Monday, May 26, 2014

Planning basics

     Free daily tips, information and advice for people in small business
     from someone who has been there, done that in several small operations.

     Talking about planning comes naturally to me. I tend to concentrate on where am I headed and what things do I need to do today to clear the pathway there.

     I was lucky in that regard. Since I was very young, it has never bothered me to put the past in its place and move on. As long as I kept my eye on the future, the present fell into place--and the past really didn't matter that much.

     Don't misunderstand. The past is important. It teaches us valuable lessons. Good and bad avenues have been traveled by all of us--and we owe it to ourselves to learn from both.

     But business planning is all about the future. And nothing in the future of your business is more important than the marketing aspects.

     Marketing: Your customers determine your future. That outrageously complex computer game you devised will not turn into a business if no one buys it. That new beer you brewed and lovingly bottled will stay stacked away in the back room if no one buys it.

     You can find outlines of business plans on the Internet, along with lots of information on the process of business planning. Most of it is written by good writers with good intentions. But, reading between the lines, you can tell they haven't been there, done that.

      I recommend starting the planning process with the most important aspect--and that is marketing. Like the good witch says in the Wizard of Oz, the place to start is at the beginning. And the beginning of your business planning is with marketing.

     Who are your customers? How to you find them? Is their need a continuing one that you can supply? How will you expand the customer base in the future? Have you accounted for the changes that future technology will impose on your business? Is marketing (and selling) one of your strengths? If not, how do you plan to compensate? 

     The answers to these questions will help you through the daily grind. The answers also provide the basis for the most important part of your business plan. You can carry it around in your head, or you can write it down--preparing it as a formal document accompanying a request for a loan.

     Other aspects: The heart of business planning is marketing. But a formal business plan must cover other aspects of you and your business.

     These include long term goals (think at least 5 years into the future), purpose of the plan (for your own eyes? for an investor? for a bank?), background (what's the business history to date?), management background (what are your own strengths and weaknesses?), your products/services and production (what, actually, are you selling?), and finally, the numbers.

     Reducing everything to numbers is like wringing the water out of a wet towel. Doing the numbers gets the crap out of your verbiage. Your history to date and your projections into the future--this is where the rubber meets the road. 

     The numbers give validity to all that you say in a written plan. This is where you convince someone else that they can believe in your marketing projections.

     For more about planning, see past blogs--Planning Box, Funding Sources, Business Check-Up, and Daily Planning. 

     Questions? I retired when I turned 75. You can email me at with your questions. Put BLOG in the subject line so I don't delete. Quick answers from my 40+ years of experience founding and running small businesses. Your privacy is always respected.     

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