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A business plan with a difference – time to throw away the rule book

Posted on 12th September 2016 by Alexis Outram

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Whether you are required to do a business plan to support bank borrowing or to change the fortunes of the business, typically it is a process thwart with fear. For many it is a chore or a challenge that requires a great deal of time, a scarce commodity, and thought and ideas which too can often be in short supply.

The easy option is to defer the planning, with the preference being to focus on the day to day activities of fire fighting and maintaining the status quo. The likelihood though is that nothing will change, your business is unlikely to grow, profits will not improve and invariably your competitors could gain a competitive advantage.

The question then is how can business planning be made more interesting and more relevant?

The starting point must surely be to make it a practical rather than an academic exercise which follows the blueprint of conventional business planning. Whilst typically you will need the ubiquitous financial forecasts, these should not be the sole drivers and focus of your efforts, more importantly they should be the result of or culmination of your strategic vision and planning.

The next pitfall or barrier to effective business planning is the concept that your plan needs to be equivalent in length to something like War and Peace.  This is not the case and often the best business plans are those that are succinct in their content, as they are easier to communicate and act upon.

Another major shortfall in a lot of business plans is the mediocrity of the plan and the lack of vision or step change. Whilst there may be inherit resistance to change,  it is often transformational change  and change that takes us outside of our comfort zone that brings about the desired results that most business plans need to achieve. The development of most business plans are limited by the ideas, thoughts and visions of those charged with producing them. Though perhaps by engaging with others who are not in the business and adopting a different approach to the plan formulation your plan can surpass your own expectations, and also make it a more stimulating process to go through.

Depending on your preference there are many different ways to approach or start your planning exercise. These could include any of the following:-

Scenario planning

By considering or hypothesising over future events and how they could impact on your business you can take a viewpoint on what you may or may not want to do in the future. Given for example we are approaching an election year, you may want to consider the impact of a change of government.  Closer to your business you may want to consider the impact that the loss of a key customer or supplier may have, or the threat of a competitor entering you market or even your product or process becoming obsolete.

Sustainability planning

The sense is, not least pre-recession, that business, like some people’s approach to life was ‘live for today’ with business owners and manages focusing on short term financial gains.  There does however seem to be a new order, with a growing number of businesses that are increasingly concerned about ensuring they continue to be in business and that they can derive income and financial return for a longer term future.  An approach which requires planning to focus on what you need to do to ensure you have both a market in the future as well as the capabilities, resources and capacity to service it.

What do you want from the business?

It is often the case that business people find themselves running a business which is not necessarily the one they either set out to run or even enjoy or want to run today.  For such people, the planning exercise is likely to major on getting back to basics in terms of what they want and in some cases this may result in a decision to scale down, scale up or even sell.

Re-acquainting yourselves with your customers needs

All too often it is the case that businesses believe they are providing their customers with products or services that fulfil their needs, but invariably and not least over time, this may not be the case.  Customer needs are constantly changing and typically many suppliers are too complacent, and they fail to keep up with changing customer needs. Certainly getting back to basics and speaking to long standing, new and potential customers can be a great driver for developing any business plan.

These are just some ideas on a fresh approach to the business plan. Ultimately though, the success of any plan is down to its implementation. Therefore, whatever approach you decide to take to its creation, ensuring a clear, accountable and measurable timescale of delivery is essential to avoid the great failure to implement.

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