After 30 years in what is generically referred to as “corporate life” where we even planned the plan, the shock of working with smaller businesses that do not produce a plan, let alone written goals was (for me) an anathema – I just didn’t get it!
The vast majority of SMEs I speak to say that they want to grow their business, that GROWTH is their number ONE GOAL, yet the majority of them don’t have a written plan on how they are going to achieve their most important business goal. Countless UK surveys report that SMEs do not write business plans or goals (Barclays Bank 2017 survey 23%, Close Brothers Asset Finance 2018 survey 29% and my own 2019 survey 46%).
The reasons given for not writing a plan of any sort, are numerous: they don’t see the point or benefit for one, they have done alright without one, it’s in their head so why write it down, they are too busy to write one let alone implement one, they have enough paperwork to do. They don’t need to justify their performance or seek sign-off from anyone else, as it’s their business and ultimately the buck stops with them.
Their overriding sentiment being one of “there’s never been enough time in the day to really review, what’s the best way forward for the business – we’re simply too busy doing the doing, to find out” – which I get but as I said its an anathema to me.
Over the years I’ve had to write lots of plans and goals, particularly if I wanted to spend the company’s money. I had to show how it would be spent, what the goals were and what the return would be – all very sensible. Some were approved, some required a tweak, and some never got the support to go any further. I remember writing one particularly brilliant plan, it was over 50 pages long, with appendices, graphs and tables; had a concise executive summary, contents table, it covered every angle, anticipated every possible question and took the readers through a very persuasive case for support … it was a text book business plan.
I can still recall the words of our US CEO “Michael it’s a great plan but we can get a better return putting our money in a bank account – Thanks for your time”.
Are you a planner or a dreamer?
Are you a guesser, a chaser, do you fly by the seat of your pants, love solving problems, addressing the issue of the day? Are you the best fire fighter in the business and possibly its only arsonist or do you simply cross your fingers and wish upon a star when it comes to the future of your business?
A plan forces you to prioritise what you do and don’t do in terms of what will help achieve the plan, it stops you being distracted, it challenges any tendency you may have to do stuff you particularly enjoy that doesn’t progress the plan and it ensures the most important tasks are done. It enables you to track the progress of your business, make any adjustments and celebrate success – because you now know what success looks like. In short, it gives you daily focus the moment you start work, which increases your motivation, confidence and self-esteem.
It also has enormous associated benefits in that it reduces worry and anxiety; and gives you time to live outside work without constantly thinking about work. I’d say these were compelling reasons for taking your business seriously and finding the time to write the plan.
I once received a call from an MD who said, “I know I need help; I just don’t know where to start”.
Three points to remember at this point …
1. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
2. It doesn’t have to be 50 pages long.
3. It does have to be right for the moment your business is in.
Remember the CEO above – his real issue at that moment was the length of time my plan would have taken to deliver the return, he wanted more and he wanted it faster.
How to write your first plan?
Here’s an outline that I recommend for people thinking about planning and writing down business goals for the first time. It’s a simple 3 step process that asks you 4 questions and only requires two sides of A4.
I call it the ONE PAGE PLAN – there are hundreds of variants available online, but this has proved to be a good starting point for those who have never written a plan before and it only takes 20 -30 minutes to complete.
- One Goal
- Three Objectives
- Five Actions
Step 1: What is the goal you want to achieve in your business?
Step 2: What do you have to change in your business to achieve that goal? What 3 objectives do you need to set and achieve to bring about the required change?
Step 3: What 5 actions do you need to do to achieve each of the 3 objectives?
It really is as easy as 1-2-3