When life derails your plans the way that COVID-19 did to so many small businesses in 2020, planning for the future can seem almost pointless. After all, how can you develop a proper course of action when so much of the future is still unclear? Yet, as counterintuitive as it might sound, it is during these times of chaos when business owners need a clear strategy the most. In this episode, Jon Aidukonis and Gene Marks, along with Small Biz Silver Lining Founder Carissa Reiniger, discuss how small business owners can create a successful 12-month action plan, even in the midst of uncertainty.

Executive Summary

0:21—Today’s Topic: How Do I Develop a 12-Month Action Plan for My Small Business?

1:59—SLAP™ (Silver Lining Action Plan) initially grew out of a desire to help small business owners make more money and find new customers. However, unlike other programs, it utilizes behavior change science to develop a plan that actually motivates them into taking action.

5:11—While it might seem counterintuitive, small business owners need to be even more intentional about their time and resources during periods of extreme crisis or chaos.

6:23—In order to develop a successful plan, you need to be honest about what you really want, as opposed to what you’re supposed to want.

9:11—The three factors that prevent small business owners from being honest about their true goals are complacency, insecurity, and not knowing what they want.

12:13—One quality that most successful entrepreneurs have is the ability to decipher between fear and risk. This skill enables them to make the right decisions for their business and keeps them from remaining stuck in complacency.

13:30—The first step in building a 12-month action plan is creating a SLAP™ statement based on what your business does; who your services or products are for; and how big you want your operational scale to be.

15:40—Once you’ve created a SLAP™ statement, you have to define your ideal client so that you can figure out how to connect with them and hit your growth goals.

16:19—Next, you need to set some financial goals. By examining your current revenue streams and your expenses, you’ll get a clearer sense of how to optimize your performance.

17:05—The last step of this process is creating a concise action plan that outlines your business development and sales market strategies.

17:53—If your current business strategy isn’t working, it may be due to a lack of alignment between your goals and your actions.

21:28—Small Biz Silver Lining offers several free resources, including a two-hour workshop, for business owners who want to develop their 12-month action plan.



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Jon: Good morning, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Small Biz Ahead, the small business podcast presented by The Hartford. This is Jon Aidukonis. I’m joined by my co-host Gene Marks, and we also have a very special guest back, Carissa Reiniger, the founder and CEO of Small Business Silver Lining here to talk a little bit more to us today about action planning and how to keep track on your goals. So, how’s everybody doing this morning?

Carissa: Glad to be back.

Gene: Yeah, I’m fine because I’m in the U.S. and Carissa’s in Australia, stuck forever.

Carissa: I know, it does appear to be that way. The days turn into weeks and the weeks seem to be turning into months. So we’ll see if we can prevent the months turning into years.

Gene: Carissa, “Exactly how many shrimp on the Barbie can one have before enough is enough?”

Carissa: Apparently an unlimited amount as long as also beside the shrimp on the Barbie, there’s a lamb on the spit and there’s a couple other Aussie things that I’ve learned in my time here.

Gene: Well, come back soon.

Carissa: I plan to. We will be back. It’s a matter of when, not if.

Jon: International travel for sure right now is daunting, I’m sure for everybody.

Carissa: I keep joking that I was actually supposed to fly back last year at this exact time. So I just skipped a year. That’s the way I’m thinking about it is, we had the time warp of the last 12 months and everything will get back on track.

Jon: It’s a new way to think about leap year.

Carissa: Exactly. That’s funny.

Jon: Thank you for making the time to join us and especially probably at an awkward time for you, but really interested in continuing the conversations we’ve been having. So, we talked a little bit last week about mindset and the things folks can do to plan and develop a strategic plan, but really wanted to dive into the how with you today.

Jon: For our listeners, Carissa is the creator of what’s called the SLAP program, which I’ll let her give a little bit of color on, but really a way to help you focus on your goals, come back to a business action statement and set those regular milestones and KPIs so you can keep your business growing or running the way that you want to do. And I just thought it’d be great to kind of get some insight on how that program came to be and how business owners might be able to take advantage of the lessons there, loop it into their everyday routine. So Carissa, I’ll turn it over to you, but really curious to learn more about SLAP and your thoughts on planning and financial planning in general.

Carissa: Yeah. We’ve learned so much. So I can give you guys just a really quick history of it and then talk more specifically about what it’s meant in the last year, since COVID hit, and obviously the impact that it’s had on small business and the disruption that it’s obviously caused. So I actually started Silver Lining 16 years ago. Very, very, very long time ago and my background’s in psychology. And when I first started Silver Lining, my goal was to figure out how to help small businesses make more money, because I thought to myself, “There’s all these incredible human beings out there who work so hard, who are so passionate, who are so talented, but the average small business owner often struggles with sustainability and profitability and cashflow and making what they deserve, quite honestly.

Carissa: So, my original approach to SLAP was to really just focus on business development. How do we help small businesses get really clear about their basic financial model, what their sales goals need to be, and then how to go find new customers? And that’s still the core of the methodology, right? Basically looking at how do we, go find more customers, increase our revenue but in a sustainable way, so that we can hit our financial goals? But the more important thing that I learned as I implemented it and as I worked with businesses is that actually my psychology background was more relevant than I thought, because so much of the obstacles that we face as business owners and so many of the things that get in the way actually have to do with our mindset and with our ability to be focused and disciplined.

Carissa: And so, what I realized is just having a good plan is basically useless. You could spend a million dollars, hire the smartest people in the world, build the best plan to grow your business on the planet but if you keep doing the same thing every single day, all day long and you don’t actually implement that plan, well then that plan is useless. And so what I really started to realize, and the reason it’s called the SLAP, which stands for the Silver Lining Action Plan, is that so often we get stuck in thinking, if we just have the right plan, then everything will be okay. What I actually have learned is that you need to have a plan, but that plan needs to be something that drives you into action. And actually, if you’re taking the right action all the time over and over and over again, that’s when you succeed.

Carissa: So, SLAP is basically, it takes three hours to build the plan. But then for the next 12 months, we wrap strategy and accountability and structure and training and supporting community and all of these things that behavior change science says that we need as humans around us in order to succeed. And I’m going to pause because I’m guessing you have thoughts or comments. But one last thing that I’ll say before I do is that when COVID hit, what most businesses said to us, their instinct was, “It’s so confusing. It’s so chaotic. No one knows what’s going to happen. I can’t make a plan right now. I have no idea know what’s going on. Everything’s out the window. It’s so chaotic. I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so busy.” All the things that we feel every day that felt really heightened in the COVID days.

Carissa: And our response back to them, which I believe a hundred percent is true is, “Okay, when there’s more crisis, when it’s more unclear, when there’s more chaos, when there’s more demands on your time and your money, when it’s harder to succeed, that’s actually when we need to be even more intentional. And that’s when we need to be even more clear and focused and diligent about how we spend the time and money that we have. And so, I think a lot of small businesses have decided or thought to themselves that in the midst of COVID, it’s impossible to make a plan. And I would say the opposite, I would say it’s imperative to make a plan, but that plan shouldn’t be a 20 page old, stodgy business plan. That’s boring and annoying. That plan should be something that focuses you so that the time and money you spend gives you the best chance of success.

Jon: I think that’s really interesting because I think it’s just getting… Sometimes putting something down on paper and just saying, “This is what I’m going to do,” and working the plan is just a good first step. Right? And it gives you something to go back to. So, when you’re thinking about what business owners can do to start that process, what is the first step in defining an action plan? What are the questions that you should be asking yourself for answering?

Carissa: Yeah, love that question. So the very first, and this sounds like jibberish and silly, but it’s true. The first one is, what are you trying to accomplish? I say this all the time and I apologize for repeating it, but I think we really have this false sense of what success looks like. We’ve got this narrative, to be a successful entrepreneur I need to raise millions and sell for billions and build an app and I don’t know, whatever else we think we need to do. But that’s not true. There’s a lot of ways to measure success and there’s a lot of reasons to build a business. Is what you’re trying to accomplish to create more spare time for your family? Is your primary objective to make more money so that you can buy a house? Is your primary objective to make enough income so that you can hire staff so that you can delegate work and get out of the grind?

Carissa: All of us have different motivations and have different core reasons for what we want to do and the action plan that I would help each of those different individuals that those examples I just described build, would be completely different because we’ve got different end goals we’re trying to get to. I had one really interesting small business we worked with years ago and it was during the global financial crisis. And she was based in Las Vegas and Las Vegas was demoralized. Their economy was just ravaged. And her goal for the year, her growth goal, was to downsize, to cut as many of her expenses as possible and to get more creative about how she delivered what she did so that she could survive the financial reality of the downturn.

Carissa: So the number one thing at the most high level and we can talk about tactics from here, but the number one most important thing is, what does growth mean to you? What does success mean to you? What do you want this business of yours to accomplish for you and your family and your team and your community and the economy? And then once we have that clear, and once we’ve told the truth about that, then it’s just tactical. Then we’ve got to look at the numbers and the business development strategies and who the customers are. We’ve got to look at the tactics from there, but a lot of build the wrong plan because they’re not being honest about what they really want. And so, they build a good plan, but it’s not the right plan for them. And that’s where I see so much wasted energy is people just not being honest about what they really want and then building the plan they get from that.

Jon: Do you find to get people to that honest state, do they tend to get there on their own? Is that something where partnering with someone like you guiding the conversation and really probing on what’s underneath is helpful? How do people start to be honest with themselves? Because I feel like you’re the easiest person to fool in your life, right?

Carissa: Totally.

Jon: Because you know how to talk yourself into believing things, like we all do. So I’m curious, what are the ways folks can really do that gut check and say, “Am I being honest or am I telling myself what I think I’m supposed to know?”

Carissa: A hundred percent we need outside input and prodding. I think that when I look at a lot of business owners and we have honest conversations after they’ve used SLAP or something like us, the three risk factors that I think we fall into and this is as true for every human being as it is for business owners. But in the context of this conversation, right? The first one is complacency. Things are good enough. And so why would I push for more? Why would I work harder? Or think differently if things are okay right now, right? So complacency is a big risk factor. Insecurity and fear and anxiety is a big risk factor to admitting what we want, right? When we say what we want, then there’s some level of accountability, even if it’s just to ourselves, to actually try to accomplish it.

Carissa: And, oftentimes, getting what we want takes some work, right? It takes some effort and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But certainly when you put it out there, there’s risks. There’s risk of failing, there’s risk of humiliation, there’s risk of proving to yourself that you’re not good enough. And that is a massive stopper. And then the third thing, the third risk to being honest with ourselves, what we really want, is I think just honestly not knowing, not having taken enough time, lots of us end up where we are because that’s how it happened as opposed to that’s where we designed it to be. And so, there’s a lot of people who I think don’t actually know how to think of what they want. Life has been a certain way and it doesn’t occur or seem natural or even there’s no knowledge or skillset to ask the question of, “Well, this is what it is, but have you thought about what it could be?”

Carissa: So, in all of those instances, we’ve got blind spots. I’ve been in 10 years of therapy, I’ve got business coaches. I use SLAP myself. I have friends that challenge me. I have tons of outside input and I still have so many blind spots. There’s still so many things that I haven’t thought of or I avoid. And so, that’s a very long answer to your question, but absolutely we are not, no human is meant to do life alone. None of us are meant to make decisions or to be creative or strategic in isolation. We are built for connection and input from other people. For sure.

Jon: Well, it’s interesting too, right? Because I think you get to a good point and as positive as you can build your circle around, I think it’s also important for folks, especially who are entrepreneurs to think about, it’s okay to not share your dream with people who are just going to try and rag on you too. And you need to be able to, I think, isolate your intuition from that fear and anxiety that you were talking about. And sometimes you got to trust your gut, but you got to know when it’s your gut and when it’s yourself trying to talk you out of doing something that you should do or justify an answer that you don’t want to hear.

Carissa: Totally. And that’s a good point because I think one of the biggest, actually, the entrepreneurs that I think are the most successful, one of the things they have in common is they can identify and differentiate fear versus risk, right? Because those things can feel and look the same, right? Like, “Oh, this is a big risk.”

Jon: Very true.

Carissa: And taking that risk could be great, versus, “Oh my God, I’m really scared.” And so understanding when we’re just being really smart and not being idiots and not taking on risk that’s just unreasonable, versus understanding when we’re scared and stepping away from opportunity, that takes some real work, but smart entrepreneurs, really savvy entrepreneurs can see those two for what they are and then make their decision.

Jon: Awesome. So, we’ve set our goals and we’ve gotten some mental clarity around what we want to do. So when we think about that tactical angle, so now we’ve set a growth goal or maybe a scale-down goal or just a business goal in general, maybe that requires us to find new customers or raise new capital or, maybe it requires us to think of a different operating model. Like what are, how do you then take that purpose statement of like, “This is what I want to do,” into like, “These are the tactics I need to do. And how do I actually address those?” How does that translate into action planning?

Carissa: Yeah. So, we think of it as, there’s four steps, basically. So the first is we call it our SLAP statement, but it could be anything that you want to call it. And it’s knowing the answer to three things. What do you do? Who do you do it for? What’s the scale you want to do it on? I think a lot of small business owners get stuck up in a lot of mumbo-jumbo with hype, vision statements and mission statements and this and that. And at the end of the day, I think all that matters is that you and your customers know what do you do in the plainest terms? Who do you do it for? And what scale do you do it on? Are you available in this local community, in the city, in the State, in the country, globally, who can access what you do?

Carissa: So, first of all, it’s really about grounding and being really focused. We have this knee-jerk reaction that the more we do, the more what’s and the more who’s and the bigger the scale, then the more opportunity we have and therefore the more successful we can be. But, actually, the opposite is true. The businesses that are the most focused and clear and specific are usually the ones that grow the fastest. So, first of all, it’s about getting clear and focused. SLAP Statement, what do you do? So, for example, Silver Linings SLAP statement is that Silver Lining sells SLAPS to James on a global scale. And so, every decision I make as a CEO needs to mean that it can help me sell SLAPS, that James will be in the room, or James will see it, that’s my ideal client, and that it’s global in scale.

Carissa: So when those opportunities come I say yes, when those opportunities do not, I say no. It’s really, really easy to decide when we invest company time and money and when we don’t. So, that’s the first step. The second step is really clarifying who that ideal client is. So, I referenced James, that’s the avatar of our ideal client, but being ridiculously specific about who your ideal client is. Notice I’m not saying target market or range, I’m saying, “Who’s your ideal client? How old is that person? Where do they live? Do they buy or rent their house? Do they drive or take public transit? What are their hobbies? What are they reading? Who is this person? So that we can be really specific about how we go and connect with them in order to hit our growth goals.

Carissa: So, number one, SLAP statement, number two, ideal client. Number three is your financial goals. And it doesn’t have to be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be some fancy financial model that the average small business owner can’t read or understand, but it is about having a very concise understanding of expenses, revenue streams, so the way that we make money, sales price, what we sell it for, hard costs. So, basically, what do we have to spend once we make that sale? And then therefore, what’s the profit margin? And then basically looking at the goals we have for growth, how much money we need to make, and then how many sales that calculates out to? So that process needs to culminate in a exact sales goal. And good goals aren’t vague. A good goal sounds something like, “I will sell 23 of this at this price by this date.”

Carissa: It’s very specific. And then the last step is the action plan. And the action plan is basically your business development, sales marketing plan. So we know who we are. We know who our customer is. We know how many sales we have to make. How are we going to do that? Right? We call them connecting strategies. I think marketing and sales can feel a little smarmy sometimes. So, how can we go out into the world to connect with the customers that we want to do business with? And so, that’s looking at things like referral programs, online marketing, media, hit list, loyalty programs, all of the different ways that we can basically do campaigns, do marketing, do sales, do business development, to find new customers. So, those are the four steps of building really concise, action oriented plan.

Jon: And do you ever find that one will influence the other? So, I think about your financial goals and Gene knows I love a restaurant example, but say you’re a new place in town. You want to be the cool, hip bistro for, I don’t know, you’ll define your market and you probably end up with a happy hour and dinner description, but then when you start looking at your business plan goals or your financial side, maybe what you realize is that your area of opportunity is really building up a lunch crowd.

Jon: So you’re target market to meet this goal might actually be increasing volume in a meal period where you have a lower cost of good and more opportunity to get more seatings in. Right? So, how often should people be going back to their action plan or really gut checking, do their financial goals meet their ideal client and does that meet their purpose? Because I think as much as you do it sequentially to get it done, but there must be a level of optimization or reality checks that you have to go through with yourself too.

Carissa: Totally. And you hit the nail on the head. If the four things, well, really the five things, right? If the reason you’re actually building this business, the first thing we spoke about, and then your SLAP statement, your ideal client, your financial goals, and your action plan, if those are not fully aligned, that’s when things stop working, right? So if you talk to an average business owner, what do we always think? “Oh, well, everything I’m trying isn’t working and it’s impossible to grow my business. And that marketing strategy didn’t work.” Usually, when we look a little deeper, they’re out of alignment. A lack of alignment is the number one reason that small businesses can’t find customers and make progress. So, your example is a great one, right?

Carissa: If your ideal client has X profile and the scale that you operate on is a local neighborhood and you were trying to be something really fun and cool, well, if you don’t then build a marketing campaign that connects those realities, right? By asking things like, “Well, what does my ideal client need? Do they eat lunch or do they go for after work drinks? How much money does my ideal client make? Are they junior level or mid-level or senior level? How much money would they then spend on lunch or drinks? Okay, well that has to become part of my price point figuring. Well, if that’s my price point, what do my costs have to look like to make sure my profit margin stays high enough?”

Carissa: It’s all interconnected. It all has to be aligned. And so often, some small tweaks… People think that their businesses are in trouble and think that they need to throw everything out and start again. So often, it’s about bringing small things into alignment so that all of those five things I’ve referenced are telling the same story, doing the same thing, reaching the same people in a way that meets their needs and speaks their language. And you can make really quick progress really quickly, by being really focused and aligned in that way.

Jon: Awesome. So, I think we’re almost at time. So, if you were going to pinpoint your advice for folks as they were thinking about taking a look at their business and getting into that action planning mode, it sounds like first is figure out who you do your business for and what you’re trying to accomplish, right? Really get granular on who that person is that you’re serving, figure out those financial goals you need to reach, and then make sure that everything syncs up. And if not, then you got to figure out the puzzle piece that isn’t fitting and go back. But I think those are some good thoughts for folks to have, as they’re thinking about next year and what the future of their business looks like. So, very much appreciate your insight and time there. Anything else you’d like to add for our folks?

Carissa: Only that, and this is totally for free, on our website we have a two hour workshop along with a guided workbook to basically go through all the steps I just spoke about and to build a one-year action plan. It takes two hours and you can have an entire one-year plan and it’s a hundred percent for free. So, if that’s helpful to anyone to actually say, “Oh, I’d actually like to answer these questions and figure this out,” happy to make that available for anyone who that could be helpful too.

Jon: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for that. And I think also, if you’re a blog reader of SBA, there’s going to be an article that goes a little bit deeper in this, so feel free to check that out. And I think also a complimentary workbook as we talk about the on demand workshops. So, Carissa, Where can they find you? What’s your website?

Carissa: Smallbizsilverlining.com.

Jon: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you everyone for listening. We couldn’t do this without you, and we will catch you on the next episode of SBA, Small Biz Ahead, the small business podcast presented by The Hartford. And make sure you check us out at sba.thehartford.com to find the resources that Carissa just mentioned. And I hope everyone has a great rest of your day.

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