Get real: Business planning reality for small businesses

June 11, 2020

Business planning for small business owners

Are goals like trees in a forest? Is it like that philosophical question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I was thinking the other day about goals and how we help small businesses with their business planning and goal setting, and the thought occurred to me, “If you create a goal and nobody knows about it, is it really a goal?”

I thought about our successful small business clients and how they consistently achieve their business plans and goals, and I contrasted that with business owners who are better at making excuses than making budget.

Following is my list of 7 crucial aspects a small business owner needs to face up to, not just in their business but in their mindset and thinking…

1. Déjà Vu

As a business owner, when you experience a problem and think, “Haven’t we been here before?” it could be a sign that you’re stuck in the small business owner’s version of Groundhog Day where you experience the same frustrations and situations again and again.

Likewise, if you find yourself repeating the same conversations year after year—for example, with your Accountant—where your performance is reviewed and feedback is provided on what you need to address, but nothing has changed since the last discussion, that’s a warning sign that you might be okay at listening to advice, but you’re not good at actioning advice.

Advice without action is just hot air. A waste of time. And money.

2. Insanity

There’s a great definition of insanity: Keep doing the same things, but expect different results. Without change the same issues will recur. A business owner is deluded if they expect their business to improve without being prepared to take responsibility, take charge, and make changes. Often tough changes.

A mantra of high-performance athletes is “control the controllables” — don’t focus on things that are outside of your control; focus on your daily actions you can control. Waiting for the economy or your luck to improve won’t fix problems in a small business.

3. The Unholy Trinity

When a small business is under-performing and the business owners are not prepared to make changes in their actions, there will come a time that the business cannot survive another year.

In my experience in advising small businesses over the best part of three decades now, all businesses will encounter one or more of the following ‘Big 3’ issues:

  1. Cash flow
  2. Lack of sales
  3. Issues with employees

No business is immune from this ‘unholy trinity’ but those most prone to it are those who continue to ignore and do nothing about the issues they face today.

As a business owner, if you are “just too busy” to do anything about the issues at hand, that is probably the first issue you need to fix. Ask yourself, why are you constantly stuck working IN your business and too busy to work ON your business?

4. Failure to Plan

Yes, you have heard the line many times before, “Failing to plan is like planning to fail.” If this saying annoys you, why is that? Is it because you know you need to act but haven’t? To survive, modern small businesses need to make changes and improvements year after year.

If you don’t move forward, you’re going backwards. You will be left behind by your competitors who are making changes and moving forward. Your progressive competitiors might even be taking your customers and growing, while your business is stagnant?

5. Planning is Not Enough

Clearly, just having a plan is not enough. Without action, you may as well not even have a plan. It would be like having the plans for a house and never actually building it.

But business planning is essential. It helps you identify:

  • the specific goals,
  • the specific actions and
  • the time frame required for each action and its intended result.

A great business plan tells you precisely where to start. That clarity is empowering. It energises you and your business.

Your business plan must include specific actionable and measurable tasks broken down into simple steps.

A realistic business plan allows you to start here, today, with a plan to succeed based on your current resources and abilities. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s a pragmatic plan to clarify precisely where you want to be at a point in the future—a future where your business will have:

  • developed a different set of resources and abilities, as well as
  • greater profitability and
  • increased assets.

Just like a ship’s captain charts a course for a voyage, your business plan maps out how you will get from where you are now to where you want to be.

6. Implementation

It’s one thing to identify who needs to do what by when, it’s another thing to make it happen. It’s the old, “easier said than done” scenario. But why is that?

Is it because, as I address earlier, you are perpetually “too busy” to take action?

Ask yourself, have you been “too busy” for too long?

As Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote about in his 7th Habit, “Sharpen the Saw,” there are certain actions we all need to take time out to do. His analogy is there’s no point “being busy” and “working hard” at sawing a tree when your saw is blunt. A little time taken out to sharpen the saw pays big dividends in, ultimately, saving time and energy.

And so it is with your business. When you consistently work on improving the effectiveness of your actions, your business plan gradually becomes your business reality.

Having this action plan in place for your business will also help you move past those moments of self-doubt that threaten to stall you. As you meet one objective on your plan at a time, you will gain the necessary traction you’ll need to succeed.

7. Accountability

Accountability is a key ingredient for achieving your business goals, yet it’s a step often overlooked by people who create plans.

As I said at the start of this article, if you create a goal and nobody knows about it, is it really a goal? If nobody knows about it, there is no driver of accountability pushing you forward to make it happen.

Reporting your progress to a business mentor or coach is a great motivator to act. It’s like personal trainers in the fitness industry. The accountability and commitment within the relationship makes you show up and work out.

Our approach to business planning for small businesses

As accountants who act as business advisers for small businesses, it’s not our role to simply sit back and tell you what to do. Our approach is to:

  • work with you to establish your scope, objectives and milestones, and
  • guide you through the implementation of key action items.

Like a good personal trainer, we keep you focused on what’s important. We partner with you to monitor the effectiveness of your strategy to ensure it is achieving the desired outcome.

Importantly, we also support you by proving accountability.

We know that unless the progress is monitored, being off-focus by even a small amount can mean that you end up at a very different place than where you intended to be.

Then what?

We love guiding small and medium-sized business owners at every stage of their business journey. When you get to the point where you want that external guidance, mentoring and accountability, we’re here to offer expert advice, help you rationalise and reality-check your ideas, and help you assess your feasible options when faced with key decisions in your business.

We have a team of passionate, skilled problem solvers who can assist in matters relating to achieving strategic clarity in your business planning as well as practical advice around structural and operational efficiency.

Feel free to get in touch with me here.

We also offer a Client Advisory Board service – a great resource for every business. You get industry experts in your very own board of advisers, ready to guide you through creating your business plan or improving other aspects of your business. To learn more about this exciting service, contact us.

Or check out our video series on business planning…