Small business planning is an area where many entrepreneurs stumble at the beginning of their careers. We’re not talking about writing a business plan here. Though that step is often necessary at the very outset of a venture, the vast majority of business plans simply evaporate in the face of actual events.
No, what we mean here are the type of regular planning sessions that are essential to steering an existing small business to future success. The reactive nature of much day-to-day small business life means it can be genuinely difficult to see the woods for the trees and take a step back to work out more strategic next steps.
In this article, we’ll step through four simple tips you can use to bring some clarity to the table when performing small business planning.
- Formally recognise the importance of planning as a distinct business process
Our first point is staggeringly obvious but it bears emphasising – you have to commit yourself to actually sitting down and making a formal plan. You would astonished at the amount of small businesses who do not actually do this. Step one to performing effective small business planning is simply confirming to yourself that you are going to do this in a formal way on some type of fixed, regular schedule.
- Plan quarterly, track results weekly
There is a reason nearly every large company on earth plans and reports quarterly – 90 days is a long enough period of time to plan major projects, and a short enough amount of time to keep on top of progress in a realistic manner and change direction if required.
For small businesses, weekly tracking of results often makes more sense than quarterly tracking. As your business grows, you may not have the luxury of simply checking up on things once a quarter. In many cases, you’ll actually need to be monitoring metrics such as sales and site traffic on a weekly basis to avoid unpleasant surprises.
- Evaluate the previous quarter
The recent past is your best guide to future events so ensure that some sort of formal review of the last quarter is undertaken before looking ahead to the next three months.
- Identify a small set of core goals and metrics
Even in the smallest of businesses, the amount of micro-goals and metrics you could potentially include in the planning process is surprisingly vast. In order not to vanish down rabbit holes of micro-management, it’s important to have a clear, manageable set of primary goals established and an agreed on set of core metrics you are judging overall success by.
To keep things simple, any goals you identify should match the classic S.M.A.R.T. criteria: they should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Use this simple, common sense set of criteria to evaluate each goal and clarity will inevitably be the result.
Our four key points above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to effective business planning, but they’ll get you a long way out of the gate. Use them as an initial framework to bring order and structure to your planning, and then branch out with custom additions to dial in success for your particular business use case.