My work is advising small businesses on growth strategies.
Most of these small businesses turn over several hundred thousand dollars to 4 or 5 million dollars in sales and employ anything from zero to 10 or 20 people.
They are not huge.
At this size, they don’t have a lot of spare capacity and they tell me that while they want to get organised, while they want to plan ahead and be clear about their business direction, while they understand how a business plan can clarify their daily confusion about what to do next, they are worried they don’t have the time and capacity to take on the task of business planning.
So the obvious question I’m asked is how much time do you need to prepare your own business plan?
Of course, the bigger and more complex your business, the more people you employ who should be involved in the planning, the longer it is likely to take.
However for small businesses, as I described above, once you focus your work and the thinking involved, it should not take weeks.
You can hire a consultant. That will save you some time, but you may find that it is relatively expensive (because you are paying for their expert time) and you may find that it doesn’t answer all your questions about your business direction since they don’t know your business as well as you do.
You can go to lectures and classes and learn to do it yourself – but that will cost you time. You’ll need to learn how to do it before you do it.
Or alternatively, you can find some way that you can be guided through the business planning process, in a well-designed staged manner where you provide your intimate knowledge of your business, within a timed, guided step-by-step program.
I’ll tell you more about such a program later but first, let’s go through the process of business planning, and then look at the time you need to do it.
When you prepare your business plan, you should start with the principle of “beginning with the end in mind.”
All this means is that before you create strategies and goals, you need to know where you want to end up so that all your goals and strategies will be assured of getting you there. Without doing this, you may complete a set of strategies that get you to a very different business than you want!
So the first step of business planning is to understand your vision for your business.
Start with why you started business in the first place because the vision of where you end up surely must satisfy that purpose.
Make sure you describe your end-game in detail so that when you start planning you can decide how to get some of those characteristics you describe.
To do this, simply describe a typical day at work in the future. Describe the customers who come in and what they say about you. Describe who works there, what are they like, and how do they do their work.
Once you have a good picture you can write down a description of this successful business as your vision statement.
But you need to be really clear, and in fact, it would be very useful to describe some of the measures of that “success”.
So, in our technique, we ask ourselves four questions about the vision:
- When we have attained our vision, what will our customers say about us as a business?
- When we have attained our vision, what will our employees be doing and how will they do it?
- When we have attained our vision, what will our finances look like?
- When we have attained our vision, which key business systems will we need to excel at?
In diving into these four “perspectives” of our business “when we have attained our vision” you will be led to understand some key characteristics of this successful business that you have to continue to reinforce, or to create.
This step could take you several days if you are not prepared.
If you are doing this with your team, these sorts of discussions could go all around the houses. If you are working on your business plan on your own, this sort of thinking often in my experience leads to the need for a strong cup of coffee while your thinking goes around in circles!
However, if you are focused by a set of targeted questions, and set within a timed process where you are cajoled into progress, you should be able to complete this stage in just over an hour.
Continuing from a clear and well-defined, indeed measurable vision statement, it should take you another 40 to 50 minutes, under the right process guidance, to establish your goals and their objectives, that you need to achieve in order to become the successful business you described.
It’s important that these goals and objectives are in alignment with the vision as described and measured, so it is important to once again follow a defined set of questions to work on, that teases these goals out of the work you have done describing your vision.
The next stage is to assess where you are now – what is your capacity and capabilities at this moment.
This is where you to compare your picture of success with what you can do to get there, and therefore what new resources of capabilities you need.
The best process to do this is to conduct a “SWOT” or Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis.
To do this, you first list all the internal strengths and weaknesses that your business has, then you list all the external stimulus on your business (like legislation, technology and so on) that could pose a threat, or be seen as an opportunity.
Then, you repeat the exercise, but in certain areas of your business such as customers and marketing, operations, and so on.
Once again, it is important to keep going – progress is usually more important than achieving perfection in your thinking. A good program will ensure that you consider the most important strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and then consider what they mean to your business and achieving your set goals.
The idea is to think about whether you can use strengths, identify the weaknesses that are critical, protect yourself against threats and take advantage of opportunities.
If you are properly facilitated and the program is tight, you can get some good value thinking after about an hour and a half.
The next step is to look at the characteristics describing your “state of success” and the current state you are in, and then identifying the issues or gaps that separate those two positions.
This can also be seen as the difference between your goals and whether you can achieve them with what you have.
Once these gaps are clearly defined, you can design the strategies you implement to close the gaps. This step should be a logical follow-through directly from where you want to go to how to get there.
If your early work is thorough, the step of writing your strategies should not take more than half an hour to an hour.
If you’re doing this in one day, which is possible if you follow a specially designed program, you could take a break for lunch.
After lunch, you should work on your strategies and break them down into Action Plans.
This involves taking each strategy and working out the detailed steps you need to take to implement that strategy, making sure you define the desired result of each step, who is responsible and when it has to be done by.
If you have been focused during your strategy session, you should be concentrating on priority strategies and that will make the action-planning possible within a couple of hours.
Completing your Action Plans is pretty much the end of the day.
You can continue or follow up in a few hours later, and complete the budgets and documentation of your business plan.
Following a process, you can implement strategies that will take your vision and create a reality.
So, in answer to how much time do you need to prepare your small business Business Plan, you need about a day, especially if you are guided by a highly focused set of questions and exercises.
I believe you can prepare your Business Plan in one day if you follow our One Day Business Plan program.
The One Day Business Plan program is an online program that walks you through the entire process. It is divided into modules and in each, you are introduced to the topic by a short online video, then you download worksheets and a voice recording that facilitates your discussions and thinking so that you write your business plan as you go, into the worksheets provided. The audio recordings keep time and gently push you along at a pace that you need to apply – where perfection is the enemy of progress!
Studies have shown that your best ideas come as you progress at a decent pace. Where we are allowed to think too much, we over-think and ideas become complicated by too many options.
The whole program is timed so that if you want to prepare your Business Plan in one day – a tough and busy day – from introduction to documentation, you can.
You should learn more by reading more about the program here.
Business planning is critical to the success of small businesses – if the one thing that has been stopping you is the fear that you don’t have the time, you need to get over it now and invest one day to ensure your business succeeds in the way you’ve always dreamt!
What better time to do it than now during the “quiet” Christmas period?