Get proactive: plotting a path to success

Small business owners tend to wear many hats. If you’re busy reacting to daily demands, it can be hard to do the thing that is essential to long-term business success – planning ahead.

Developing a plan for the future helps you steer your business toward your goals, prepare you for busy and quiet times and ensure that you can respond to unexpected events. So, what are the best ways to do it?

Setting clear goals

Lanna Hill, owner of One Small Step Coaching, says understanding your ultimate objective helps you plot a clear path. “You can’t plan ahead unless you know where you want to go,” she says. “If your goal is to reach a certain turnover, what is your action plan? From there, break it down into small, manageable pieces and set a time frame for each one.”

Hill recommends setting goals in three, six- and 12-month stages. “For some people, 12 months feels like a hundred years away,” she explains. “When you’ve achieved your three-month goal, you may discover an obstacle that’s standing in the way of getting to your next objective, but this gives you time to fix things so you can still reach your overall goal.”

Matt Cowdroy, 'Productivity Ninja' with Think Productive, recommends spending an hour or two each week on a business review. “It involves reviewing what’s happened in the last week and getting ready for the week ahead. It even includes asking yourself simple questions like, ‘Am I happy?’ and ‘Do I need some help in my business’. It’s all about preparedness, because being prepared helps you move from reactive to proactive.”

 

Putting it on paper

A visual roadmap of your goals and objectives can help you to plan for the months ahead. It can also help you prepare for busy periods, such as the lead up to Christmas.

Hill suggests starting with a brain dump, which involves transferring all of your ideas on a subject, such as your business goals, onto paper. The frequency depends on the nature of your business, but you may want to do it once a month or in the lead up to a busy period.

“One you’ve done the brain dump, you need to organise it into priorities,” says Hill. “The way I do it is by joining the dots between the long-term goals and the priorities of the short-term goals. If there's something in the short-term goals that doesn’t align with your bigger picture, you can shift your focus to the more important priorities.”

Cowdroy recommends a second approach to organising brain dumps. “Write everything that’s going on in your brain on small pieces of paper, one idea per piece, and then find a way to group them that works for you. You might group them by projects or priorities, for example. This become the data for your to-do list, which you can compile in an app, such as Wunderlist, so it’s always with you.”

Putting pen to paper to visualise your goals may help you to plan for your business

Make a to-do list by writing your goals and objective onto paper then organising it into priorities.

Preparing for the unexpected

Planning ahead also helps you prepare for what you can’t predict. What will you do if your server goes down or how will you get your business on track after a natural disaster? This is where a business continuity plan becomes a valuable asset. It’s a vital document that incorporates all the procedures and information required to ensure your business can continue after a crisis. It may include procedures for regularly backing up electronic files, for example, or offsite data storage and a list of alternative suppliers.

Hill says keeping track of historical data can also help you plan for what’s around the corner. “Obviously no one has a crystal ball to predict their future, but if you’re planning for the Christmas rush, look at your data from other busy sales periods, so you can gauge what you should be planning for,” she says. “Then you can set a plan for perhaps outsourcing tasks that you will be too busy to focus on, such as social media, bookkeeping or whatever makes sense to your business.”

Filing records and documents is important to track your business history

Keep a continuity file safely stored away to list actions to take if there's a crisis.

The value of a mentor

When you’re busy running your business it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a seemingly endless list of tasks. A mentor can be a voice of reason to help you cut through the clutter and set a clear plan for success.

“I have an accountability buddy, who I consider my mentor, but we mentor each other,” says Cowdroy. “We’re both small business owners and we speak on the phone for half and hour once a week to check in on our goals and progress. Then, every month we have an hourly catch up to present to each other our financial achievement versus our annual goal. We also give each other a kick in the pants when it’s needed to help us get on track.”

Cowdroy stresses the value of having a mentor, or someone external to your business, who you can speak to about your goals and the progress you’re making.

“When you’re busy being busy, it’s important to have someone who can help you see the bigger picture and that’s key to planning ahead,” adds Cowdroy. “They should always be a person outside your family so you create a boundary between your business and personal life. It’s so important to have that balance.”

 

Business Continuity Checklist

Keep your business on track and prepare for unexpected events with our Continuity Checklist

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