Most of the plans I help create are 4-6 pages in length. My oldest client's plan is 14 pages because they have become addicted to the details included and review and adjust their plan each quarter. They have become convinced that without that level of preparation they will not succeed in reaching the goals they have set.
The plan I am about to describe has seven sections, but some of my client add an eighth, which really serves as a summary of the actions steps to be taken. Others simply review the seven sections and create a "to do" list of all the agreed upon steps that the plan calls for.
The seven sections: Overview, Industry insights, Market analysis, Competitive analysis, Marketing plan, Operating plan and Financial plan.
Overview – This is where you get the opportunity to share your vision for your business and take the time to reduce your thoughts to writing. The direction you describe will be supported by the Marketing Plan, Operating Plan and Financial Plan and should be strongly influenced by the research and analysis that you have done while preparing Industry Insights, Market Analysis and Competitive Analysis.
Be mindful to keep your view of the year as realistic as you can. If you set proper and reasonable expectations you have a much better chance of success. Positioning the rabbit at an unreasonable place out in front of the dog is a prescription for disaster.
Industry Insights – every business' chief executive needs to have a firm grasp of what's new and important in their industry. What do the trends seem to dictate? Are you/your company positioned to take advantage of a trend? Is the current trend a fad or a new benchmark for success? What is the current "window or opportunity" in your industry? How quickly has history proven to close the window? What direction should you take?
Market Analysis – What are customers buying? Remember a basic rule of selling is to provide what the buyer wants, not what you have to sell? When is the last time you had a candid conversation with your clients about what they are currently buying, how much longer will they need it and what do they plan to need in the near future? Understanding buying trends is essential to developing your plan. You need to become a student of your market. Learn where to look for consistently good information about the ins and outs of your products or services and the markets receptivity to them.
Competitive Analysis – This is one of the most important and least studied sections of a business plan. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard a client say "I never worry about competition" or "I only focus on what I do, not what they do", I would be a rich man. Underestimating your competition is foolish. Your clients are being barraged by your competition. Every competitor wants your clients or customers. You need to develop a healthy paranoia about outside influence on your clients and a method to ward them off.
It's also very wise and pro-active to know exactly how your competition goes to market. In that way you can craft a plan that gives you an edge. Think about the corporate behemoths like McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King. Are they really that different? Are their stores that dissimilar? Is their food offering by in large the same? Their marketing teams study each other to no end in an effort to offer a new taste sensation to the public. As soon as they do, they know that they have a very short period of time before their competitors offer something the same of similar.
Marketing Plan – When I ask almost everyone I work with, "do you have a marketing plan", they respond, "yes, in my head". The old saying goes, if it's in your head it's an idea, if it's on paper, it's a plan. It's not enough to know that you want to sell more or add clients or be more productive with your marketing time. You have to place the steps in the proper order and be sure that you have the proper people doing the essential pieces. For example, if you own and run a small firm or business it's probably become evident to you that you are the primary rainmaker. People like to know that the person they are buying from can deliver on the promises they make. You will need to analyze your time and determine how best to spend it, and then determine which tasks could be delegated to others so that you can spend more time marketing.
It's very important that your marketing plan be clear and specific. Who will do what and when? How many calls? How many emails? How many face to face meetings before a sale? How will you convert suspects to prospects and prospects to new customers/clients? Prepare a simple sales funnel to determine how much more you want to sell or how many new clients you want in a year, and then plan for all of the steps prior to the sale in detail. Is your plan realistic? How will you hold yourself accountable? When will you make adjustments if it becomes apparent that your plan needs them?
It's important that you set reasonable expectations of yourself and your subordinates. That's why adjustments are always welcome if results are not being achieved, but you have to have a base line from which to make changes. That's the Marketing Plan.
Operating Plan – Now that you have determined how much you want to sell and have created a Marketing Plan to achieve those goals, is your infrastructure capable of handling the new business? Does your current staff have the capacity to properly execute the new work? Are your computer systems up to the task? Will you need to add software, hardware or personnel if you reach your sales/marketing goals? At what point should you begin to consider adding staff?
Who does what in your office? Do you have a good handle on each individual's daily routine? Do you know who is at full capacity and who can handle some extra duties? Who would be the first person you would go to in your office if you decided to delegate an important task? Would you have to rearrange their priorities in order to get the new work done?
These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself, your staff and any mentor that you may have. Then you can be sure that your Operating Plan will support the level of work that you expect for the next twelve months. Remember, this business plan is a road map. As you travel along, you can stop and make adjustments. Setting realistic goals and objectives in the beginning is optimum. Taking stock along the way and making necessary adjustments to cope with your changing landscape is essential.
Financial Plan - Up to this point you know how much more you want to sell and you have thought through the changes to your staff and infrastructure that may be needed. Now you will need to take a hard look at what the gross and net effect of those changes will have on your finances. How much additional revenue could be produced? Will there be any additional financial burden placed on the business by the new work? If you will require financing, have you address where it will come from? Have you prepared pro-forma financial statements and cash flow projections for the upcoming year?
All the best thought out Marketing and Operating Plans will be a waste of time if you haven't properly planned your finances. Get your accountant involved. Let them help you take a realistic look at what you plan to do and give their opinion on what, if anything, you need to do to be sure you can afford your plan.
Optional summary and/or task list: As I mentioned earlier, some of my clients choose to pull the "action steps" from their business plan and develop a worksheet that they can refer to and be sure that all the necessary tasks have been identified and assigned to the proper person for disposition. In other cases, some clients simply make notes right in the plan. Either way, keep track of the work you have to do and hold yourself and your staff accountable for getting the work done.