What is a business without customers? The most important step in business planning is finding out who your customers are, what their needs are, and why they want to buy from you. Is the market right for you? Are you targeting the right customers? Do they identify with your value proposition and your brand promise? If you don't know the answers to these questions you may want to revisit the planning stage.
1) Be clear about whom you are and your unique value proposition
Sounds obvious, but more than just a product or service, what are you really selling? What problem are you solving and why would your product or service resonate with your customers? What unique benefits do you offer? This is what you must lock down in your brand promise.
Think about it. Take a look at some of the businesses and brands that you resonate with. What about their brand keeps you coming back for more? Certainly you have other options to choose from, so what is it that keeps you coming back for more, what is their unique benefit? What they are really selling is a combination of product, value, ambience (or not), and brand experience.
Take a look at this blog about the power or emotional marketing. This blog offers tips on how you can develop and capitalize on these elements of value.
2) Stay Focused
One of the pitfalls of not defining what you have to offer is that you can quickly become a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. This can have a negative impact on business growth.
Think about it from the perspective of a consumer. How often do you see marketing flyers promoting the service of a local handy man who claims to be an expert in everything from drywall installation to plumbing repairs, and so on? Or the restaurant that offers Chinese food, pizza, and subs. You wouldn't choose either of these, because they have no specialty. You'll win a lot more business with a strong strategic focus on something specific.
3) Identify Your Niche
The flip side of being a jack-of-all-trades is finding your niche and playing to your strengths within that niche. Creating a niche for your business is essential to success. For example, say you want to quit your day job and become a freelance writer. You know there's a need in the market for a trustworthy, reliable, and consistently good technical writer - and clients are willing to pay a certain price point for that quality and value.
Now you could simply advertise your services on an online freelance marketplace, as many do, and hope to pick up any business from any customer anywhere on the map. But by identifying your niche and choosing to attract customers who will value your services, you will quickly build on that niche and be on the path towards business success.
4) Find Your Target Customer
Identifying and finding your ideal target customer is a process few businesses can't afford to get wrong. A few simple steps can help get you along the way and are covered here in this SBA guide: Identifying Your Target Market.
5) Tailor your brand promise
Now that you've identified your target market you'll need to craft a message that reaches and speaks to that market while reinforcing your brand identity. It not only explains what you have to offer, why you're different, and why anyone should buy from you, but it should communicate the promise you're making the customer. This promise speaks to the integrity of your business.
The moral of the story is be clear, be specific, and communicate your unique value. Here are some additional resources to help you on your way.
Established business owners: how did you establish your target market? What are some of the lessons you learned?