Do you know how to plan?

How would you describe yourself?

Are you a ‘let’s make a plan’ kind of person? Or do you just go with the flow and hope it all comes together in the end.

More than perhaps you realise, your personality and personal traits map directly into your business practices. It’s hardly surprising if you think about it a little, and sometimes it’s a good thing, but sometimes, it can lead to chaos.

‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ is a bit clichéd in my view but there are certainly times in your business where a lack of planning will hurt you. Here are a few examples of where it can be vital;

Cashflow Project Resources
Staff Holidays Stock
Product Delivery Sales & Marketing

Control Freak -v- Denial

Let’s not turn into control freaks here; there is a very happy medium between having a reasonable understanding of what might be likely to happen under certain circumstances and a microscopic, second-by-second analysis of the next 6 months’ worth of activities.

The art of planning can really be broken down into a few clear steps and outcomes, but, before you plan anything you need to ask yourself these simple questions about the topic at hand;

  • How material is the risk of NOT planning?
  • Are you in ANY denial about the possible outcomes?
  • Have you done this before?

Cashflow is always a great example to use for planning because, much as people hate doing it, being out of control of cashflow is akin to driving down a motorway, the wrong way, blindfolded. Only bad things can happen.

If your business is in any way seasonal, or goes through production peaks and troughs, then getting an accurate cashflow is absolutely critical to business stability. I’ve worked with teams where cashflow is so important that it’s measured daily and trended as far into the future as possible so expectations can be managed and surprises avoided.

Planning your cashflow isn’t the most fun thing to do if your business isn’t awash with cash (and who’s is really) but that’s all the more reason why you need to plan it. It’s an example of something that can have a material impact on more or less everything and also (sadly) a subject where business owners tend to show Teflon based denial on when faced with the possible outcomes.

This is a circular argument though, and really the point of planning in the first place. You may not like the answers your plan is giving you but at least you know (more or less) exactly what they are and can then start to plan for their eventuality. Without this knowledge everything will be a surprise.

Your virtual telescope

If you’ve been running a business for any length of time, you’ll no doubt realise by now that the highs and lows that come with it need to be treated with the same mentality; ‘we can handle it’. Planning helps you get to grips with what’s around the bend and gives you the time you need to think about how to deal with it, good or bad.

Also, please, don’t tell me that you don’t have time to plan. Make time. People can easily become overwhelmed when thinking about how much time they need to meticulously plan stuff. Don’t fall into this trap. My advice is to take enough time to look at the big picture for the item in question so that you can either a) comfort yourself that a more detailed plan isn’t needed or b) realise that it is. (The questions above will help with that)

In many cases the right plan may simply be a single sheet of A4 with salient critical milestones or dates and times by when certain things have to happen. These things keep you and your team straight on execution and focussed on the end goal. You don’t need War & Peace for that.

Simplicity is the key

Planning is a very important part of running a business and it should form part (small or otherwise) of every business day. Get used to evaluating what you need to plan for and always try to keep plans simple and short so they cover the most material and risk sensitive aspects. Most crucially though, it’s also really importantly to de-brief completed plans to see (quickly) what you could have done differently or better if you were to plan for the same thing again. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.

As you get better at planning, and your plans become simpler and more accurate you’ll wonder what you ever did without them. Then, the next stage is to empower others to build them and execute them for you, but that’s another topic 😉 .


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