After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and we get back to business, one critical piece of work is too frequently overlooked: the business plan.
According to a study of small business owners, 80% admit they don’t give due attention to achieving goals. At the same time, 77% say they don’t achieve their dreams for the company.1
I believe a lack of business planning is the biggest challenge to face entrepreneurs and business leaders, and the primary reason they fall short of their vision. In fact, without a plan, it could be argued that you aren’t truly leading the business, but merely stumbling into any successes the business might experience.
But, you say, I know what I’m doing; my business plan is right here, locked in my head. Good, then take the time to set it down and define it. Write it out, so that you and your business team have it at the ready.
A business plan acts as your blueprint for the year. You might build a simple shelf without a blueprint, but you wouldn’t build a house. Without a business plan, you might have a successful 2017, but you can’t expect to achieve something really significant.
If you don’t plan your business, you can only react to the needs of the market.
But, you say, I don’t have time. Planning is a time-consuming process in which it may appear that you are not earning money but, believe me, the time spent will pay dividends far beyond the temporary loss of time.
Now is the time. There is no better time to focus on the business than the start of the New Year.
Delegate and assign what work you can, and put the rest in a folder to deal with after you’ve completed your planning. You’ll be surprised to find that once you decide to make time for planning, you’ll have time you didn’t know you had. Put your nose down and just do it.
Why is planning so important?
Not planning is the clearest example of missing the forest for the trees. In fairness, it’s easy to see how it happens, but if you don’t define your goals, they are likely to be lost in the shuffle.
The very act of planning forces you to think more analytically about your business, the market and your competitors. You will look at the decisions you make differently, as you consider their impact from the perspective of cause and effect.
Putting your plans, your strategy, ideas and goals down on paper gives you a much-needed reference point throughout the year. It allows you to see if you’re on track or if you’re steering away from your original intentions. Personally, I will not go more than 90 days without reviewing my business and annual operating plans. I preset my Outlook calendar with specific points in the year to review.
The Business Plan I have prepared for my organization spans multiple years but is broken down into annual Operating Plans that are based on components of the plan. It’s the old adage, “how do you swallow an elephant? …one bite at a time.”
Come 2018, look back at what you had set down in the plan and ask yourself critically: did we achieve this? What worked, what didn’t? It needn’t be daunting; experts suggest to be prepared to spend up to five hours on this, and you’ll be refocused, prioritized and ready to take on future years.2
It’s important that your plan roll into your long-term vision for the business. Again, without a plan to keep things from becoming derailed, how can one achieve a multi-year vision for their company?
OK. But how do I start?
In the past, this was a more significant challenge than it is today. The Internet is full of resources to overcome the gap between deciding to plan and writing a plan. Unless this is an initial business plan, whatever you decide needs to be effective for you and your business, so dig around and find templates that work for you.
Here are a few online resources that may help:
- Futurpreneur Canada Business Plan & Review Template
- Entrepreneur Magazine Templates Portal
- LawDepot’s Free Business Plan
- IBM & IFC Small Business Toolkit – Business Plans
Each is different—some are simple templates, others walk you through the process.
One of the most valuable exercises you can perform is a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. While the business plan I have developed for my organization extends out five years, I perform a SWOT analysis annually. In fact, I perform three SWOT analyses annually: our business, my competitor’s business and an industry analysis. This forces you to take a comprehensive look at all aspects of the business.
One tip for those preparing a business plan, I always write a rough draft of the executive summary first! This will get your mind exploring what you really want to become as a business. The pages following your executive summary are the mechanics that will build your vision. Your executive summary is the “Blue Sky” vision for your passion as an entrepreneur.
I will go as far as to say that creating a definitive and comprehensive Business Plan has directly led to the meteoric success of our business over the past ten years. I could not imagine a day in business without a well-defined plan. And most important, when your plan is complete, share and review it with your team. And that’s the purpose of this blog, to get you thinking about the business plan you will make for 2017 and beyond.
Here’s my challenge to you: take one day in January or February, clear your calendar, choose a Business Plan template and start to fill in the blanks. Transfer what’s in your head onto paper (or your computer). Measure it against your goals, your objectives, your competition, and even the future of your industry. Then ask yourself, is this where I want to be in 2018, or 2020? You might be surprised at your answer.
- Staples Small Business Survey, 2010