Why on Earth Do You Need a Strategy?

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Everyone I’ve talked to, taught, advised and consulted through the years will agree that everything in life, love and work begins with a plan. Better said than done, so I say. We old bats in the corporate world know exactly how to start a company, start a project, start an initiative, start a campaign and everything there is to start in one’s professional life. Through our corporate lives, we were taught how to do exactly that. But today’s young ones? The guys and gals you call Millennials, ages 20 to 35? Those who seem to drift from one job to another? People who never planned their careers? It seems many in this generation somehow miss the boat about strategy and planning.

There was once a guy who created an awesome mobile service. His belief was if you throw it out there, it will eventually drive young people to the brink of choking the living daylights of his servers because of too many downloads. For him, social media is the only way to make his target market learn about his app, download it to their smartphones and become user-evangelists. “If we make a lot of noise in the social network, the Millennials will be more eager than ever to download it – and use it.”

Two years have passed and the paltry numbers of a few thousands have not met his ideal objective of hitting tens of millions of active users of his app. Yesterday, he started a “reboot” on how to achieve this the second time around. He got some funding (again) to throw money in the Internet pit and hope to accomplish his dream. Do you think he’ll make it this time?

Think of the dozens of activities, whether social or not, as a base of things that one thinks should be undertaken. But without an overall strategy – that old, reliable VMV (Vision. Mission. Values.) – some if not most of those activities will be a waste of your time, effort and money simply because there is no single, defining strategy these activities report to.

Think of a pyramid. The overall strategy rests atop the pyramid; all the activities you need to do are found at the bottom. If these were people, everything the bottom group is doing all points to the top – the strategy. The strategy defines the long-term objective; the bottom activities are short-term wins to achieve the long-term success.

There are dozens if not thousands of ways, methods, tools, even apps, one can use to define this pyramid. There are those you read in books, some go through short-course training programs, others via a two-day intensive seminar, or maybe some short-circuited MBA program. Google has been today’s universal library of sorts and one can find the right, comfortable method to create “The Plan.”

My point here is that no matter how old you are – Millennial, Generation X or even as a Baby Boomer – you must create a plan to achieve your success. Take this as your reminder, as your wake up call, as your knock-on-the-head alert or simply a slap on your face.

Planning is key, whether your endeavor is technical, personal, spiritual, product- or service-oriented. Along the way, some things in your plan may not relate to the changing times. Heck! Change it along the way. But at least, everything started with a plan.

 

But planning isn’t all about flowery words and emotions. In business as in life, planning includes numbers.

Recently, I was asked by my friend to accompany him to meet his prospective client, to brainstorm on a project opportunity about social media engagements. The last word he gave his client prior to our meeting was a cost approximation on the basis of what the client thought he needed. That approximation was $11,364 which would give his client the ability to listen, monitor and engage with the social market – that’s the strategy. I took the discussion further and started to create a general plan. After an hour or so, they were appalled to learn that the total population of the client’s market was 35 million people online. If that was the case, then the real cost for achieving the objective came out to be $99,431,818 – not $11,364. In that two-hour meeting, here is how I came out with that figure.

From my knowledge of the social market, 20 million out of the 35 million was the social market. Let us say 10 percent of 20 million will be engaging with the client, besides listening and monitoring, or 2 million. Of the latter number, 200,000 will be the simultaneous number of social interactions. The non-peak rate of 200,000 interactions is 20,000. If one customer service rep (or CSR) on social media can handle 10 simultaneous customers at a time, then you need 2,000 CSRs. To conservatively start the social center, let’s say we’re okay to set up one with only 1,000 CSRs.

Nosebleed? Read the above paragraph a few more times so you can get my drift.

So, for the capital expenditure (or one-time buying cost) of setting up your 1,000 seat social center, it will cost the client about $3,400 per seat or $3,400,000. That number is based on my experience of setting up centers as small as 20 seats to as large as 1,500 seats. I know the approximate numbers relating to hardware costs, rent, furniture and fixtures, structured cabling, and a host of dozens of one-time costs.

The client agreed that the life of the social center for cost and ROI is five years. For the budget of operating the social center for five years, labor per seat, per month, will cost $681 and miscellaneous fees at $454, totaling $1,136 per month. Multiply the latter amount by 13 months (yes, add one month for buffer – benefits, incentives and undetermined costs), add another 30 percent buffer “just in case,” multiply it by five years and 1,000 seats. You’ll arrive at a 5-year operating expense budget of $96,022,727. Add the capital expense of $3,409,091, you total $99,431,818 or averaging $19,886,363 per year. A far cry from the $11,364 that was mentioned, right?

Was the client blown out of his seat? Of course he was! But that’s reality – that’s math.

Can the cost be reduced? Surely! Just as long as the strategy is redefined. If you read back up, I hope you noticed that the word “engagement” was what jacked up the price. Remove that word from the strategy and you’re left with “listening and monitoring.” Now, think about it – is social “listening and monitoring” going to be that expensive? Definitely not. How much, then, will be the new cost? That’s another long story to tell.

My previous hands-on experience, knowledge and researched information led me to define the “math” involved in coming up with the realistic, maybe-conservative cost of $99,431,818. Without those three things in my “expertise arsenal,” I would have told the client to go home while I researched the numbers.

Numbers don’t lie. Math is math – it is precise, factual and real. But the strategy actually defined the math, not the other way around. Change the strategy and the numbers will change. Whether you’re talking about a similar endeavor or it has something to do with selling and marketing your products or services, it is inevitable that you first define your strategy, create your plan, and the numbers, including profit and loss statement, will easily fall into place. Costs too high or projected revenue too small? Redefine the strategy, adjust the plan, and do the math again.

Need help? Well, that’s what I do. But again, that’s another story.

Good luck and hope you learned something.

Title image by McGeddon via Wikipedia.org.

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