from personal experience founding and growing several--been there, done that.
Planning ahead--the two terms seem to be contradictory. Planning by definition concerns the future.
You don't plan "behind" and planning for "now" has already been done--consciously or not.
Planning ahead sorts through the possibilities of "if/then" and brings up some possible courses of action for you and your business.
If the economy goes south, then I'll concentrate on certain products/services and de-emphasize the rest. If this type of advertising does not work, then I'll shift to alternatives. If a big box store opens in my town, then in my store I'll offer the things they don't carry.
Example: Joel had time to plan ahead. Walmart announced some 18 months ahead that the company would be opening one of their big stores nearby. Joel feared for the future of his small town hardware store, and he soon arrived at a "planning ahead" decision. He decided to move from the cramped, in-town location to a suburban location on a main road. Simultaneously, he would change the direction of his business. Contractors and homeowners already came to Joel's place to rent the power tools and equipment they needed for a day or two. In the sprawling new location, Joel would have more room and could add more rentals. Today, Joel is in his new location, offering more and more rentals--including trucks and trailers. He has been able to add a part time repairman to keep the equipment shipshape. He still offers high quality hardware items and power tools for sale--concentrating on items not carried by Walmart.
Sometimes, owners of small businesses get comfortable with the business running itself. But the marketplace is continually changing. You already know how to plan ahead, but It can take an outside force to kickstart the big decisions.
Example: Artists who paint pictures have a difficult time connecting with the buying public. Juan loved to draw. Growing up, he honed his skills producing endless pen and ink works. Gradually, he became fascinated with painting in oils. He showed some of his paintings at art shows and festivals. There was a great deal of interest, but sales were slow--not enough to support him. He noticed that his pen and ink drawings of homes, buildings, bridges and other structures sold well at shows. He did some planning ahead--he would concentrate on building a following for the pen and ink drawings, supporting him while he traveled the long road to transition to oil paintings. It's working. Doing pen and ink drawings is quick and easy for him. They bring in continuing income and give him the time to produce a backlog of oil paintings. Meantime, his reputation is spreading in the art world as an artist to watch.
Sometimes, an interim plan can be the path to the goal you want to reach. Baby steps can be the way to get you where you want to go.
Eventual success in a small business might lead through a detour or two. But planning ahead and keeping the goal firmly in mind will guide you through.
A lifetime of experience is distilled in these daily tips, information and advice for people starting up and running small businesses. Small business is the backbone of America--think hairdressers and pet groomers, chiropractors and accountants, cafes and neighborhood stores, auto repair shops and bakers. What would you do if all the landscapers and computer experts suddenly moved to Canada? You'd plan ahead, hunker down and figure out a new business to get into. This is what makes America great, not Washington with all its bloated bureaucracies feverishly writing more rules and regulations.