Last month, I had to put together my own business plan. After years working with others on how to think through the business planning process, I was given a new business to manage. And then I had to write a business plan. A taste of my own medicine so to speak. So I thought I would share with you my thoughts on being on the “other side”, which likely don’t differ much from what I have been preaching all along.
Step 1: Ask too many questions
I said I was going to spend 1 month just talking to people. Given the accumulation of other jobs I have at the moment, I ended up spending 2. I went deep into details and up into high level assumptions about the business. I spoke to the team and equivalent teams around the world, to stakeholders, clients and really anyone that was willing to give me an opinion about it. At some point, I think it was weird as people thought I was calling them to tell them what I thought and I was still asking questions. My new team had to be extremely patient with my excruciatingly long questions and I went through papers and papers of notes (that was a mistake, I should have gone digital, but I did my first meetings while I was in the office for the first time in months).
What did I ask to get me ready for business planning? If you have followed the CEO moment series you will likely know, but here is a summary:
- What do people think of the business, where there is opportunity, how do clients see it
- How is the team doing, what do they do well, what do they not do so well
- What do people think we can do more of, change or create
With that in hand, I was ready for…
Step 2: Draw a line in the sand
You can also call this a SWOT analysis. But depending on where you work, not everyone likes a 2 by 2 matrix labelled in consulting style. So I still did my matrix, but it looked like this instead. In summary:
- You need to know what you are doing well – remember, what are your strengths? As you will need to capitalize on them and press ahead;
- You need to know what you are not doing well – the more the merrier, no matter how tiny. It is importance to know your weaknesses so you can affect the outcome;
- Talk about the opportunities, even if not everyone sees eye to eye with the importance of what your presenting;
- Assess the risks, don’t leave out the difficult ones as, the more known unknowns, the better prepared you will be.
A SWOT is often the crucial first step to try and develop your business planning ahead. It gives you lots to do on addressing weaknesses, pursuing opportunities and dealing with challenges.
Step 3: Draft your 1-pager
For years I have been working on a way to show things that if someone would not read past the first page, they would still know all that I wanted to say. The key things I believe a one-pager for business planning should include are:
- Strapline strategy: what is your vision, north or mission statement. Make it short but clear. Vagueness won’t help, especially if you were asked to join a business precisely because you tend to be precise.
- Goals: don’t shy away. Have your goals and make sure you put metrics to them. High level goals as “driving customer satisfaction” are great but mean nothing if you don’t put in numbers what that means. So your goal may be $, may be # of deals, may be many different things. But it needs to be measurable. Remember the SMART goals!
- Initiatives: there are many names for this, I call them initiatives at the moment. I think in the past I have called them focus areas, but whatever works for you. This is actually your roadmap of what you are planning to do to pursue your strategy and achieve your goals. What are your actions? You may tell me you have too many to fit in one page, at least I did. But I grabbed the ones I absolutely knew I had to get my point across, and I had an extra page to back that up to the detail. That was actually where I finished my presentation at the time (against all odds). A page full of text but that intended to show that there was A LOT to be done. Which leads me to the other must do.
- Resources: If the person across from you does not move from this page, it is important they know what all this is going to cost. Small or large company, how much money are you asking for. As I stated at the time, “hefty goals do not come without a cost”.
By the way, if you skipped step 2, I would advise you include here your key challenges and opportunities. That still has to feature somewhere!
I thought I would share a draft 1-pager for Make Space for Growth. You may not relate but it is perhaps an example of what a short planning exercise could be.
Step 4: Build it Up
There are a few things that are important to back-up your 1-pager. Most people that know me can guess I don’t do 1-pager presentations, especially when business planning. In fact I have trouble staying under 10 pages. So this would not be different. Here is where I think it is important to expand your analysis and put together a business plan presentation that works (in not too many details)
- Why is this important? So, I actually started with this page. I thought it was important to grasp everyone’s attention to why I was taking their time. I did so with client quotes and I admit I picked very important clients. It did the trick, but you need to find whatever works for your business or company. It ensured me the next 5 minutes of undivided attention. In many cases, people start with the market analysis or the problem. That works too, especially for a start-up.
- How will you do this? I call it a roadmap or my initiatives but you can label it accordingly. This is the part that matters, which is how do you go from a nice strategy to real execution. For each of the 9 initiatives I identified, I also developed a long list of associated milestones. And those are only the ones I was able to identify in the last 2 months. I am certain we will continue to identify more as we continue to work together but it is important to put as many down as possible. For me, it was crucial as I had so many to-dos in my head that putting them in a plan gave my brain some peace. Much needed peace.
- What do you need? I spoke about resources before. So if you do have a resource ask, it is important to explain why you need them and how will they be used. Planning for resources shows you know what you are doing also. If you are asking for financing, then what activities will they be directed to? Or ff you are asking for marketing spend, what do you expect to do with it? If you need to hire people, what will they be doing? In my case, it was also important to show comparatives of size with internal and external teams for perspective. If you have that information, it is always powerful. We all work differently but it is important to have comparison points.
- What are your numbers? Whilst I don’t like to look backwards too much when doing a business plan (that’s why I do mid-year reviews), I still think it is important to have your key metrics and where you are going from. Ideally, also your budget or 3-year view, so there is a sense of direction and dimension. It helps put things into context. And eventually, it will help keep you accountable. I am a big fan of metrics.
Step 5: Be ready
That means very different things depending on who you are. Many people can just “wing it” and drive through a presentation like this flawlessly. But I have to admit, I haven’t seen too many of those that haven’t required a decent amount of preparation. When it was my turn to present, I definitely wrote everything down. I wrote before about my fear of public speaking, and whilst that has certainly reduced over the last few years, it has only done so thanks to heaps of preparation. So I was 200% prepared. I heavily recommend a script and a clear review that the pages you prepare go in the order of your story, with no going back and forward.
And by the way, whilst it is good to be ready to cover everything in one page, you may want to leave something to say in the other pages, as sometimes people may let you pass page 1.
Bonus Step: Accept Challenge
I was ready to be challenged, and admittedly, I had an unfair advantage. I also knew the room extremely well, as I have been on the other side of the table for all other business plans over the last 6 years (and that same day). And I knew what challenge to expect and who from. It did not surprise me, but it could have.
Your style will matter when being challenged. I recently had a training about presenting with impact, and one of the topics we discussed was what to do when de-railed? I am not so fussed about being de-railed on a topic, because indeed if it is new and I am not ready, I can say I need to get back to it another time. For me, being de-railed is more being challenged in what you are proposing, in people not buying into what you are pitching. That is when being open and constructive will matter. (Not just pretending you are being constructive). Quick thought to pull your ideas together with a potentially different idea is essential and it can save the outcome. Or create an even better one.