Three Underutilized Business Tools and How to Use Them, Part One
Don't underestimate the basics.
In a world filled with social media campaigns, shiny marketing tools and internet sales funnels, it’s easy to preoccupy yourself with new strategies and technologies that purport to boost your fitness business. While it is important to use new methods for growth and development, there are several essential foundational tools that are frequently overlooked: a business plan, a calendar and a budget.
At first glance, these three tools probably strike you as ordinary and hardly the keys to unlocking business success. However, if used regularly and correctly, they can help to fast-track your growth and streamline your business development. In part one of this two-part series, we’ll review the indispensable elements of a business plan and how to use the plan you write. In part two, we’ll walk through how to effectively use your calendar and your budget.
The Business Plan
At the heart of every successful business is a written plan that outlines your vision and goals and identifies strategies to help you achieve your objectives. Think of a well-developed business plan as a road map to success—a tool that you use to hone your focus, which is key when you’re making important, strategic decisions.
Despite the critical importance of this type of plan, many small-business owners do not have one! Creating a business plan is daunting for some fitness entrepreneurs because they lack a formal business background. Others avoid writing one because the process seems too complicated or the value isn’t clear. Still others don’t prepare one because it’s hard to know how and where to start. If you haven’t created a business plan, there are many reasons to spend the time and energy to do so now.
Why? The act of writing out a plan forces you to think critically about the key aspects of your business: your mission, your vision, your strengths and weaknesses, and your execution strategy. Business plans also keep owners accountable. Writing out your plan and consistently referring back to it will keep you focused and on task as you move forward.
To be clear, your goal isn’t to sketch out every detail of your business, but rather to identify and analyze the key aspects—which means that your plan can be just a few pages but still be incredibly effective.
How? What kinds of information should you include? Most business plans feature some variation of the following:
Your purpose. Start with a single sentence that defines the purpose of your fitness business and identifies your “true north.” Once you distill the purpose of your company into a single sentence, you’ll be clear about why you make every business decision.
The problem and your solution. Every successful business offers its customers a solution to a well-defined problem. In this section of your plan, clearly identify your customers’ problem, the way they are currently handling it, and your solution. You can also include your “value proposition” here—in other words, how your product or service is going to make your customers’ lives better.
Your product or service. Provide specific details about your product or service. What does it look like? How does it work? What are its features? If your product or service will take time to develop, provide the steps needed to complete it.
Marketing and sales. Explain how you’re going to advertise your business and how you’re going to demonstrate that you know how to solve the identified customer problem. What channels will you use to reach your customers, and how will you structure your message?
Once you’ve explained how you’re going to get people to pay attention to you, you must identify how you’re going to persuade potential customers that your product or service is worth paying for. Unfortunately, many businesses fail to address this key step! They may be great at marketing their services, but once the customers show up on their doorstep, they lack a proper plan to convey the value of the service and convince customers to purchase it. Clearly outline how you will handle this two-part process.
Competition. Identify your competitors and your “competitive advantage.” Who is vying for your customers’ attention, and how can you differentiate yourself? What makes your product or service different and special?
Business model. Stipulate how you intend to generate revenue and make a profit. Crafting an excellent product or service is essential—but if you don’t explain how you’ll make money, no one will experience that product or service. Consider basics like your pricing, market size, how much revenue you can generate and how much it will cost to run the business.
Team and operations. How big is your team, who’s on it and how will they work together? Where will your business be located, what resources will you need, and how will all of the different parts of your business function as one?
Financial summary. Provide a projection (or a current snapshot) of the money your company needs to operate, your anticipated revenue, your cash flow, your company assets and any outstanding liabilities, among other pieces of key information.
If you address the key points outlined above, you’ll have a nicely crafted overview of your business and a road map to follow.
Remember that your business plan doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s a template and a resource, and it can (and probably will) change over time. So don’t get bogged down or discouraged trying to capture every single detail. Instead, anticipate and answer the big, difficult questions.
Writing a plan is a great first step—but having a plan doesn’t matter unless you translate it into action steps. Here are a few ways to maximize its value.
Regularly review your plan. To keep the valuable material top of mind, schedule a regular time once a month to read through it. Mark this date on your calendar. By constantly referring to your plan, you ensure that you’re making decisions based on your goals and that you’re sticking to your purpose. Depending on how quickly your business changes, block off time every 3–6 months to do a deep review and revise your plan based on your progress and changed circumstances.
Find an accountability partner. With all there is to do to keep a business running, it’s easy to put writing and reviewing a business plan on the back burner. Consider enlisting the help of an accountability partner—someone who will hold you to task and lean on you to uphold your commitment. Preferably, this will be a person who also needs to be held accountable in business. Tackling these issues with someone else can be highly motivating.
The advantages of having a thorough, regularly reviewed business plan are well worth the time and effort required to create it. With a plan in hand, you can add structure to your vision, anticipate and get in front of challenges, and plan for your growth—time well spent for any fitness business owner.
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