Articles

Planning Overview

ntroduction

“If you don’t know where you are going, you may wind up somewhere else.” “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” You pick the cliché; they are all applicable. Operating without a business plan is like navigating without a compass—you never know where you might end up.

Most business owners resist planning. They tend to be action oriented, and the task immediately before them is what gets their attention.

Resistance to planning is the result of several factors.

            Lack of Knowledge

Learning how and what to plan takes a fair amount of effort, and you may not know how to start. This book details how to generate a plan for your business.

            Lack of Time

When I ask business owners why they don’t plan, they frequently answer, “I don’t have time for that. I am already working ten to twelve hours a day, six and seven days a week, struggling to be successful in this business. When am I supposed to find time to plan?” Well, no one said owning a moving company was easy, and no one has a gun to your head making you do it. If you are going to do it, then resolve to do it right.

Developing a business plan, especially for the first time, is hard work. However, in the long run, planning doesn’t take time; it saves time. Instead of answering the same questions over and over, you answer them once. With a plan, you become proactive instead of reactive. You measure your actual performance against your plan, and take action when necessary. Everything is more orderly and efficient.

            Fear

Fear of the unknown. Fear of the future. Fear of being held accountable. Fear of not making your plan.

If you put a plan down on paper, others can see it. They will know if you don’t achieve it. They may be critical of your performance. Who needs this? Better to not commit yourself in the first place.

On the other hand, without a written plan, your employees and leadership team will not have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish, and they have no way of knowing whether they are succeeding or not. They want you to do well and work for a successful business. They want to help you accomplish your goals. Without a plan, however, your team has no idea what your goals are. Establishing a written plan will enhance your communication with them and will ensure that everyone helps achieve common goals.

             Uncertainty

The moving business has changed a lot in the past few years and promises to change even more in the future. With the uncertainty that such changes bring, why bother to put together a plan? It will just become obsolete soon anyway.

The industry is changing, but that uncertainty is a major reason to establish goals and objectives and give careful thought to the future with the establishment of a business plan. In this manner, you will be in the best position to take advantage of opportunities and minimize potential threats to your business.

            Results of not Planning

Unfortunately, a lack of planning is often the cause of either serious problems or outright failure. Over 90 percent of business failures that occur in this country are the result of poor management and planning—not the state of the economy or the industry.

Learn how to develop a business plan, and invest time in this process. Don’t use available time as a reason not to plan.

Strategic Planning

Effective business planning starts with a look at the big picture—the basic strategies the company should employ in the next few years. Failure to devote proper attention to this aspect of planning is akin to drifting in a boat[LE1]  down an unexplored river. All your effort is devoted to the task at hand, steering the boat away from the riverbanks and dangerous rocks so that it won’t become damaged or stranded.

You don’t give the low rumbling sound, barely perceptible in the distance, much thought. Things are going pretty well, and you are so busy guiding the boat away from trouble that you don’t really have time to think about anything else. Maybe that rumbling will go away.

However, the rumbling gets progressively louder. Inevitably, you, the boat, and everyone in it are flung over an unseen and unplanned for (but nevertheless fatal) waterfall, landing on the rocks below.

Of course, the waterfall was avoidable. The increased rumblings gave ample warning that it was there, but everyone in the boat was busy with the tasks at hand and not paying attention to anything else.

Elevating your sights occasionally and taking a longer look into the future at what may affect your business can help you avoid unpleasant and possibly fatal surprises. Assessing your overall business environment on at least an annual basis allows you to set effective long-term strategies.

The planning process starts with a definition of the values of the owners and moves toward the establishment of a vision and mission statements and goals for the company.

Core Values

What values are important to you? What values drive your company? Once you establish your core values, make sure your employees know what they are. Put a card in a plastic stand on every employee’s desk. This is who you are, and these are the values you expect your employees to follow.

Vision Statement

What do you expect the business to look like at the end of three years? Revenue? Locations? Services? Once you have your vision statement, put it on a sign in your lobby, conference room, lunch room, and warehouse. Prominently display it where your employees can see it every day. In this way, your employees will know what your vision is, where you are trying to go, where you are trying to lead them[LE2] , and how they can best help you.

Mission Statement

The mission statement should be a concise one- or two-paragraph statement that reflects the main purpose or focus of the business. It may answer questions such as:

  1. Why does the business exist?
  2. What do you believe in?
  3. What does the business really do?

You may be surprised at how difficult it is to boil the mission of the company down to a couple of sentences, but it is an important part of the planning exercise. You will want to have key employees and selected outsiders review this statement to ensure that it properly reflects the feelings and values of those who are expected to implement it. Once you have your mission statement done, put it on a sign in your lobby, conference room, lunchroom, and warehouse. Display it prominently where your employees can see it every day.

Situational Analysis

The situational analysis involves an assessment of both the external and internal environments of the business. The formal term for this process is environmental scanning.

The external analysis consists of an assessment of the following items:

  1. The competition
  2. Legal/regulatory changes
  3. The economy
  4. The industry
  5. Social trends
  6. Emerging technology

You are identifying opportunities and threats that could possibly impact the business. Effective strategies take advantage of the opportunities and minimize the threats.

The internal analysis consists of an assessment of the following items:

  1. Personnel and management capabilities
  2. Physical capacity
  3. Financial capacity
  4. Products/services offered
  5. Organizational structure

You are establishing a candid assessment of the strengths and weaknesses that the business may have. Effective strategies take advantage of the strengths and minimize the weaknesses.

This exercise, referred to as a SWOT analysis, identifies the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in your environment.

Objectives

Setting strategic objectives is the next step, and they are often set in the following areas:

  1. Growth rate for sales or profits
  2. Diversification plans
  3. Updating systems
  4. Acquisition plans
  5. Market share
  6. Implementing new programs

The objectives should be specific, realistic, flexible, measurable, and well documented, and they should have deadlines.

Responsibility for each objective should be assigned to an appropriate person. Establish deadlines. Monitor them carefully to make sure plans, goals, and objectives are on track. This is a key phase of the process. Do not succumb to the temptation to simply put the plan on the shelf and forget about it until the end of the year. Nothing will happen, and you will have wasted a lot of time and effort.

Example:

            Objective:        Establish a plan for increasing the leads generated by the website.

            Assigned to:     Frank Anderson.

                        Time Line:      

Phase I—Preliminary report with initial recommendations and estimated expenses. Due February 1.

                         Phase II—Specific plan presented to management committee. Due March 1.

                         Phase III—Completion. Due April 1.

 Strategic Review

The only constant in your business is change. Nothing remains the same. At least once annually, take a look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Reassess the overall direction of your business. Refine your vision, mission, goals, and objectives. Make sure you involve the key people in your company. Keep them informed about where you’re going and what you’re trying to do.

Benefits of Planning

There are many benefits of planning. They include:

  1. Encouraging management to consider and evaluate basic company policies;
  2. Encouraging management to look ahead and consider conditions that are likely to prevail outside the company;
  3. Promoting a team concept within the company;
  4. Providing for the most effective and economical use of labor, facilities, and capital;
  5. Promoting understanding throughout the company of the problems faced by each department;
  6. Serving to evaluate progress or lack thereof, toward stated goals;
  7. Providing a commitment to a plan of action;
  8. Instilling in management at all levels the habit of carefully considering all factors before making a final decision;
  9. Avoiding or minimizing costly mistakes or errors in judgment;
  10. Maintaining the focus of the employees on the stated mission and objectives of the business.

Planning Timetable

The following is an approximate timetable for the planning process:

September        Assemble information on the economy and the industry for the coming year. Ask your bank, association, and van lines (if you have an affiliation) for help. Pay attention to what is written in the newspaper and what is said on TV. Use the Internet to help you get a handle on what the coming year looks like.

October            Ask your salespeople for their estimates on what they think they can do next year. Look at your numbers at the end of September and begin to formulate a revenue plan for the coming year.

November         Take your key management off-site for at least a day and formulate your strategic plan and preliminary financial plan.

December         Revise and update your forecasts for the coming year based on your November numbers.

January            Finalize your strategic and financial plans for the year, after you have reviewed your in-house December financial statements.

Plan Content

The following items should be in your business plan:

I.                Company overview

A.    Current year in review—actual performance versus plan, goals achieved, etc.

B.     Outlook for the coming year—economy, industry, company

C.     Company profile—a paragraph describing your company

D.    Financial summary—revenue, profits, and key ratios for the past five years

E.     Core values—the values that drive the company

F.     Vision statement—what the company will look like in three years

G.    Mission statement—why you’re in business

H.    A listing of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats

I.       Organization chart—who reports to whom

J.      Current staff levels for admin, sales, and operations

II.              Strategic goals and objectives

List the primary goals you hope to accomplish for the coming year, who is responsible, and deadlines.

III.            Sales and marketing plan

A.    Lines of business you hope to grow and how that will be accomplished

B.     Sales goals by product line, market area, and individual sales people

C.     Lead development programs

D.    Marketing plan—advertising, collateral material, community involvement, etc.

E.     New services you’ll offer and plans for that

IV.            Financial Plan

A.    Forecasted income statement including supporting assumptions

B.     Forecasted balance sheet

C.     Forecasted cash flow

D.    Forecasted ratios

E.     Capital expenditure plan—type, timing, and planned financing

V.              Facilities plan

A.    Expansion necessary

B.     Major repairs planned

C.     Lease renewals required

VI.            Quality Plan

A.    Goal for quality scores

B.     Overall plan to improve quality

VII.          Staff plan

A.    Layoffs, new hires

B.     Owner-operator recruitment

VIII.       Safety Plan

A.    Review of current year

B.     Plan for improving the safety record for the coming year

Summary

Business owners do not like to plan. The phone is always ringing, and it’s easy to be consumed by the pressures of the tasks at hand. However, planning for the future is important and well worth the time involved. Your long-term success and survival may depend upon it.

Planning does not take time; it saves time. You make a decision and set a course of action only once, instead of over and over again. Invest your time and effort into this process, and your business will become more successful. “Writing it down is halfway there.”

For small companies in one location, the planning process will not be as long or as detailed as it will be for larger businesses. For those with revenue over ten million dollars and multiple locations, the process will take longer, involve more people, and be more complex.

There are some important aspects of this process:

1.      Make sure all the people who will be responsible for achieving the plan are involved in the planning process and are committed to the plan. This should not be a top-down process that is dictated by owners and forced upon key employees.

2.      Do not have your planning meeting at the company. There are too many distractions for it to be effective. Go off to a hotel or resort where you will have fewer distractions. Make sure everyone has their computers and phones turned off, and that they don’t check e-mail or voice mail during the meeting or at breaks. If necessary, they can check for messages and return calls after the end of the day.

3.      Include a social aspect to the meeting. Cocktail hour. Meals. Give your employees a chance to interact on a nonbusiness basis and get to know each other better. This is the team that will help you achieve success, and the better they know, like, and respect each other, the more successful you will be.

4.      Review the progress of the plan monthly. This is not something that should sit on your credenza and not be referred to until the end of the year. It is a dynamic process that needs to be reviewed constantly.

Tracy Bech