3 Practical Planning Steps for Small Business

I want to create a company that:

· everyone has heard of;
· is bigger than Google; and
· changes the world for the better.

The trouble is I am not sure how to get there! Well… unfortunately that probably means I am not going to get there.

Benjamin Franklin famously said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. This simple rule is true for just about everything in life. So why do most businesses not have a clear plan? Lack of time is the normal excuse given, but in reality it is probably because most people do not know how to plan. MBA programmes around the world have whole subjects devoted to business planning. Indeed most larger organisations have dedicated planning teams. So does this mean that a business plan must be hundreds of pages long, with beautiful diagrams, complex forecasts and detailed market analysis. Increasingly that view of structured planning is becoming ‘old school’, with many businesses driving their direction in the form of ‘pitch statements’, similar to those used in presentations to potential investors.

This author suggests that for small business it is possible to be quite pragmatic and efficient in the way you do your planning. This is achieved by using big business planning techniques, in a small business setting. If you get your planning right, then your engagement will improve, with benefits for:

· Yourself – you will feel empowered
· Your staff – who will become more engaged
· Your customers – who will feel more confident

· Your business – there is published research that claims businesses with a plan are more likely to succeed. But in my view that is probably not true. However, it is common sense that if you take the time to understand and organise your business, then you are more likely to make good decisions when you need to.

Following is a simple three-step process to create:

· A high level direction
· An action plan
· A platform

Try and set aside at least 45 minutes on three consecutive days to go through each of these steps. Go to a quiet place, a café, or somewhere your mind can work without distraction. (Leave your phone at the office!). Then start scribbling on bits of paper!

This exercise will probably not be a game-changer for you, but a little planning does go a long way, so give it a go!

1. Write down goals and outcomes that motivate you, the owner.

· Start with what you want to get out of running your business. Be your own boss, get the kids through school, progress a noble cause, fund your retirement, pursue passion for your product, flexibility and freedom. We are all different, but certain things motivate you and only you will know what these are.

· Then have a think about your long-term business goals. What do you think your business should ultimately look like. Local/national/international? Big/small? Same product? Same structure? Set yourself a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). Imagine yourself standing proudly atop the business empire you dream of.

· Then write down 3-6 outcomes that will best describe when you have achieved your goals. For me it would be something along the lines of: Brand ranked in top ten globally; Website ranked in top ten globally; Annual revenue in excess of $60 billion; zero poverty-based starvation; world peace.

· Last step – do a sanity check. You must make an effort to balance your ambition vs capacity. Be bold, be daring, be excited, believe in yourself, but also be realistic. Adjust your outcomes if you need to.

· If you have done this, you now have a high-level direction. Well done. Go back to the office!

2. Think about what you know you can do right now.

· The best approach is ‘plateau planning’, which is like climbing a mountain that no-one has climbed before. You organise your team to climb to the first plateau. When you get there you will then see the best way to get to the second plateau, and so on until you get to the top of the mountain. The point being that you cannot plan every part of the journey in detail, as you do not know what lies ahead. The ‘best way’ will become clear as the journey progresses.

· List out the resources you have available right now: Money, staff, customers, equipment, knowledge, brand, network, time, ideas, and so on.

· Think about some specific objectives that are attainable within a realistic timeframe. Examples might be: increase sales by 5% in 6 months; launch your business into a new customer or product segment. These should all be first steps towards your high level direction. Don’t try and have too many! 2 or 3 is probably enough.

· Write down the specific ‘physical activities’ that you could do to achieve each of these objectives. This might include: overhaul the website and engage in social media by Christmas; train staff in customer service, sales and team work over next 12 months; move xyz product from development to production in September; personally call all previous customers within six months; write a marketing plan for a new segment and start to build a network.

· Finally for each of the specific physical activities, make a quick note of the type of resources required. How much will it cost, who will do it, can they do it!

· At the end of this session you will likely have a load of scribbles, notes and diagrams on paper, probably not a neat organised list. But whatever you have created, it is your action plan.

3. Think about how to sustain your business as you grow.

· There is no point achieving an increase in sales if you do not have the staff or product to satisfy the demand. You may need to consider the investment required to get things in place ahead of your customers demanding them.

· There is also no point in growing your business if you cannot stay organised and start to lose control. There is a reason that big businesses have systems and processes and that is because no single person can continue to control growing organisations without them.

· So you must think about how you will keep customer details, drive your sales pipeline, measure your performance, automate key tasks, keep customers engaged, organise your team, structure your products and services, design your pricing structure, etc As you grow this will become much more complicated. You will need systems to help you keep on top of things. Implement these as early as possible, but try not to over-complicate them.

· Try and avoid big ‘capital spending’ when you are growing, unless you have a really clear view of the revenue that will pay for it. Instead look for systems with a monthly cost, staff who are flexible with work hours, second hand equipment, etc. But whatever cunning plan you form, make sure that the platforms and infrastructure you choose to rely on are ‘fit for purpose’ or ultimately your business will suffer.

· So your planning should include a continuous focus on the platform required to support your high level direction and your more immediate action plan.

Now all you need to do is to go ahead with your plans. How you do it and how successful you are is up to you!

You might find it useful to turn some of your scribbled planning into a document or presentation, so that you can share it with staff. But make sure you keep the original scribbles. They will look great in a glass cabinet at the end of the board room in your penthouse office one day!

Good luck!

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