Business planning per se is something that so many business owners will run a mile from; let’s face it, business planning (for the majority) is next in line to finding time in the diary for your next dental check-up!
I used to be shocked at the number of people I met who would eventually admit, through clenched teeth or in hushed tones, that actually they have no real business plan in place. Frequently this admission would result from my obvious question; “so what sort of Marketing Plan are you working to at the moment?”. Apart from not having a marketing plan the majority of business owners I’ve met actually don’t have any type of business plan at all. Those that do are either the more serious start-ups, who write a plan because their friendly bank manager has told them he/she needs one, or in the rarest of cases, they are actually aware that every good business needs some form of plan.
So why should it be that so many SME’s will work hard to ignore this essential business tool? Well, I believe it’s for one or all of these reasons; a) they really don’t know where the business is going, so writing a 3-year plan makes about as much sense as planning to colonise an as yet undiscovered planet, b) writing a plan feels a bit like writing down goals; it means you have a measure of success or perhaps failure, and c) they simply don’t know where to start or how to actually construct a business or marketing plan.
Yes, goal setting in any form can mean you need to commit and that’s the whole point. The great thing is that this is a commitment you make to yourself above everyone else. Remember that the first person’s judgement you should trust in your business is actually your own. Focus on what you want from your business above the needs and wants of others and you’ll truly be in control. As to knowing how to write a plan; there is no shortage of knowledge or help out there and much of it is free. Google business plan template and you’ll find more resources than you’ll ever need. Of course the other option is to find a trusted advisor who can help with this; there are plenty of talented and experienced business coaches out there to help you.
So how do you overcome this fact that three, five or ten years is a very long time and how can you write a meaningful plan for this? Well simple, I’d say don’t! I’ve seen medium and long-term plans that sound great but in truth have very little practical value. As every good military officer is taught “no battle plan survives first contact”, in other word, you can plan your battle strategy to the finest degree but when the bullets start flying it will probably all go out the window. You’ll be working on intuition, experience and your ability to assess the situation and make fast, confident decisions. Business is pretty much the same.
One beneficial concept a former mentor shared with me was that of short-term planning. Being realistic, there is little point in trying to predict what the world will look like in three years’ time, let alone the next five or ten. The recent past has been a stark example of this. So don’t start with medium and long-term plans, start with the short ones. I have seen the value of ’90-day Business Plans’ and would highly recommend this strategy to you. Forget working out where you’ll position your National Head Office in South America in 2018, work out what you need to achieve in the next 90 days to make your business fly. This strategy works for very simple reasons; it focuses your attention on what matters today, and in case you hadn’t noticed we all tend to live in ‘today’ and it’s the now that is only really ever relevant to us. It also means you will have a much greater sense of focus. It’s focus that drives action. You can plan with the resources that are at your fingertips now, the people you work with now and what’s relevant to your clients now.
So here’s my challenge to you for today; in under 1000 words (or a lot less ideally) write down what you actually want and need to achieve in your business within the next 90 days. A great phrase that will help you with this, and one you need to keep constantly in mind is “what would have to happen for me to…”. This style of thinking works because it’s realistic, it deals with what you actually have as resources and above all it creates fast action. Try it and see your business focus sharpen!