WTF is strategy... and how do I build one?

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This episode we are having a strategy check in (it's more interesting than it sounds I promise). Before you run away, hear me out. Strategy is the back bone of your business, it keeps you on track and helps when it comes to making some of the harder decisions. I know strategy and business plans can seem overwhelming with details and planning, but it can actually be quite simple. So for this episode I’m going to help you cut through the weeds when it comes to business strategy and figure out exactly what you need to do to get started.

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Kia ora and welcome to Now That's What I Call Business.  In this episode, we're having a strategy check-in.

Don't run away. I promise you, it's way more interesting than it sounds because strategy is the backbone of your business. It stops you going off the rails and chasing every opportunity, and it's actually a lot of fun. In fact, that will surprise absolutely no one who knows me in the real world. I love strategy and hate detail. That's why I'm the ideas person and not the operations guru.

It's January, which means it is the perfect time to be looking at strategy. Also actually, you know what? That's not true either. You probably should have done this months ago, but because most of you are Business for Better members, you're probably early on in your business journey and it doesn't really matter as long as you do it. My team and I are having strategy sessions. It's the homework I'm sitting my mentees before we catch up and you need to do it too.

It's really important to check in regularly on your strategy to make sure you're actually doing what you said you were going to do, particularly in those early days when it's just you, maybe a couple of team members. It's so easy to go off piste. I remember for some reason I started making bath salts for a super luxury resort which was so not aligned with what it is I wanted to achieve that year and I wasted a lot of time and energy on R&D and you know what, in the end they didn't even take them. It's really easy to do.

So we're putting particular emphasis on strategy because it's January, New Year's resolution season. Yeah, I mean, I might think they're bullshit, but some people are setting them and if they work for you, fantastic. Also today is actually the day that most people officially give up on their resolutions. So it's good timing. It's really interesting. Obviously, I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs and I reckon a good 30% of them are sitting at the point where they have an idea but they don't know what to do next. Now my answer is always a plan on a page which we will get to, but it's really interesting to see how many people want to start a business. Now the term entrepreneur is used a lot which is kind of mean, but it's to describe those people who really want to start a business but don't necessarily have that idea.

Believe me, the idea is the easiest bit. The data is really interesting though. So 50% of Gen Zers want to run their own business according to CNBC. New business applications are at a record high in the USA and 63% of 20-somethings want to start a business in Australia. 42% of Americans have considered it. I could go on. There are a lot of you out there who want to change the world through business and if you already have a business, then you're probably thinking about what you could do better. This is a constant grind in your mind as an entrepreneur, but then you throw New Year's resolution into the mix and all of a sudden you're a little bit overwhelmed. If you're anything like me, you're thinking, well, I'm not doing enough. I've not progressed enough towards my goals. So it gets a bit overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be because this is where strategy check-ins are really useful.

They not only keep you to your goals, keep you to task, but they do actually take some of that mental load off your brain. Now, this is not a textbook definition of strategy. You can find that somewhere else. This is strategy from my perspective, what works for me from starting different businesses and working with lots of mentees to help them get started. When you are a bigger business, this is not necessarily going to apply. I have also had the experience, shall we say, of working with big, big companies who have spent actually months and months working on strategy documents. By strategy documents, I mean a PowerPoint presentation that they talk a board through and quite literally never look at again. Not interested in that kind of nonsense personally. So this is what works for me and number one is a plan on a page. Yeah, you've heard it before. We're going to get into it. There are pillars you want to build into your early business strategy.

Roughly speaking, these are be different, have a purpose, you need to balance ideas, planning and execution, you want to protect your brand and get support. This will all make sense in a minute. So let's start with a plan on a page. I remember writing my very first business plan. It was a 30-page bound, shiny, wonderful document that my business partners and I spent, I reckon, three months backwards and forwards on, and easily 75% of it was complete rubbish and completely wrong. I still have it now and I read it to laugh at.

I am not alone in thinking that a business plan needs to be a stayed corporate document that locks you into a plan for the next three to five years and you never read again because it's boring, corporate and stayed. Hey, maybe that works for you, but if that's daunting, a plan can be as simple as one page outlining what you want to do and why. Hence, plan on a page. It is an enormously helpful, practical, simple exercise that I do quite often. Whether you're at the idea stage and you're creating it from scratch, or you are moving through, your business is evolving, and you want to return to it and change it accordingly. It is a living document. That simply means you go back and review it. It grows and changes as your business does and as you learn. Yes, I have a template and even a video to walk you through this on Business for Better which of course I'll link in the show notes and yes, it's free. All you need to do is set yourself 30 minutes to fill it out. Yeah, 30 minutes, no 50-page business plan here, baby.

It will cover everything from your vision and your mission, easy, to your values, to what it is you want to achieve the next 12 months. And then it will break those goals down because goals on their own, kind of useless. Steps to achieve those goals, critical piece. So set yourself 30 minutes, get as much on paper as you can, I'm a big fan of handwriting them personally, then leave it alone for a few days. Think about it, go for a walk, talk to your friends and family and then go back. Make any changes, add things you've been thinking about.

Bonus, my team and I actually give free individual feedback on these because I'm so keen to get you to do these. Yeah. Hello at businessforbetter.com, LinkedIn show notes. So your strategy will be based on several pillars. The first one I said was be different because this is a big thing for me.

A lot of people who want to quote, pick my brain, probably one of my least favourite phrases, about their business or even pitch as I judge, they don't have a strategy that makes them definitively different from others in the market. This is so much worse than a super crowded market and yet I see it all the time. I get asked to mentor people and I obviously I love to do it, but this is one of the first questions I ask and easily 50% of people cannot give me a real answer as to why I should buy a product from them and not the competitor. And yes, you will almost certainly have competitors. So if you as the founder of your company cannot articulate why you are different to anyone else. How on earth is your potential customer going to? And note I say different. Better is a matter of perception. And now a difference doesn't have to be something major like some grandiose purpose or an innovative tech product that no one has ever seen before.

That is what people think of. I'm not talking about tech. Even something like price works quite well. There are plenty of examples of massive brands that market themselves exclusively on price. It's hard to do, but it's doable. You need to think about what makes you different in terms of your target audience. I know a target audience is not a 20 to 40 year old woman. Narrow it down. This is where your unique value proposition comes in. Yeah, I'm starting to use lots of corporate sounding terms. I apologize. If this is not making any sense to you, go and have a look at Business for Better because there is a module specifically on how to articulate your UVP, unique value proposition. And if you don't have that, well, you don't have to pillar number one of your strategy, I'm sorry to say. Pillar number two is purpose. This is what I go on about all the time and I think it makes me boring. All businesses need a purpose beyond just making money. And I mean a real one. I don't mean a cute little phrase you put on like your mission page, you know, we're here to hydrate the world or some nonsense. Not talking at any businesses in particular, but you need to have a purpose that actually resonates with you. And you need to ask yourself, why would customers care? Why does your company exist? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What problem are you working to solve? It needs to be true to you, and it needs to be evident throughout your operations, because your purpose unites your team. You are all working towards a common goal. It makes startup life, which can totally suck, a lot easier. It also engenders loyalty from your customers, your stakeholders, suppliers, your buyers. Ethique was so successful in the early days because people united behind the idea, which was to rid the world of plastic bottles.

Having a purpose means you make sound long-term decisions that benefit the brand. You don't fall into the trap of short-term thinking. I created Business But Better to create an accessible education hub for mission-driven entrepreneurs. Incredibles is kind of the same mission as a teak largely, here to rid the world of plastic bottles but just in the drinks industry. These are very glib, quick, off-the-top-my-head purposes. The proper phrases are a little bit more polished, but now it's your turn. What is your purpose? And if you are ever confused or uncertain about a decision in your business, all you need to do is return to this document, return to this purpose, and you're going to have your answer. And a great example of this is the retail story I have. I've said it before on here. A couple of years ago in 2018, before Ethique had a real retail footprint in the USA, we were offered around a thousand stores across the USA. Massive win. So excited.

We went through the process. There was a lot of paperwork. And there was this weird nag at the back of my mind because their audience fit ours. There was a lot of overlap. They gave the appearance that they were, let's say, an ethical business. But when it came to it, they weren't really. And that became evident in the last piece of paperwork, which said we had to wrap our products individually in poly bags.

Poly is plastic. I asked why. And they said, because of leakage. And I said, oh, cool, no problem, because our products are solid and therefore they don't leak. And they came back to me again and said, no, but we still need you to. And I said, well, I'm not going to. This company is a plastic-free company and I'm sorry, but I can't do this.

And they said, don't worry about it. The customer won't see it. It's just to go through our machinery and the shipping warehouse. It doesn't actually end up going to the consumer. That sort of destroyed my faith in humanity a wee bit. You know, how many things do businesses do behind the scenes that we don't know about because consumers don't see it? It's a lot, I should imagine.

But immediately I said, no, sorry, we're not going any further with this. Unless we can drop this condition, unfortunately, we can't progress. Big call, multi-million dollar deal for a young startup, big call, and not one of my team were surprised or had a different opinion. My board backed me up. It just wasn't a big decision because of that purpose. It unites us all. You need to balance ideas, planning, and execution because it's real fun to dream and it's totally essential that we do. I am a big picture thinker, love the idealism about dreaming about the world we want to create. And we won't change the world thinking and doing things the same way we've always done. So we need to dream and great ideas spark exceptional brands.

But ideas are the easy part and ideas alone do not make a business. You need a plan and that plan needs to be smart, which some of you probably know means specific, measurable, realistic and has a timeline. That T's kind of cheating I reckon. It also needs to be actionable. And this is where your strategy planning comes in because it's your roadmap. You need to turn those exciting thoughts into practical steps or you say, you know what, great idea, never actually going to be possible.

I can't build a rocket in my garage. Actually, to be fair, a few people have done that. So I'm going to put that idea in the not to be considered pale. Otherwise, if you don't quantify, prioritise and note down your ideas, that's all they'll ever be. Ideas and thoughts. Execution is the hard stuff. It's the follow through. Actually doing the stuff you planned and doing it every day, doing it in the morning, doing it on a weekend when something more interesting or more exciting catches your eye. Because despite all of the drama and excitement around startup world. Sometimes it's just boring emails or filling in sell-in sheets.

This is not to say that you keep executing on something that isn't working. If something isn't working, then that's just an indication that you might need to adjust your plan or maybe your execution. It also might be an indication that you're making the decision that it isn't working too soon and blah, blah, blah. And if you want an interesting insight into that, I highly recommend the book Loonshots, which talks about failure and people who assume failure too fast. So your strategy isn't set in stone.

You need to evaluate it all the time. And again, that's why a plan on a page is more useful. My advice is to make time just to be creative on your own and then with the whole team. Chat, bounce ideas off each other, have some banter, dream big. Write these things down in one place. I recommend Notion. Then later on, after you've sort of chilled out, decide what aligns with your purpose, what will make an actual impact to your business and therefore what you're going to do.

This is particularly important in small teams. You need to get each person aligned to the goals you have and build the steps needed to achieve them. I tend to ally myself with ideas focused people, which means our meetings tend to be super fun, fast paced, meandering, wandering, drivel. That sounds a bit harsh, doesn't it? Discussions about things we could do. And it's only since we've implemented rules that if this is an idea that we all like, we're going to pop it in Notion and then we're going to revisit it and prioritise it. It's only since we've done that, have we started achieving things far faster. And if you have ideas that you love, but they aren't right for you at the current moment, create a later on or an into the long grass list, as one of my team would say. If you keep them recorded, that'll stop your mind freaking out and obsessing over them, but it means you don't have to do it right now. Because at the end of the day, once you decide you're not going to action something, it's not helpful to keep talking about it.

Kick it into the long grass. Out of sight, but then not quite out of mind. You need to protect your brand. This is a big part of long-term thinking and so many businesses suck at it. Where would you like to see your brand in five years' time? Think big. And then you kind of need to start acting like that's already happened. I got to interview Sim from Girls That Invest and she says something that just resonates perfectly. When she started the Girls That Invest Instagram page, she treated those five followers like they were 500,000 and now look at her brand. You need to start acting like what you want has already happened. I remember I met the former CMO of our airline and among many wonderful pieces of advice, he said to me, if you really want to take to be a billion dollar brand, you need to start acting like it, you need to start saying it.

Now, prior to that conversation, I felt like an absolute idiot saying, the TIG's gonna be a billion dollar brand, because who was I to say something so ridiculous? But I sort of ruminated on what he said, and I started tentatively saying it

to people who wouldn't laugh at me, at least outwardly. And then, rapidly, it became something I was very comfortable saying. And of course, Incredibles is gonna be a billion dollar brand, right? But to build that brand, you need to take proactive steps to protect its integrity. Don't be me. Secure things like trademarks, domains, social media handles, even if they're not going to be used yet. You want to be consistent, so you want to maintain uniformity in your brand messaging, your visual imagery, product quality. It needs to be consistent. And if you're going to work with influencers and ambassadors, you need to make sure they align with your values, which is easier said than done. You might not have the money to start investing in hardcore trademark protections around the world, and I get it.

I take it from someone who learned the hard way. It is much harder and much more expensive to fix it years down the track. There are ways of securing your IP for the future. So have a chat to an IP lawyer for a couple of hundred bucks and just see what you can put into place from day one. Protecting your brand isn't just about messaging and consistency, it's about ensuring the foundations are in place. Trademarks are a biggie and these sorts of things are a big decision. They're a long-term thing you need to put in place that should go in a strategic plan because if one of your goals is to say expand into Australia next year, then you might want to be thinking, what do I need to put in place to ensure that that's achievable? And yeah, trademark is one of those things. The last big point is a little bit counterintuitive. You might remember I said to get support as a pillar. So you need to get support, but you need to be careful who you listen to because everyone is gonna have an opinion on what you're doing and how you're doing it. And most of them are not right. Some of them are not right because they don't understand your business. Some of them are not right because their experience is different to yours or it's just not relevant. Some of them are not right because they actually don't necessarily want the best for you and your business.

Thankfully, that group is rarer. Take advice, but always remember it needs to resonate with you inside. So when you're building a strategic plan and you get some advice on it and people are judging your goals or the steps to get there, take it with a grain of salt. Even if it's a professional business mentor or someone who's in the industry that's done it for years, just because they in theory know more on paper, doesn't mean they know your business better than you do.

That was an absolute blast through building a business strategy. There was a lot more information on businesses that better. Because strategy is, I think, kind of, people get overly wound up about it. They do think it's this big thing. All you need is a little bit of a roadmap to make your life a lot easier.

I ran a teak off a plan on a page for years. So go forth and plan. I look forward to seeing your plans on a page. Please do send them through to us. Hello at businessminute.com. Okay, well we've come to the close of today's episode. It's a little bit dry, isn't it? Strategy is a wee bit dry. It isn't in practice, but it is to talk about it. Next week will be an Incredibles update because we've done a fair bit. It's getting closer to launch. The stress and anxiety is creeping in, so I thought I'd have a chat to you about how that's going. But in the meantime, I'm really excited to introduce you to our monthly business sustainability challenge. Yes, big mouthy title. But we are a community of entrepreneurs, founders, businesses, and we want to change the world, right? Every business, no matter its size, has the potential to make a difference. So we're going to start easy. So every month we're going to have a new challenge. I'm going to pop it on LinkedIn.

I'm going to talk about it in the last episode of each month, and they're going to start easy. The first step is the easiest thing to do, which is simply assess your business practices. You need to have a look at what you're currently doing, things like energy usage, waste management, your supply chain, how you treat your team. I could go on and on and on. Are there areas where you could be more sustainable? You bet there will be.

This isn't about finding faults. It's not about blame because every business can do better, an undeniable fact. This is about finding opportunities that you can do better. Because how good would it be next year to say, you know what, I achieved this and this and this and we became a B Corp, or we sent 40% less waste to landfill or whatever. That will be a cool thing to look back at.

And like everything else, you need a sustainability strategy. And this is kind of like the building blocks of one of those. So number one, have a look at what you're doing now. And then this month's challenge is easy. I want you to audit your office supplies if you have an office, or your business supplies in general. Everybody has supplies of some description. So instead of buying Milo from a company that couldn't be less socially responsible, why don't you source hot chocolate from a local supplier who uses fairly sourced ingredients? If you use paper, get the recycled stuff, or look for stuff with FSC or PEFC certifications.

If you have an office or offer more than one type of milk, I mean how many people have switched to a plant milk and yet a lot of offices don't offer alternatives yet. This is the tip of the iceberg because people buy so much more for their business than they realise. Now I am not talking about the supply chain for the product you sell if you sell a product. That is a harder task. We'll get there but it's going to be later on in the year when you've built some confidence in your ability to take sustainable steps.

This is just the stuff you need to run the business. Imagine the difference if all businesses in Aotearoa started using a strict set of social and environmental rules to source their office supplies. It might sound small and unimportant, but it would actually have a really big impact. A really key part is to share your journey with, ideally, your customers, but if you don't want to do that, with your team. It can be a company blog, it can be through social media, internal newsletters, whatever, but it's a really good idea to bring people along the journey.

It encourages trust, it shows transparency, it also shows other businesses how to go about making the steps you're making so it becomes a movement. It also holds you accountable as well as inspiring others. So I'm excited to hear about your plans on a page and I'm excited to have you tell me how your monthly business sustainability challenge is going, which I think I'm going to need to shorten because that is hard to say. Never underestimate the impact that even those seemingly little decisions might have. I'm very excited to see how this goes.

Stay tuned next week for an incredible update. All the information you need is in the show notes. See you next week. Short and sweet, like all the best podcasts, right? Thank you for learning with me. It is always an absolute blast to put these together and share these stories, some of them which are a little ridiculous, and they all come from building a business that will hopefully change the world. If you enjoyed this episode, don't keep it to yourself and feel free to drop me a rating and hit that subscribe button. and hit that subscribe button. Kia ora and see you next week where I will have another incredible episode for you.

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