Although 2017 has started and we’re all back to work it is still a great time (during the slow period) to plan for the year ahead for your landscape business (existing or planning to start).
Business Plans are key for a business as it sets out goals for you and the team to know what the year ahead brings. As a starting point answer these two questions, Do you have a business plan? When was the last time you reviewed your business plan? Business Plans do not have to long documents and can be formulated using online templates. Often a simple 4-5 plan that sets out the key information (who you are, what you do, where, market, finances, etc) about the business is enough to get started. When reviewing or creating a business plan you need to be true to yourself and not to over enthusiastic and set expectations (sales or business initiatives) too high for you or your team. If you don’t feel comfortable or confident writing your business plan then speak to your government business department as many of them have guides on how to write a business plan and also offer free seminars on business planning, marketing, people management, finances and other areas of running a business.
For the year ahead a business needs to plan for each quarter, one year and five years. Each period requires a lesser degree of detail (i.e. quarter plan is detailed and the 5 year is dot points on key targets and possibilities.). As the economy and market can change it is best not to get caught up in the 5-10 year plan unless you are a mature business who needs to plan for succession.
Marketing is a major part of doing business and growing a businesses and goes beyond just advertising. Creating a marketing plan requires the business to look to the business plan and past clients and sales to determine possible growth and determine which areas and/or markets you would like to enter or increase sales. Marketing is dependent on the market and type of landscape business. A small business may concentrate on referrals, website, meet and greets and local events. A large business may determine that they want to spend time on exhibitions, conferences, social media or writing pieces for magazines and blogs. Each business requires a unique approach based on size, growth and location, there is no wrong or right marketing plan it is what suits your business to bring in customers and the right type of clients.
Marketing is also about knowing who you are, what you do, and who you customers are. The most important part of marketing is planning and setting up a calendar for the year to determine important deadlines such as awards, magazines, local press, conferences and expos.
Financial planning requires evaluting the past and the future market. The past(quarterly or yearly) gives you a snap-shot of a moment in time. Often you need to operate a plan a running profit & loss as well as possible cashflow and alternate budgets. Cashflow is what often closes business as they fail to plan for proper cashflow management i.e. growing too fast or not having enough cash to get through the slow periods.
Financial planning is often the lease favourite task of design based businesses, however it is something that allows the business to grow and give the leaders and team certainty. The best initiative you can take for 2017 is get advice where possible from accountants and financial managers, they may seem costly but can advise on the best approach for financial planning your business.
The buzzword that is often overused but often sets businesses apart from each other. Those business that innovate whether is it technical research and development, business or production systems, or just allowing time to stop and document what was learnt from a project is key in developing innovation within a business. Sometimes innovation is lead and other times it just occurs through a need (client or design requirements).
For 2017 you should set a innovation plan around at least one to two goals for the business and to support it with either time or finances to explore that goal and idea.
Leadership is key to so many elements of a business – finance, growth, culture, people, and more. Leaders often forget to set goals for themselves as they are often too focused on getting the work in and completed on time to the client’s satisfaction. However, as leaders set the tone for the business, it is best that they set aside some time for self-improvement or themselves to develop as a leader whether it is a formal course or conference or whether it is just listening to podcasts or reading a book. Businesses also need to plan for future leaders and further more succession, both areas which are often neglected until it is too late (i.e future leaders leave or the business leader leaves suddenly).
Look toward the future and review your current staff and who you are, your current leaders and who are the future leaders and determine their strengths, weaknesses and interests. This will then give the business a clearer picture of the future in terms of people not just finance and growth.
The most important part of your landscape business is your people. Planning the year ahead (projects, interests, support, training, business initiatives, leave, life events, etc) whether it is just an a basic calendar outline gives you and the team the general idea of the coming months. Also make time for people and mentoring to allow people to grow into their careers, gain experience, grow as people and praise people more than you manage them. Without people you business is little more than a legal entity with a leader.
It is with the plans above(Business, Finance, Marketing, etc) you can plan ahead for whether you will need more or less people and the skills that they need to have to support business initiatives. Also don’t forget the people who also make your business possible including your mentors, clients, consultants, suppliers; now is a great time catch up with them and learn about their plans for 2017. Your business cannot survive without your extended team of consultants, suppliers but even more so great clients who love and support what you do.
The above outline for business plans is not meant to be an extensive guide and cover every topic in detail but to provide the starting point. Creating plans may seem daunting at the beginning of a new year but just get your thoughts and ideas down on paper, setting out your ideas, plans and hopes for the year can give you and your team greater confidence in the year ahead and a reference point later in the year to assess how you are progressing and if you need to change or improve one or more elements of your plans.
Damian Holmes is the Editor of World Landscape Architecture and has also worked in several landscape architecture business as a Director and Manager involved in strategy and planning.