Charting the Course: The Plan for your Business

By Chuck Violand

January 18, 2016

Mention the term “strategic planning” to most small business owners and their eyes glaze over. For most, this topic is as exciting as watching paint dry. But strategic planning doesn’t have to be boring. It doesn’t have to involve charts, graphs, or detailed analysis of competitors and markets. Imagine you’re charting the course before setting out for a long journey; you would never leave without a map and a compass. For many people, planning the trip is one of the most exciting steps. The same should be true in business.

There are plenty of companies that have enjoyed success without a plan, but how much more successful could they have been, and how much easier could achieving success have been, if they had had a plan? How much more rewarding would the work have been for everybody involved if they had been able to see the map for their business journey and known when they’d reached each milestone?

Without a plan, small businesses tend to change direction at the whim of the owner. Since many owners exhibit symptoms of ADD management, this can mean chasing whatever shiny new object catches their attention. This approach can be exhilarating at first, but after a while it becomes exhausting. Not only does it keep the company from gaining traction toward its goals, it’s downright frustrating for the people tasked with getting anything meaningful done. Before long your best employees leave for another company where the plan and goals are clear, and they can feel the satisfaction of helping to reach them.

In the early years of a business, strategic planning typically involves little more than committing the owner’s business dreams to paper. As the business grows, the plan can get more sophisticated and benefit from input provided by key employees. This is especially important if you expect those employees to execute the plan or if their job duties will be affected by it.

But writing the plan is just the starting point. Peter Drucker, one of the leading business thinkers of our time, wrote, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” The real work starts when the planning is done and execution begins.

Following through on your plan starts with obvious things. If it calls for reducing debt, then don’t make unplanned, non-business purchases just because you feel entitled to do so. If your plan calls for pursuing more profitable customers, that might also include the tough decision to fire current customers who are unprofitable.

Executing means acting in alignment with the plan. This is important at every stage of business growth, but even more so as our companies grow and mature, and our front-line employees have less-frequent daily contact with us. They look to us to show by example that we are committed to following the course we’ve charted, even when it means having to make tough calls with customers and employees.