I was taken by surprise, while out walking the other day, when a car pulled up alongside me and asked for directions. I can’t remember the last time that happened. At one time, if you were out and about you were likely, in some places at least, to be asked the way quite regularly, especially if you looked ‘local’ (in Yorkshire, that meant wearing a flat cap and walking a whippet on a string, clog-wearing was optional).
Before Sat Nav, if you didn’t know exactly where you were going, you’d use a map or road signs to get you near to the destination and then ask for directions, assuming it wasn’t three o’clock in the morning and there were folk about to ask.
Actually, I’m not sure things have improved much. Invariably, I type in the postcode when using Sat Nav, it’s probably out of some vestige of loyalty to the Post Office. And the trouble with using postcodes is they only take you to the approximate place, so you still end up asking for directions, usually from people ‘new to the area’ who don’t have a clue either!
Likewise, many people adopt a similar approach when planning their life or their business. They will often head in an approximate direction but then need to stop and seek advice. Sadly, some people will never ask for help. They’d rather drive around for ages, hoping their destination will miraculously turn up. Often that task’s made even harder by the fact that they don’t know exactly where it is they want to go.
Just about every survey done on the reasons why most businesses fail in the first year, or so, will highlight failure to plan ahead. Over the years I’ve worked with many people in helping them prepare a plan to enable them to successfully apply for a business. While this plan usually worked in getting them both funding and approval to purchase, the problems began when they took over and then filed their plan away in a drawer somewhere, never to see the light of day again, unless I happened to visit and asked to look at it.
But this is a big mistake because business changes every day. Customers, the market, competition, new technology, demographics, employees and so forth, there are many factors that can make a business plan semi-obsolete in a very short time.
For many operators, especially sole-traders, finding the time and the inclination to re-visit their business plan can seem a monumental task, especially given the 1001 other jobs they need to do in an average week. Yet, the planning is not as arduous as it may first appear.
The starting point is asking a few simple questions. What is the company seeking to achieve? What are the goals of the organization and what are the success measures? What is the current situation now, both internally and externally? What options are available to the business to reach its goals? What are the next steps?
All of these answers can be encapsulated on a single sheet of A4. In fact, many one-page business plan templates are available on the Internet. The more difficult bit is finding the motivation to take action, the self-discipline to complete the task and the determination to then stick to the plan.
Effective strategic planning can take a person a long way toward reaching their destination. But, just as a road map or a Sat Nav may only take you so far, sometimes you have to pull up and ask for directions.
Again, this isn’t difficult unless you want to make it so. We all need guidance from time to time and there are many qualified people, whether business coaches, advisors or consultants, who have years of valuable knowledge and experience to help you get to where you want to go.
In my own business, having a coach is vital. I need someone to enable me to always bring my best version to work, to challenge me, stretch me, encourage me and hold me accountable. My coach isn’t a ‘nice to have’; she is a ‘must have’.
So, don’t fail to plan or you should plan to fail. Don’t be the person who drives round all night, without seeking help and then has to go home, missing the party. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ve done a plan so you don’t need to revisit it. As President Eisenhower once said “plans are nothing…but planning is everything!”