Chamber U class gives business professionals strategic advantage

by BETH ALTENA

SMARTER—Business people who took part in the Chamber U class, “Creating a Strategic Plan,” learn valuable skills from the free event. Chamber U classes are one of many ways the Rockford Chamber of Commerce helps its members succeed in business.

Rockford Chamber of Commerce (RCC) Executive Director Jeanne Gregory allowed her organization to serve as the example for a class on building a strategic business plan held Tuesday, Nov. 1 in the Rockford Public Schools administrative offices. The class was led by Lynda Nance of Nance Business Solutions.

“Whatever is wrong with your business, it’s your fault,” Nance stated, advice she often uses when consulting with business owners on how to improve their operations. She said she softens such blunt statements with the use of humor as she helps managers build a plan for improvement and success.

The evening did include humor, but also serious discussion on developing a strategy any business owner or manager can use to promote success in their company.

Step one, Nance explained, is a clear vision of a company’s purpose by creating a vision or mission statement. In the example of RCC, both a mission statement and vision have been created. RCC made an appropriate subject for study in the wake of the organization’s own strategic study. For RCC, the process was an intense, six-month job that was completed on November 1. The plan will lead the organization through the next three years and requires revisitation every 18 months.

Lynda Nance of Nance Business Solutions explains how to create a strategic plan for business during a Rockford Chamber of Commerce Chamber U class.

Members of the class took a short-cut version of the process during two hours of instruction, but were also advised that any strategic plan does need periodic review and adjustments as the company evolves.

Step two, after developing a mission statement, is creating a SWOT evaluation: identifying Strengths and Weaknesses and Opportunities and Threats. Nance advised it is vital to include members of all levels of an organization, as well as customers and even vendors, to take part. “Who knows your weaknesses better than your customers?” she noted. She also stressed the importance of involving those at every level of the company, rather than from a stratified distance of management only. “If you just go to employees and tell them, ‘This is what we’re doing,’ they won’t be on board.”

Third, develop “baseline metrics,” a measurable footprint of where your business is today. In the example of RCC, that could be the number of members. For others it could be a measure of the amount of business taking place, sales figures, or customer satisfaction.

Fourth, develop a minimum of three objective statements about the company’s marketing, finance and operations. Again using RCC as an example, Nance suggested an objective statement could be: “The objective of the Chamber is to increase awareness of Chamber benefits and membership.” An objective statement about finance could be: “The objective of the Chamber is to increase financial stability through improved membership involvement and sponsorship opportunities.”

Explaining finance and operations, Nance said she often tells clients, “Operations is how we work on a day-to-day basis. It’s where you lose all your money. Finance is how you track your money.” An objective statement for RCC on operations could be: “It is the objective of the Chamber to increase effectiveness and efficiency for the benefit of the community and our customers.”

Nance said it is extremely important not to skip the step of creating objective statements, as these are the measure used to evaluate what tactics to use to create a stronger company. “If someone contacts you to partner up in creating a festival for Dayton, Ohio, you can ask yourself, ‘Does this increase effectiveness of the Chamber for the benefit of the community and our customers?’ The answer is no, so you don’t do it.”

The fifth step is to develop SMART goals—goals that are Strategic, Manageable, Achievable, Relevant, and fit in a Timeframe. “If it’s not SMART, it’s not good,” Nance noted. She said having achievable goals is vital and if a manager tasks an employee with a goal that is not achievable, the failure is that of the manager, not the employee.

Examples of goals might be to develop relationships, develop an Internet strategy, develop a marketing plan, increase networking or plan for media advertising. She noted that goals need to start with a verb and require action. A timeframe for achieving goals has to be set and could be three to five years. “You could decide to join five new networking groups by 2012.”

Following through on the tactics identified to improve business and by judging possible actions against objective statements and the company mission statement or vision help business owners make decisions on a day-to-day basis when confronted with options.

Nance also stressed that any business strategic plan must consider the three legs of the business stool to be successful—operations, finance and sales and marketing. “The most common place where people fail is they don’t follow through on tactics.”

The first strategic plan a company undertakes is always the most difficult, but reviewing the material on a regular basis is much less so, Nance noted. She said it is proven that having a plan helps a company move forward successfully, and again used the example of the planning done by the RCC board. “The strategic planning they did a year ago led us to being here tonight.”

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