It’s a shame that so many people think business plans are just for startups, or to back up loan applications, or for getting investors. The truth is that business planning offers serious benefits for everybody in business.
And I’d like to point out that none of these benefits require a big formal business plan document. A lean business plan (as in What Business Plan Type is Best for Me) is usually enough. It takes an hour or two to do the first plan, then just an hour or two to review and revise monthly.
Here are those top ten benefits.
- See the whole business. Business planning done right connects the dots in your business so you get a better picture of the whole. Strategy is supposed to relate to tactics with strategic alignment. Does that show up in your plan? Do your sales connect to your sales and marketing expenses? Are your products right for your target market? Are you covering costs including long-term fixed costs, product development, and working capital needs as well? Take a step back and look at the larger picture.
- Strategic Focus. Startups and small business need to focus on their special identities, their target markets, and their products or services tailored to match.
- Set priorities. You can’t do everything. Business planning helps you keep track of the right things, and the most important things. Allocate your time, effort, and resources strategically.
- Manage change. With good planning process you regularly review assumptions, track progress, and catch new developments so you can adjust. Plan vs. actual analysis is a dashboard, and adjusting the plan is steering.
- Develop accountability. Good planning process sets expectations and tracks results. It’s a tool for regular review of what’s expected and what happened. Good work shows up. Disappointments show up too. A well-run monthly plan review with plan vs. actual included becomes an impromptu review of tasks and accomplishments.
- Manage cash. Good business planning connects the dots in cash flow. Sometimes just watching profits is enough. But when sales on account, physical products, purchasing assets, or repaying debts are involved, cash flow takes planning and management. Profitable businesses suffer when slow-paying clients or too much inventory constipate cash flow. A plan helps you see the problem and adjust to it.
- Strategic alignment. Does your day-to-day work fit with your main business tactics? Do those tactics match your strategy? If so, you have strategic alignment. If not, the business planning will bring up the hidden mismatches. For example, if you run a gourmet restaurant that has a drive-through window, you’re out of alignment.
- Milestones. Good business planning sets milestones you can work towards. These are key goals you want to achieve, like reaching a defined sales level, hiring that sales manager, or opening the new location. We’re human. We work better when we have visible goals we can work towards.
- Metrics. Put your performance indicators and numbers to track into a business plan where you can see them monthly in the plan review meeting. Figure out the numbers that matter. Sales and expenses usually do, but there are also calls, trips, seminars, web traffic, conversion rates, returns, and so forth. Use your business planning to define and track the key metrics.
- Realistic regular reminders to keep on track. We all want to do everything for our customers, but sometimes we need to push back to maintain quality and strategic focus. It’s hard, during the heat of the everyday routine, to remember the priorities and focus. The business planning process becomes a regular reminder.
Reprinted with permission from SBA. Written by Tim Berry, Palo Alto Software and bplans.com.
Building an organic social media community takes the right resources and a dedicated Community Manager that lives and breathes the community. Below are three tips that can be easily implemented when designing a social media strategy for your communities.
- Create Real Relationships from Social Off-Line
As we know in B2B sales, an important step in “getting to the sale” is to have the in-person meeting once all the details have been worked out and agreed. You can reach out on social media to someone all day, but until you talk to them, you don’t really know their agenda, interests, influence, or personality. I make it a habit to take at least one new LinkedIn connection, one person I follow on Twitter in my lists, one new circle in my G+ community, one new Facebook friend off-line each week. I do the best I can and work a very aggressive schedule. Even a 15-minute phone can create a start to a beautiful working relationship.
- Take Social Customer Service Seriously.
In social media, your customers are literally at your fingertips. Whether you are B2B or B2C, you have the opportunity to impress your customers every day. Any messages in Facebook should be attended to within an hour, if possible, especially if you are in a B2C business, and then 15 minutes. You want to win some organic customer love? Reach out to those that follow you on Twitter, those that like you on Facebook, and send them a nice Happy Birthday on their birthdays (super easy to see on Facebook), watch what interests they have beyond your brand (hobbies, passions), and think about what you can offer that suits those interests.
- Truly Engage
Engaging with your social ecosystem means a number of things, all of which the world of digital marketing and content marketers have been trying to figure out for years. Let’s make it simple. To engage means to align with the interests and behaviors of your audience. In some cases, this may in fact mean sharing funny photos and compelling video. In others, it may require sharing sound research and whitepapers with quantified results. Once you do have an actual following, if even small, it means to support and share your followers’ content, to respond to their comments, to help them in what they may need help in. To engage in social media is not unlike supporting your in-store customer or having a real discussion with your B2B lead and really listening to what is important to them.
These are just three of the many ways you can start to organically build an organic community in social media. Social media marketing is not an overnight sensation, unless of course you are a YouTube music star, and even then stars need to follow these rules to support their fans. In social media, as in any other area of digital marketing, and especially B2B marketing, a great barometer of success is how qualified your networks really are. When you approach social from an organic development standpoint, quality is a natural result.
Written by Scott Emalfarb, Fresh Content Society
Reprinted with permission
Emalfarb will lead deep-dive presentation on Facebook best practices and tools to maximize engagement on April 19
If you live in Evanston, you know that the local restaurant scene has become hotter than ever in the last few years.
First, the area was flooded with new, hip restaurants like Found, Smylie Brothers, Peckish Pig and more. Then, the media started taking notice. By the time the New York Times wrote about the best places to eat and drink in Evanston, we knew we had become a true dining destination.
Now, we want to spread the word about our amazing restaurant scene. The Evanston Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce Evanston Restaurant Week, happening March 18-26! Throughout the week, you’ll get a chance to visit a wide range of restaurants throughout Evanston and experience a special tasting menu at each location.
Spread the Word
Help us spread the word about Evanston Restaurant Week! Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, and post about it on social media. Here are some tips on how to get the buzz going:
• Change your profile picture to the Evanston Restaurant Week logo
Visit the Evanston Chamber of Commerce Facebook page, and click on “Photos” and then “Profile Photos.” Click on the photo of the Restaurant Week logo. Under the photo click on “Options” and then select “Download.” Save the photo to your desktop. Go back to your own profile page and click on your profile photo. Click “Update your Profile Photo,” and then select “Upload a Photo.” Choose the Restaurant logo from your desktop, and voila!
• Share our posts about Evanston Restaurant Week
First, make sure you “like” the Evanston Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page. Then, whenever we post about Evanston Restaurant Week, click on the “Share” button at the bottom of the post to share it with your own newsfeed.
• Tag #EvanstonRW in your Facebook posts
When you go to one of the participating restaurants (or to simply make a comment about Evanston Restaurant Week on Facebook), be sure to include this hashtag.
• Tag #EvanstonRW in your Twitter posts
We want to see those food pictures! Every time you visit a participating restaurant, be sure to tweet about it and include the hashtag above.
• Re-Tweet our posts about Evanston Restaurant Week
Start following the Evanston Chamber on Twitter (@EvanstonChamber) and re-tweet our posts with your followers.
• Tag #EvanstonRW in your Instagram posts
More food pictures! Snap a pic of whatever you’re eating at one of the participating restaurants and make sure you tag #EvanstonRW.
• Like our Instagram posts
Start by following us at evanstonchamber. Then scroll through our photos and double–tap on the ones that you like or tap the heart symbol under the photo.
Contributed by Lauren Carrane, Owner, Sharp Pencil Marketing; and Member of the Evanston Chamber Marketing Committee
Evanston Chamber Names Inclusion Solutions CEO Community Leadership Person of the Year.
Patrick Hughes is a “yes” man. Give him a problem that needs to be solved, and Hughes automatically starts coming up with ideas for how to solve it.
“The word ‘no’ and the word ‘can’t’ absolutely drive me crazy,” declares Hughes, 47.
His passion for solving problems in the Evanston community and beyond is part of the reason that Hughes was selected as the Community Leadership Person of the Year by the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.
The award is given out every year to an individual who strives to make Evanston a better place by working with a variety of civic organizations; demonstrating innovation, commitment and leadership; inspiring others to become involved; encouraging private investment and fostering community partnerships.
A lifelong resident of Evanston, Hughes grew up on the north side of the city and attended St. Athanasius School and Evanston Township High School. Today, he lives here with his wife and two children. For him, making Evanston better is personal.
“I live here,” he says simply. “I enjoy getting to know people and committing myself to the community.”
Although Hughes is known for many things — serving as a mentor for ETHS’s Senior Studies program; volunteering for Center for Independent Futures, Cradle to Career, and the Evanston Chamber of Commerce; serving as a previous board member of Equip for Equality; and currently sitting on the board of the national organization Results.org — he is probably best known locally for founding Evanston MashUp, an annual networking event that gathers community leaders, entrepreneurs and others under a tent on Northwestern University’s beach to enjoy food, music and fun.
Back in 2010, Hughes was not satisfied with what he refers to as the “town-and-gown relations” between Evanston and Northwestern, and wanted to find a way to foster a more positive relationship. That led him to team up with the late Corrine Passage Bernin, then senior vice president of Pivot Point International, to create a fun way for the Evanston community to take part in an event held directly on campus. “When we came up with the idea, people thought we were crazy,” Hughes admits. “And now it’s become a huge, annual thing.”
Hughes was also instrumental in founding the Evanston WestEnd business district, a group of companies that is located near the Evanston Plaza at the corner of Dempster and Dodge. He believes that forming the organization helped businesses in the area realize they have common concerns and goals, such as reducing crime or getting new sidewalks. And, he points out, it gives the city an organization to communicate with to help make changes happen.
According to Hughes, the secret to turning ideas into solutions is all about having passion, which inspires others. “It’s about being excited,” he explains. “When you start something new, you get a whole new group of people in [to help you].”
As a business owner, Hughes also aims to make the world a better place. He is CEO and founder of Inclusion Solutions, a company that develops innovative products to help retailers and the government better serve people with disabilities. Products from Inclusion Solutions are used by gas stations to serve drivers with disabilities, by drive-thru restaurants to serve customers who are deaf, and by retailers and restaurants to make access for patrons with disabilities friendly and welcoming.
Hughes maintains, “When you have friends who can’t access the world the way you access the world, it becomes personal.” His interest in helping those with disabilities dates back to his college days at the University of Kansas. It was there that he became friends with a person with Autism and realized how many people with disabilities are virtually isolated from the rest of the world — either because they don’t have physical access to buildings or for communications reasons.
After a newspaper wrote about their friendship, people began contacting Hughes about how they could help, and suddenly he found himself running a non-profit. “I just became this social connector,” Hughes notes.
After running the non-profit, Natural Ties, for 14 years, Hughes went into the for-profit sector, and founded Inclusion Solutions in Chicago in 2000. In 2008, he moved the company to Evanston. “For me, having boundaries around a town that’s not Chicago is important,” he says, adding that you can often feel anonymous in Chicago. “I like having my business in Evanston because you can be involved in the community and feel like you can actually make a difference.”
The Community Leadership Person of the Year award will be presented to Hughes on Monday, February 1, at the Evanston Chamber’s Annual Celebration & Awards Dinner. For more information on the award and to purchase tickets to the event, visit www.evchamber.com/annual-celebration.
What better way to celebrate Evanston than a morning, afternoon, or evening out on the town at one of our outstanding restaurants!
More than 25 restaurant packages have been created to give you a taste of the best of Evanston! There are auction prizes that will let you warm up with a little wine tasting, relish a night out with your family, savor new flavors, enjoy time out with friends, plan a very nice stay-cation, and so much more!
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, you may want to plan ahead for an evening to fall in love all over again — yes, there are restaurants that can help set the mood to do just that!
All proceeds from the auction will help fund new educational programs for our community of businesses.
Have fun bidding … and enjoy the rewards that will follow!
Special Thanks to our Silent Auction Participating Restaurants … and Hotel
Andy’s Frozen Custard
Bar Louie Evanston
Celtic Knot Public House
Edzo’s Burger Shop
ETown Bistro / Hilton Orrington
Flat Top Grill Evanston
Hewn – Hand Forged Artisan Bread
Hilton Orrington / Evanston
KOI Fine Asian Cuisine and Lounge
Kuni’s Japanese Restaurant
Le Peep Evanston #8533
LYFE Kitchen Restaurant
Maggiano’s Little Italy – Old Orchard
Pete Miller’s Seafood & Prime Steak
Stained Glass Winebar, Bistro & Cellar
The Cellar at The Stained Glass
The Lucky Platter
World of Beer
YoFresh Yogurt Cafe
Build visibility of your brand while you gain recognition as a leader in the community.
A signature event of the Evanston Chamber, the Annual Celebration & Awards is an evening of conviviality dedicated to the ingenuity, perseverance and resolve of the entrepreneurs, innovators, business owners, and staff that comprise Evanston’s dynamic business community.
Business leaders and other Evanston Chamber members will be in attendance to celebrate the year’s accomplishments and recognize some exceptional achievements of:
- 2015 Businessperson of the Year
- Community Leadership Person of the Year
- Nonprofit/Public Service Person of the Year
In addition, the 2016 Evanston Chamber Board of Directors will be recognized and the service of outgoing board members will be honored.
Sign up today to sponsor this important event. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re excited to announce our NEW Evanston Chamber 2016 Community Guide. The Evanston Chamber has partnered with Evanston Magazine and its publisher JWC Media to create a Community Guide for residents, visitors and businesses.
Specifics of the guide:
- digest-size, portable booklet
- distribution of 50,000 copies
- interactive digital online version
- the digital version will have hyperlinks to business’ websites
- listings by category and alphabetically
- feature articles about Evanston people, places and things
- launch & release: 2016 January Chamber Annual Celebration
The Evanston Chamber Community Guide is an essential resource for anyone who wants to know what is going on in Evanston.
Keep track of Evanston Chamber events by easily syncing these events with your email and mobile phone calendars.
Syncing with Outlook
- go to www.evchamber.com/event-sync
Sync with your Google® calendar
- go to the drop down box next to OTHER CALENDARS
- select ADD BY URL, and enter webcal://business.evchamber.com/Events/CalendarSync/Category.ics?id=6
(Be sure to check the box, “Make this calendar publicly accessible.”)
Sync Chamber events with your smartphone’s calendar,
- go to your phone SETTINGS,
- go to CALENDARS,
- go to ADD ACCOUNT,
- go to OTHER,
- go to SUBSCRIBED CALENDAR,
- enter the link, webcal://business.evchamber.com/Events/CalendarSync/Category.ics?id=6 (Consider copying this link and sending it to yourself in an email. Then, open the email on your phone and copy it directly from there to paste into SETTINGS.)
Be sure to visit our Evanston Chamber member-businesses that have special activities planned!
Offering Special Deals:
The Crystal Lounge at The Merion — Enjoy a great holiday-themed lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) and/or cocktail specials (4 p.m. to 6 p.m.) before and/or after you visit local Evanston shops.
Cultivate Urban Rainforest & Gallery — Everyone loves plants! Stop by and view living art, exotic plants labeled for pet safety, artist-made gifts and more. Browse the art gallery while you snack on cookies to refuel.
Happy Husky Bakery — The holiday season is all about our loved ones, including our pets. Enjoy discounts up to 50% off. Bring the kids for a special greeting and photo opp with Happy, the Husky!
Hewn Bread — Delicious deals ahead! Enjoy 10% off all retail items. Buy four pastries and get the fifth one FREE.
Hip Circle Studio — Gather at the studio for an open house featuring tea and cookies. Start a contract (Full or Half Circle) membership and get a FREE in-studio workshop! Purchase a gift certificate or class (5 or 10) membership and get a FREE pair of Pilates/Tai Chi socks!
See Jane Sparkle — There’s no such thing as too much bling! Enjoy a FREE gift with purchase; $10 gift certificate w/$100 purchase; and buy one Sparkle earring at $25 and get another for $5-off. Cookies and warm beverages will also be served.
The Spice House — Purchase four stock gift boxes and receive 15% off your entire purchase. Enjoy a warm beverage and cookies to help you refuel as you shop small!
Stumble & Relish — Looking for something unique? Enjoy 20% off holiday greeting cards (Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, etc.). Spend $30 or more, and receive a FREE tote bag while supplies last.
Cookie Crawl Participants:
This holiday season and throughout the year, Shop Your Community First!
Deadline: 2:00 pm on Thursday, November 12, 2015
The Nominating Committee of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce welcomes members who are interested in serving as a Director on the Evanston Chamber Board for a three-year term, beginning January 1, 2016.
We are seeking business professionals with vision and leadership abilities, and who possess a strong sense of commitment to serving the Evanston business community as well as the city and its residents.
Any current Evanston Chamber of Commerce member is eligible to be nominated, in turn, by any current chamber member. Current members may also nominate themselves.
The nominating committee and process adhere to the bylaws of the Chamber. The committee is tasked to compile all eligible nominees’ names and verify nominees’ willingness to accept responsibilities and serve as a director. Committee considerations include diversity of representation in industry and geography as well as others. After careful review, the nominating committee makes its recommendation to the Board of Directors which is charged with approval and ratification of the slate.
Nominations due no later than 2:00 pm on Thursday, November 12