Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

“No matter how good you are at planning, the pressure never goes away. So I don’t fight it. I feed off it. I turn pressure into motivation to do my best.” – Ben Carson


In our previous article on the common obstacles to business growth, we ended with the famous quote from Lewis Carroll ‘if you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there’ or in other words do we know what are we trying to achieve? Once we are clear on that aspect then it is time to work out how we are going to achieve our aims, which is where ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ comes into play.

This is probably one of the more common expressions that you will hear from business growth professionals, exceeded in popularity only by ‘you need to be working on your business and not just in your business’. Quotes like these litter business books and the internet, but what was Benjamin Franklin thinking when he came up with the forerunner of this expression in the 18th Century?

Franklin was simply recognising that any activity, whether it be business, sport or even travel, takes more than hard work and luck to be successful, and that achievements are usually based on an owners ability to look forward beyond their present position and plot a course through the obstacles that litter the path of any business venture.

Hard work is something we take for granted and of course we all know people who appear to be blessed with more luck than any one person should reasonably be endowed with. What about Mark Zuckerburg and Facebook, a company valued at over $500 billion by mid-2017? Undoubtedly Facebook was a great idea that came along just at the right time as social media exploded but could he really have foreseen Facebook’s dramatic rise before he started? Is he a genius or just lucky? Either way, harnessing other people’s luck is not an option for most of us.

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Failing to Plan – won’t I just be lucky?

Lucky people are the exception rather than the rule in business; starting a business and relying on luck is not an approach recommended by anyone except high stakes gamblers. We all get lucky from time to time and there is much to recommend the old adage that ‘people make their own luck’, by working hard, by having chips in the game, by taking an intelligent approach, by using their experience. Or by developing a plan.

Do you have a plan? Is it long and comprehensive or just a single page? Did you prepare it when you started up? Do you refresh it regularly? Do you only have a plan because the bank requested it when you asked for funding? We all know people who appear to have no plan whatsoever and yet seem to manage quite well without one thank you. And let’s be honest, it is entirely possible to run a well-managed, successful, happy and profitable business without having a detailed plan.

Most UK enterprises are micro businesses, with just one or two staff, and at this level plans are probably the exception rather than the rule. Some bigger businesses are also inherently very simple, especially in these days when almost all aspects of a company’s operations can be outsourced, and owners can get by without any form of plan other than that which exists between their ears.

Failing to Plan might mean failing to grow!

However most growing businesses eventually reach a tipping point where more than the back of a fag packet is required to plan future growth. As a business expands, like a snowball rolling downhill gathering snow, it will gradually add complexity in the form of staff, premises, vehicles, cash flow, regulation, stock and systems, and often outgrows an owners ability to cope. Owners of small businesses tend to be self-trained, self-reliant, instinctive business people who are functionally excellent at their job, but who start to be challenged as the business reaches the point where they need to employ managers. Adding an element of planning allows owners to take back control of the business, to manage growth and to make it sustainable, and perhaps just as importantly to reduce the stresses and strains involved in day to day management.

Failing to Plan – approaching a plan

So where do you start when developing a plan for your business? Think about your overall objectives and where you want to end up, even how you want to get out at the end.

  • How old are you?
  • When do you want to retire?
  • How much retirement income do you want?

Getting into business is relatively easy, getting out can be far harder, especially if the decision is left to the last minute. When you retire, will you sell the business or maybe just close it down? If you sell it, who will buy, and for what price? Developing a plan does not provide any guarantees about achieving desired outcomes but it does make it far more likely that you will achieve your objectives.

So let’s say that you are now aged 50, want to retire aged 65, and plan to sell the business at around that point. How do we develop a plan to account for all that? For a start we need to be realistic and accept that planning in detail beyond a 3-5 year time frame is inordinately difficult so let’s be sensible and plan only up to 5 years. We can still have a point beyond that in view for sale and retirement, but at this stage they are not our prime focus, and we are more interested in developing those processes, opportunities and staff that will enhance the operation of the business in the short term. We therefore need to develop the broad brush strategy that will get us to the 5 year point, and then focus on those individual actions that growth requires in the short term.

Failing to Plan – it can be tricky

But doing all that can be easier said than done for some people, and there is no doubt that the process of developing a business plan and growth strategy is an acquired skill. This is especially true if you have been running a business for a long period and starting to suffer from the ‘woods and the trees syndrome’. If you do feel confident in your abilities, start putting your ideas down on paper and then use one of the templates provided on the Yorkshire Powerhouse website to organise your thoughts. It will take time and effort if done properly but as General Erwin Rommel once said ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’. In this context ‘reconnaissance’ could just as well mean market research but then again that is also part and parcel of a good business plan.

A good plan is usually a detailed plan. If you have difficulty then we would suggest you use a professional advisor such as business coach to help guide you. If the time and costs involved start to put you off the whole idea, try to remember that if you think developing a plan is expensive, consider the costs associated with the failure from not having a plan. Moving forward is important, standing still is not an option. After all as Henry Ford famously said, ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ Is it time you reviewed your plan?

Other Articles from this series:

Follow Up Articles – coming soon!

  • Do You Have The Right Business Model?
  • Do You Have A Niche or Differentiation?
  • Do You Have Enough Support?
  • Are You Part Of The Problem?
  • Do You Know Your Business Strengths & Weaknesses?
  • Are Your People The Problem?
  • Do You Struggle To Stay on Track?

A good plan is usually a detailed plan. If you are looking to grow your business, seek out expert help from a business coach / mentor who can help you and will provide the impartial advice and support you will need to be successful.

Blunt thinking on failing to plan from Yorkshire Powerhouse
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