How do you achieve success with a business?
Often, the key is to be at the right place at the right time, meeting the needs of people who are willing to pay to have those needs met. But what goes into the planning of that moment in time?
There is a lot to be said for having a business plan, and a marketing plan in place, before you jump in, and try to sell goods, or provide services, or meet some other need that needs to be met. These are steps along the way to having a sense of where you are going, understanding where you've been, and knowing how to interact with others.
Preparation for anything can be a time consuming task. Imagine spending an hour preparing for every minute of a presentation in front of a large audience. That's probably not unreasonable. Now consider spending an hour for every second of a one-on-one presentation. That probably seems like a lot of time. But it might not be unreasonable if you can take what you've learned from the preparation and its presentation, and use if for the next meeting. The metaphor that I've seen many use is, if you were on an elevator, riding with someone who might be interested in your business and you had at the most thirty seconds to describe your business in a persuasive manner, could you?
If you own a business, how much time a week do you spend thinking about the direction of your business, and the goals that you want to achieve? What steps can you take to meet those goals? If you had thirty seconds to describe the mission of your business, could you? What about your vision for the business a year down the road, or two years, or five years? If a customer asked you what your business stood for, would you be able to come out quickly and say something like "Do no evil" like the folks at Google? And then explain how your actions show that you are committed to those values?
I remember the out-of-ring antics of Mohammad Ali, the boxer, as well or better than his in-ring moments. The "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" soundbites that he gave us which foreshadowed his pugislistic efforts. He was able to float like a butterfly in the ring, as well as sting like a bee. If you make a promise like that, can you live up to it?
Boxing matches are won by hard work and training, and by understanding your opponent. In Mohammad Ali's case, memorable matches where created by not only taking those steps, but also by understanding the audience and knowing how to reach out to them. Those seemingly spontaneous moments when his words danced in front of a crowd during a press conference were part of a plan to entertain and delight, to engage an audience and to make them feel some emotional investment in the outcome.
How do you engage and delight your audience? Do you even know who that audience is? Just as you should be able to come out quickly and describe who you are, what you believe in, and where you are going, you should have a sense of who you are talking to. Who is the right person to give that 30 second speech to, and when is the best time. Realistically, you won't be riding up and down in elevators all day looking for the right person to talk to, or standing in front of an ocean of cameras and reporters in anticipation of a boxing match.
If someone were to call you on the phone, and start asking you questions about your business, can you anticipate the questions that they would ask? Do you know what questions to ask them? What are they going to be interested in finding out? What can you do to prepare for that call, and to even get that phone call?
Who are your customers? That's a good question to ask yourself. And to ask yourself again after you've been in business for a while. You should try to ask, and answer that question on a regular basis. And as you are, you should follow it up with some thoughts about how well you are able to reach out to that audience, and the obstacles that might hinder that type of communication. You should reflect upon the qualities that you and your business possess that help you reach them, too.
One aid in helping you is to make notes for your future self, to give you an idea of how you've learned from your mistakes and your successes. Plan on making a few mistakes, and you may be able to find more success comes to you. Thinking about what you are doing right, and what you are doing wrong is important. Paying attention to the feedback of customers, both positive and negative can help. That record that you maintain of past losses and victories is part of your intellectual capital. It can help you when you find yourself in similar situations in the future.
Part of planning involves understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. Part of it involves knowing the environment where you will be operating, and the obstacles and opponents that you will need to overcome. As Ali recognized, his audience wasn't just limited to the people surrounding the ring on a fight night. Who is your audience? Why should they care about a boxing match when they have so many other things pulling at their attention? Why should your audience care about your business when they have so many other things keeping them busy in their lives?
Who are your competitors, and how are they planning to target that audience? What are their strengths and weaknesses? While you're doing all that floating and stinging, they aren't just sitting there taking it all in. Or are they? Another of Ali's infamous phrases and in-ring tactics was the rope-a-dope in which he let his adversary flail away at him while absorbing the worst of the blows waiting for the right moment to strike. It can hurt being the dope, especially when you are being counted out after being knocked out when you think that you are ahead on points.
Which leads to some other thoughts. Are there different strategies that you should engage in for different aspects of your business? When approaching one market, what is the best way to proceed? What are some alternatives that might make sense. In a boxing ring, you can get a sense of whether the person you are fighting is stronger than you, faster, has a longer reach, or a greater tolerance for pain. If you don't have a plan at that point, you may not have time to make one at all.