Why You Can’t Afford To Let Your Business Plan

If you’re sitting in your office reading this: stand up, go to your bookshelf, and get down your current business plan… not on your bookshelf? Oh, that’s OK, try the filing cabinet… not there either? Can’t remember? Maybe it’s in one of those musty old boxes you packed up years ago with all the “non-essential” stuff?

OK, let’s try this. Remember when you bought that brand new photocopier? Wasn’t it great getting everything out of the box and grabbing the manual so you could put it all together and learn how it works?…and what about that great new feature (which you hardly ever use) that allows you to scan a document, then save it as a PDF and retrieve it later for editing and re-printing. Can’t remember how to do it? No problem – I’ll bet you know where the manual is! Carefully filed away for just such a time as this, when you need to refer back to it to keep things running smoothly, right?

So, how come you can find the photocopier manual that guides you through the process of running the photocopier smoothly, but you can’t find the business plan that helps you to run the business smoothly?

Now don’t feel too badly here, because you’re not alone. In fact, if you’re like many remote and regional businesses, you probably don’t even have a business plan – no wonder you can’t find the bl**** thing!

Seriously though, can you imagine setting out on a trip without any idea about where you want to go, no planning, no road map and no itinerary? No contingency plan to deal with the possibility of something going wrong? Sure, if you’re driving on the freeway, some of these things are not so important, but what about if you want to explore off the beaten track a bit? Strangely enough, there are some businesses that set out on the journey of running a business without any plan or direction or contingency plans for when things get rough.

But worse than this, there are businesses out there that started out right – did all the right things, got their business and marketing plans in order and did some contingency planning – then put the plan in the bottom drawer, never to be seen again. This is an interesting behaviour; you don’t throw your maps out the window once you’ve started your road trip do you?

Let’s assume for a moment that you’re starting from scratch and building your business from the ground up: what are some of the things you need to keep in mind regarding your planning:

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail

As CEO of a remote Indigenous community in the middle of the desert, I was acutely aware that attempting to leave the community, for even a short trip, without adequate planning could literally end in death. It’s no different for business – failing to plan can be fatal;

Your business plan is not an optional extra, it’s an absolute essential

In the same way that your tour map or your SatNav guides you to where you want to go, your business plan gives the business direction and purpose. Without a business plan, businesses tend to operate in what I term “reaction mode”, lurching from crisis to crisis. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to run a business ‘successfully’ like this, it’s just not very efficient, that’s all;

Your business plan should reflect not just what you do, but who you are.

Businesses that lose their “why”, tend to struggle to perform at their peak. Two prime examples of this phenomenon are Starbucks and Apple;

Make sure your business plan paints a complete picture of the business from its foundation to its possible wind-up.

If you have a long-term view for your business or company, having a documented pathway will be a valuable archive one day;

Have clearly defined long-term goals in your business plan, along with shorter “stepping stones” that lead you there.

Make sure these are time-lined with built-in measures so you can track progress along the way;

Store your business plan in an accessible place where you can get to it easily.

It should be a living document that you re-visit at regular intervals for review and updating.

A business plan should be a living document that guides your decisions, keeps you on track and changes with the ever-changing face of your growing business. Look at it frequently, breathe new life into it and don’t bury it in an old musty coffin, hoping it will rest in peace.