From Passion to Profit – Strategic Planning for Women-Owned SMEs

I am fascinated and excited by the growing number of professional women entrepreneurs all over the African continent.

Women who when they were younger dreamed of being in the corporate world, then went on to leading universities in the UK or the United States and came back home to rock the corporate world in the business and financial enclaves of Nairobi, Johannesburg, Lagos or Accra.

Women who then decided that they wanted to own their own corporate world. Brave, heroic and adventurous women. Women determined to dream and women courageous to pursue those very dreams. I salute you all, my “Sheroes”.

Accolades aside, it’s a tremendous undertaking starting and running a business. As a management consultant and business adviser with two decades of international consulting experience, I have seen the highs and lows, the joy and the pain, of running a business. The joy and pain of those who want fame and celebrity from their venture, the highs and lows of those who want to execute their enterprise demonstrating best practice, the success and disappointment of those who pursue business for purely monetary gain, and the frustrations of business owners as they deal with the inefficiencies of their value chain. Yes, it is immensely trying. Tremendously tough.

Plan: Think Deeply About Your Business Aspirations.

Many women start their business from a passion. Why else would you leave that well-paid management position in Citibank Kenya or MTN in South Africa? They want to serve that deep cry within themselves to step out into the deep and start the entrepreneurial odyssey. When they separate from their employees and well-paid jobs, the new business card is printed, the enterprise website is set up and one or two well-meaning and even carefully chosen non-graduate employees are recruited. A few years down the line, things start getting complicated and the business’s reality may not match expectations and aspirations. Whilst this is ‘normal’ and or to be expected, I often think one of the things that smaller women business owners on the continent do not do at all that could ease their business journey is strategic planning.

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Whilst to some that may sound like a big phrase, something that only big corporations indulge in and something that is not necessary for the small business, a documented strategic plan is a critical planning tool for the endurance of a business – even in the small and growing business sector. I would even say especially in the small and growing business sector because of the aspiration to GROW.

One is already tested by the very fact that one is an entrepreneur in the SME sector – with many more established, older, and trusted businesses around the corner. Add to that the desire to make profit, satisfy customers and be responsive to their needs, listen to and train staff, and deal with third party suppliers. Exasperation then sets in.

Envisioning the future of your business.

Whilst a business plan is used to assess the viability of a business opportunity, a strategic plan provides focus and direction for moving a business from where it is now to where it would like to get to. It is a futuristic document that documents your vision, your mission, your goals and the ensuing activities for your business over a specified period – usually 3 to 5 years.

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Not that you cannot run a business without one, but a more deliberate and focused picture of where you are going and what activities and initiatives it will take to get you and your business there is valuable for horizon planning and scenario mapping.

Let’s start with the envisioning: Having to deliberately consider a vision statement for your business forces you to think of the purpose of your business, ‘the Why’ and ‘the Why’ is where it all starts. Your response, a succinctly documented vision statement, puts a lot into perspective.

Let’s move on to your mission. What do you do? More importantly, what do you do expressly better than other businesses? What will distinguish your business? In many ways, your response to these questions will then also shape your goals for your business. I always say it is best to have a maximum of five goals – have one on organisational and people issues, one on branding and communications, including social media, have another on revenue targets, and yet another on your products focused on how you will distinguish your service, your brand and your brand outputs.

Having documented the goals, we then move on your initiatives and all activities. For each goal agreed on, you need to articulate the activities you and your business will undertake to realise each goal.  These can be as many as six or seven, but I would say ideally limit it again to five – we want to ensure the possible, let’s KIS (keep it simple).

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Having Done All, Do

Having done all of that, do execute. Have timelines for the achievement of each initiative – I like to say these should be quarterly targets. To support you in execution, for accountability purposes, I would say institute a small Advisory Board, or a group of friends who you trust and who are professional enough to respect and value your business aspirations but also comfortable enough to ask you the tough questions about your business, or get a business coach. Many of us doers are driven by our passions and our passions alone. A runner wants to run, a golfer wants to golf and a business owner with a passion for jewellery wants to make and sell jewellery. That’s all very well and good, but if you really want to excel at what you do, a lot of the time you need a little, or a lot of, extra help.

Conclusions.

Strategy planning is a tremendous exercise in self-examination and business planning. It takes a lot out of you.  It’s hard. You must ask yourself the right questions, and you probably need someone to guide you through the process so that you don’t just document the first things that come to your mind as you think – it’s more to do with strategic thinking. And yes, for a small business, it should be done. I promise you. Good luck!


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