Business Planning

posted in: Plan 0

Planning for your business is both intimidating and important, even if you aren’t looking for financing. It allows you to think through your business, where it is now, where you want to go, and how you plan to get there – which makes you a lot more likely to get there. The plan doesn’t have to be elaborate, it just needs to be a useful tool for you and your business.

The first step in writing a business plan is to figure out the point of the exercise. What is the purpose of your business, its reason for existence? When you know that, write it down and you have a mission statement. This is the guide for your business plan – and your business.

The next step is to take an honest look at your business. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you do better than (almost) anyone else? What opportunities and threats are there in the external environment? What is your target market, your product position, your competition? What are you working on now? Write it all down.

Now where do you want to go? Where do you envision your business being in 3-5 years? This should be something that helps you achieve your mission; if not, modify the goal or your mission statement so that they are congruent. This step often results in a vision statement, which describes what you want your company to become or achieve. The classic example is President Kennedy’s declaration that the US “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” This has a timeline and a measurable goal; everyone could tell whether or not the goal was achieved.

Once you know where you are and where you want to go, you can plan how to get there. What specific steps will it take to reach that goal? What is the timeline for the steps? How will you know if you are making progress? What metrics can you use? Set intermediate milestones so you have a way to check progress as you go, and adjust course if needed (which it probably will be). Identify and prioritize what tasks you will have to do to reach these milestones, and figure out what order they need to be done in.

The trick with a business plan is to keep using it. Once it is written, check back regularly to see if you are still headed in the direction you wanted to go, and whether or not you are making progress. Being a little off track is normal; what adjustments do you need to make to return to the path? Every so often, check to make sure your goal is still appropriate. Have conditions changed enough to make the goal no longer the right one? Do you need to adjust it?

Your plan can be a few pages long for an internal guide, or a large volume if you need to detail a complicated business for financing. An all-encompassing template is here; chances are good that you will need to eliminate a lot of these items, but it will force you to think about more issues than you might on your own. In the end, the time spent thinking about your business goals will dramatically improve your odds of getting there.


Thanks to Allen Kawasaki of RiverPointe Business Consulting for a great SCORE workshop.