The Practice of Planning
I have identified six things that businesses must do if they are to be successful businesses.
Not all businesses manage to be good at all six things, but all successful businesses – no matter how small – are good at all six things.
These Six Business Success Factors are providing Leadership, good Planning, effective Marketing, Customer Fulfillment, management of Operational Efficiency, and the mastery of its Finance.
This week I’ll discuss the Practice of Planning and how it helps any size business to succeed.
I’ll then set you a challenge that you can undertake over the next 5 days.
It will be fun and more importantly, it will help your business become focused on success.
When I say that the Practice of Planning is critical in a successful business, I don’t just mean preparing business plans.
I really mean that a successful business must practice planning methodology in almost everything it does so that ideas are implemented – from the simplest task to the most critical changes.
Without planning, and all that it means in the detail to the big picture, your business will struggle with inefficiency, loss of focus, and display a habit where sometimes things just don’t get done or if they are, it is after a struggle and nobody enjoys it!
Think of the smallest thing.
Let’s say that you decide to change suppliers.
One thing you could do is to just buy from Supplier B as of next Monday.
But if you don’t plan, even in the smallest way, you could find that orders “in the pipeline” with Supplier A are delayed because they are peeved, or someone else forgets and places an order with Supplier A on the following Tuesday. You might find that Supplier B doesn’t have enough of what you want in stock because they are unaware of your order cycles and quantities, or they can’t supply you with credit immediately because their Finance Department hasn’t cleared your credit references.
Even that simple change needs some thought about letting both suppliers know what’s going on, closing the account with Supplier A, getting references for Supplier B and ensuring they know what quantities you usually order, telling everyone on your team of the change.
Of course, the most obvious planning action when people talk about planning in business is preparing a business plan.
Working with small businesses over the last 40 years I can honestly say that while businesses who do not prepare business plans do survive – they sustain themselves from day to day – I have never seen a business be truly successful without a business plan.
What I mean by “truly successful” is that the business achieves what the owner wanted it to do – profitably fund a lifestyle, provide the owner with benefits other than financial, allows the owner to enjoy running the business, and fulfils his or her purpose.
What business plans do for successful businesses is to set ultimate long-term goals in a descriptive Vision Statement about what the ideal “finished” business looks like, what it provides to owners and all its stakeholders including customers, how profitable it is and what it finances, and how people feel working there and doing business with it.
This picture sets measurements for that business to check from time to time about where it is on the desired journey – how successful it is in attaining the Vision and ultimate success.
The measurements allow that business to define a strategic direction – where it wants to go and critically where it does not want to go. Many an aspiring business has been waylaid by following a trend, and then after much pain discovering that following that trend did not provide the owners with what they wanted in the first place!
Running a business – or implementing something in the business – without a plan of some description, from business plan to checklist, is like going on holiday without a clue of where you want to go or what you want to do on holiday.
Imagine just buying a ticket and packing your suitcase without a plan – you’d arrive in winter in London wearing shorts for Bali. You’d have the wrong currency, you’d not be prepared about where to go and what to eat.
The effect is that not only would you have a bad time, but it would also cost you more than if you had planned your holiday.
So the Practice of Planning is important to have as a habit in any business – it directs you in the way you want to go and to achieve the outcomes you want, and it increases efficiency and purpose.
I’m not going to set you a challenge on business planning this week.
If you want to read about business planning, my blog at teikoh.com has several articles on how it can help your business grow and how to do it. If you want to get my free checklist on preparing your business plan you can get it here members.teikoh.com/plan-checklist.
This week, my challenge is to get you to think about the Practice of Planning in your business on a day to day basis and to make it a habit.
Let’s start with some basics. To be focused on planning, you need to create some habits:
- Write everything down!
- Use a diary, planner or digital scheduler and book times to do things
- Be clear on outcomes
- Know who is to do what
- Know when you are meant to complete the projects
- Know what you need
So, on Day 1 I’d like you to spend an hour to do two things.
First, write a list of everything you can think of that you need to do, that might need a plan, especially if it involves other people or where you need to gather resources before you can take some of the steps.
Don’t just write your normal to-do list, because many of these items are probably just simple one or two-step actions which you should just do. If you don’t have this simple to-do list, write it down anyway, but on a separate piece of paper.
What I want you to list for planning are the more extended initiatives or projects you have around the business where you have a number of steps to take to complete the project, for example hiring new staff, integrating a new accounting package, preparing for a launch of a new product, or implementing new procedures.
Once you’ve written the list, pick two of the most urgent.
In the second half of the hour, working on the most urgent of those two tasks, plan how you are going to implement them by laying out the steps and resources you need.
What I suggest you do is, in the following order:
- Write down what the desired outcome is. For example, if the project is to hire a new staff member, the clear outcome might be “to hire someone who can do Job A without much training”.
- List all the steps you need to take from start to finish. In the new hire example, you might write “1. Write a Job Description and list of desired experiences and skills”, “2. Decide on a salary range to offer”, “3. Decide on the best place to advertise’, “4. Find out how much it costs to advertise”. “5. Place the ad”, “6. Prepare a file with interview questions,” and so on, up until the last step which might be to “Sign the letter of offer”.
- Next to each step write who will be responsible for completing that step and when by.
- Then, reviewing each step, write down the resources required (e.g. “cash for Ad budget”).
If you’d like a free copy of an action plan template you can download it from here – https://members.teikoh.com/optin_ActionPlanTemplate
That’s it for Day 1!
On Day 2, take the second most urgent project and prepare a plan, just like your first one on Day 1.
That should take you about half an hour.
Spend the next half hour entering the time you need to do things in your diary or scheduler – unless you make time to take those steps, you’ll always find yourself out of time.
Then, take a couple of minutes to review your original list and choose the next two most urgent tasks. You’ll work on them tomorrow.
On Day 3, prepare action plans for the third and fourth tasks – don’t spend more than an hour to do so.
Write down the time to spend on the steps into your diary – make the appointment with yourself!
Hopefully, by now, some of the action steps will be in your diary for today so complete those steps.
Remember that when you schedule time with yourself to complete steps, don’t block out whole days, unless you can afford to. You will still need to spend time on day-to-day tasks and your to-do list, so make sure you don’t spend so much time implementing your plans you can’t do the basics. All that will do is make you worried you’re falling behind!
The Practice of Planning is meant to make things more organised, not cause you stress!
On Day 4, no more planning, just doing!
If you have to, catch up some of your daily tasks if you feel you’ve fallen behind.
But, do spend up to an hour on Day 4 completing a few more steps from the four action plans. It’s useful to check in with others if they are tackling some of the action steps – they may need encouragement or advice, or extra resources.
Day 5 is a day for review.
Take 60 minutes in the morning:
- How difficult was it to write everything down? I know, it’s hard to remember to do, because you aren’t in the habit yet, but it’s not difficult is it? Decide that you will spend 30 minutes or so every Monday morning to write everything down – your to-do list, your larger projects, your action plans.
- What can you do to make sure you make appointments with yourself during the day to complete some tasks? Planning your day is as valuable as longer-term planning. Make it a daily habit to write appointments in your diary when you decide to take steps.
- How can you distribute responsibility so that the steps are shared amongst others? How can you keep in touch with them as they progress?
- How can you learn from experience and improve planning?
However, I’d like you to consider how you make this short challenge into a habitual practice in your business. Ask yourself what is the best way to use this practice to really get organised and schedule all your work.
Once you get to appreciate how important it is to have thought through your next few steps in any project, and how having a clear outcome and pre-planned actions can increase effectiveness, you can start to look at major planning projects like your annual business plan or your marketing plan.
Pretty soon, you’ll be making plans for a great holiday!
The Practice of Planning is one of 6 key ingredients in the way a business becomes successful. Read about all Six Business Success Factors by getting my free Small Business Owners Growth Guide here https://teikoh.com/Guide
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