Business plans are too often seen as static and immovable — lofty goals set when the company starts up, and then stuffed in a file, never to be looked at again. That’s a shame, because a business plan should be seen more as a roadmap for your journey to success. As your destination changes, so will your map. The course you charted even a year ago may be vastly different from the direction you want to go in now.
But if you don’t update your business plan, you’re sort of flying by the seat of your pants; you have no current point of reference to judge your progress. Business owners should take some time at the beginning of each year and really review their business plan to see if it still aligns with where they want their business to go.
You know the ancient Chinese proverb says a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Here are several easy ones that can help get you started re-evaluating that dusty, outdated business plan:
Take a good, hard look at your current plan
In whatever state it might be. Every business owner is different and the business plans typically reflect that. Some people just have a list of bullet points, while others do put a lot of time and effort in laying out their path to success.
Whatever the case, the first step is to review your old plan and see what goals you’ve met — if any. This is a fantastic occasion to reflect on how much you’ve grown since you actually wrote out your last plan. It’s also a good opportunity to ensure you still have the same goals. After that, you can begin to sketch out a new plan.
Talk to your staff
At the end of last year, you probably did some employee reviews. Hopefully you asked them questions, like how they thought the business was being run and where they’d like to see things go. Your team’s experience is invaluable as they see — and deal with — people and problems at a level you never get a chance to do, so you should always try to incorporate their suggestions into your business plan.
Appraise your finances
How well your business is doing financially should not be the only way you measure success. But your financial situation can give you some great insight into other facets of your business — stock problems, marketing issues, lapses in customer service.
Tax returns are due every April 15, which means most of you have probably either met with your accountant or at least started working on your returns. Take a look at what’s been selling, whether you’re working mainly with new or return customers, and at what times in the year you do well. Then take that information and use it to craft a business plan that’ll address problems like a lack of regular customers or slow periods during the year.
Plug any holes
Finally, once you have an up-to-date plan, double check for anything that seems to be missing. Many times small business owners overlook marketing — people assume they need big ad budgets to market effectively, when really a solid social and online marketing campaign can be achieved relatively cheaply. You may also find that you don’t have any set protocols for dealing with disgruntled customers, or for ramping up production during the holidays. Small oversights like that may not kill your company, but they may be severely hobbling it.
Remember, a business plan isn’t just what you want for your company — it’s how you’re going to guide your company to those goals. So it can’t just be a couple of benchmarks you hope to hit. It has to outline your plan for growing and maturing your company.
Once you evaluate your old goals, and set some new ones, do some deep thinking about how you’re going to meet them and put that plan in writing where you can see it often. That simple act focuses your efforts and ensures your goals line up with your company’s most current state. Then it’s off on another leg of your ongoing commercial adventures. Happy trails!