Here’s the sometimes familiar inter-voice of a small business owner…
“I really need to build a plan for my business this year. But we’re busy and I don’t have time for that now. Anyways, what we’re doing now is working pretty good. Sure it could be better, and I know planning could help. But how do I get started? What format should I use? I’ll tell you what, let’s just stick with what we’re doing now and maybe get around to it in a month or so when things aren’t so hectic.”
First off, planning shouldn’t be a once a year thing, or something you do when there’s nothing else going on. Your business is dynamic and ever-changing and so too should your plan. And second thing, it has to be fairly simple so it doesn’t take huge time investments.
So here’s a few tips based on the K.I.S.S. philosophy (Keep It Simple Stupid). By the way, Stupid is that inter-voice that keeps you from doing the things you know are important.
Here's how to quiet that inter-voice and make planning part of your business DNA...
First you have to get your mind set right and not let the stupid inter-voice dictate your actions. A quote that I keep lodged in my head is, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”. Then I remind myself what the best business leaders would say if I bellyached to them about having to plan. I can’t repeat the words here, but I’m sure you can guess that they wouldn’t be pleasant. But seriously, to get your mind straight you have to let yourself dream about what you want to accomplish and create a vision in your head of what your business and your life will look like when you achieve your objectives. Burn that vision into your subconscious and it will stifle the stupid you and its annoying little voice.
Finding a simple format that speaks to you can be a challenge. After all, we’re not trying to create a perfect final edition masterpiece. We want something that’s compact and easy to read so we can keep it front and center on our desk and in our minds. Arriving at a one page strategic action plan takes a bit of work that will probably be completed bits at a time, so I like to chunk it down into smaller pieces.
To get the mind working and the juices flowing, a good place to start is with what currently is working or not working in your business. Focus broadly first by putting some thoughts in writing about how you feel about how you manage your time, how the team is performing, and how the money situation is. Give each of those a rating from 1-5 and explain why the rating. Next perform a SWOT analysis. What are your business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats?
If you haven’t gone through the exercise of creating a vision statement for your company it’s definitely worth the time investment. This kind of thinking is what will drive your entire strategic plan. And unlike the specific objectives and strategies that you’ll initiate throughout the year, the vision for your business will most likely never change, so once you go through the exercise it won’t be a recurring task. The vision may include your core values and the core purpose of your business. It might also include a brand promise, a statement of what differentiates your business and how you meet your customers’ needs.
One of the most important things I think a business can do is keep accurate records and measurements. Financial statements, key performance indicators, dashboard reports, and any data that help your predict how your business is performing and will perform in the future. With this data available you can set some goals and objectives for the upcoming quarters and year.
Once you know what you’re aiming for, you can identify and list all the strategies and action items you need to improve upon or add. I break the business into functions/categories and create lists of action items for each of them, like sales, marketing, financials, delivery, team, systems, time management, and other specific to a business.
Now with a long list of action items you can carve them into priorities. Remember one thing, if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. You can’t start and accomplish everything all at once. You still have a business to operate. But once you’ve prioritized, you have a chance to accomplish the most important things for the next 90-day period. And in 90 days you go through the priorization process again, adding new action items and removing things that get completed.
OK, I admit that it sounds really simple when you break it down like this, but I never said it was going to be easy. Like anything else it takes practice, and repetition. But having a roadmap to building a stronger, more profitable business is worth all the effort, and it really does become easier over time.