Business plan—let’s face it, those words strike fear into the hearts of most advisors. You don’t have time to write 40 pages about where your company is going, what services you provide, what markets you serve and what strategies you want to implement. You don’t want to design pie charts or plot break-even analyses. And despite software tools available to make writing business plans easier, you dread the idea of sitting down and poring over all that information.
But wait a second, says David Newman, founder of Radnor, Pa.-based Unconsulting (www.unconsulting.com). “After all, we tell our clients, ‘I want you to come to me before it’s too late ... so at that the end of the year, you can look back and see the smart things you’ve done with your finances,’” he says. “But when it comes time to take our own ‘let’s not wait until it’s too late’ medicine, we’re like the proverbial shoemakers’ children, and we don’t take our own advice.”
According to Newman, planning your business is a lot like exercising. “Of course you have to deal with clients, spend time on the phone, get out and network and do all the other things you know you have to do,” he says. “But even the most successful people don’t have time to exercise. They make time for exercise, and so you should make time for planning.”
You can save time and still reap the benefits of writing a business plan with Newman’s tips. Start by thinking of the process as a map to your goals. With it in hand, you’ll spend more time getting to those goals and less time making up for wrong turns on the path to success.
Six things to know
1. Only write what you need. By keeping the plan short, you’ll save a lot of that precious time. Most long business plans start with an executive summary—a short, one- or two-page write-up of what you’re explaining in the business plan. “You can go to SCORE or the local SBA and they will tell you to write the full 30 to 40 pages,” says Newman. “But take a look at the outline they provide, and use that to just write the executive summary. Unless you’re setting the business up for sale or trying to get outside financing, you don’t need the other 38 pages.”
2. It’s never final. One hurdle for many advisors is thinking that a business plan sets their agenda in stone and opens the door for them to risk falling short. “Your first draft is going to be a draft, and your 20th draft is going to be a draft,” says Newman. “It really is a living, breathing document that you’re always going back to and updating, adjusting and fine-tuning.”
3. Be accountable to yourself. A business plan is incredibly flexible. You can write a 90-day plan, a six-month plan or an annual plan. Set specific goals and target dates for achieving those goals so that you can periodically review the plan to make sure you’re on track. After all, you give your employees periodic reviews—you can use the business plan to give yourself periodic reviews as well.
4. It’s never too late. January came and went, and you didn’t write down your goals, or your goal is the ever-nebulous statement, “I’m going to grow my business!” That doesn’t mean you can’t do it now and spell out how you plan to grow your business. “It doesn’t have to be on any calendar other than the one you choose,” says Newman. “The point is having measurements over time, but you can start at any time.”
5. Try something new. A business plan can help provide structure around the growth of your business. Say it’s time to add a new staff member to your team—but you’re not sure what role that staff member should play. By outlining it ahead of time, you and the new person will know what to expect.
6. Steer clear of bad ideas—before they hurt your bottom line. When you’re exploring new avenues, it’s just as important to identify what you shouldn’t be doing, and a business plan can help illuminate that for you. “The business plan is a very valuable tool for separating the strategic opportunity from the interesting distraction,” says Newman. “That incredible niche everyone else is succeeding in, for instance, may look shiny and new, but it may not be your niche.”