Have a Strategy not a Business Plan

Question 1  – Has your company ever had a business plan?

Question 2  – Has it been a document that has driven your business forward and inspired you to take action?

If you are one of the very small minority of businesses owners / managers that can answer positively to both of the above then fantastic and I’d love to see a version of your plan!! Sadly most who answer yes to Question 1 can not honestly say it has made a jot of difference to their business, and they possibly couldn’t find the plan if they tried.

So why do they fail so dramatically to make  difference? Perhaps it’s because they are constructed in a haphazard manner simply to fulfil a specific purpose such as securing funding and then discarded once the money arrives and the ‘real’ work begins. The company is then too busy to spend time on something as seemingly unproductive as planning.

Or they fail to bring to life the business and what it wants to achieve because they contain too much information in a long narrative style that is not in keeping with the natural style of the person who should be delivering it.

For better or worse having a plan really is a very good idea. If you don’t know where you are going then any road will take you there, and you may not like where you end up. However, it needs to inspire you and your employees to reach for your vision and most business plans simply don’t.

Perhaps a better way to look at planning, especially if you are a small and medium enterprise (SME), is to set out a consistent way you would want to address certain aspects of running your business, in effect define a ‘company philosophy’.

I would suggest that this document should be modular or piecemeal in that the resolution of each aspect can stand alone and be used on its own when needed in the day to day running of the company.

The sort of modular issues that I often support my clients in addressing can include … •Establishing a vision for the company that is supported by a series of achievable goals •Defining the type of relationships that the company wants with its customers and suppliers and how this can happen •Creating a set of brand values that will become embedded in the company and dictate how it operates and communicates •Formulating the way the company will differentiate itself in the market and be perceived by customers

All these issues, and many more, are critically important and need to be resolved but they also need to be in a format that is easily communicated to staff and other stakeholders and as such I would recommend use of illustrations and imagery above simply words. Often when pictures, models and diagrams are used they replace the need for pages of narrative.

Of course in addition to the above it is good practice to produce revenue and cashflow forecasts but this should support your ‘company philosophy’ and not just be a means to an end in getting finance in or satisfying an accountant or a shareholder.

And finally if your business strategy is created in a format that you and all your staff fully embrace the task of review and amend should be an on-running process and not to be feared at the end of the year.  

Key Points

  • Too many business plans follow a worthless format
  • Keep it simple and keep it clear
  • Consistency is the essence of a good business strategy
  • Business strategy inspires and sets direction
  • Think about your formats
  • Engagement is not a given

Big Messages

  • Keep it simple
  • Make it work not dormant
  • Get the message out there