Here in Australia today, July 1, marks the beginning of the new financial (fiscal) year. I’m thinking this is a good time to have a look at my business plan and check to see whether it still makes sense or needs a refresh or even a complete re-think.
But we don’t need to wait for the start of our financial year to refresh our business plans. And given the rapidity of change in the business environment there is surely a case to be made for not waiting for a full year to elapse before doing so.
Although I have to admit I have not always been conscientious in reviewing my plan, even on an annual basis. And I wonder how many other small businesses do conduct a regular and thorough review, given that most or all of us these days seem to be forever in catchup mode, with the consequence that reviewing a business plan can seem like a chore that can be put aside in favour of more immediately pressing matters.
A problem with such procrastination is that we can lose track of how we are actually going and not realize till it is too late that our plan is out of date and no longer working for us.
What I learned from some research on how to do a business plan
This year I am probably more conscious of the importance of the task from having done some research on writing business plans, as part of the preparation of a blog post for another site, with the specific focus of writing a business plan for a bank loan.
Through doing that research I realized a few things in particular, namely:
- there is no shortage of advice online about how to do a business plan
- there are templates you can download free of charge and adapt them to your circumstances
- the basic process is straightforward enough (we may need specialist help on some details)
- it takes time and is not something that can be just “fitted in”
- if you have business partners or associates you need to get their buy-in to your plan
A 5 point framework
Here is a basic 5 point business plan framework that gives you scope to be comprehensive, without being overwhelmed:
- The Business
- The Market
1. The Business
Take a good, hard look at what your business is now. The world changes so fast, and our thinking and ambitions can change too over time, so it is risky to just assume our business is as it was when we started out.
This is a good time for a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. The process can be uncomfortable – all the more reason to do it.
2. The Market
I find too many business owners too complacent about the market. Among a number of variables, the disruptive effect just of social media on the business environment, and on how the consumer acts and expects to be listened to, stands out and demands our attention. Is the market we started out to service the same as the one we are now seeking to service? Have the behaviors of our customers changed? And if so, how are we responding? Lots of questions to be addressed.
3. The Future
Ever had a chat to a tired-looking, harassed-looking business owner and asked them why they went into business? Ever talked to a business owner who had a bright vision when she started and is now wondering how to get through the month, let alone realizing the vision? Without an up to date vision of where we want to be, and some still-fresh or renewed enthusiasm about that, our business is surely at risk.
Are we really keeping track of the business’s finances? Are we being productive and profitable or seriously on track to being so? Or are the outgoings swamping the income? We can’t leave it to our accountants. We need to be across the finances and focused on profitability. Is a loan needed and if so could we mount a persuasive case for a lender? Do we need a new line of products or services to boost profitability? What will be the cost of developing those products or services? Lots of questions possible in this section.
When we have worked through the first four steps above we will be ready to look at our roadmap with clearer eyes, probably fewer illusions, and hopefully a renewed sense or enthusiasm, with a refreshed or even wholly new vision for the future.
But we need more than “blue sky” optimism. We need a real plan with milestone dates for specific objectives, tied to the rest of this plan.
And finally, a Summary
Ever done a detailed plan, then put it away, out of sight, out of mind, and not to be seen again till the next cleanup?
That’s one of a few good reasons to make sure we have a Summary, preferably on one page and easily readable (e.g. not too small a font!).
The Summary will help keep us focused on the vision and hitting our milestones.
Here are some resources to help with the process. They are all from government sources – your or someone’s tax dollars at work. Banks in various countries also provide business planning templates online.
US Small Business Administration (SBA) on how to write a business plan.
Government of Canada: Small Business Network – sample business plans
UK Government business plan templates
Australian Government business plan templates
I’d love for you to share your own experience with business planning. Good or bad, fulfilling or frustrating. And any tips you would like to share. Comments section below – let’s hear from you!
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