The New Year is a great metaphor for reviewing and revising your business. Take a fresh look. Go over your fundamentals. Clear your head. Forget the myths and misconceptions that have you putting off planning because you think it’s just a plan. It’s time to start steering your business. I have some suggestions:
- Clear the cobwebs. Start planning. That’s planning, not just “a plan.”The plan may be useless, but planning is essential. And that means you: running and trying to grow a business: or you, trying to survive a downturn with your business. It’s not just startups. Forget business plan, the document, and adopt plan-as-you-go planning, the process, which means running your business better because you’re working a plan, reviewing, revising, and steering. The plan-as-you-go planning is a matter of form following function, doing just enough planning to manage your business better. Optimize, prioritize, and don’t sweat the document; that’s just output. If you don’t need to present a document to investors or bankers, don’t worry about it. Leave it on your computer. What’s important is review, revise, manage, and steer with your planning.
- Review your goals. We get so busy, wrapped up in it, that we forget to take the step back and remind ourselves what we’re after. What’s success for your business? Most people talk about measurables like sales and profits, but frequently you’re really after other things such as independence, time, working from home, proving a point, fulfillment. You’re supposed to decide what wins the game. If you’re running the business, you have to know what you want. And focus for a minute, think about what you and your business need. Not a long laundry list, but a few good priority points. What’s really important for the health of the business within the next year?
- Review last year. One of the nice things about calendars and milestones and markers like a new year is the chance to review. What worked? What didn’t work? Did you move forward towards goals? Were you surprised, and was the surprise good or bad? What needs to change? Recognize what failed, and why. Be honest with yourself, and your team. What do you have to do better?
- Set a few realistic goals and priorities. Once again, this is planning, so step back, focus, and think about it. Too many to-do lists and priorities is about the same as none at all. You’ve thought about long-term goals, you’ve thought about what you need to accomplish this next year, now get it down to specifics. Paradox: less is more. A list of three main priorities is good, realistic; a list of 20 means none are that important.
- Boil it Down to Steps, Metrics, and Accountability. Think about the concept of accountability. First, you break the bigger ideas down into specific steps along the way, like landings in a staircase, assessment points, at which you can take a good look and see how you are doing. You need metrics, because otherwise how will you even know, later, whether you’re on track or not. That might mean dollars, or units, or minutes, or calls, or presentations, or billable hours; make it match your business reality. Unrealistic metrics are no metrics. Stay focused and strategic, but get specific as well. Try to match each task as much as possible to an owner who’s responsible, start and finish dates, spending budgets, and sales implications. This means lists. Lists of milestones and responsibilities, with dates and deadlines and budgets. Basic numbers, like sales forecast and expense budget. And a lot of who does what.
- Set the Review Schedule. The review schedule is a reminder that you’re after planning, not just a plan. That means you need to review results, track what didn’t work, and make course corrections based on changing assumptions and plan vs. actual comparisons. Remember, every business plan is wrong, but vital — you track how it was wrong, and why, and in what directions, and presto, you have management. For a review schedule, make it regular, predictable, and required for team members. For example, the third Thursday of every month. Put it on everybody’s calendar.
And with this, you end up with planning, and ultimately, steering your company, and management.