Business planning: the key to success or a waste of time?

It’s amazing how many businesses operate without a plan. It’s very rare for a business owner with less than 25 staff to find that they do any kind of business planning. Interestingly most business owners will write a plan when setting up or new business or perhaps at the start of a new year however they get caught up in the day to day, working ‘in’ the business and forget the importance and positive impact of using the plan as a tool to implement strategies and measure progress towards their goal, working ‘on’ the business.

But there are also a lot of business owners who will argue against having a plan. Usually their main argument is that “my industry changes too fast!”, so what’s the point of having a plan when things change before the plan’s finished?

Looking at both cases one thing is clear: the benefit of business planning is underrated: After all, if it weren’t, everyone would have a plan.

Taking a leaf out of the large business book

In larger businesses there is almost always a plan. Whether it’s a good plan and whether it’s followed are different matters, but they always have a plan. By the time there are 25 staff, things just become chaos without a plan.

So why don’t small businesses plan? Here are some of the reasons I’m usually given:

  • We don’t have time for planning
  • Things change too fast
  • I have a plan, it’s in my head
  • Having a plan is too restrictive, we like to be opportunistic

Business planning is for accelerated growth

When you have a plan, you gain clarity about where you’re going and what’s important to get there. Often the daily ‘fog’ of endless things to do dissipates because now it’s clear which things are important and which are not. It becomes possible to look at each task and each request and ask “If I do this, will it take me closer to my goal, or further away?”. That alone is a significant help in managing time and priorities.

With a plan on paper, the whole team can share the same common goals. When only verbalised, goals tend to be what’s in each person’s head, and each is a variation on a theme, not the same thing.

So what does effective business planning look like?

There are many variants, but as some very brief advice “Keep it simple, and keep a summary on the wall”. Using graphs, Gantt charts and short lists are good ways of sharing key priorities and timescales. By putting it on the wall it constantly reminds everyone of the key parts and keeps everyone focused and aligned.

Bottom line – if you want to make life easier and achieve more quickly – make creating a plan your biggest priority.