Get a Plan, Stan

Operating a small business is exciting, terrifying and overwhelming all at the same time. As the owner, you’re trying to be everything to everyone – the sales manager, the accountant, the problem solver and the face of your brand. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re probably so busy juggling balls that you’ve sidelined the one thing that’s most important to you, your business and its future. You've forgotten about the plan.

Recently, I sat down with a group of a dozen small business owners who I was working with to establish their business plans. Some were start-ups and others had been operating for 10 plus years, but every one of them was at the session because they realized that they lacked a solid strategy to get them from where they were to where they wanted to be.

Just like any program, admitting you have a problem is the first step, and, in my opinion, not having a business plan is pretty big problem. But the solutions available to entrepreneurs don’t make it any easier. In my experience, the templates you find online are intimidating and ask for information you’ll probably never need, and will spend ages trying to figure out. The financial questions can be confusing, and the demand to have a perfect, concise yet comprehensive vision for your business can be completely overwhelming. Then, if you actually complete the plan (or pay someone else to do it), it ends up sitting in a desk drawer collecting dust because it’s so full of assumptions and high level nonsense that it becomes redundant and all together useless. So why bother?

There is only one reason to write a business plan, and that is to give you, the owner, a roadmap and direction for the future of your business. There are other kinds of business plans, like the ones written for investors that will make or break you depending on if “the money” likes what they see. But the business plan I am talking about is the one written by you for you, where you lay out your vision and the “who, what, when, where, why and how” that will take to get your business to where you want it to be. This kind of business planning isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be daunting either. It should be exciting, inspiring and it should take you less than a day to complete. 

So where do you start? First, forget about everyone else and start thinking about you as the owner and your vision for your business. If you could write one sentence about where you want to be in three to five years, what would it say? Mine would say that I want to have a marketing company that helps small business owners by providing tools and solutions to help them learn, grow, and ultimately kick butt. How about you?

Your vision doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should touch on why you have chosen the entrepreneurial road less traveled for yourself. Do you want to provide a solution that makes people’s lives easier? Do you want to disrupt the market with something new and innovative? Do you want to spend the rest of your days earning a living by doing something that you love? Whatever it is that sits in your gut and makes you get out of bed every morning; that should be your vision. It should be the reason you made the choice to become a business owner instead of just getting a job.

Once you have your vision, it’s time to hunker down on the financial, internal and people outcomes you need to build on that vision. If the vision is the why, the outcomes are the what. They lay the foundation for your business and what you want to achieve, whether that’s to make $50 million dollars, or create a staff culture that loves your brand with as much passion as you do. The outcomes are the definition of your vision.

Of course, just like any small business owner, you can’t do it all. So once you have solidified your outcomes, you need to pick a few priorities to concentrate on. Once you have a focus, you can start to define some strategies to help you deliver on the outcomes you've prioritized for yourself. A great business plan will also be a practical one, so your strategies should be followed by an action plan that will get you focused on what you need to do to make your long-term vision and short-term goals a reality. 

Just like any big picture planning, sitting down and defining the future for your business can be intimidating. But don’t let fear take the wind out of your sails. Everything you need is already in your head; you just need the right direction, a little bit of focus and a whole lot of passion. 

If you’d like more information about business strategy and our half-day practical planning sessions, get in touch