Don’t get trapped in the myth of needing the big difficult business plan. DO use the business plan as a way to manage your business better and deal with change, keeping your eyes on long term and short term at the same time – whether you need to create a document for others to read, or not.
First, settle on strategy.
Tailor your product offering to match your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, what you do best, and what your target market wants most.
You don’t have to write it or format it beautifully. Do the thinking, and don’t sweat the writing, but do write down the key points because you’re going to need them later. The reason you want the key points available on demand is because it’s tempting to try to do everything, when you should be focusing instead on doing what’s most important.
Don’t think it won’t have to change. There’s a lot of paradox to strategy. On the one hand, strategy needs to be consistently applied over several years to work. On the other hand, there is no virtue to just sticking to a strategy that isn’t ever going to work.
Then create the action plan.
You could think of the action plan as the concrete and measurable specifics that make the strategy actually happen. Here too you don’t worry about beautiful writing or formatting, but get the specifics down:
- Plan review schedule. Think of something like the third Thursday of every month, a short meeting to review the plan, actual results, and the fine tuning required to keep the plan alive and relevant.
- List of assumptions. You list your assumptions because the first thing you do in the plan review meeting is go over your assumptions to identify significant changes. Use changed assumptions as the key factor in deciding whether to stick with a plan or revise it. When assumptions change, the plan probably has to change.
- The milestones. These are specific dates, deadlines, and responsibilities. Make a list of who is supposed to do what, when, and how much it costs. Plus how much revenue it is supposed to bring in, at least for the activities that are revenue generation activities.
- The basic numbers. You can’t track progress and manage your plan to steer your business if you don’t project your basic numbers. For almost all companies that would be projected sales, cost of sales, expenses, profits, and cash flow. Cash flow usually requires a projected balance sheet too. These are all planning, not accounting, so they should be summarized and aggregated for ease of use. And the categories should match what you track in accounting. And aside from the accounting numbers, think of other measurements to track, like units, calls, presentations, leads, proposals, page views, unique visits, clicks, emails, conversion rates, and so on.
You write all of this down not to impress outsiders – unless you have to impress outsiders – but to keep track of. Maybe you never print it out. You do keep it on a computer where you can refer to it to check what’s changed. And if you do need the document for outsiders, then start with the real plan and dress it up, add summaries, and make it look good.
Then, and from then on, manage the plan.
Now that you have a plan in practical form, make sure to stick to the review schedule, meet as planned to look at the difference between plan and actual, and keep your plan alive. Use it as a management tool to steer your business better.
For more information go to www.sba.gov
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