If you have come to this page you’ve at least considered business planning for your business and we applaud you for it.  There is planning software (some better than others), there are consultants who will write your plan for a fee.  SBA offices also offer classes and some offer business plan evaluation.

If you use a software package, you still must do the work but it will guide you through the process.  Depending on the size and complexity of your business, this may be an option for you.  You may also want to consider this if you are writing the plan for a bank or investor as they may require a more sophisticated document than you might produce for internal use.  If you decide on software, take any pre-purchase demos offered as I have seen some which are extraordinarily convoluted.

Having an outside person write the plan is an option but those plans seem to become shelf decorations rather than daily tools. No one knows your business like you do and that will be reflected in the plan.

We will cover the creation of a simple business plan.  If you need a more complex plan see the options above.  

STEP 1 – Make a Schedule

Procrastination is a fact of most of our lives.  Create a workable schedule for planning and stick to it.

STEP 2 – Where are you Now? 

A detailed look at what the business today. You might start with a SWOT analysis.

Preparing for Planning and SWOT Analysis

This exercise is often conducted with a group of people who intimately know your business.  Starting at the upper left with strengths, list all anyone can name. Ditto the Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. One interesting way to handle the process to put the chart on a board and give everyone a pad of Post It notes. They write one quality per note and stick it in the appropriate box.  This has the added benefit of noting during the discussion which follows that what one person perceives as a strength another may label a weakness.  It’s a good beginning process and I recommend it.Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to the business, Opportunities and Threats are external.  

Step 3 – Where Are You Going?

You undoubtedly have a variety of future options in your head. Some may have been considered and discarded, some may be too expensive.  Haul them out and give serious consideration to what each would bring to the business.  You may find the various ideas have nothing in common, or you may find a single theme among them which you should follow until it proves unworkable. You might do this on your own or with trusted advisors or employees. The object is to decide what the future of the business will be.

A few years ago “Blue Sky” brainstorming sessions were all the vogue for planning.  While they can prove difficult to control, they have the advantage of having all ideas on the table without regard to cost, time or the current reality.  They were typically held someplace other than the office (like under a blue sky).  Different people in different roles in an organization will have very divergent views on how the business should move into the future and that can be a rich environment for new concepts, new philosophies and designs for the company’s future.

It’s worth looking at every road before you choose a route.

STEP 4 – What Do You Hope To Achieve?

What is the ideal outcome of this effort? What benefits do you anticipate?

STEP 5 – Set Goals and Objectives

Goals are large and further out : they are the end result you are working towards.(“To become the # 1 reseller of HP hardware in the state.”) Objectives are specific and measurable steps to achieve the goal. (one of your goals might be a higher level of training for your sales staff.)

STEP 6 – What Are Your Competitors Doing?

Look at similar businesses around the country to see how they are preparing to move into the future.  Their decisions may not fit your business, but it is worth knowing how they expect the industry to change in the future and how they are preparing for it.

STEP 7 – What Are Your Priorities?

For years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

STEP 8– How Will You Evaluate Your Progress?

To ensure that you are moving toward desired goals, you will need to monitor your progress.  Set milestones. Some results are easily measurable (such as increased sales), some less so (like better trained staff).  As you move through the process, build in timelines, milestones 

STEP 9 – Change Happens

And finally, remember it is your plan.  If you find that the objectives set are the wrong ones, change the plan, don’t abandon it.  You can take a side road and end up in the same place if you keep your eye on the goal.

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