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How to Make the Operating Plan for Your Business Act Like Its GPS

Small business owners need a day-to-day operating planEvery small business, whether just starting out or in business for years, needs an operating plan to guide it. But, many entrepreneurs and small business owners are just “winging it,” with no real rationale or direction beyond “growing the business,” or worse, “survival.”

And, often, planning is looked at as some big deal, formal process that takes weeks (or even months to develop) and is focused on the five-year success of the business.
Says who? And who has the time? Or worse, plans are just for raising capital.

Planning isn’t brain surgery. An operating plan is really your day-to-day plan for where you want to go and the best way to get you there, by when.

Look at it as if it were the GPS or Google Maps for your business.

An operating plan starts with an objective, or objectives - your destination and what you want to accomplish, by a particular time. Then it comes to execution. And those are the strategies (high-level directions) and tactics (specific routes) to achieve your objectives. Just like your GPS.

No matter where you are in your business growth cycle, you need an operating plan.

Here are five practical considerations for putting a workable operating plan together for your business, whether that be for the next 30 days or the next three years.

1. Find the time and keep it simple.

There’s never time to plan…but lots of time to undo screw-ups that might not have happened if you were operating with a plan. And planning is too complex and requires skills that a small business just doesn’t have. Those are usually the two biggest excuses.

A plan is like beauty – “in the eye of the beholder.”

Whatever works best for you. Whether that be on a whiteboard, a one-page outline or a ten-page document. However, you and your team operate best. But have something documented! And by all means, keep it simple. There’s no right or wrong way to a plan. Only that you think it makes sense for the business and believe it can be executed.

2. Know where you want to go and why; make the “directions/routes” as specific as possible.

“If you don’t’ know where you’re going any road can take you there” is essentially a paraphrase of an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s book, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” It provides the basis for your plan.

Know where you want to go and why. Simply, define your objectives – your destination and when you are targeting to get there. And then, as you would want GPS directions to do for you, make the strategies and tactics (directions and routes) as specific as possible.

And as with GPS, if you’re trying to go someplace where nobody’s been before (not mapped on GPS), know that you may not have the best directions and they may have to be altered.

3. Make sure you have the resources and assign responsibilities for execution of the tasks in your plan.

Resources are part of helping you “get there.” For example, fuel is a resource in your automobile that helps you get there. Without it, no matter how good your GPS is, you won’t reach your destination. And, no matter how good your plan is on paper, if you don’t have enough motivated people resources and/or don’t specifically assign responsibilities for key tasks, you won’t reach your business objectives.

4. Have a way to track execution of both tasks and schedules.

A good GPS system, continuously, gives you the time and distance to your destination. You’re operating plan needs to do the same thing. Where you are on task completion vs. schedule should be regularly reviewed data points. You need to have a “scoreboard” that tracks progress.

5. It’s a battle plan – and battlefield conditions can change it.

An operating plan is a plan whose execution will be dictated by market conditions. The market is your battlefield, and your operating plan is your battle plan. With our GPS metaphor, when there’s an accident or road construction, GPS helps you find another route to your destination. As conditions in the market/on the battle field change, so to will your plan need to be modified.

Few of us would think about going on an automobile trip without our GPS system to guide us in our travels. Many entrepreneurs and small business owners try to manage and grow their business without the same kind of benefit to guide them – an operating plan. And it’s as essential to a small business as a GPS is to automobile travel. Maybe more so.

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!

Do you have an operating plan for your business? If so, how’s that working out for you? If not, why not. Please share your thoughts in your comments. It can help another entrepreneur or small business owner.

If you like this post, by all means, share it with your networks and colleagues.

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