How to write a workable, base-line business plan in a day

A lot of business owners hear the words business plan and block their ears – “I don’t need one of those, I’m not going for a loan”; “It’s too hard to write a business plan and it’s only going to sit in the bottom draw!”; “26 pages that I never refer to – waste of time and money”; “That’s all just SWOT analysis (whatever that is) and financials, I don’t need that” – these comments are true, if you think about a business plan in a traditional sense; and if you are creating a plan for the sole purpose of raising capital.

However, a plan for your business should be all about the people who are going to execute it, you and your team. It needs to be in your language and in a format that works for your business. It needs to be simple and goal orientated. But be clear – without a plan you probably won’t get to where you want to be, because without a plan how do you know where ‘there’ is?

It can be hard to step outside the day to day ‘doing’ of your business, it’s hard to think big picture when your To Do list is really long and you have a team who really want your attention. BUT, the time you invest in putting together a plan will pay dividends, no doubt. Below is a suggested agenda for how to write a workable, base-line business plan in a day – you will need to dedicate one day, shut the door on a quiet space and document where ‘there’ is.

THE BIG PICTURE/END GOAL

On the day you have set side, spend your first 67 minutes (timed) thinking about the next 12 months and think beyond this by no less than 3 years. Then, write down – what will the business look like; what will you be doing; what will the team look like, think in detail – be descriptive.

They will not be new ideas, you would have had these thoughts for a while, maybe even a long while, but you haven’t extracted them from your mind and given them oxygen. Yes, it’s true, once they have oxygen there is a chance of failure – but if you don’t do anything, you are guaranteed not to fail, but at the same time you are highly likely to live with regret.

To work this out you might need to stare out the window for a little while; you might need some white noise in the background (maybe loud and heavy rain sounds); or put some classical music on in the background, whatever you need.

Now, take a break to clear your head before the next session.

KPIs/GOALS

Spend the next 86 minutes thinking about how you can reach ‘there’ – you need steps along the way, milestones to reach, to celebrate, and then to look ahead to the next goal. What are the targets over the next 12 months – set up 5 goals for the business to reach for, and make 2 of these stretch goals (the ones that make you really nervous). Here is a list to get you started:

  • $xx annual turnover

  • xx% of market share

  • xx number of new clients or xx number of clients at a high value per sale (move the smaller clients up the scale or gift them to a supplier who is smaller than you)

  • xx number of products/services (a reduction of or introduction of new)

  • xx% decrease in staff turnover

  • xx number of new staff or new stores/offices

  • $xx savings in operational costs

  • Etc, etc

Be brave and back yourself – try not to beat yourself before you start, try not to worry about the headaches that winning more business can bring – block out thoughts around hiring more staff, increased floor/office space required, etc, etc. This is a time for thinking big, dreaming a lot, and being honest about what you want for the future of the business.

Also, spend some of this 86 minutes considering what the goals are for you as the leader of your organisation. Separate your goals, from the business goals (often these have become intertwined) – think about ways the business could run without you, jobs that other people could manage (outsourced or within your team). Then think about what you would do with the extra time this might free up, set a target/goal for this too.

Maybe at this stage you need to talk of this through with someone; or, if this is not your strength maybe you need to hire a specialist who can help take the information out of your head and put it into a workable document for you, however, draft it as best you can first.

Again, it’s time for a break, a good break – go for lunch and relax.

REVIEWING AND ACTIONS

Dedicate the next 47 minutes to reviewing what you have documented re-read it and be sure that you have identified the ‘end game’ and the milestones along the way. Now congratulate yourself – you have the outline of your business plan – you have taken a brave step and should feel a mix of terror and excitement! This is normal, this is why we call ourselves entrepreneurs right? If we didn’t enjoy that combined feeling we would chuck it in and work on someone else’s vision.

It’s time to build out the detail of your plan as required – start with 1 page that summarises your business; then look at the elements you have noted below and note how they will come to life; what will you focus on; when will things happen; how much money will you need for each aspect of the plan; and who will do what; also give some thought to your goals in context of what else is going on in your industry. You should also create an actions list or spreadsheet noting who will do what to make it happen, by when, etc.

And, relax.

PITCHING TO THE TEAM AND FINALISING

Finally, each plan needs input – so take time out with your team, allow at least 90 minutes, and present the plan to them – really share the vision you have for your company, get them excited. It is reassuring for staff to know there is a destination you are all working toward and, as your team have lots of great ideas, this is an excellent opportunity for them to contribute to the plan, for them to own it too, before you finalise it.

As you want everyone to use your plan, pull out the key points and goals, put them in a format that works for your team, and post it up around the office. Finally, schedule time in your diary each quarter for the next 12 months to check-in on progress, make any required changes; and to celebrate your achievements.

NB Please be clear, this document may not be sophisticated enough to be used to secure financial investment, but it is an excellent workable document for you and your team.

Good luck!

Did we answer the brief?

It’s a simple question, right? Well, sometimes we forget to revisit the brief – with 48 hours to go, all the slides are in place, everyone knows who is presenting which bit, and we love our creative territory. BUT if we pick up the brief and re-read is there a chance we have gotten a little carried away? Is there a chance we have lost sight of the question in the brief…

Ponder this – which is worse: re-reading the brief to know that you have driven down a different path than what was intended 10 days ago and reworking it now OR losing the pitch because you’re way off base….?

The more often the pitch lead re-reads the brief during the process the better – every few days, challenging each component in the response, also with new eyes looking at it fresh. As you get through each key stage seek out someone who doesn’t work on that client’s account, who hasn’t seen the pitch – they should have lots of questions that help keep you on track.

Is your response focussed on the client, the decision makers – take time to think like them, consider where they are in their business cycle; is it all about the numbers for them; are they conservative or progressive; do they prefer traditional or radical thinking; are they wanting to make their mark with leadership; what is the brief really trying to achieve?? If you aren’t sure – call the client – we all like to be involved; we like to think we are somewhat creative; but we don’t want to do your job for you – so be clear on what the client can help you with. Don’t give away the house, make sure that when the client turns up for the pitch they are intrigued; they are excited; there is some anticipation for what you and the team have come up with.

Answering the brief is fundamental, of course, but it’s a lot more than what’s on the 5-odd bits of paper you have been given. If you have a tissue session, or time with the client, use this time as part of your pitch. Do things differently than you have previously, shake things up so your client knows they are important to you. Make it personal, don’t send 8 people when 3 can deliver it best. If you are pitching on new business, then impress them with what you know about their business, remember – it’s not about you, you have the door open…don’t let it close on you on the way out.

Before you go into the pitch, take a step back with at least 24 hours to go and critique your solution – have we answered the brief?; if you were making the decision are you 100% confident you would choose your solution?; Have you aimed it fairly at the decision makers to suit their style and wants?; and, if you do not win the pitch what would you change – well, change that now!?!

Enjoy!

NSW Business Chamber

This blog was also published by the NSW Business Chamber

Being your own player manager

As a business owner it sometimes feels like you are a player manager – telling everyone everything is OK, even if your man has turned his ankle and might be out for the season. This is natural, fake it till you make it, and the power of positive thinking – it’s a good thing – as long as you don’t bury your head in the sand about the extent of your business problems.

  • If the reality means you need to be honest and say it’s not working, do it;

  • If the reality means you have to take some risks, spend some money and call in those who can help, do it; and

  • If the reality means you have to make some cuts that will mean you can survive, it sucks, but you have to do it.

The first step is acknowledging the problem – do you have a list of all the things that are on your mind. If not, pull out a piece of paper and write them all down – allow 47 minutes to do this, set your timer. Be as specific as you can, but don’t think too hard about the details, you are simply wanting to get a picture of the current position. If you know the solution note that down, if not, star it as a job to work out who can help you find the solution. Once you have the ‘challenge’ list ponder it for a day.

Next, set yourself another 47 minutes and prioritise your list, then apply Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog

Principle 3 – apply the 80/20 rule – rationalise your list, be honest and ruthless, only 20% of the things on the list will deliver greater results than 80% of jobs on the list, so only do them!?!

Next step is to invoke Principle 12 Take it One Oil Barrel at a Time – sometimes when things are bad, we need to compartmentalise the problems, deal with them one at a time. Once you’ve knocked off one ‘Oil Barrel’ things should get a little easier, firstly there is one less problem, secondly the knock on effect is that your mind is a little freer to consider the next most important problem and consider what your options for solving that. Also you are one ‘barrel’ closer to your end goal.

Also, to be your best player manager, you should take this opportunity to make some changes to ensure you don’t fall back into bad habits. A good habit is to follow Principle 17 Do the Most Difficult Task First – set aside time, first thing every morning, to Eat that Frog. Get the ugliest job of the day done first, you will feel better, your mind will be a clearer, and your shoulders will have less of a weight on them.

Good luck!