Quick-Start Business Planning for Small Businesses From Susan Ward,Your Guide to Small Business: Canada. Part 1: Business Planning Doesn’t Have to Be Time Consuming Business planning is like water to a thirsty plant. It keeps our businesses vital and thriving. Without business planning, your business will never be as healthy as it could be and may even sicken and die. But many small business owners don’t do the business planning they should, because they’re hard-pressed to find the time to do it. How many times have you thought that you should do some business planning – if only you weren’t so busy taking care of business! But business planning doesn’t have to be a time-consuming ordeal. In just a pair of two to three hour sessions, you can put together the basics of a business plan that will invigorate your business for the course of a year. So set aside the time on two days for a pair of business planning sessions. (The days don’t have to be consecutive, but should be fairly close in time. You may choose to have your business planning sessions as much as a week apart.) If you’re the sort of person who prefers to work in a group, get together with a likeminded friend or two who also runs a small business. You’ll find the brainstorming in these business planning sessions easier with input from other people, and they’ll certainly be more fun as social occasions. (Keep your business planning group small though; no more than three!) Business Planning Session 1 1. Revisiting the vision statement. Your business vision statement is the starting point for any business planning, as it’s the core of your inspiration and motivation. Do you see yourself having so much business you need to hire help? Trebling your sales? Becoming locally renowned as the best business of your type? Expanding into a franchise operation? Give your imagination free rein. What would you like your business to be like next year? Three years from now? Five years from now? Articulate your business vision for each time period listed above – and write your three business vision statements down. Don’t hesitate to craft a business vision statement that expresses what you truly want your business to be and what you truly want to get out of your business. The vision statement is for you, not for your customers or clients. 2. Evaluate your business. This second step of business planning involves examining the current position of your business. First, the easy part. What are your business’s three best strengths right now? And what are your business’s three areas of weakness? Now it gets a little harder; you need to relate these strengths and weaknesses to your vision statement for next year. How will the three strengths you have identified get you closer to where you want to be next year? How will the three weaknesses hold you back? Think about these and/or discuss them and then write down the three aspects of your business that you feel are most important to concentrate on in terms of achieving your vision statement for next year. For instance, suppose my business vision statement is to treble my sales for next year and get my product nationally known. Suppose, too, that my strengths are the attributes of my product (people who use it see it as a superior product), my customer base (the product is well-positioned locally and I do a lot of repeat business), and my distribution system (I have no problems filling orders or having my product delivered to the customers). On the other hand, the weaknesses of my business are that it doesn’t seem to be attracting a large number of new customers, the product doesn’t seem to be known outside of the local area, and my marketing efforts don’t seem to be working. Examining these and comparing them to my vision statement for next year, I wrote down: “Sales force. PR. Marketing.” Stop here for the first business planning session. That’s enough to mull over for now – and if you go away and do other things, your mind will continue to work on the problem you’ve set it. A good night’s sleep between this and your next business planning session (or even several!) will make your next business planning session much more productive. Business Planning Session 2 is on the next page. Click to continue reading. Part 2: The Action Plan Stage of Your Business Planning Business Planning Session 2 Now that you now where you want to go, the purpose of this business planning session is to figure out how you’re going to get there, giving you a practical business plan of action for the next year. 3) Set your priorities. In my example in the first business planning session, the three aspects of my business that I thought were most important in terms of achieving my vision statement for next year were all closely related. Yours might not be. Look at the three aspects you’ve selected and rate them from most important to least important. 4. Brainstorm actions. Focus on your top one or two priorities. What can you do to achieve what you want to achieve? Let your mind rove and list all the possible actions you could take, no matter how impractical they seem. (Here’s where having a partner or business planning team will really help; others often come up with ideas that have never occurred to you!) For instance, having set my priorities to marketing and PR, I would brainstorm all the actions I could take to improve my marketing and PR efforts so that I could treble my sales and get my product nationally known. I could: Set up a website Send press releases regularly Do something unique or outrageous that would get me national coverage Hire a public relations expert Do a marketing plan Do a huge mailing campaign sending people samples of my product Pay to have the name of my business on a blimp Buy ads in national magazines Buy ads on search engines This is only a partial list, but you get the idea. The important thing at the brainstorming stage is to record all your ideas without prejudging (and rejecting) any of them. The most far-fetched idea may contain the kernel of a good idea. 5. Organize your actions. This is the stage of our Quick-Start business planning where you shape your ideas into an action business plan. First, go over your list of actions. Put checkmarks by ideas you think are good, put question marks by ones you are doubtful about, and draw lines through the ones you think are unworkable or silly. Now examine the “good” ideas. Do you see any similarities or themes? If so, group those ideas accordingly. 6. Set your goals. Use the check marked items and/or groups of themed items to create your action goals. As I say in Goal Setting Is The First Step To Achievement, the secret of successful goal setting is to incorporate both the action you’re going to take and the timeline into your goal. Use the formula of: "I will (specific goal) BY (specific actions I will follow to accomplish the goal) BY (time).” As an example, one of my action goals might be: “I will get my product known nationally BY creating a marketing plan BY (a date 3 months from now).” Another of my action goals might be: “I will get my product known nationally BY placing two ads in national magazines BY (a date 3 weeks from now).” Don’t skip the dates! They’re important both to spur you into action and to give you a basis for evaluating your progress. Create as many action goals as you feel are necessary to accomplish the greater goal of making your vision statement for next year reality. 7. Plan how and when to evaluate your progress. You have your action business plan now and you’re ready to implement it – but there’s one more piece of business planning to do first. If you don’t plan how and when to evaluate your progress now, chances are you’ll never get back to your business plan. The dates inherent in the goals will help, but you also need to build time for reviewing your progress on your action business plan into your timetable. What will work best for you? Will you review your progress on your business plan once a week? Once a month? Each three months? Some people find it very effective to start each day with a business planning session This keeps your goals front and center in your mind. Whichever you choose, pick your dates now and record them with reminders in whatever scheduling system you’re using. Evaluating your progress on your action business plan will probably take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. Once again, doing your business planning with a partner or small group is very beneficial at this stage; one of the things you will do when you evaluate your progress is assess what’s working and what’s not. It’s always useful to get more input when amending goals (and interesting to see how your partner or group members are doing implementing their own action business plans). The second business planning session ends here. You’ve now chosen your direction over the course of the next year and have forged a specific action business plan to take you where you want to go. You’ve even determined how and when you’re going to sit down and evaluate your progress on your action business plan. There’s only one thing left to do – put your action plan into action! Hopefully these two business planning sessions have gotten you fired up and ready to start working on making your vision statement happen.