Preparing for a business plan

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Having no plan can leave entrepreneurs feeling overwhelmed all the time. With endless important decisions that need to be made, a lack of a clear strategic plan for the coming year can put a lot of stress on you.

Experimenting with new projects, having a real need to hire additional help and launching new marketing initiatives can leave entrepreneurs wondering where to spend their time or money first. Meaningful business planning can help you tackle this efficiently. Successful business plan sessions require a number of steps:

Set a date: At least a few weeks before your planning session, set aside a specific day or more. If it’s your first planning session ever, you may need at least a few days, especially if you have employees. If you work by yourself, perhaps you can do this in just a half-day.

Set an agenda: At least a couple weeks before your meeting, start talking about what you want to cover. Ask employees or your partners for agenda items. Know what topics you want to cover and decide on how much time you’ll devote to each topic. Figure out which areas of your business you want to address – products/services, marketing, administration, financial management, employees, etc. Recognise that you won’t be able to get to all of them so make decisions at the time you establish your agenda.

Do your homework: Some agenda items require some research and preparation before you can make decisions. For instance, if one of your agenda items is whether to launch a new marketing campaign, you’ll want to have some estimates of costs involved.

Bring your financial records: During your planning session, you’re going to evaluate what worked and what hasn’t in the past year. In particular, you’ll want to assess which activities have been the most successful in terms of profit, not just income.

List your goals: In each area you’ve identified, list goals you hope to accomplish in the coming year.

Get specific: Put details with each goal, especially numbers. For example, if one of your goals is to increase sales, don’t just say you’d like to double your income. Instead, list each product or service you offer and set a goal of a specific number of customers and income for each.

Identify actions: Identify the steps necessary to achieve each specific goal. For instance, if you’ve decided to increase marketing, list the specific ways you’ll do this: advertising, trade shows, direct mail. Estimate the time and money each action will take.

Assign tasks: Determine who will be responsible for carrying out each step.

Set priorities: Rate highly the things you must do to survive. Next, choose those activities with the highest chance of success. Don’t try to do everything; it’s better to eliminate some goals altogether rather than attempting all part-way.

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