“The reality is that a plan is the start of the conversation, not the end of it. Business owners must consistently ask ‘why?’ not just ‘what?’ and ‘how?’“
– Thomasina Skipper, Founder, Business Growth Specialists
American business icon T. Boone Pickens once said, “A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan.” There’s a lot of truth – and irony – in Pickens’ often quoted perspective of the business planning process.
The truth is that business planning is the glue that ties your business goals to your purpose. It’s the vehicle that helps you to think through the process of cause and effect. The irony is that too many companies have a plan, but tend to, more often than not, sidestep the strategy markers deemed critically important to successfully push the process forward.
None of this is lost on Thomasina Skipper. The founder of Atlanta-based consulting firm Business Growth Specialists sees this more often than she would like. Skipper believes that business owners must have a growth mindset and be willing to upset the status quo. If they are not willing or ready to review every part of the organization – the people, the processes and the structures – with a critical eye, the opportunity for real change and the projected outcomes will be muted, at best.
“The reality is that a plan is the start of the conversation, not the end of it,” says Skipper, MBA, ChFC, CLU, CLF. “Business owners must consistently ask ‘why?’, not just ‘what?’ and ‘how?”‘
That translates into be able to change when change is necessary, something that Skipper says your business plan must make accommodations for. “You must be willing to have a vulnerability that’s defined by an open mind, be able to admit to weaknesses and willingness to face reality.”
Skipper says your plan is just the start of the conversation. After everything is put down on paper, so to speak, you have to set your goals. Then communicate them, and assure your intended goals are achieved by everyone on your team.
Leadership strategist Robin Lawton says that the business planning process starts with a simple, but powerful framework that can link all of your goals together. The three tenets of that plan should be outcomes, products and processes.
“Linking each goal to a specific one of the three creates a level of consistency and simplicity that clarifies your focus,” says Lawton, an author, executive coach and founder of strategic planning firm C3 Excellence. Over the years, he has helped strengthen the leadership thinking at brands like Motorola, Honeywell/ AlliedSignal and the Acura Division of American Honda, among many others.
Lawton says aligning your goals enables you to continually check that you have the balance you want. For example, if every goal concerns process, those hearing the goals can easily conclude you don’t think outcomes or products need any direction, or are unimportant.
This overemphasis on process is a common malady among leaders and tends to dampen attention to both innovation and customers. “Make sure you continuously emphasize which of your stated core values and strategic goals has the highest priority,” he says.
The plan is the plan
Even businesses that have plans don’t really have plans. The one key element to any business plan is clarity. Having a clear understanding of projects, sales goals, client measurements, etc., is critical. Skipper says that too many businesses miss this step in the process.
“It should be clear how the business will do what they do,” she says. “It should be clear who they intend to sell to, contract with and collaborate with. If, after all is said and done, you have a pretty plan that does not provide a clear blueprint for success, it will be worthless.”
Skipper recommends planning annually and executing quarterly. Don’t take on too many projects – burning resources and capital. Setting an aggressive, but achievable, pace is a healthy strategy.
“Business plans are documents to guide the business, not put your business in a straitjacket,” she says. “There may be some seasonality to a business that makes some projects more feasible during certain times of the year than others. This should be taken into consideration when considering projected time lines in the planning process.”
Your One-Page Business Plan
The “fill in the blank” simplicity of the One-Page Business Plan (OPBP) is a perfect way to re-strategize your business plan. Here’s what the OPBP offers:
Vision – What Are You Building? (Who? Where?)
The Vision component is where you define income goals, geographic scope, the target markets and the product and/or services your business will offer.
Mission – Why are You Building It? (Why?)
The Mission component is where you distill the reason for the business existence into a statement of 12 words or less. Crafting a brief mission statement rather than a paragraph has the benefit of forcing a high level of clarity to the business owner’s thinking.
Objectives – What Will Be Measured? (What? Success/Failure?)
Objectives are designed to focus resources to achieve results. They give your business specific targets and establish accountability. Objectives are measurable so they minimize subjectivity and emotionalism.
Strategies – How Will I Build This Business? (How?)
The Strategy sets the direction, philosophies and values providing a blueprint or road map for building, expanding and growing your business by establishing guidelines for important decisions, etc.
Action Plans – Steps to Take (By When?)
The last component is Action Plans. Implementing and executing your business plan will require that you act. This component provides for a quarterly execution of the business plan. Even when you’re constantly fighting fires, you must not lose sight of your business building projects.