If you have ever built a business plan, you know all the pain and mental gymnastics you put yourself through in writing it. It is tedious and detail driven and it’s the master’s thesis of your business. Most often, the purpose of your plan is to get money; from the bank, investors, landlords, family, etc. You are proving to the people who hold the purse strings that you really do know what you are doing. You spell-check, edit, include graphs and beautiful images, and put it behind the loveliest cover available. The irony is that once the financial goal is achieved and the money spent, that lovely business plan goes on the shelf to be forgotten. About three to six months after you stop looking at your plan, some shiny object or new idea sends you in a new direction and a new plan is hatched in your crowded brain. Raise your hand if you have done this or have watched this happen. Yup, just as I thought, most of you go through the exercise of building the plan to never use it. It’s like buying expensive workout equipment, mastering its use and then transforming it into a clothes hanger.
What could happen if that business plan became a living, breathing document that you steered your business with? What if you used the five-in-one stair climber every day like you intended to? You would get to your overall goal. You would learn how to work through the struggles you encounter and have a level of experience that supports your future goals.
What is Wrong with Most Business Plans
Most small businesses don’t feel the need for one and actually, look at it as a waste of time. That’s because most business plans are a collection of facts and ideas that you SHOULD do. When we plan from SHOULD, we are fulfilling someone else’s idea of what your business should be instead of your own ideas and passion of what your business COULD be. When you build your plan from what you think the bankers want to hear, you make promises and assumptions that obligate your business. You spend your resources in maintenance of that SHOULD you just adopted. After the loan check clears, do you really want to do all these things you just promised to the bank?
A business plan that is useful every day must have a goal, a “why” that gets you up in the morning with a passion to live it. If you cannot recite your goal and your “why” off the top of your head, it’s not yours. If I was to show up at your business, and asked you what your business is all about, what would your answer be? Try it now, before you get caught up in the details of a business plan, answer these questions from your heart and your deepest fantasies.
- Why did you start your business?
- What is the ideal outcome for your business?
- What do you want your customers to feel about you and your business?
Go ahead and answer these questions in the most intimate way possible. No one is reading your answers but you. Tell all your silly little fantasies to yourself because within there is your overarching goal, your reason why and the vision for your business. Let any judgment drift away. If you have to, write these answers in crayon or your favorite purple pen with hearts dotting the i’s, let it flow. Let your inner child take over and imagine your favorite outcomes and give them as a gift to your waking mind. That is where your passion generally hides, in the creative genius of innocence. Within this masterpiece lies the answers you seek, but don’t look for them yet.
Your Living Business Plan Already Exists
You are working on your plan right now, today. It is an unspoken plan in the back of your mind. Your daily decisions are influenced by your unspoken plan. The danger in having an unspoken plan is that it can change in a moment. Then you are following a new plan and all the progress you have made in your old unspoken plan is potentially lost. Another danger of having an unspoken plan is that no one else knows it. Your staff may be working on directives from a plan they thought you shared weeks ago, and you already moved on to a new shiny idea. This disconnect is the perfect environment for communication failures.
What would your day be like if you took what is in your brain and put it on the wall for everyone to see? If everyone was actively working in the same direction for the same reasons. What if your staff was as connected with your plan as you are? What can you dream and execute into being when everyone is in agreement? Anything is possible at that point. That is what a living business plan looks like; everyone knows what the big picture is. Everyone knows why you are heading in that direction and the outcome you are looking for. Together you move from what you want, into what we are creating. The even better news is that you are 90 percent of the way there, and it is time to communicate it.
Taking Your Plan From the Desk to the Wall
A traditional, old-school business plan is relegated to paper and buried under many pages of uninteresting facts and statistics. This new living plan is the communication of the core ideas that are the true driving force in your business. It’s time for this information to leap off the page and onto the wall where you and everyone in your business can see and be reminded of what is really going on. In this way, when new and exciting ideas crop up, you can look to your plan and know if its adoption will take you in the right direction.
Why, how and what are the words that will give birth to your living business plan. Simon Sinek, in his top-rated TED Talk, gives us the permission to find the WHY for our business and life’s paths. Your business’ WHY is the ideal that attracts the staff and customers to you. It is the reason why you come into work every day and put in all the sweat equity that you don’t get paid for. HOW is the way you are manifesting your WHY, your passion and WHAT represents the actions you will take to get there. Crafting your WHY sets the course of your business. Your WHY helps you craft your top goals, from those goals, you create your objectives and that is your HOW and then you build your projects and actions that become your WHAT. This can become the one-page plan that is the touchstone for all the big directional decisions and lets the small daily decisions become automatic and easier. It’s the foundation of everyone knowing what is expected and how their actions affect the whole of the business.
Find Your Why
This is not the first time I have written about Simon Sinek’s theory of the Golden Circle and finding your why. I am hooked because it enlightened the way I do business and actually made it easier. Another business coach, Lisa Minni, from Excellerate Associates, called it finding your “contribution to the world.” In a simple exercise, she challenged me to uncover what Coventry’s contribution to the world is. We did this by talking to a trusted partner and tell them why we started our business, what excites us the most about work and what our best work day feels like. Then we worked to simplify, simplify, simplify to a statement everyone can understand and connect to. My partner was not in the spiritual world and didn’t understand what I was vaguely getting at in my first statement that I wanted to awaken magic in the world. This forced me to dig deep into my core WHY and get to the phrase “empowered belief.” Another classmate found “peace and ease,” another “dazzle you in flavors” and another was “create personal security.”
Sinek had a similar exercise in his book Find your Why where you work with your trusted advisors, tell them the origin stories and your stand-out stories to find a theme that helps you find your WHY. You already started the journey to your WHY in the questions above. Do you see the theme yet? Keep digging until you do. Continuing to refine the words until you get to a statement in this format:
To _____ so that _________. It takes a few versions until your whole being resonates with it.
For Coventry is became: To awaken magic within our world so that we can all manifest through empowered belief. It took a few tries to get here, but each time the feeling of what I wanted was the same, it was the right words that were missing. From this place, my team and I were able to build our goals for the year. They are inclusive, measurable, attainable, healthy, smart, relatable and time bound.
Having your WHY helps your goals stay simple, focused, and achievable, a living business plan. When you overextend and pile too much on your plate, you will get overwhelmed and scattered. Extend that WHY into a series of four simple goals aligned to areas of growth in your business: Profit, Product, Process and People. This is a way to apply your WHY in your business growth.
Profit – What do you want your revenue and profit to be? What is the outcome of this financial goal?
Product – What changes do you want to make to your current product and/or service offering? How is it measured and what is the outcome of that goal
Process – What organization, documentation or processes need to be created or improved? What is the outcome of the success of this goal?
People – Who do you want to employ, work with or serve? What will happen when you get everyone working together? How can you make this measurable?
How to Get There?
Your goals need objectives, in other words, HOW are you going to achieve your goals? Three objectives per goal keeps your plan attainable. More than three is too much to track. Keep it simple. You can always add more later. For instance, processes = goal = to have a seamless connection between our marketing and our store experience. This will allow us to track our marketing efforts in relation to our staffing and purchasing needs.
OBJECTIVES >> Update branding and make sure all social media uses it.
Update website with new branding
Pre-make 12 months of social media posts into all channels with a daily supplemental plan
Create purchasing process to match our marketing calendar
Create a weekly e-newsletter campaign
Create a communication process for monthly promotions
Create a maintenance schedule for the store
Find display ideas and create plans to execute them
When you look at your objectives you can see HOW you will get there, what’s missing and what order they need to be achieved.
What Actions Steps Do Your Objective Require
This is where your team steps up and takes on the projects. Projects are never done in a vacuum. There are delegated, time-sensitive tasks that share the workload. Make each project and action step time-bound. If it doesn’t have a due date, it will never get done. As you assign the action steps and assign due dates you will see how the days fill up, forcing you to prioritize where you put your energy. This is the magic behind energy and time management. Due dates and deadlines that are kept accountable are the catalyst for getting things done. Put down all the steps and see who the best fit is for getting it done. Let’s look at the e-newsletter campaign.
OBJECTIVE >> e-newsletter campaign. ACTION STEPS >> Start collecting email addresses for a newsletter.
Create a schedule for newsletters
Decide on newsletter app
Create a writing schedule for content
Take pictures of featured products
Write content for newsletter
Assemble and edit newsletter
Send out newsletter
Make it, Make it Good, Then, Make it Better
One of my mottos on creating new culture in my business is to make it, make it good, then, make it better. You will never get it right if you never start it. If needed, start with one goal then build your objectives as the year moves on. Most store owners are working in their business at the same time they are working on their business. Find your WHY and then visualize your future and write it down for everyone to get behind. Your staff wants to have a purpose in your business, give them one. Share your vision with them and they will help you build it. If they don’t, then you know they are not the best fit.
Creating a living business plan is a process of evolution and you can unveil it a little at a time. You can also use it to tame the beast in your head that holds all of your ideas. Get those ideas into alignment with your overall plan and you can actualize a few. Having a living business plan of any detail is a critical factor to having the authority over your own business growth.