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4 Steps to Keep Your Business Planning Simple and Useful

4 Steps to Keep Your Business Planning Simple and Useful

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: December 2, 2009 Updated: March 2, 2012

Manage your long-term goals and the short-term steps to achieve them. Develop measurement and accountability. Optimize your use of resources. Manage your business better. All of these benefits can be part of business planning process, whether you fully develop a formal business plan document, or not.

This is a classic case of keeping it simple. I call it the Plan-as-you-go Business Plan. It's just big enough to manage your business, with no extra effort. I could also call it the 'just-big-enough business plan.' It's not a plan, it's planning. Like steering, to manage your business better.

This is on my mind a lot lately because I think too many people miss out on the benefits of business planning because they dread the big business plan. What they should have is the not-so-big business plan as part of a planning process. I did a webinar on that a few days ago in honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week (and, by the way, it was recorded and posted here*, if you're interested). That was boiling the process down to just four important pieces.

One: Define SuccessIf you like buzzwords, you could call this long-term objectives, or long-term goals. It's way more important than most people realize. Not all business is intended to simply grow sales and make profits and eventually sell out to somebody else; a lot of businesses are intended to empower founders, develop independence, do what somebody wants to do, still be home when the kids get back from school, or still have time to travel. All business planning should keep the real goals in mind. It's about achieving what you want.

And notice, please, that this is not about the document. It's about the content. Keep track of it any way you want, as text, bullet points, even pictures.

Two: Focus

You can't do everything. You can't please everybody. Strategy is focus, often defined by what you don't do.* Think about core competence, strengths and weaknesses, where you want to concentrate attention. You're not credible when you promise everything to everybody. Focus on a well-defined target market, and understand who isn't in your market. Focus on a well-defined product offering.

And here too, it doesn't have to be a document. You want to write it down so you can track it later (see number four, below). It could be bullet points, simple text reminders, even pictures.

Three: Understand Meaningful Steps

Strategy without implementation is just blue sky, intangible, meaning nothing. Make it real with dates, deadlines, task responsibilities, and measurements you can track. The best measurements are those basic numbers you really ought to have: projected sales, cost of sales, and expense budgets. Don't forget that there are also measurements beyond the accounting statements, like sales calls, presentations, units sold, leads, minutes per call, media mentions, and so on. People like having specific measurements as part of their job responsibilities.

Form and format? Maybe just a few simple spreadsheet tables, including milestones with dates and task responsibilities, sales forecast, and expense budgets. And whatever other measurements you can manage. You want to track it later (see number four, following).

Four: Manage the Planning Process

The initial plan is just the beginning. What makes the real difference for your business is managing the implementation of the plan, keeping the planning process alive, reviewing progress towards goals, watching for changing assumptions, and revising.

We could all it course corrections. Your plan sets down what was supposed to happen, and your follow-up catches what did and didn't happen, why, and what to do next. Planning isn't about predicting the future accurately; it's about managing change, and reacting to change.


*Not a government website.

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About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .