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Small Business In COVID-19: Business Planning Now More Than Ever

I’ve been talking to some of my clients and some members of my online programs, and it’s hard to see their confusion about what to do in their business today.

Some of them had just started a business, following my program called How To Start Your Own Business before the pandemic stopped them in their tracks.

Others were growing along their business journeys at a good pace, and then COVID-19 caused a big pothole in their journey.

Most of them were still determined to grow successful businesses – the fight hadn’t gone out of them yet!

The one thing they were mostly confused about was their need to plan their way out of the situation.

But if you’re in the same boat, you probably have similar questions about the future so I thought this week I would answer some FAQ’s I’ve been getting from them.

 

Most of their questions fall into three main types so I’ll answer them in turn.

“How do I know what to do when everything is so unpredictable at the moment?”

The best way to map out what you have to do to rebuild your business is to create a plan, even if “everything is unpredictable.”

I believe now, more than ever, is the time to prepare a business plan, even though things look like they remain unpredictable.

Despite the current uncertainty, you still believe in a bigger picture, don’t you? In other words, your dreams of building a business you can be proud of hasn’t changed.

It has probably taken a knock and the situation has created some fear – which means this is an important time for you to check your vision for the future business is still viable and desirable to you.

Your vision of the business you want to build is a long-term big picture. That means despite what is happening at the moment, it should still drive your strategic direction. It may take longer to get there, but what you desire to build still requires definition.

Now is a good time to confirm that your strategic direction is still the right one for you and since that is the first part of the business planning process, writing your new business plan is a must.

From that long-term desired picture of what you are building for your future, you can then work backwards into medium-term goals, and from those to more immediate short-term goals.

Doing this logically and cascading your ultimate aim into more immediate steps will help you visualise what you have to do now to start the way forward.

As well, the business planning process of understanding where you are right now – so that you can identify the gaps between where you are and where you want to go – allows you to take stock of what’s happening.

In the current situation, you can ask yourself what’s changed? Has it changed for the better and, taking some educated guesses about your industry, is the change permanent or will it be restored to the way it was? What is known or predictable, and what really is unpredictable?

Understanding this allows you to write appropriate strategies for recovery.

You can design long-term strategies that are still what you need to do in order to grow your business to be like the vision, but subject to a longer timeframe. For example, if your vision included a national chain of stores – that’s still on the cards, but perhaps where you envisioned that it would be over 5 years, this may now take 6 or 7 years.

You can prepare shorter-term contingent strategies.

These are not the normal strategies where you decide to action some initiative at a certain time in the year, but strategies that are contingent on something happening.

For example, you may decide that you want to introduce a new product. Normally, you might have planned for that to happen in 10 months’ time allowing 10 months of profits from your existing products to pay for the investment.

Now, however, the strategy may depend on something happening before you implement it. Perhaps you’ll only introduce the new product when 75% of your existing customers are back and buying as regularly as before.

A strategy without a timeframe but attached to an event happening is still a valid strategy.

“What’s the first thing I should do as we open again?”

Identifying the right recovery process clearly depends on a plan.

You can sit quietly and write down a checklist of things to do as the restrictions open up and your store opens again.

But that’s no more than a to-do list, that’s not a plan.

In order to make your actions really count toward rebuilding your business, you need to set priorities for those actions based on a bigger context – that of what you are trying to do over the course of the next year, not just right now.

For example, if you are planning to change your sales process in the next year and increase online sales, there’s little point in including major plans to rebuild the offline sales capacity in your immediate to-do list.

From the information you analyse in business planning, you can decide on some immediate defensive strategies, based around how you sustain your business during recovery when you might need more working capital, or if you still cannot afford to rehire staff.

You can also decide on some contingency strategies so that you prepare for increased activity. For example, if circumstances demand, where can you find short-term casual staff?

Without planning within the context of the full year and not just the immediate period, you may find yourself unprepared.

“Things have changed; I’ve changed – should I change back or stay as I am?”

In many ways, the shutdown period may have provided some opportunities.

Some businesses have had to pivot, by changing their core business. I believe there are distilleries that have switched from making alcoholic drinks to alcoholic hand-sanitisers. Restaurants have been unable to serve dine-in diners so they have focused on an efficient home-delivery model.

It’s a no-brainer that if a change has been effective for you and that it will remain effective as you re-open, or that has brought greater efficiency, then you should keep the change.

However, there are other changes that you will need to consider while keeping the long-term vision in mind.

Whether it has been a change in the business model or something as basic as your envisioned future having changed, you need to consider whether your vision – the ultimate goal – has changed. If it has, it will have an impact for a much longer period than just the recovery period.

You need to plan for this now, not when you face a decision.

Your vision sets the measures for your business. If the vision has changed, the measures will too.

If the measures change, your strategies will need to change to meet them.

As an example, say a pre-COVID-19 business envisioned a national chain of retail stores because that was the dream of the owner.

During the shutdown, it found that it was able to meet the needs and demands of customers by trading online. In fact, while turnover decreased, profits had increased, showing that the efficiencies of online trading were an unplanned benefit.

As the owner reviewed the situation he decided he actually liked the online model and so he now felt that he could satisfy his own desires of running a national business by operating on an online model without the physical presence.

So, where once, the measures of success would have been the investment in other stores in other states and the number of other profitable stores, a new measure of success was the online reach of the business – where they were finding new customers.

Without business planning, this business would still have been operating on the wrong measurements and trying to initiate the wrong strategies.

“So, what could happen if I don’t prepare my business plan this year?”

I cheat – this is not an FAQ but I wish people thought to ask it.

I wish people would ask what could happen if they didn’t plan because something incredible happens if you don’t plan – nothing!

That’s right. You run the risk of being a cork bobbing on big and angry waves, just going to and fro depending on what happened to you instead of taking your future in your own hands.

As unpredictable is the next few months, without planning anything could happen and you would not be ready for it. If you are not ready for it, you miss opportunities and you are punished by threats that become real.

If you don’t prepare your business plan this year, you are in danger of losing sight of the bigger picture – what is your strategic direction over the longer term?

If that has changed and you are still working as if it were the same, again the danger is lost opportunities or arriving somewhere no longer relevant to you.

You think you can react as and when you need to? Oh, only if it were so simple.

First, any decision for which you are unprepared takes a long time to make, because you haven’t already ruled it in or out in a plan. If ruled in, you certainly haven’t “rehearsed” what decision to make by considering it in a plan. If you are unprepared, you fall into the what-do-I-do-now syndrome, and as we all know that can be a hole you fall into.

Second, if you want to react to things without a plan, will you have the resources to carry it out when it happens? You will not have prepared by researching a new business model, or seeking additional working capital, or having enough staff.

And finally, if you do no planning this year – how will you know how well you are going?

Even if you make money during the years – is it the right amount for what you intend to aim for? Is earning money all that it is? What about your ultimate purpose in your business life, is that what satisfies it?

Without planning, you set no target, and with no target, any measure of success is meaningless without context.

So, prepare your business plan for next year!

That is ultimately my point.

As this financial year ends, now more than ever do you need a business plan that establishes long-term goals, and cascades them into shorter-term objectives and strategies, and from there to your immediate recovery options.

As for the process, you can find out about it by downloading my free business planning checklist here.

And, next week I am launching my online program called Your One Day Business Plan, designed to help small businesses write their very actionable business plans. I have designed an online training and workshop program that teaches you about each step of the step-by-step process and then takes you through a timed workshop to work on each step, tailored for your business.

Keep an eye for my announcement next week when the cart opens!

If you don’t want to miss it, click on this link to make sure that you get the notice sent directly to your inbox.

See you next week!

 

 

 

Cover image by Willian Iven on Unsplash

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