The three key steps to successful business planning

Most people see successful business planning as an extremely complex strategic document that’s created at the beginning and executed without any further changes. On the contrary, however, business planning needs to be constantly changing to adjust to your environment and to complement your objectives.

When I coach and mentor small-business owners, I explain that there are three key elements to a successful plan:

  • Have a physical business plan which includes objectives, strategy, ideas and a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.
  • Have a timeframe to meet your set objectives – you need a clear path to the intermediate goals to meet in order to achieve the big goals.
  • Constantly review the business plan and react to business and market conditions.

The physical business plan

Without a business plan, there is no way of knowing if what you’re doing actually meets your objectives and the direction you want to take your business in. A business plan will help guide you in your decision-making, keep your activities focused and ensure that everything you do is worth the investment of resources, time and effort.

Every business plan should have these key elements:

  • Business description: who are you and what do you do?
  • Products and services: what are you selling?
  • Sales and marketing: how will you raise awareness of your business?
  • Operations: how will the business work?
  • Management team: who is responsible for what parts of the business and who makes the final decisions in different areas?
  • Financial plan: How will the business make money, how much, and how will profits be used?

Timing and planning

The Gantt chart, traditionally used as a project-management tool to track deliverables on a timeline, is now used more widely in business planning and is considered by many as the bread-and-butter of managers and business owners.

The Gantt chart helps you track that with every activity contributes to meeting your long-term goals. Using a Gantt chart you can:

  • list major goals or business objectives
  • list the intermediate goals to achieve these objectives and give the timeframe
  • detail who is responsible for what activities and when they should be delivered
  • constantly review progress, with roadblocks and delays discussed and acted upon as fast as possible.

The Gantt chart is a wonderful tool that will give you not only an overall snapshot of the day-to-day operations of the business, but will also help you plan resourcing, identify issues that may delay the completion of projects and ensure you’re on track to meet KPIs.

Constantly review your business plan

Very few industries and markets stay the same quarter-to-quarter, month-to-month, or even week-to-week. Your business plan needs to be responsive to your market and your business. If you have a fast-changing market, reviewing your business plan quarterly will mean you may be missing great opportunities by not being as dynamic as the rest of your market.

I keep my accounting information in the cloud so I can review it on-the-go, wherever I am. This means as soon as I have some downtime I can log into Quickbooks, review how the business is operating in a snapshot and see if I need to take any action.

And there is no problem with reviewing your business plan at a higher tempo than your market operates. Affirming your objectives, intermediate goals and your projects will mean your business is dynamic, responsive and in the best position to capitalise on opportunities you create or deal with any risks you identify.

Matt Alderton,, Founder, Alderton Enterprises and author of “Business for Life”

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