Testing Your Values, Living Your Brand Build your business plan around core values and never forget what those values are.

By Tim Berry

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Value-based marketing can help you flesh out your business plan with a better sense of what to do and why. You don't just design your logo. You live it. You become what you say it stands for.

For example, take the computer dealer whose self-image and marketing literature are based on providing extra service for small business customers. The value proposition is about reliability, reassurance, competence and building relationships with clients instead of just selling boxes to customers; there is an implied price premium. That business can't just assert that position, it has to live it in all phases of the business. For example:

  • A business like this needs a visible service area with service technicans behind a wide counter wearing professional-looking long white robes.
  • This company needs to install systems -- not just sell them -- and train people to use them.
  • They need to live out their pricing strategy, sell the relationship, not the specific product, and charging more. You can't claim to be about reliability and reassurance and then match the lowest discount price. That's not credible. It's also not financially sound.
  • Even in the allegedly unrelated areas -- like finance -- the business needs to live out the value proposition. Finance might normally be about collecting late bills from clients who are paying slowly. But with this kind of value proposition, finance should link back to sales, installation, support and training to make sure those foot-dragging clients aren't unhappy with what they got.

Many businesses are in danger of forgetting what they're about. You can't advertise "friendly skies" and not make every effort to have friendly employees. You can't advertise hospitality and offer hostility. You can't advertise service and offer long lines and frustration. You can't have gourmet pricing and bad fast food.

How does that work into business planning? Frankly, very well.

Start by defining your value proposition. Ask yourself what benefit you offer, what need do you fulfill, to what kind of customer and at what price level. That's your value proposition.

If you're going to be good at this, stay skeptical. Test it. Could your competitors say the same thing? Would it be as true for them as it is for you? If the answer is yes, then you don't have it right yet. When you feel like you have the value proposition right, build your strategy around it. How do you deliver on your promise? How do you get the word out?

This is where most businesses stop. Be better than most. With your value proposition in hand, go department by department, function by function, through your business. Look at every function you have -- all the way from the top and the marketing and sales areas, through your operations, fulfillment and even finance and accounting -- and check for whether what you're doing supports, ignores or takes away from your value proposition.

Then turn that into concrete action points, steps to be taken, milestones, dates and deadlines - then you'll have a better business plan.

Tim Berry

Entrepreneur, Business Planner and Angel Investor

Tim Berry is the chairman of Eugene, Ore.-Palo Alto Software, which produces business-planning software. He founded Bplans.com and wrote The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press. Berry is also a co-founder of HavePresence.com, a leader in a local angel-investment group and a judge of international business-plan competitions.

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