Have you ever had a day where you were flat out busy but felt like you got nothing of value done? It’s time to review your business plans.
Of course you have, even the best of us get stuck in fire fighting mode.
You already know the clichés. ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’ etc.
So why is it that so few business owners are working to a clear plan?
Building a business is hard enough when you are working to a plan but when you caught up in the middle of multiple projects that are seemingly all calling for your attention it’s far too easy to forget what’s actually important.
During the last 10 years I can spot huge blocks of days, weeks even months when I worked flat out on projects that at the time seemed sensible… only to later realise what I had been working on was not taking me closer to what I actually wanted to achieve.
With hindsight it’s easy to spot where things went off track, but that is no good for your results. So here is an alternative. A simple process for creating a plan.
It’s easy to get started if you follow the steps you’ll almost eliminate those long periods of ‘being busy going nowhere’.
If you just want the templates then below is a link – but I strongly suggest you invest 5 min to first read the rest of this post. It’s a long one, but I hope you’ll feel it’s worth it.
The truth is, you need two kinds of business plan.
Your plan needs to be a practical tool that you’ll use everyday.
There are times in business when you will need to create a planning document for external parties, investors, banks etc. – this is not that kind of plan.
This is going to be something you use to keep you on track with your monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly tasks.
NOTE: This does not mean the kind of plan you’d write for an investor or bank is not useful. Far from it. A traditional business planning document with background, vision, mission, financial projections, marketing processing, etc. is extremely important to set the scene for your business. But, often they don’t get detailed enough to be practical.
The truth is you need two kinds of plan. One to set the scene and give context and another to give you clarity on what tasks you need to work on – an Action Plan if you like.
Start here – it’s not where you think!
The error most commonly made is that people start business planning with their business front of mind. The reality is we need to go back a step.
Why did you get into business in the first place? Was it to open a company that out performed the market? Was it to win an industry award? Was it to be your own boss? Was it to solve world hunger?
I bet some of those things are part of it, but it’s far more likely you entered into business for (at least initially) reasons a little more selfish than that.
In fact, it’s my belief that, unless you have first satisfied all your own personal wants and desires, it’s almost impossible for you to be effective at helping others. If your mission in life is to solve world hunger, then good on you, but please sort out your own life first.
The first job of your business is to serve all its shareholders. That means you.
So, your first job in creating a plan is to figure out exactly what you ‘personally’ are hoping for from the business.
Every decision you make at work will effect you personally. Your day-to-day role, what money you make and how much time you need to invest in your business. Yet when making business decisions most founders have little or no framework for making sure work decisions lead to a business that create the personal life they’d like.
This is really dangerous.
How well do unhappy employees perform? If you are making work decisions that lead to your personal life being out of sync, then you have also helped create another unhappy employee… yourself!
We need to start with you in mind – not your business.
I call this process alignment. It’s about figuring out what you want your life to look like and then making it the mission of your business to give it to you.
It’s going to give you the rulebook from which you can base all decisions about your business.
How do I know if I am out of Alignment?
Here are some common signals
- Are you working when you feel like you should be elsewhere (family, gym, friends, in bed)?
- Feeling like your business runs you and not you run it?
- Feeling underpaid for your efforts?
How to get aligned?
Start like this…
- Dreams – things you would love, but are unclear about how to get them.
- Goals – ‘what’s next’ – defining what the next step towards your dream looks like.
- Plan – the actual tasks you need to complete.
- Action – actually doing it.
Your plan will fail if you confuse your Dreams with your Goals
I often hear business owners who are flat out busy working 80+ hours a week refer to their plans using language like this…
My goal is to build a business that works without me.
It’s a nice goal, but it should not feature in your current plan.
If you are currently working 80 hours a week in a business that relies on your being there, to create a plan to get down to zero hours is crazy. This is not a goal, it’s a dream.
It’s more likely you’ll need to transition. Get to working 50 hours, then 40 hours, then 20 hours.
Your dreams are critical because they guide your goals but they are commonly way too big for you to create a detailed enough plan to do anything with.
That’s why plans fail. They stop short of enough detail to focus in on actionable tasks.
The solution is to get clear on your dreams but then break things down until you have bitesized goals that you can get to work on.
Your dreams need to be so big that you can’t quite see how they are going to happen. Your goals should be within stretching distance.
Do your dreams need a bit of work? If you find it hard to let go and allow yourself to dream, then here’s a tool you might want to explore.
Turn your dreams into
Once you are clear about your dreams and your long term future, it’s time to get back to the here and now.
I often get asked what time frame to consider when setting goals from your dreams. Ten years, three years or even one year goals? For most of us that’s way too far out.
Remember, this is about goals not dreams.
Goals need to be actionable and you must be able to at least see your target.
Work on the time frame of ‘what next’ – which is simply the next level up from where you are now. My favourite tool for getting clear on your ‘next’ goals is often referred to as the ‘Wheel of Life’.
The ‘Wheel of Life’ is essentially a self-evaluation benchmarking tool for the areas of your life that feel most important to you.
Now comes the business goal.
Now you are clear about your personal goals, it’s time to figure out exactly what your business will have to look like to get you there.
The process is logical – not always easy, but it is highly logical. I am going to explain with a story.
Let’s start with a fictitious business owner – Mary. I’ll describe the thought process Mary might have to go through to set her personal goals, then her business goals.
Mary has a strong business in the recruitment industry. Her dream is to live in the sun and not have to work while maintaining her high standards of living.
Currently, Mary works 80 hours a week in a vital role. She’s still responsible for invoicing, sales meetings and ordering coffee. The business is growing but financially Mary is not earning anything like what she had hoped.
So, what should Mary’s goal look like?
We’ll make some assumptions here but given the info above here are some suggestions.
Although Mary could just pack her bags for Spain, it’s unlikely she can do it without causing problems in the business for her personally.
Mary appears to be in a fair amount of ‘pain’ with her current situation. Working much harder than she wanted to for less money.
For the vast majority of people I work with the first goal is getting ‘out of pain’.
Imagine I held your hand over a burning flame and then asked you to tell me about your dream holiday… it would be impossible to concentrate on anything other than — get my hand out of the fire!!
The same is true for your goals. Your first set of goals should just be to get out of pain. Think about how much easier it will be to focus on what you want when things feel like they are on track.
Where is Mary in pain? She is working more hours than she wants. She is not making the money she’d like. So the goal? Or rather the question…
As a’next step’ – how many hours would you be working to feel good about your situation?
As a ‘next step’ – how much money would you be making to feel good about your situation?
Mary might say…
Mary: If I could just get back to a normal working week and make enough to clear my credit cards and maybe go on holiday – that would feel great.
Question: How many hours would feel normal and by when would you like to be there?
Mary: Ok, I’d like to be able to work 0830 -1700 Mon – Fri. That’s it – no more early starts, late finishes or weekend work. If I could do that in six months, I’d be over the moon.
Now, that’s a great goal!
Question: How much more money would you need to make each month to pay off your cards and go on holiday – and by when would you like to get there?
Mary: I guess £1000 would do it for me. If I could get there in 6 months, I’d be over the moon.
And, that’s a great goal, too!
Both are ‘smart’ (specific measurable achievable real time bound) and they focus on something that would feel like huge personal progress for Mary.
Follow a similar thought process and your ‘next’ big business goals should become clear.
Turning Goals into Actions
Now you know what you’re aiming for, it’s time to create some actionable tasks. This can be really hard or really easy.
Some people have a natural talent for breaking down goals into clear actionable steps and others need to work very hard to figure it out. If you find it hard, here is a method that might help.
Let’s say your goal is to make a cup of tea. Creating the action plan starts at the end point, actually having the cup of tea in hand.
From this point we just work backwards.
Directly before your cup of tea was finished, what action did you take? Pour the tea. And right before that? Wait 2 – 4 min for the tea to brew…and before that? Pour in the boiled water…
Just keep going till you get to the very first actionable step.
Tracking backwards like this you’ll develop a set of instructions for getting to your goal. It’s your roadmap.
But there is something missing. A timeframe or set of deadlines and [if applicable] allocations of tasks to individuals. Or put it another way – who is doing what by when?
Execution, staying on track and measuring progress
Depending on your preferred working style, size of your team and project size managing the execution of your plan may vary greatly.
In my businesses we typically start with a 90-day planning tool which is simply a shared excel sheet.
If you are more tech savvy, you could consider some of the productivity tools for maintaining your plans. We love Wunderlist, Goalscape and Google Cal.
The planning cycle laid out with details
The biggest problem with this process
Don’t hate me for this, but the biggest problem… is you. It requires your discipline to actually work.
This is why my clients hire me. Accountability to actually get things done. Distraction will be the biggest killer in progressing your goals.
Every quarter my clients are invited to a workshop where we facilitate planning in a group. Having a formal setting for getting your plan done will make sure it happens.
If you know this would help you, then find a group of people outside your own business who you can plan with.
If your team is larger, then you might want to hire a coach to come in every quarter and facilitate this process. The external accountability will speed up your progress greatly.
If you’d like to join one of our group planning sessions or have me or one of the team come and facilitate your quarterly planning, have a look at this link.
Final planning tips
Diarise your tasks.
Task lists generally have a flaw. They don’t appear in your calendar. Start adding tasks into your calendar just like any other appointment and you’ll find it easier to manage your day.
Track your progress visually.
Imagine your goal was to lose some weight. What would happen if you put up a huge white board in the office that simply tracked what you ate for lunch each day and the number of visits you made to the gym? If the whole office can see measurable activity and results, something magical happens. Try it.
Review tasks daily, progress weekly & plans monthly.
We are all busy, but not reviewing your daily tasks is an unforgivable planning sin. Leave your reviewing even a few days and your productivity will drop off a cliff.
If you don’t already have something in place, hiring a coach will make sure you remain focused every single week.
This post is designed to be useful and not a sales pitch. So even if you choose not work with me or my team, please make sure you do not ignore this point.