Business planning. Yes, I saw you flinch when I said the P word in the B context! Argh, run away!
I know a lot of business owners and even large-scale organisations really hate the idea of planning. But that’s because we tend to do a lot of recommendations and reporting on what we should do before scuttling off into the distance. We suck at business planning because we overthink it. We also make it inaccessible to anyone outside the plan writer.
But here’s how major impacts like COVID or the bushfires have reshaped business planning for the better
Business planning isn’t a one-time event
Sure, have the big report. Cover all the damn bases. Do all the proper research. But then sit back and look at what you need in stages. To implement any kind of change, you have to commit to ensuring you give it time.
You can’t change people’s behaviour in one day. Nor can you land with a 65-page document and expect it implemented by Monday.
Business planning is not, nor should it ever be, a job lot process.
Tackling business planning effectively means:
- Getting buy-in from the people it affects in the first instance
- Accounting for reactions and responses from the people the change influences
- Staging the roll out of changes to avoid culture shock and disruption
- Knowing what is wanted versus what is achievable
- Recognising that change is an ongoing process
The last point is particular important. Being able to adapt and using business planning as a tool that creates a culture that is happy to change rather than digging into risk aversion makes for a healthier culture. The more you treat the activation of the plans you make as a small step process, the better able to adapt your staff, clients and culture will be.
One page is enough…as long as it’s solid
One of the greatest barriers to change for small businesses and freelancers is this belief that a plan is unobtainable because you don’t have the time, space or wherewithal to create one.
This is utterly untrue.
The size of the plan doesn’t matter. It’s what’s in it that counts.
You can activate a one-page plan as effectively as a massive plan as long as the content within that plan:
- Addresses the problems
- Gives a rationale other people can understand
- Outlines a solution
- Is actionable with what you have on hand.
A plan can be for a day if it needs to be. Let’s not forget that in an ever-changing situation like natural disasters or a pandemic, you may not be able to see more than a day ahead. Or your concerns may be so pressing on the day that you simply don’t have the luxury to look to the next.
The main aim is to have something to pull everyone together and that identifies the most pressing need while rallying everyone to move forward.
The way government does it where it takes years to get to conclusions and is barely implemented once released has given us a false sense of what business planning means.
Plan to have a plan. And plan to use it if you need to. Yep, that simple.
Flexibility wins the day
A lot of really smart businesses were caught with their trousers down at the beginning of 2020. The circumstances changed the goal posts dramatically on a regular basis. This is why flexibility is oh so important. You have to be able to match the pace of change to be able to put your best foot forward.
Many plans are built with best case scenarios and single ideas in mind. They rarely have a contingency plan attached. Yet all good business planning experts know that you need to plan with A, B and C in mind.
This isn’t best case, worst case style thinking either. It’s a process of digging deep and thinking about “if this happens, what next?”
How do you get to a flexible place? With contingency plans in mind!
A few business planning pillars can help with that:
- Learn about your customers and your staff. Profile them via personas so you know who they are. Write out what is known as user stories, which charts their responses and reactions to different variables. Anticipate how the people you depend on to keep your business afloat are going to operate in various conditions
- Make risk assessment a part of your business planning process. Check out the ways in which your business may be able to fall down. Understand what happens if the supply chain breaks or the government changes the law. Consider what happens if you face various different impacts. Give them a low, medium, high and very high-risk rating and plan accordingly. Once you know the obstacles, you can address them
- Find a methodology you like to plan works and stick to it. Methodologies like Agile can help you plan with all the flexibility you need incorporated as part of the process. Having a set framework helps take some of the exhausting brain work out of the business planning process as you have a roadmap that guides you through considerations and contingencies. Once you get Agile down pat, you can also use it to plan anything from marketing through to product development
And remember, business planning an A, B and C might sound like work at the outset. But once you get into a regular rhythm of making business planning a part of your business, it becomes second nature to think around corners. Plus, it’s super helpful when disaster strikes and can save you time, money, stress and problems in the long run.
Superstition and wallowing will get you nowhere
An attitude we really need to get over in business is that to consider what can go wrong is to invite it. That’s like saying we shouldn’t wear life jackets because it makes us more prone to falling out of the boat.
Superstition about business planning gets in the way of good decision making. As we’ve seen this year, waiting to see what happens tends to create way more problems than it’s worth. To avoid big problems, you have to take well thought out and decisive action.
Pretending things will go away on their own or confusing preparedness with willing it to happen is the stuff of kids. You can’t stop the homework from existing by hiding it under your bed. Honestly, you have to be mature enough to accept that life will occasionally through you something you are not prepared for. And to be adult about it is to be prepared.
Besides, there’s a massive boost you receive when you encounter a problem and have a plan you can activate to get away from it. And it also reduces the chance of wallowing.
Wallowing creates a sense in us that we’re powerless and that forces beyond our control have us by the short and curlies. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s healthy to lick wounds when disaster strikes and get over the shock before you proceed. But it’s unhealthy to believe a situation is permanent and your only option is to concede defeat.
Life is a lot like chess. It takes a lot of moves to get to a point where you are stuck with no way out. But if you guess and wing it, you can and will be beaten by an opponent that is thinking their moves through.
By planning, you breakdown what you are likely to face. It becomes a realistic and practical obstacle that you can use realistic and practical means to overcome. But if you leave it to continue to float in the periphery of your vision and eat up your imagination, you will likely continue to fear what you don’t understand and fall to water the minute the pressure is on.
Don’t allow your problems to seem bigger than they are.
Allow business planning to be the perspective you need to understand what you’re up against and fortify your courage in the process.
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