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Failing To Plan Is Planning To Fail ‒ Do You Have A Strategic Plan For Your Business?

Written by: Christine Nicholson, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


If strategic planning is one of the critical factors in Business Success – why doesn’t everyone do it?

And of those that do make a business plan, the vast majority don’t make use of it as a tool for tracking where their business is. The plan is gathering dust at the bottom of a drawer or in a filing cabinet somewhere. And the reasons for writing it are long forgotten!

Successful entrepreneurs consistently state that planning, setting goals and sharing them is a critical element of team building and getting their fledgling businesses launched into the stratosphere.

“You can’t solve a problem unless you can diagnose the problem” George W Bush

Some of the reasons for lack of planning include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Lack of skill

  • Don’t know where to start

  • Thinking it won’t make a difference

  • Not enough time

  • It’s too expensive

  • I’m not looking for investment

Any planning is worthwhile as long as it is then supported by appropriate actions. Planning for planning sake is an excuse for procrastination – the thief of time!

Feeling overwhelmed or not knowing where to start is understandable. STRATEGIC PLANNING appears to be difficult, time consuming and beyond their skills for many business owners. OK so getting help is one step in the journey to fix the critical elements in your business – as long as it’s the right kind of help! And there lies the next problem. There is a whole industry, with its own language and tools, dedicated to high-fee consultancy that is completely outside the affordability of most businesses.

Have you considered engaging with expensive consultants to build your business plan? Or have you had a plan written for you that you don’t understand or that is unrealistic and unengaging?

There is no point in a strategic plan that you don’t understand the plan, if it’s not YOUR plan or if you cannot implement it. But having a plan that is aligned with your vision for the future, that serves a purpose for you and your family, That will make a huge difference to your future and what your business can achieve.

In reality making a plan, writing it down and measuring your progress against it is one of the biggest factors in the success of both commercial enterprises and life!

It doesn’t have to be complex. The simpler it is the better.

It should be shareable, understandable and engaging for all the people involved in the business.

“If you can’t explain it to a 6 year old, you don’t understand it yourself” Albert Einstein

97% of business owners have no plan for growth

Only the top 5% of businesses are really nailing their success so making a plan could be the start that changes your future.

Dealing With Overwhelm

As a business owner, you already have too much to do in too little time. In a 2017 survey, 72% of business owners said they were feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis. And life isn’t any simpler now.

Running your own business can mean being involved in every activity, often at the same time. You can be juggling the responsibilities of a business with trying to be a good spouse and parent, feeling that if only you had someone to delegate some of the decision making to then you would be able to make some significant progress in the business, and be less stressed and distracted when you are at home. You would rather feel like you are in control than chasing your own tail and getting nowhere.

Even before you get a business off the ground, the planning stage often feels like the hardest part – multiple distractions, new “bright shiny things” and doubts about whether you really have something of value often set in to derail you before you get moving.

The plan itself should be simple with some over-arching goals at its core. Making a plan does not have to be complex. The simpler it is, the easier it is to follow and explain to others. It helps if you have a clear idea of what it is you want to achieve and, more importantly, WHY you want to achieve it.

Launching a business is not for the faint hearted!

Few businesses last more than 10 years, less than half last 5 years and over 30% fail within 24 months. Reminding yourself of the reasons you are doing it will become key to keeping positive when the going gets tough. And trust me, they will get tough at some point on the journey – probably more than once, often daily.

If you want to change what your business is achieving, you are going to have to take action. Prioritising those activities will be a fundamental part of your success so make sure you list all the things you need to do then prioritise them, then schedule them.

Ideas don’t pay the mortgage ACTIONS do!!

The road ahead may be rocky – existing business owners will know this from experience – so to keep going you need to need:

  • To have a clear PURPOSE;

  • A bucket full of PASSION,

  • To know that the business is FINANCIALLY VIABLE and

  • Know where your CUSTOMERS are, who are WILLING and ABLE to pay for your services or products.

You may have to work some gruelling hours, take on a lot of responsibility and motivate your staff and other partners through the economic ups and downs.

You need to take care of yourself and remember if it were easy everyone would be doing it! Equally, it is not the place for martyrs and if you don’t have a passion for what you are doing, or it is making you miserable, then it might be time to reassess whether you should continue.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: The One Thing by Gary Keller

Gary Keller really gets to the crux of a lot of the barriers that entrepreneurs, or anyone with a big task, experience to achieving what they need to in a set timeframe. Procrastination is the enemy – but it’s so easy to do. Using the mantra “What is the one thing, such that by doing it now, everything else becomes either easier or irrelevant?” as a way to keep focused.

It’s a quick and easy read and always on my book recommendation list for both start-ups and experienced business owners alike.

The Difference Planning Makes

A carefully, well thought out plan can make a significant difference to what you will achieve in a specific period of time. Planning helps you and your team make the right short-term decisions to achieve long-term goals. If goals are clearly articulated and joined up with a vision and shared values, then the company has a framework for making effective and speedy decisions.

Planning can be separated into 3 types:

  • Strategic;

  • Tactical; and

  • Operational.

And to avoid confusion it’s worth showing the dictionary definitions of each type of plan.

  • Strategy is simply a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or major aim;

  • Tactics are actions carefully planned to achieve a specific end;

  • Operations are an active process; a discharge of a function.

There doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between Strategy and Tactics but those differences are subtle. Strategy is “what has to happen to achieve a long term aim”. Where as tactics are “what has to happen to achieve a specific outcome”, which is why it’s often referred to as short-term planning.

So what difference does planning make in the real world?

Better Positioning

Having goals allows the business to be clear about its market positioning and who its customers are.

If you are in a crowded market, having a clear image of your ideal customer is critical to success so that your messages are laser focused on exactly the customer or client you are aiming at. Those who are willing and able to pay for the products or services you offer.

Goal Setting

As the old saying goes “what gets measured gets managed” – or in some quotes, replace “gets managed” with “gets done”. A key part of the planning process is following up on the progress that is made.

Goals make it easier for activities to be prioritised. Work is focused on those activities that are important to the achievement of the long-term ambitions of the organisation. Big goals can be broken down into smaller, more manageable ones that are less daunting.

When goals are shared with the entire team or external partners the resulting actions reduce waste and errors. Having a plan means you have an idea of what the desired result looks like – effort, thought and direction can be focused on the right outcomes. Along the way, actual results are compared to the plan and variances can be addressed.

For example, if the plan underestimated demand for a particular product or service and you can add or divert resources to a different range of activities or vice versa. All the planning in the world won’t make a business successful, there must be ACTION!!


With a plan in place, it is easier to make short-term changes in direction whilst still keeping the direction of the long-term mission.

The world is changing at an increasing rate – technology developments, changes in social attitudes and legislation can all impact your business and demand rapid changes in the way you operate or the way your customers perceive you. Being flexible allows changes to be acted on more quickly in light of a lot of change.

Decision Making

When long-term and short-term goals are written and shared as part of the planning activity, you are setting a framework for your team to make effective decisions without constant referring back to you alone.

More effective, better quality decisions can be made in a timely manner. It is easier to respond to any diversion or prepare for contingencies if there is a plan in place. It’s also easier to explain decisions to your team and other partners if they can see how it aligns with the long term goals.

Team Work

Sharing a common goal with your team increases their engagement and commitment to completing tasks that benefit the company. Having employees work toward a common goal promotes interdependency among co-workers. If each team member pulls together they will become more productive than the sum of their parts.

A cohesive workforce increases employee satisfaction and motivation. Incentivised and collaborating employees come into work willing and prepared to deliver value. A lack of cohesion leads to a stressed and tense cohort – resulting in employees who do not work well together, reducing productivity and quality. Planning makes communication easier.

Measurement and Control

Using a plan to measure results gives management information more context. It only has context if it can be easily understood and read by the audience. I have seen plenty of management reports that are presented in such a way that leads to confusion rather than clarity! In one case the report was over 100 pages long – and when clumps of pages were randomly removed each month, no one noticed! The report got down to less than 50 pages before there was a comment – and then it was only noticed because the envelope it was in was smaller!!

Getting the correct measures and controls in place is an aid to accurate and timely decision-making and business growth. Management accounts and information should be clear and concise. They should enable the reader to quickly see and understand the information and make necessary decisions.

Most management teams do not respond well to large tables of numbers – in most cases a simple graph is enough. Like business plans, management information is best kept simple and highly relevant.

How to Make Planning Easy

Planning is often more difficult if you are starting with a blank piece of paper! Equally using someone else’s complicated framework or template can lead you to a plan you don’t understand or that doesn’t have the information you need. So where do you start?

There are some great planning tools out there for making getting a plan in place easier. Whilst it might be tempting to use any one of hundreds of APPs and electronic models, you may also find these distracting or difficult to learn – after all trying to do something that you already feel is a challenge when also learning how to use a new tool or App will feel like double the effort.

The planning process gives you the opportunity to really think in-depth about your business, your life and your future and what you really want out of it. This deep thinking is invaluable for setting the milestones for achieving major goals.

Once you get stuck into business planning you’ll be setting key goals and looking at “what does success look like” in 1 year. The next step is taking the major achievements desired is broken down into smaller tasks it no longer looks or feels quite so overwhelming. As a wise man once told me “An inch is a cinch, a mile is a trial”.

Regular updates and tracking measurement of activity against targets keeps you on track. Having a time scale for the milestones makes being accountable easier. In short, you can see what success looks like and the actions required to achieve each part of the plan – whilst addressing the critical area of your business: Sales, Marketing, Operations, Finance and Talent.

“Plan Well, Work Hard, Smile Always”

Another book recommend: The 12-Week Year

The 12-Week Year principle is set out in a book written by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington with the sub-title “Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months”.

It outlines a number of tools and techniques that build to generate good habitual behaviour and get you being more productive than ever before.

And it works!

There are no “get up before you go to bed” gimmicks here, and it really gets to the heart of why some people get a lot done right before they are about to go on holiday – because deadlines work!

By breaking down your goals into 4 sessions of 12 weeks you can break your annual plan down into smaller goals that are less overwhelming and easier to achieve – taking small steps towards the major goals each week and keeping your performance on the track.

All of the tools are quickly and easily explained in the book with some online supporting documents to help you get started. Some daily habits can be quickly built in a few minutes that will keep you on track and galloping towards the success that has alluded you up until now.

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Read more from Christine!


Christine Nicholson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

I am Christine Nicholson, an author, speaker and award-winning Professional Business Mentor who works with multi-million turnover business owners of technology, engineering or product/services businesses.

I'm UK Business Mentor of the Year 2021 and a Global Top 50 Woman in Accounting. I've appeared on BBC talking about business!

0333 567 8011


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