic rankings.

So, the largest area of opportunity is how to use technology to build bridges to customers – how to create environments that invite conversations that lead to desired actions.