When you look at companies that have succeeded in turbulent times you, will find those that embrace strategic planning fare the best. Strategic planning is found to have a positive impact on organizational performance and is a must for enhancing an organization’s capacity to achieve its goals.
As a title professional, now may be a good time to review your strategic planning process and look for ways to improve it.
Before you begin, it’s important to realize what a strategic plan really is. A strategic plan is a complete and comprehensive activity. It is not document or slide presentation created at the beginning of the year and then tucked in a drawer. The steps of the strategic plan include selecting your team, analyzing current situations and considering future possibilities, defining objectives, creating the plan to realize the objectives, communicating and implementing the plan, and monitoring and adjusting the plan. As you see, “planning” is an important element of the strategic plan, but it’s certainly not the only element.
Here are some things to keep in mind while building and executing the various parts of your strategic plan.
Selecting your team
Be really honest about your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and where you might need to upgrade. An essential requirement for performing the strategic plan is to make sure the members of your team are up to the challenge – psychologically strong, honest, respectful of competitors, accountable, focused, principled and confident but not arrogant. Are their moods appropriate? Nothing thwarts a plan like negativity from a leader, and nothing helps motivate a team who can share their passion for the future of the organization. Ask yourself: do the members of your team embrace the importance of strategic planning, or do they think it’s a distraction from the “real work?” If you’re a business leader, it’s important to reinforce the importance of strategic planning, particularly in a challenging market environment.
Analyze current situations and future possibilities
The next step is to assess current situations and future possibilities both inside your business and outside in the market. The idea here is to ground your assessments about the current situation. Asking the question “where are we now?” is a way to think about this analysis. Internally consider your systems, procedures, and people. Look at your income and balance sheets, sales projections, customer satisfaction, market share and competitors. A SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) is commonly used. When you have considered the present circumstances and characteristics of your company, then move externally to review and write out your assumptions about customers, competitors, the market, and the economy. Try to stick to the facts and leave emotion and speculation out of your data gathering. As human beings, we have a habit of overestimating our capabilities, so it’s important to ground our assessments.
With your facts in hand from gathering data, now it is time to set objectives. Asking the question “where are we going?” is a common way to think about this phase. Consider the future you would like to see for your business. What are you hoping to produce at the end of the year, in 18 months, in two years? People tend to think in one, short time horizon, so it’s important to consider your objectives over multiple horizons of time. It may also be helpful to view your business objectives in light of your organization’s Mission, Vision, and Values.
One problem with many plans is that there are too many strategic objectives. Keep it simple and real. Get clear about what’s important and urgent and what is not. Of course, remember that people − real human beings − must perform your plan. Be realistic about what your team can do, and what they cannot do. Finally, do one last “gut check.” Ask yourself if your objectives are competitive enough. Said another way, will you be satisfied if you achieve your objectives? While it’s important to think simple, it’s also important not to think too small, particularly in a challenging market like we have now. You need objectives that will get the job done.
Strategies and tactics to realize objectives
Now it’s time to ask “how will we get there?” How will the objectives you have outlined be achieved? Consider the work your organization faces as you seek to convert on your objectives and make a plan specifying the members of your team who will do the work, by when, to what standard and how much you expect it to cost. It’s helpful to think in terms of SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound. After you have a rough plan, it’s important to try to pick it apart. To plan with confidence, it’s worth considering where the plan is most likely to break down. Some common flaws include poorly trained employees, poor data gathering and analysis, underestimating competitors, disregard for the importance of new tools and technology obligations, overestimation of sales skills (or other skills), and the lack of new products and services to keep up with change.
Communicating and implementing
When communicating your plan to the company at large, keep it simple, keep it SMART and make it important. Your plan has taken a lot of work and it represents a brighter, more successful future for your company. It’s a big deal, and it’s worth getting excited about. Your management team has a key role in holding the strategic objectives and tactical focuses outlined in your plan. Reinforce them. Be proud. Encourage your team to repeat over and over again what the team is doing and why. Use the same language, the same distinctions, the same graphs and charts. Communicate budgets, timelines, and what people are doing what. Honor their work by sharing key metrics and tell stories about milestones achieved. Hold regular meeting rhythms for key employees that focus on breaking down barriers and resolving issues that stand in the way of team goals.
Monitoring and adjusting
The final step in performing the strategic plan is to monitor, evaluate progress and adjust as needed. As a traveler checks the signs along a road while completing a journey, so to must we track progress toward our objectives. If you are a leader, it is important to maintain discipline and enthusiasm for the plan. Remember that adage that no plan survives first contact with reality, so adjust as needed, but … resist the temptation to trash your plan completely. On tough days that temptation may be strong, but remember the brighter future you and your team have envisioned. Keep progress moving toward your goals, even if you must take a step backward now and then. In closing, the strategic plan is a living and evolving set of commitments. Performing it requires continuous updates, interpretations and assessments of key metrics and situations. The more effective your practice of the strategic plan, the nimbler and more resilient your company will be; greatly enhancing your likelihood of success in these turbulent times.
Forecasters Remain Cautious Given Inflation, Interest Rate Uncertainty
The real estate market has cooled over the past quarter, as buyers face mounting economic pressure from inflation, bloated housing prices, and escalating interest rates. But the question in most forecasters’ minds is what will happen in 2023 with inflation and interest rate projections in – as yet – unknowable territory.
Although experts are all over the map when it comes to predicting interest rates – projections for 2023 are currently ranging from 5% to 9% – everyone agrees that it largely depends on the Consumer Price Index and the Federal Reserve’s interest rate decisions that result from that data.
Economic predictions are often based on “the way it happened in the past,” but economic fundamentals are rarely exactly the same mix as in the past. Such is the case today, where economic fundamentals are largely stable and housing inventory remains tight – a promising recipe for a decent, albeit softer, purchase market in 2023.
Rodney Anderson, Executive Vice President, National Agency Manager with Alliant National, noted on a recent October Research webinar that while we are currently experiencing a slowdown in the market, it’s difficult to say what portion of that is seasonal and how much is interest rate-related.
“We’ve had a sellers’ market for a long time, and now, we are returning to equilibrium,” he said. “But if you look at the number of houses on the market, we are still in a sellers’ market, with a lot of regions experiencing only a 3-months’ supply, so there is continued support for prices to remain fairly stable.”
Although there remain a lot of unknowns, many economic forecasters retain a sense of cautious optimism based on what we do know, while lenders and real estate professionals are facing the reality of lower sales and originations in 2023.
Key Factors: CPI and FOMC
The Federal Reserve’s battle against inflation remains one of the key factors in the overall economic outlook for next year, as well as the outlook for the real estate markets, since with each incremental rise in the interest rates, a new segment of buyers will be priced out of the market.
The Federal Reserve has maintained a hard line with regard to inflation, and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell did not soften his tone during his Dec. 14 presentation following the December meeting of the FOMC, where he announced the Fed would be raising the interest rate another half percent.
“Price stability is the responsibility of the Federal Reserve and serves as the bedrock of our economy,” Powell said at the outset of his speech. “Without price stability, the economy does not work for anyone and without price stability we will not achieve a sustained period of strong labor market conditions that benefit all.”
In addition, Powell said he anticipated that “ongoing increases would be appropriate in order to attain a stance of market stability that is sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to 2% over time.”
One positive indicator in December was the Consumer Price Index, which showed inflation had slowed to 7.1%. While that stat was encouraging, Powell said it was not enough to deter further interest rate hikes.
“It will take substantially more evidence to provide confidence that inflation is on a sustained downward path,” he said.
With the target federal funds rate range now at 4.25-4.5% and Powell suggesting further hikes, it is now anticipated that the federal funds rate could rise to 5.5% in 2023, adding some further deterioration to the pool of potential buyers.
Federal Reserve reports stable economic activity
The Federal Reserve’s Nov. 30 release reported economic activity was flat or up slightly across most of the districts, a sign that the economy continues to hold its own despite the known headwinds of inflation, high interest rates and global issues.
Reports across sectors were uneven. Not surprisingly, lending, home sales, apartment leasing and construction all exhibited slowing trends while improving inventory in the auto industry has resulted in an increase in sales in some districts. In addition, spending was up in travel and tourism, and as well as in restaurants and hospitality. Manufacturing was also up slightly on average.
Employment numbers remain steady
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 263,000 in November, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.7%, according to the Dec. 2 release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, health care, and government. Employment declined in retail trade and in transportation and warehousing.
Consumer confidence concerns were largely allayed by record Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending. Although inflation has taken its toll on consumers, low unemployment has kept spending steady across many sectors, including mortgage and rent payments, a factor that is keeping foreclosures contained.
Employment is also a major factor in keeping foreclosures down, and while labor demand is weakening, according to the Federal Reserve, businesses are expressing a reluctance to lay off due to hiring difficulties. Most importantly, most districts reported a fairly positive outlook, pointing to stable or slowing employment growth and at least modest further wage growth moving forward.
Real estate and lending projections
While the economy overall appears to be stable, the real estate market continues to decelerate.
According to the National Association Realtors (NAR) Nov. 30 report, pending home sales slid for the fifth consecutive month in October, falling 4.6%. Three of four U.S. regions recorded month-over-month decreases, and all four regions recorded year-over-year declines in transactions.
While there are always seasonal declines in the fall, the year-over-year number was more dramatic, with pending transactions down 37%.
“October was a difficult month for home buyers as they faced 20-year-high mortgage rates,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “The West region, in particular, suffered from the combination of high interest rates and expensive home prices. Only the Midwest squeaked out a gain.”
On the upside, Yun was hopeful that the upcoming months will see buyers returning to the market if mortgage rates moderate, as they have in the past few weeks.
Taking a hard look at the numbers, Freddie Mac, in its most recent analysis, noted that home sales have fallen to a forecasted 5.4 million units at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in the third quarter of 2022 from 7 million earlier this year. The GSE forecasts that home sales activity will bottom at around 5 million units at the end of 2023.
“We expect house prices to decline modestly, but the downside risks are elevated,” Freddie Mac noted. “As the labor market cools off, housing demand will remain weak in 2023, potentially resulting in declines in prices next year. However, home price forecast uncertainty is wide due to interest rate volatility and the potential of a recession on the horizon.”
Freddie Mac predictions include:
- Overall originations are expected to hit $2.6 trillion in 2022 and slow to $1.9 trillion in 2023
- Mortgage originations will end the year at $1.9 trillion and slow to $1.6 trillion
- Refinance originations slowed to $747 billion and will deteriorate to $310 billion in 2023
The Wild Card: Consumer confidence
Data can certainly tell us a lot, but at the end of the day, consumer experience and assessments can impact the long-range reality, and consumer confidence is decreasing, according to the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index.
While not dramatic, the index backtracked to 100.2 from 102.2 in October. In addition, consumers assessment of the current conditions decreased to 137.4 from 138.7 last month, and consumers’ short-term outlook declined to 75.4 from 77.9.
Consumer confidence can keep the economy and the real estate market moving forward, while hubris can take us into unsustainable territory, as we learned in 2008. A little reality check may not be a bad thing as we all continue to keep tabs on the data and plan for a softer market in 2023.
With 2023 right around the corner, it’s time to get your marketing ducks in a row
The proverb, “Time waits for no one,” is highly applicable to the annual year-end sprint for businesses. Not only do companies need to close out the year on a high note, but they must also get a jump on next year’s strategic marketing plan. In this blog, we’ll examine how you can start putting a framework together to develop your plan and move your business forward.
A Quick Primer
Putting together a strategic marketing plan can seem overwhelming, but it is not that difficult. That’s because a strategic marketing plan can largely adhere to a simple format, which is:
- Marketing Goals
- Marketing Strategies
- Marketing Tactics
- Evaluation Methods
Now, each element of your plan needs to build organically off one another. For instance, once you have your annual goals in place, the strategies you decide on need to naturally lead to achieving each goal. A similar process will occur for your marketing tactics: Think of them as a step-by-step process for bringing each strategy to fruition.
Also, remember the benefits of making your SMART. Last year, we wrote a blog on what that means, which you can read here. Let’s get a summary:
- Specific: Don’t simply say something like: “I want to increase my customer-base.” Instead, consider the specific number and types of new customers you would like to obtain.
- Measurable: Attach metrics to your goals. This involves benchmarking where your company currently is so you can assess whether your marketing has moved the needle.
- Achievable: It’s important to “dream big,” but your final marketing plan should include goals you can reasonably hit.
- Relevant:Spend time ensuring your goals are relevant to your organization’s priorities. Be honest with yourself. Will that exciting new marketing project or initiative really help you achieve your business goals? If not, perhaps it’s worth thinking about other ways to allocate your time and resources.
- Time-sensitive: Goals are great, but they also need a clear timetable. Without a timeframe, core aspects of your marketing plan will begin to break down.
Leverage Top Trends
For small businesses, there are plenty of new developments in the marketing world to consider implementing in your 2023 plan that can help you achieve better customer relationships and higher profitability. Here are just a few trends we’re seeing:
- Video Content is King: According to research, more than 50 percent of viewers prefer to consume online content in a video format.[i]
- Partnerships: Forming strategic partnerships can help you reach new markets and gain higher levels of engagement. Of course, remember to keep it compliant.
- Interactive Content: As part of your content marketing efforts in 2023, you may want to experiment with interactive material in the form of polls, quizzes, calculators, assessments and more.
- Conversational Marketing: Chat bots, artificial intelligence and machine learning can be lumped under the umbrella term of “conversational marketing.” They offer clear advantages over traditional methods by supporting two-way conversations. If you’d like to get a basic introduction to chat bots, check out our full blog on the subject.
- Corporate Social Responsibility: The way a business conducts itself socially is increasingly a top concern for customers. How big is this trend?
- 87 percent of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they care about.
- 92 percent of consumers say they have a more positive image of a company when it supports social or environmental issues.
- 66 percent of consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services that come from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.[ii]
These figures paint a clear portrait and present an obvious takeaway: Being community responsive and socially responsible pays off in real dollars and cents.
Don’t Leave it to Chance
Your business is too important to leave something like how you promote it to chance. This makes your strategic marketing plan about as important as it gets. While strategic marketing can get complicated quickly, having even a strong framework in place, one marked by SMART goals and aligned with your overall business priorities, can go a long way. Pairing this with the field’s top and emerging trends can optimize your efforts further, positioning you to obtain strong customer connections and lasting profitability in the new year.
Want a deeper dive into creating a strategic marketing plan for 2023. Check out this helpful article.
[i] Content Trends: Global Preferences (hubspot.com)
[ii] How Corporate Social Responsibility Connects Us to Consumers (corporatewellnessmagazine.com)
For many people, automation can feel a tad unnerving, evoking dystopian fears of robots replacing humans in the workplace. While there is a kernel of truth here, the reality is that workplace automation has also already been helping businesses reduce inefficiencies and net higher profits for generations – going back all the way to the Industrial Revolution. Today, automation continues to move full steam ahead, providing future-thinking business leaders like yourself with the chance to optimize your operations and gain a competitive advantage.
What do we mean when we talk about workplace automation?
Automation means different things depending on the industry. But when you boil it down to its essence, all automation is really referring to is technology that reduces or eliminates the need for human involvement in a series of tasks.
Automation plays an important role in our sector, with new and emerging technologies like machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data and more helping complete tasks with greater speed and dexterity. And when you add in an increasingly stringent regulatory environment, it is easy to see why title insurance professionals are turning to automation to push back against competitors, navigate cumbersome regulations and unlock value.
Of course, for independent agencies, gaining the benefits of advanced technologies can be challenging. But even when dealing with finite time and money, there are solutions agencies of any size can implement to ratchet up their profitability and create better processes.
- Customer relationship management (CRM): CRMs are essential for any agency looking to build out their tech stack. Not only do CRMs make it easier to generate sales leads but they also help agents manage their roster of existing policyholders. Learn more about CRMs on our blog.
- Meeting scheduling: Modern business is full of meetings. Make it easier by deploying a free, automated tool like Calendly to streamline scheduling and avoid the annoying back-and-forth that can occur when trying to pin down a meeting date. Review some of 2022’s top scheduling applications and tools.
- Expense tracking: When running a small agency, every dollar and cent matters. Business owners need an easy, low-cost way to track organizational spending. Here are some of the most popular platforms for managing your spending.
- Invoice management: We have previously discussed automating your invoice management processes on this blog, and we will reiterate here how important this is. Whether tracking invoice delivery and payment status or reducing missed payments and simplifying accounting processes, this is an excellent automation tool to have in your toolbox.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Automation can be an intimidating and even unsettling topic, but at the end of the day, we are all trying to work smarter, not harder. Automation has played an important part in that process for millennia now, harkening back to innovations like Johann Gutenberg’s printing press and Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. In our industry, automation can make a complex enterprise easier. From better customer management and easier file sharing and collaboration, the benefits speak for themselves.