There’s a reason the saying “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” is so popular: it’s because it’s true, especially when it comes to business planning. After all, how can you set a course to reach your goals if you don’t have clear path to achieving them? And just as important, is having the right management skills to execute your plan. Part 2 of the Business Success Series will delve into these two critical components of your business.
Business Planning 101
Even if you are still in the beginning stage of planning your business or your company consists of only you right now, you still need a plan. And it doesn’t stop after you launch: regular planning and consistent monitoring is critical to running a successful business.
Depending on your business model and what stage your business is at, these might include strategic or tactical planning, operations or crisis management planning. Planning at all of these levels allows you to develop a clear path towards your goals, identify opportunities, spot weaknesses or areas that need improvement and effectively manage resources.
Regardless of the type of planning you are undertaking, the main steps to good planning include:
- Identifying goals
- Setting achievable milestones
- Developing a strategic plan
- Creating a task schedule
- Monitoring progress
- Revising plans and schedules as required
- Creating new plans when goals are reached (or close to completion)
If you are consistently making and reviewing your plans, you will always know where your business is headed and what needs to be achieved to reach your goals. It doesn’t matter if your plans are in the form of a formal document, a series of spreadsheets or a bunch of handwritten notes as long as all of the key components are there, and you are able to utilize it efficiently.
Even with a plan in place, there are some common pitfalls people make when it comes to executing their plan:
- Not sticking to the plan (or worse yet, developing one and then never looking at it again)
- Reactionary decision making, usually in response to outside forces
- Not regularly checking progress against milestones
- Failing to be always forward thinking
These mistakes usually occur when business owners get too caught up in daily operations or respond to unexpected incidents without taking the time to look ahead. While it’s tempting to keep your focus 100% on what is happening right now, you must ensure you devote time weekly – if not daily – to thinking about what lies ahead.
To learn more about planning, here are a few handy resources:
Possessing strong management skills is as essential to executing your business plans as planning skills are to creating them. Being able to organize, delegate and monitor projects and tasks in an efficient manner will help your business run smoothly. From determining the roles needed for operations or projects, to assigning tasks and allocating resources, there are many different skills required to become an effective manager.
According to the renowned work of social psychologist Robert Katz, there are 3 types of management skills:
- Technical: the technical skills, knowledge and tools required to perform tasks
- Conceptual: the ability to conceptualize, analyze and problem solve
- Human: interpersonal skills and ability to work effectively with others
It should be the goal of everyone in your company to work on these three skill sets.
However, there are 5 specific areas that business owners should focus on:
- Provide clear direction: effective management truly begins with clarity. Make sure everyone on your team understands the goals, the steps needed to achieve them, and their role.
- Make sure you delegate: many business owners fall into the trap of trying to do everything themselves, especially as they grow from a one or two person operation into a larger entity. Unfortunately, you can’t do everything yourself, so learning to let go and to delegate appropriately is essential. They key is to determine who is the best fit based on the skills required and their current bandwidth, delegate and then move on with the tasks you need to be focusing on. Don’t forget the power of outsourcing either if you don’t have enough staff on hand to take on extra responsibilities.
- Practice good time management: there are always going to be more things to be done than hours in the day, or at least it will always seem that way. Learning to prioritize tasks is crucial to being efficient with your time. Of course unforeseen things will arise that require your immediate attention, but if you can organize your to-do list by order of importance, you’ll be making the best use of your time. Once you’ve prioritized items for the day or week, make a schedule that makes the use of your “best” time, which means when you personally work best. For example, if you’re more creative in the morning, spend your first working hours on strategy rather than administration work. One final note on time management is to avoid multi-tasking at all costs. It does not make you more efficient – in fact, studies show that multi-tasking makes us less productive.
- Make The Right Decision: being a smart decision-maker is another vital part of good business management. Your ability to make good decisions can make or break your company. Being able to assemble information, weigh up all the facts and come to the right decisions – and be accountable for those decisions – is what makes a strong decision maker.
- Monitor progress consistently: always remember Murphy’s Law, “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”. Your role doesn’t end once the project or tasks have been handed off, as any number of things can throw operations off track. Make sure to follow up with key people regularly for status updates and to identify potential pitfalls before they happen.