Monday, April 6, 2009

The Secrets to Building a Business Plan That Works For You

Building a business plan is as important as anything that a small business owner will do to ensure his survival. And unfortunately, most small business owners will usually fight tooth and nail to avoid doing it. They think that it's pointless and irrelevant in the conduct of their business. They see it as something that only big businesses need to do.

But like so many other things that small business owners tend to ignore, it's not the business plan itself that is the key to helping a business grow properly, it is in the act of building the plan that is most beneficial.

The Business Plan, itself, is just the product you build - something that usually just ends up on a shelf collecting dust. What really makes the plan so important to the long term success of your business is going through the process of writing it and finding the answers to the questions that you must answer in doing so. Because the process includes analyzing and deciding how you are going to conduct every aspect of your business: from operations to marketing and from human resources to training.

You see, most perspective small business owners don't stop and look at everything that must be done each and every day for their business, before they start their business. They don't understand that running a small business is more than just doing what they do best. Sure, it is following your passion at first, but very quickly you learn that it's also creating a marketing plan, building a sales strategy, devising a training program, creating a human resource plan, and financial system, just to start.

Instead, most business owners build their business only as the needs arise - as opportunities (or problems) present themselves - instead of on purpose, intentionally.

Business Plans, on the other hand, are built to give you a tool to work from - both on good days and bad. Plans are a road map to success. And although most people would know to "use a map" when trying to navigate in an unfamiliar city, they seem to think they can navigate the difficult elements of starting a small business without any form of plan or guide to help them.

So how do you do it? How do you build a business plan? How do you write a plan that works for you - instead of one that is nothing more than a document on a shelf?

There are two answers that I have for that - depending on your current situation.

First, if you don't already have a business that you are currently running, then I would recommend you write the entire plan before taking your first step. Take the time necessary to learn what it is going to take to run YOUR business (not just any old business) by building the plan. Figure out how you want to do everything - including what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you want to do it. Decide on your operations procedures, as well as your marketing strategy. Plan it all - as if you were already doing it. Because more than anything, what you want your Business Plan to be is a reflection of what you do first and then how you are going to do it better second.

Or, in the case that you already have a business, then it's easy (or it least it sounds easier). In this case, you start writing your business plan by writing down everything that you are already doing. Write down you Mission, your Vision, and your Commitments. Write down your operations processes and systems. Write down everything you can about how you are currently marketing as well as your sales strategy. Write down how you hire people and fire them. I don't care which part of your business it is, write down how you do it. And that will be the first step to creating your business plan.

Yeah, there's more to a business plan - but if you simply got this far, you would be years ahead of where you are today.

The next step is deciding how you are going to actually create the goals that you want - defining how you plan is going to evolve over time, what's going to happen when and what all of your contingencies are giving possible market conditions. But that doesn't matter now. We can work on that, after we first get things started.

In the end, a business plan is first and foremost a tool for you - a tool that is meant to help you run your business better, not something that you have to do to make your Banker or Business Coach happy. It is both a reflection of what you are doing today and where you want to go in the coming years. And with everything that I talk about in my blog - it's not a matter of knowing all of this, it's a matter of acting on it.

Just Write It!

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