Entrepreneurs have been compared to many things and each of us must find the metaphor that works best for us. For me, it has been to think of my business as a ship. It is the vessel that will take me to my ultimate destination. My role is to set the destination, design and build the ship, determine the flag I will fly, chart the course, hire the crew, refuel, and most importantly enjoy the voyage that will take me from where I am today to my ultimate destination.

Decide On Your Ultimate Destination.

Each of you will have a different destination and need your own ship and course to get there. What do you want your business to be? Not just in a year or five years but really picture what you want to be. What are you passionate about? What are you really good at? Then step back and ask yourself;

  • What is my ultimate destination?
  • What does it look like to me?
  • What will it feel like when I get there?

Sound familiar? It’s your vision. It’s where every business starts. It’s what you dreamt was possible. Where you jotted down your goals and purpose. Where you defined yourself and what you will do. I like to think of it as a circle on a map. That is where I want to go. Now how do I get there?

Determine the Kind of Ship You Will Need.

Is small and agile good for where you are going? Or do you need something that will provide you with the ability to withstand longer voyages? This is about setting yourself up to accommodate future changes quickly and with little disruption. This is about getting in the right mindset so that you don’t set preconceived notions as to the size and design of your ship. You want to ensure that your ship can support the course you will chart.

Before we talk about your ship let’s make sure we are heading in the right direction. Many entrepreneurs go adrift in the beginning and build their ship around where they are right now and not where they want to go. It is important to see the size and speed you will need to reach your ultimate destination. If your goal is to have a ship that operates only in your immediate area like a neighborhood restaurant, then you don’t need a large ship. You need a vessel that is small and quick so that it can easily maneuver around obstacles. And if your goal is to turn your neighborhood restaurant into a nationwide chain then you will need a vessel that is capable of longer voyages.

Both of these goals are worthwhile but it is important to understand that the course you will chart to get to them is different and therefore the ship you will need is also different.
Ask yourself;

  • What does my ship look like?
  • How many people are on my ship?
  • How many are crew and how many are passengers?
  • How many places do I need to go?
  • How fast do I need to be able to move?

Many times entrepreneurs jump right in and start building. They decide they can build their ship as they go. So if you are already launched take a moment to stop and check for leaks and look for possible structural issues. Now you can make any necessary modifications and get underway again. Soon you’ll see you are sailing faster and more efficiently than before. But how will others see you?

What Flag Will You Fly?

You have your vision of what your ship looks like and can do. But how do others see you when you pull into port? What can you do to make sure they see your ship the way you do? For marketers, this is the fun part. We start talking colors, logos, taglines, etc. It is also the place where some entrepreneur can lose focus.

A great place to get that focus back is to start with a brand positioning statement. This statement will be used in your evaluation process when assessing all the things you encounter along your course. It will help you determine if they are fueling opportunities or obstacles to be navigated around. The language doesn’t have to be catchy. It should be simple and straight forward so you and others will understand it.

Ask yourself;

  • Who do I want on-board? (Target Audience)
  • What sea am I sailing in? (Market Category)
  • What do I offer that makes my ship special? (Benefit)
  • Why should people sail with me? (Reason to Believe)

Once you have this statement you can start outfitting your ship. What colors will best communicate your image? What words best convey your image? How will you paint the picture for your customer so they truly understand your vision?

At that this point many entrepreneurs are saying “I’ve already done all this.” “This is a waste of time and money.” “I just want to get going already.” I understand. Just make sure that you have these steps done before you set sail. You don’t want to find yourself veering off course because you didn’t have an ultimate destination plotted, the proper ship or everyone you encountered was unclear about your vision. Hopefully, I’ve shown you that these things aren’t super complicated, they don’t have to be time-consuming but they are crucial to your success. Now you are ready to get under way but how will you get there?

Chart Your Course.

Every good navigator knows that you can’t just set out on a voyage without a plan for getting to where you are headed. John C. Maxwell said, “Anyone can steer a ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.”

In this case, your course is a Strategic Marketing Plan. This chart makes sure that all aspects of your ship have been considered when mapping out your path. The reason you chart the course before embarking is because it allows you to make long-term strategic decisions without the distractions from the day-to-day weather patterns. Dealing with the day-to-day occurrences should be anticipated in your course so that delays are minimized.

Stop steering ans start charting your course by asking yourself;

  • Where am I leaving from?
  • What waters am I sailing in?
  • At what speed do I need and want to travel?
  • Who’s on board and what are their needs and expectations?
  • What lies ahead? Are there factors in the marketplace that may change as I go?
  • What obstacles do I forsee?
  • What needs to be done to keep the ship going?
  • How and when will I tell people about my ship?
  • When and how will I refuel?

All of these answers will help you chart your course. The speed you need to travel may be outweighed by the funds you have available. A good strategy will create a balance between the two. Factors in the marketplace can be very much like weather patterns you may encounter on your voyage. A strong strategy anticipates those and plans a course correction to navigate around them. Every ship needs fuel and a powerful plan has scheduled refueling times that have minimal impact on your course. Your course should include everything from messaging, product offerings, timing, budgeting, and where to reach your target audience.

As an entrepreneur, you can only be successful if you have a vision and the courage to sail off the map. By setting your ultimate destination, designing and building the ship that is right for you, determining the flag you will fly, and charting a well thought out course will help you enjoy the voyage that will take you from where you are today to your ultimate destination.

By: Amy Matthews, CEO, AMI