Entnote/27"/dt1st/mark2nd

PRODUCTION HER PHOTO RAN IN ENTREPRENEUR'S NOTEBOOK ON BOTH MARCH 30 AND APRIL 5, 1998

By BETSY VAVRIN

It's almost November. Two months remain in 1998. Have you prepared a strategic marketing plan for 1999?

If not, you are probably not alone. But now is the time to get started.

We all know it is pretty hard to navigate unfamiliar territory without a map, so consider your strategic marketing plan your map. It keeps you on the right road. It helps you check the landmarks along the way. It directs you to your goal.

As with any plan, you first want to assess your current situation. Review your company's position in the marketplace. How do you stack up against the competition? How do your sales compare? What are your capabilities vs. theirs? Compare your company on as many levels as possible. The goal is to know what your company's strengths and weaknesses are compared to the competition. This will allow you to identify the challenges that lie ahead.

In addition to sizing up the competition, it is important to review industry trends. What are some of the issues and opportunities of your particular industry? Is your industry experiencing growth, or is it declining? Assess the economic factors that may impact your industry and your company. If you are in a technical field, are you finding it hard to attract well-trained employees? Are there supply problems with a component of your product? If you are in a service industry, is there still a strong demand for your particular service?

You will also want to look at seasonal and technological factors that may impact your business in the upcoming year. This will help you stabilize your cash flow if there are severe seasonal changes. It will also help you budget for needed equipment if industry changes indicate there will be technological advances affecting your sales. In addition, investigate any upcoming regulatory issues positive or negative that will impact your business.

Lastly, analyze your distribution channels. Are they cost effective? Do they provide you with a niche opportunity compared to the competition?

Don't overlook the opportunity to learn from your employees and customers. They already have a relationship with you and can determine firsthand what you are doing right, and what you need to change or eliminate. An annual customer and employee survey (two separate surveys) are indispensable to learn how you are doing with those who count the most, and whose opinion you should respect.

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