How to Start and Maintain a Business Plan
One of a leader’s most important (and some argue, the most important) qualities is the ability to plan for the future. Leaders have to respond to changes in the economy, innovation by the competition, fluctuating consumer preferences, new marketing techniques, and advancing technology. Leaders have to make decisions based on imperfect information without the benefit of a crystal ball. Leaders have to be their own crystal ball.
How do great leaders adjust for social changes, economic downturns, and changing customer buying habits?
They have plans. They have a strategic vision. When circumstances change (and they are always changing), insightful leaders make adjustments to the plans. They update the mechanisms and the steps that contribute to the strategic plan. Flexible plans allow companies to take advantage of new opportunities while keeping the overarching vision at the forefront of the business.
Write out your business plan. I am always surprised when business owners tell me they don’t have a written business plan. This is like sailing to China without a map. How can a business possibly move forward when there is no plan? How do you know what to plan for when you don’t have it mapped out?
Some common excuses include: 1) I just haven’t had time; 2) My company doesn’t need one; 3) I don’t know what one is supposed to look like; 4) I don’t know what we’d do with a plan if we did have one; and my personal favorite, 5) It is all in my head.
While I can think of several responses to all of these, the bottom line is the same: To be successful and sustainable, a company needs a plan.
If any of these excuses seem uncomfortably familiar, please consider spending some quality time formulating a business plan.
Where to start? My favorite business plans for many small businesses are based off free templates provided by SCORE at
www.score.org. There are templates for startup companies as well as for established companies. The downloadable templates walk users though a series of questions that are crucial for companies to answer for their future successes.
Who creates the plan? Sole proprietors can do it themselves or work with a coach or consultant. (Don’t know the difference? See article here.) One great way to develop a business plan for companies already in business to dedicate a half-day off-site with a dedicated note-taker and a facilitator. Spend 3 hours with your team, and tackle developing the business plan with the same determination as you would tackle a problem with a distributor.
Make the process as painless as possible.
- Hire someone to fill in the blanks.
Get an administrative assistant (temporary, if necessary) for this project to make sure it gets completed. That gives you a deadline and takes away the excuse that you don’t have time to write it out (especially if it is “in your head”).
- Consult with an expert.
SCORE is comprised of experienced business mentors who are available for free consultations. Small Business Development Centers also offer free one-on-one consulting. You can also hire a coach or a consultant specifically to help develop a business plan.
- Put a date on it.
I was recently reminded that “someday” is not a day of the week. Make a commitment to have a viable plan in the next 2 months.
- Start today.
Make an appointment today to meet with an advisor. Download a template. Print it and start filling in the blanks. You can start today, right now.
Business plans are not carved in stone, and they MUST evolve with the changing market, economy, and advances of the company. Great leaders make adjustments when circumstances change. Having a working business plan means that changes are incorporated into the strategic vision of the company. The plan, and the steps needed to achieve the goals, become guiding aspirations. Having a plan, and having the plan evolve means growing the company in the right direction.