‘I’m too busy to plan’ is a catchcry across all business sectors, communications and financial planning included.
The trouble is that as business owners, it’s easy to ignore planning altogether and focus on activity. In fact, there are plenty of business owners out there who subscribe to the idea that planning is a complete waste of time. For me, the planning camp and the anti-planning camp both have their pros and cons. So what’s the value in business planning?
In any given period, you’ll have numerous decisions to make. It might be around a new offering you want to bring to market, or a major financial decision. Whatever it is, if a business doesn’t have an overarching strategy, owners are setting themselves up for a king hit. A business plan gives you the guidance to help you meet your goals.
Planning is often labelled as a dark art – and in reality even the best laid plans won’t deliver perfection. That said, planning has some principles that you can apply to the way you run your business. We often tell our clients that having a business plan may not tell you what to do, but it will tell you what to avoid. For example, if you’ve worked out your business strategy and have a plan to follow, it can stop you from taking unnecessary detours that won’t help you deliver on the goals you’ve laid out.
Winston Churchill is believed to have said that “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” While the Great Man made a few howlers, what Churchill is urging is that we don’t fixate on writing the plan itself – rather he is recommending that we focus on the process and, as a consequence, your business.
The process makes you consider your business direction and provides an opportunity to review your financials and performance. You’ll often uncover nuggets of gold by just doing this investigation before you even write a plan.
The feedback I often get from a client, whether it is about a business or marketing plan, is that they don’t want a heavy 50-page document that sits on a shelf gathering dust. Too often, smaller businesses focus on building a plan with a surplus of moving parts, overloaded with expectations they’ll never realise.
To avoid this mistake, break the plan into usable portions. It must also aim to stretch the business without being unattainable. If you’re writing a 50-page document, chances are you’re spending too much time on the plan and not enough time thinking on whether it’s achievable.
I’ll admit that when I reviewed my business, we spent too much time working on the plan, rather than thinking about the business. I now refer to the original document as a great example of what not to do in business planning. I’m not saying you should be conservative, far from it. Just make sure your plan is realistic enough for you to achieve. A good rule of thumb is to try to keep your plan to four or five key achievements. If you can do that, then you’ve probably done a good job of clearly documenting what it is you’re going to do.
In the end, whether you’re writing a 10-page plan or a ‘plan on a page’, the process itself will deliver you a result.