I did say in the last post that I hadn’t finished our business plan prior to jumping into our small business operation. However, this doesn’t mean we hadn’t started one. I don’t think I need to push the importance of planning as most people would agree it’s a great idea…in theory. Many business plans tend to get lost around half formed ideas and yet to be proven assumptions, they are therefore time consuming and don’t appear to be productive.

But I have found that our own (un-finished) plan has saved an enormous amount of time and frustration – especially around our own visual marketing.

So what is the minimum you could get away with? We listed our products and services, considered our competitors and then began to develop our SWOT and as a result also wrote our USP. Now this is a very tried and true approach and for some of you, I’m sure this has been done to death. But it’s worth working through the elements below.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT)

Strengths and Weaknesses refer to internal aspects of your own business while Opportunities and Threats come from the market you will operate in. The first process is to identify and list these factors, be honest and open minded. It’s not a failing to list multiple weaknesses or threats but a good opportunity for development. You can also gain a lot of insight by considering how your competitors would respond to the same exercise.

Now using our own graphic design business as a guinea pig, this is what my wife and I listed:-

  • Strengths – creative ability, experience, industry knowledge, existing clients, practical, reliable service, business focus, local networks, ability to co-ordinate digital and physical media  projects to provide consistent branding.
  • Weaknesses – small size, limited output (only so many hours in a day), limited capital to invest in large production machines, not all production can be done in-house, kids and a mortgage
  • Opportunities – Provide more services/products to existing clients e.g. managed projects or ongoing packages, SME businesses needing guidance and advice (especially someone they can talk to), expanding social media use and changing digital environment. Plus every business can still benefit from a traditional sign, flyer or a business card.
  • Threats – cheap off-shore services, D.I.Y. options, constantly changing technologies and trends.

From this we were able to outline the Strengths and Opportunities we wanted to make the most of and the Weaknesses and Threats we had to address and minimise. It gave us some real actions to work on, a list of tasks that could be checked off as we progressed. But most importantly it gave us a better idea of who we were as a business.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

The USP is a summary of why someone should use your business. Often described as an elevator pitch, which come from the scenario where a stranger steps into your elevator, they ask what you do and you only have the short space of time until they get out at the next stop to tell them what your business does and why someone choose to use it. The saying goes less is more, but having less time to explain is also quiet hard. However, it is easier if you try to summarise the main results from the SWOT to create your USP.

For our business, we saw our strengths as being creative and approachable people. Through our experience we could go beyond pretty images and build functionality into the designs based on the information we gained from talking with our clients. We know how to design images that are easy and affordable to reproduce in different media, which make them more usable and functional. We can also draw on our marketing knowledge to help decide what should be in an image rather than just how it looks. We can also manage process to get the finished product completed by drawing on our industry knowledge and contacts.

So how do say all that in a sentence or two? Firstly consider what benefit your strengths will offer from a customers perspective. Here’s our first attempt:-

Practical people focused on achieving results through visual marketing. Providers of digital and physical solutions designed to make you look good.

Make sense? I hope so. In the next post We’ll cover how this guiding description helps with other decisions such as our business name, logo and the look and feel of our initial marketing.