Top Business Challenges During Political and Economic Uncertainty

A well-constructed strategic plan helps guide many organizations through the chaos

by Karen Loiterstein

Operational efficiency, obtaining new customers and talent acquisition are the top priorities for businesses going into 2019, according to a recent Enterprise Bank & Trust Think Tank survey. Heading into 2019, business is ripe with opportunity; however, political and economic landscapes present a lot of uncertainty and angst for business owners. With privately held businesses concerned about the competition for talent, competitive pressure and succession planning, having a well-constructed strategic plan in place helps guide many organizations through the chaos. 

“A strategic plan should not be confused with a business plan, which describes how a business — usually a new one — will achieve its goals,” says Jeff Friesen, president of the Arizona Region at Enterprise Bank & Trust. “Rather, a strategic plan should help your business perform better, more efficiently and more profitably.”

The survey revealed that companies are on the fence about the importance of a strategic plan. While some companies plan just a year or two out, the more seasoned businesses have a strategic plan that spans a period of three to five years, or longer. 

“Our focus is on what we call the ‘big rocks’ – the top two or three most important goals,” says Bill Lavidge, CEO of Phoenix-based marketing firm LAVIDGE. “Also, don’t ignore the low-hanging fruit. Don’t spend a ton of time on it, but you should do things that are quick and easy — things like employee perks.” 

Among the main benefits to having a strategic plan include controlling costs, increasing profitability or market share, surviving economic downturns and unknowns, recruiting talent and key executives. Survey results uncovered three key concerns that many organizations will be addressing in their strategic plans for 2019.

One strategy that makes the cut for seasoned business owners is recession-proofing their business. While it’s impossible to completely recession-proof a business, there are steps that can be taken before and during a recession that help guide decision-making and pivots that can spell the difference between a downturn and disaster. 

“There is always uncertainty in business. We will always have recessions and bull markets; we’ll always have issues like supply problems,” explains Mary Henry, co-owner of Phoenix-based consulting firm Impetus Solutions. “The key is to avoid being too rigid in your strategic plan — you need to build in flexibility to allow for fluctuations.”

Without question, there are economic and political uncertainties that make strategic planning particularly important for 2019. Trade tensions and the availability of — and competition for — talent are just a few examples of conditions that pose risk to continued economic growth. However, other common indicators, such as productivity growth and the housing and manufacturing markets, show some signs of a cooldown. 

The survey revealed that across all industry segments, obtaining more customers (55 percent) and operational efficiency (57 percent) are the top two strategic priorities for 2019, followed by talent acquisition and technology enhancements.  

Key Takeaways – A Checklist

Based on the survey’s results, Enterprise Bank & Trust derived an actionable checklist to help companies develop an effective and focused plan. Considerations include:

  • Start with the end in mind — goals for the business
  • Stay focused and realistic
  • Conduct frequent check-ins on the most important goals
  • Develop quantifiable Key Performance Indicators
  • Communicate the plan throughout the organization
  • Never forget, more important than planning is executing on the plan

Top Strategic Priorities for 2019

Operational efficiency 57%
Obtaining more customers 55%
Talent acquisition and retention 49%
Growing current customers 44%
Technology enhancements 32%
Customer service improvements 27%
Budget allocation 12%
Growth through M&A 11%
Risk mitigation 10%

Top Concerns for 2019

Staffing/talent 79%
Competitive pressures (e.g., inflation/pricing pressure on labor and suppliers) 68%
Succession/leadership planning 44%
Technology (e.g., do I have the understanding and resources I need to keep up?) 31%
Governmental policy questions — tariffs/trade, etc. 22%
Uncertainty around tax policy and tax implications for my business 17%
Protecting my business from cybersecurity and fraud 10%
Supplier relations 9%

Source: Nearly 150 Enterprise Bank advisors, corporate clients and partners were surveyed to learn of best practices and top concerns when it comes to strategic planning.

Karen Loiterstein is senior vice president of Marketing at Enterprise Bank & Trust, a division of Enterprise Financial Services Corp. Enterprise Bank & Trust operates 28 branch offices in the St. Louis, Kansas City and Phoenix metropolitan areas. Enterprise Bank & Trust offers a range of business and personal banking services, and wealth management services.

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