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

It amazes me how many businesses operate without a plan. It’s very rare that I speak to the owner of a business with less than 25 staff and find that they do any kind of business planning. Interestingly most will tell me that they want to have a plan, but list all the excuses as to why they currently haven’t – as if they were just about to do it.

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 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

I suspect there are other reasons too, but just a bit too embarrassing to admit:

  • Many small business owners have never been taught how to plan
  • Planning feels like hard work and there’s always something more interesting
  • Until they’ve had a good plan, they don’t know what they’re missing

Business planning for accelerated growth

When I persuade a business owner and their team to create a plan, it is without any doubt the single biggest factor in driving them forward with accelerated growth. They often say how liberating it feels to have a plan. The change in them and the business is often dramatic and exciting!

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 I would say “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.