Traditional business plans are long, comprehensive and difficult, and they take a long time to prepare. It is a task that will require the development of assumptions and projections based on vision, objectives, market conditions, and competitive analysis.
This article aims to outline how you can modernise your business plan in order to create a digital business plan for the contemporary age. Before you get started, it may help to briefly recall the purposes that a traditional business plan serves. It is, in essence, a strategic document, and needs to:
- Set out clear business objectives based on information and analytical data.
- Present the viability of a business venture.
- Detail the assumptions on which a business prospect relies.
- Outline cash flow projections based on assumed sales, expenses, market data, and competitive analysis.
- Include resumes which outline the strength and relevant background and experience of the most important staff members including the business owner.
- Outline business and market strategies in case of setbacks and adverse conditions.
The traditional business plan is a selling tool used in negotiations with lenders, banks, and investors. You can also use the business plan to solicit feedback and advice from your lawyer, bank, business mentor, trusted business friends, potential customers, and small business organisations. Finally, the business plan is a tool for measuring income, expenses and profitability against projections made in the plan.
The Digital Business Plan
Market conditions are changing rapidly in response to technological advancements. For this reason, a business plan has a progressively shorter life-span and needs to be revised and updated more frequently.
Both assumptions and market data needs to be reviewed and updated at least annually and quite possibly quarterly. Two separate market conditions have changed expectations about strategies that must now be incorporated into a digital business plan.
- Business organisations must now embrace technology to remain relevant and competitive.
- Organisations must develop a digital strategy with particular emphasis on mobile technology and mobile applications.
These conditions have given rise to what is now called the Modern Digital Business Plan, and this type of digital business plan is dramatically reduced in size. Entrepreneurs may wish to use an application called StratPad to guide them through the process of writing a shorter plan.
What is a Digital Business Plan?
A digital business plan is an extension of your regular business plan that details how digital initiatives can contribute to the success of the vision, the goals, and opportunities contained in the business plan.
For example, consumers today expect to communicate with a company using a website, app or phone, and the strategies outlined in the business plan should facilitate such communication.
What Needs to be Included in a Digital Business Plan?
There are some aspects of a business plan that will be applicable to both a traditional business plan as well as a digital business plan, and these include:
Vision - A business vision statement will outline that you wish your business to focus on, and should communicate your long-term view for your organisation. It should include your mission statement, your goals, and your company’s values to your staff, your financial backers, and your customers.
Mission - Your mission statement is the core of your business objectives, and the principles underlying them. It should reflect every facet of your business, as this will help to clarify what you want to achieve.
Goals - By sitting down and taking the time to choose goals that are tailored to your company, you will be on the right track to achieving those goals. They shouldn’t be generic, but rather be specific targets that you can work towards.
For example, instead of setting a goal of ‘I will turn a profit in six months’, you should set a goal of ‘I will sell 200 units of Apple headphones in six months in order to turn a profit on this product’. By being specific you keep yourself and your staff on the right track of what needs to be done to achieve that goal.
Values- Your business values should be made up of three things: The principles you personally stand for; the attitudes and beliefs that everyone in the business has in common, and the standards of behaviour that your organisation subscribes to.
There are also aspects of every business that will have an impact on the actions you need to take, and these include:
- Finance- How will you generate revenue? What are your costs likely to be? What are your profit projections?
- Staff - What positions in the business are there to be filled? What policies do you need to have in place?
- Marketing - How do you plan to market your new venture? Include the four P’s of marketing: Price, Product, Promotion and Place.
- Operations - What systems will your business use? What will your overhead be? How will you improve efficiency?
- Customers - Who are your target customers? How will they find you? How will they purchase/hire your goods/services?
Cloud based accounting practices
How do you backup your financial data? Cloud computing offers a convenient and reliable method for backing up accounting data, and the primary advantage is that the data can be retrieved using a desktop or mobile device from any location.
However, before choosing a cloud provider it is essential to make sure that it offers more than incremental backups, as historical financial reports must be retrievable ongoing.
Online ordering and payment system
How flexible is your online ordering and payment system? Many programs and mobile applications are now available to allow customers to place orders and pay online, but some are still user-unfriendly. Ensure that the ordering and payment system you choose is suited to your products/services.
Do your employees prefer to use their personal mobile device to perform work-related tasks? It can provide a significant cost saving for an organisation to implement a BYOD policy, as it reduces the amount of hardware that needs to be purchased upfront by the business. If you decide to allow your employees to BYOD, does your BYOD policy ensure that company data is not mishandled? And does the policy set out what to do if a mobile device is lost or stolen?
Regulated use of mobile devices
If your employees are allowed to use either their own or company mobile devices, do you have a system in place to regulate their personal vs professional use and their device’s security? It’s important that everyone is on the same page, particularly regarding what your staff’s responsibilities are regarding software and security updates, bills and liability.
Use of cloud-based applications and tools for projects
Have you thought of using cloud-based tools for project management and project collaboration? Cloud providers supply a range of tools on a subscription basis and can be an economic choice for startups and large enterprises alike.
Integration of digital technology and apps
Can your staff members communicate and collaborate regardless of location? Can they accept orders, process payments, and enter project time and expenses using a mobile device? There is a large range of business applications available on mobile stores like the Apple store and Google Play designed to provide mobility for staff, as it enables them to access project data from any location. For example, Google recently introduced a work-related mobile for Android devices called Android for Work.
How do your staff members communicate between themselves and with customers? Online chat can be implemented with a service provider like Skype, which provides voice, video, and conference call facilities.
Does your website attract a sufficient number of visitors? Search engine optimisation (SEO) ensures the visibility of a website in Search Engine Result Pages (SERP). The purpose of SEO is to make a website appear in search listings in response to a person’s search intent. The major factor is the selection of a major and some secondary keywords (search phrases), but SEO is a complex process that involves more than 50 ranking factors.
Pay-per-click (PPC) is the use of paid advertisements (Google Adwords) to increase visibility and bring in sales/leads from the search engine Google. PPC is an essential part of any lead generation campaign for a business, and so should be implemented by the marketing department of a company.
Do you have a presence on social media channels? Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest facilitate engagement with potential or existing clients. Like website content creation, social media activities should be based on a content marketing strategy that defines what type of content to post, the frequency of posting, and analytics to measure what type of content produces the best engagement with clients. Facebook ads can also be a valuable lead generation resource for business, depending on your industry and target audience.
Google for Business
Can new clients easily find the location of your business? The Google for Business program suite is particularly important for promoting a business in a local area, as people will be able to look at Google Maps to find the business location. Once entered, the business will also appear in search and on Google+. You can begin the process of adding your business to Google here.
Having an email marketing system in place is a great way to take advantage of any contact information you may have in your database. This is effectively free advertising and can be a good way to encourage consumer engagement. There are a number of email marketing solutions available where a company will take care of your email campaigns, such as Direct Mail and Marketing, or there are DIY solutions available such as Hilltop Mail and MailChimp.
Responsive website design/Mobile site
Is your website optimised for mobile devices? This implies what is called responsive design. Wordpress sites use a responsive theme, while HTML/CSS sites can use different techniques to make the design responsive. A responsive design means that the site displays correctly on the narrow screen of a mobile phone, as well as on the size of a PC screen. All websites today should have a responsive website design or a mobile-friendly site, as Google is now prioritising those sites with mobile-responsive features over sites that are desktop-capable only. You can find out more about this here, and you can find out if your website is mobile-friendly by Google’s standards here.
Implementation of a content strategy
Do you have a website content strategy? It should set out the planning, development, and management of your website content, as Google and other search engines now emphasise website content as a critical factor for site ranking. Articles or posts should be longer and more comprehensive than regular page content, and in addition to main keywords the content must contain theme-related words and phrases, also called semantically related terms. Such terms ensure that the content is relevant to your target audience. An example template of a business’ content strategy can be found here.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Do you have an integrated customer management system? A Customer Relations system is a prime software tool for managing a company’s interactions with customers. It can automate, organise, and synchronise sales, marketing, customer service, and customer support activities. There is a range of different CRM programs available, such as Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, and Infusionsoft.
Cloud-based file management
Have you considered the pros and cons of cloud-based file storage? Files stored on a cloud server can be retrieved from any location using a mobile device. It provides flexibility as project staff working in different locations can collaborate, share files, and assign project tasks easily.
How secure is your computer and communications network? Security systems must be implemented that prevent the intrusion of computer viruses, malware, malicious hackers, and spam mail.
Reliable backup process
How safe is your data? A reliable backup process is an essential requirement for any business. Apart from data loss caused by equipment failure or malicious hacking, the process should also provide off-site data storage as protection from theft, fire, or natural disasters.
A Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate increases website security and provides encryption of data, and is recommended for all businesses with an online presence.
What hardware and software could you potentially hire from a cloud service provider? Cloud service providers supply hardware and software on a subscription basis.
Source nationally and globally
Do you operate on a worldwide basis? Digital facilities enable companies to source products or services on a worldwide basis.
Are your software systems optimised for the tasks they perform? Strategic reviews may reveal areas where existing systems can be customised to provide improved productivity.
What manual processes can potentially be automated? Manual processes should be reviewed and analysed with the intention of integrating them with online computer systems.
Automatic inventory control
Is your inventory management a manual process? Computer systems are available that can re-order products on the basis of sales volume and inventory holdings.
Review and implement systems that improve online purchasing as a service for customers, and as an internal process for inventory management. A variety of mobile applications are available.
Save capital costs by paying a subscription service to software programs.
Online purchasing capability
An increasing number of Australian people now prefer to shop and pay for products and services online. As outlined in the operational section, potential systems include payment gateways and mobile applications.
What channels can customers use to order and pay for your services? These can include the Internet, mobile applications, Facebook or online ordering applications.
How do your customers find common information and problem solutions? Publish an FAQ on your website. It can save your staff a lot of time by not having to answer the same questions repeatedly.
Who and how do your customers contact your business for support? Customers today expect fast turnaround and good customer support service. Implement a live chat system or a ticket system, or alternatively, have a dedicated email for contact.
Call to Action apparent throughout the website (CTA)
There is a saying that people browsing a website will only take action if told to do so. Be clear what action you want people to take, and spell it out on every page.
Use of social media for engagement
Implement a social media strategy, and establish a presence on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. This will increase the engagement with your customers and potential customers have with your brand.
**This article is limited to the incorporation of a digital strategy in the appropriate segments of the business plan
If you’d like more detailed instructions on how your digital business plan needs to be filled out, this YouTube video from the Queensland Government could be of use. Based on a recording made from a June 2013 webinar, this clip is an introduction to digital strategy for small businesses, but can also be applied to larger enterprises that are moving online.
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Digital Business Plan Template
If you’d like to use our outline to create your own digital business plan template, download the PDF here.
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