Consulting is an interesting profession, not least because you are granted permission to look where others aren’t allowed. Small business owners are extremely private about what goes on behind the counter, yet my clients have let me poke, prod, peer and dissect their businesses. They have laid it all bare: the good and the bad: their triumphs, failings and incompetencies. It’s like the business edition of Embarrassing Bodies. In fact one client joked that our meetings were “business confessions”.
One of the stock-standard question that any consultant would ask very early on is about business plans...”have you ever had a business plan?” or “do you have a business plan?” Responses vary little, with an overwhelming majority falling into the “no” basket. Of the many hundreds of businesses I have asked this question, I estimate the 5% of you ever had a business plan of any description. Of those, even less ever looked at it again after it was finished. Even fewer use planning as an ongoing business practice - my guess is less than 1% do any regular kind of structured review, discussion or planning.
If only 1% of business owners do any kind of planning, you would imagine that the process must be like climbing Mt Everest and there must be some big, costly and difficult obstacles. After all, owing a business is probably the most financially risky thing that you will ever do. If you bought shares in a high risk company or an investment property you would probably do lots of homework, due diligence and consult some people in the know. Yet with small business there is a brazen naïve optimism that things will “all work out”.
I do wonder why business planning is so lax. Is it laziness? Is it the perceived cost? Perhaps it is overtired-ness at the end of a busy week. Lack of time is also a convenient excuse. It could be that business owners don’t know how to do business planning, feel it has no value to them or just that they can get away without doing it. Reasons will be different for everyone, but there certainly seems to be no compulsion to do it. Countless times I have heard the comment that ‘it’s in my head’ and have then proceeded to extract said business plan and put it on paper. The result? Not much! I didn’t see any detailed costings, budgets market research or industry trends.
The reality is that most of you can get away without it business planning (most of you do) but this lack of strategy in small business is most certainly strangling your growth. From my experiences I would suggest that the biggest obstacle is the mind of the business owner. It’s just not priority and when business demands your time, it always becomes lower priority. Plus things seem to go OK without doing it, so why bother?
During this series of articles on I want to change your mind, to compel you to step away from the daily grind and take a bird’s eye view not just of your business, but of your business landscape. I want you to go to the lookout and see your business in the bigger picture that it lives in. It is the best and easiest way to stop going in circles, define your business direction and decide how you will get there. In this series I will explain the value of business planning, demystify the process, show you how to do it and to demonstrate that it is not so difficult. If I am successful, you will want to create your own plan, review it regularly and implement strategies from your plan every day.
I also want you to define business planning as a practice in your own business. Too often it is spoken about as a one-off activity, but planning is something you should always be doing.