What’s Your Plan? (1-4)

Part One:

Let me be clear, I’m serious about this business plan thing.  Your business plan thing.

In my women’s business coaching practice, I am finding that far too many women who are starting businesses are doing so without creating a clear and well-defined plan.  (BTW, I find that men do the same thing, but I’m not talking to them right now – let them find their own coach). 

I’m talking to you, and I really want you to know that I am in your corner and here to help you succeed, and to do that you need a plan!

What makes a good plan?  Great question – glad you asked!

Here are the essential components of a great plan:

1.    Clearly defined end goal, in detail, with specific end results occurring in real time (Where are you going?)

2.    Clearly defined current circumstances, including financial and personal resources, skill sets, network resources, knowledge resources, etc.  (Where are you now?)

3.    Clearly defined gaps – identify what is missing from where you are now that you will need to develop, find or create to get you to the end goal (What’s missing that you need?)

4.    A strategy for addressing the identified gaps, including specific action steps to address each specific problem or gap (What’s the best way to get there from here?) 

In this post, I’m just going to look at the first component in some detail.  Each and every component is critical, and each one provides us with so much more than we can realize until we actually do the work of creating it.  (BTW, I know that you all know this, you’ve all done this in one area of life or another.  I just want you to look at where you aren’t doing it now, where it would make a huge difference in creating the life and business you want!)

So, the very first thing you need, in order to create a great plan, is to decide where you are going.  I don’t just mean something like, “My goal is to create a successful business,” or “My goal is to make $100,000 a year from my business,” or “My goal is to improve people’s lives by helping them to… (your product or service here).”

What I mean when I say a clear goal is way, way more detailed than that.  Something like this that I’ve created for On Track and On Purpose:

My Goal is to become a trusted expert in the field of business coaching and a well-known, inspiring and respected authority on female entrepreneurship.  My goals include:

·         Personally coaching hundreds of women entrepreneurs to create and fulfill their own vision of success

·         Mentoring and coaching others to become excellent business coaches and consultants

·         Creating a wealth of inspirational and practical resources for my target audience, women entrepreneurs who value success in business equally with success in every area of life

·         Creating a solid referral network of business coaching clients

·         Passive affiliate income from my website and blog, in addition to my income from coaching services

There are more goals, and with time frames for achieving them, but this will help illustrate what I’m talking about.

Can you see that having those goals gives me a very clear view of what to do with my time as I build my practice?  Much clearer than if my goal was simply to have X number of clients?  Having fleshed out my goals like that allows me to create a strategy, as opposed to just taking actions that seem like they might be a good idea.  It has me blogging, it has me networking with women entrepreneur leaders, it has me learning how to improve my skills, it has me building my email list, and so forth.  It’s those actions that led to me finding myself on the first page of Google for my target audience – just doing direct marketing to potential clients would never have had that result!

Here’s something else that having those detailed, big picture goals provides in the heart and soul of my business – the coaching conversations I have with clients and with prospective clients.  If I only had a goal of having more clients, in the moment that could cause me to be focused on “making the sale” when I talk to prospective clients.  But having the goal of being a trusted expert in the field and an inspiration to other women entrepreneurs keeps me focused on being a great coach, it holds me to a higher standard, and it has me doing the absolute best job I can with each and every person I talk to.  Because I’m focused on the big picture, on being a great coach, I end up being hired by a high percentage of people who I do a complimentary session with – a much higher percentage, I am sure, than would hire me if my focus was on signing them up rather than being a great coach for them.

And perhaps the most important benefit of creating our big end goals clearly and in great detail is this – it’s inspiring!  It gives us a prize to keep our eyes on, it pulls us forward, it brings out the best in us!

I have my coaching clients create not just a plan but a vivid, multi-sensory description of their vision of their life five years from now.  It’s not just a list of what they have or do, but a full “Day in the Life” of the life they’ll be living in five years, the life they will create with their plan.  It’s so cool to hear them get excited about this life they will be creating!  Whether they are really struggling right now or they have a life they love already, there is always so much more they want to create and explore and do and be, and the first step for all of it is to create and declare it in language and start looking at what it will take to make it happen.

So here’s my question for you:  whether it is your business or some other area of life, where do you have dreams and desires and some goals but, if you are honest with yourself, you would have to say that you don’t really have a great plan?  Hmmmm? 

I invite you to take it on, one step at a time.  All there is to do at first is to start creating your “big picture” goal.  I suggest a time frame of 3-5 years.  Take some time and start writing down all the different results you want to create, have fun with it!

Next post, I’ll be looking at the second component of a great plan, and then, if you want, you can take on that as well.  But start with this.  It’s your future, so why wait?

 

Part Two:

Ready for part two?  Last post I talked about the first critical part of creating any plan, which is having a clear and well-defined goal, otherwise known as knowing where you are going.

Before we jump to part two, first here’s a quick review of all four critical parts of a great plan:

1.    Clearly defined end goal, in detail, with specific end results occurring in real time (Where are you going?)

2.    Clearly defined current circumstances, including financial and personal resources, skill sets, network resources, knowledge resources, etc.  (Where are you now?)

3.    Clearly defined gaps – identify what is missing from where you are now that you will need to develop, find or create to get you to the end goal (What’s missing that you need?)

4.    A strategy for addressing the identified gaps, including specific action steps to address each specific problem or gap (What’s the best way to get there from here?)  

So let’s look at that number 2 item.  This is the one that can really make you squirm sometimes, the one I, personally, like to avoid.  But there’s no way around it.

No matter how clear you may have gotten yourself on where you want to end up and what you want to create, trying to come up with any kind of real plan to get there when you don’t know where you are right now is just plain impossible.  Think about it.  When you are looking at a map and trying to figure out how to get where you are going, is there any possible way you can do that if you don’t find out where you are on the map now? 

What we all need in life is one of those signs they have in parks – and in malls – with a big red star that says, “You Are Here.” 

But, last time I checked, my life didn’t come with one of those, so I’ve had to figure it out myself.  I wish I could tell you that I have this part down, but the fact is, I struggle with it.  One of the things I do to sabotage myself is to keep things, well, just a bit vague.  It doesn’t serve me, I know that, but I do it.  So this “getting clear about where I am” part is the hardest part for me.

This is how that looks in my life:

First, I put it off, keep myself busy with other things, tell myself I’ll get to it.

Then, I put it off some more, but I start to feel more uncomfortable about it.

Then, I start to feel really uncomfortable about it, because I’m talking to people about what I’m up to and I keep noticing that I always run out of things to say at about the same point because I don’t have a plan.  Ugh, I hate that part.

Finally, I sit down and start to get clear about where I am.  Exactly what that means depends on what I’m up to, but with anything important, like a new business idea or important family goals, it usually includes taking stock of finances, where there always tend to be a few surprises, and doing some math, and making lists of the different resources and what I know and what I don’t know, that kind of thing.  The odd thing is that I put it off, and then it does feel hard when I first get started, but once I get going it isn’t that hard and it actually gets exciting. 

There is a real sense of power that comes from dealing with reality.

Let me say that again.  There is a real sense of power that comes from dealing with reality. 

If you are starting or growing your own business, or any other important endeavor in your life, and you haven’t sat yourself down and gotten clear about the facts of your current situation, then you are truly setting yourself up to not succeed.  I won’t say that you will outright and completely fail, but you will surely not have the success you want.

So what do you need to get clear about? 

·         Finances – to make a plan in the real world, you need to know how much money is coming in reliably, how much is going out regularly, and, at least to some degree, what it’s being spent on.  (I hate this part.  But it gives me power, so I do it.)  What kind of money, if any do you have in reserve?  What if it takes longer to make a profit than you thought it would (it almost always does!) You also need to know how much money you are willing to invest in this.  This is one of the biggest problems that I find people run into with a new business – I’ve done it myself.  When you don’t define for yourself how much money you are willing to put in, you find yourself putting more and more in, a little at a time, until you wake up one day and find yourself at far more risk than you ever expected.  It’s one of the most common results of not having a plan.

·         Time – get real about the fact that your life is not currently set up and structured for the success you want.  If it were, you would already have that success!  So you need to take a hard look at how you are spending your time. What kind of time can you free up so that you can work on your new business or project?  What needs to be delegated or deleted from your schedule, and what is it going to take to accomplish that? 

·         Knowledge and skills – what do you already know about your new business?  What skills do you have that will be useful?  Do you have a team of people working with you?  If you do, what skills and knowledge do they have?  Once you take a good inventory of the knowledge and skills base, it becomes pretty clear what skills and knowledge are missing – but that’s Part Three, we’ll get to that next time!

·         Networking – who do you know that will be helpful or useful in your endeavor?  What networks and communities do you belong to, and how can they be leveraged?

·         Physical resources – do you have office space or work space, equipment, supplies, inventory, vehicles – take stock of the physical resources you have available and how they can be leveraged for you.  Get creative!

·         What else?  Some of this will depend on the particular business or endeavor you are looking at creating, so ask yourself the questions that seem relevant to you. 

When you have it all laid out in front of you in black and white, you will probably find that you have more resources than you realized, and at the same time, there will be some very clear gaps and missing pieces that you will see.  Both the resources and the gaps are fabulous – they are both essential to creating a real, honest-to-goodness plan!

Once you have taken this good hard look at where you really are, even though you haven’t yet created the whole plan, you’ll find that you are having very different kinds of conversations about this whole business thing.  The conversations don’t end at the same place anymore.  Because you are now clear about both where you are and where you want to go, ideas about how to get there are popping up all over the place.  People are suggesting strategies and resources to you, people are getting excited about what you are doing!  You are getting excited – again – about what you are doing! 

That’s the power that comes from dealing with the reality of where you are.  Now, you are feeling ready to launch!  But wait, hold back just a tiny bit – there are a couple more things to handle – we want to create the whole plan, remember?  Next up – the gaps.  What’s missing that you need?  We’ll get into that next time, I promise.

For now, go take stock.  Don’t put it off the way I always want to!  Look especially hard at the stuff you don’t want to look at.  It’s scarier/more confusing/harder in your head than it is in reality, so just go look at it, write it down, get it clear. 

Fact is, there’s just no substitute for being clear about exactly where you are.

 

 

Part Three:

Time for Part Three of creating a great plan.  Part Three is where you can start to get in action!  Part Three is identifying the gaps – what’s missing that you will need to create, develop, learn, find, buy or hire to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. 

Again, before we go further, let’s recap the four parts of your plan:

1.    Clearly defined end goal, in detail, with specific end results occurring in real time (Where are you going?)

2.    Clearly defined current circumstances, including financial and personal resources, skill sets, network resources, knowledge resources, etc.  (Where are you now?)

3.    Clearly defined gaps – identify what is missing from where you are now that you will need to develop, find or create to get you to the end goal (What’s missing that you need?)

4.    A strategy for addressing the identified gaps, including specific action steps to address each specific problem or gap (What’s the best way to get there from here?) 

And now on to part three…If you have done a thorough and detailed job with parts one and two, part three flows really easily.  In fact, you almost can’t help yourself from jumping right into identifying the gaps, once you’ve clearly defined for yourself both the end goal and where you are now. 

Many things just leap to mind – “I need an accountant,” “I need a web designer,” “I need business cards,” “I need to come up with a business name,”  “I need to open up a business account,” “I need to decide if this will be a sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp – I need to do some research!” and so on, and so on!

It can seem like an avalanche, and the key is to stay organized.  At this stage, that fundamentally means two things:

  • Write everything down, and then
  • Prioritize

When I say write it all down, that means you need to have something with you all the time to capture it all, because ideas will be coming all over the place.  You’ll be falling asleep and suddenly think of a great domain name.  You’ll be having lunch with a friend and they’ll point out something you hadn’t thought of – capture it! 

A good practice to be in is to have a small notebook with you all the time so you can capture the gaps as they occur to you and then add them to the list.  This is an ongoing process, of course – throughout the life of your business you will be identifying gaps between where you are and where you want to be – but it pays off big time to dedicate time to identifying the gaps you can see early on. 

Don’t let yourself get distracted from the task of identifying all the gaps that you possibly can – it’s easy to jump into addressing certain problems and then get caught up in that and forget to keep looking for the other gaps.

You really want to discipline yourself to create as exhaustive a list of gaps as you can.    Once you have that list, you can start to prioritize them, both in order of importance and on a timeline. 

That really all there is to this part – it’s not complicated!  But it is really important.

You can see that once you have identified 1) where you are going, 2) where you are now and 3) what the gaps are, you now have what you need to create the one thing most small businesses never create (or never create well) — a strategy. 

A strategy is more than a plan about how to get from A to B.  A strategy is a plan that answers the question, “What is the best way to get from A to B?” 

I just want to repeat that, because it’s a really important distinction. 

A strategy is the answer to the question, “What is the best way to get from A to B?”

And that is part four – which is what my next post will be about.

 

Part Four:

Part Four is creating a strategy.  In my experience, many people and businesses never take this final step.  But before we go further, here’s a quick review of the four parts of a great plan, whether it’s a business plan or any other kind:

1.    Clearly defined end goal, in detail, with specific end results occurring in real time (Where are you going?)

2.    Clearly defined current circumstances, including financial and personal resources, skill sets, network resources, knowledge resources, etc.  (Where are you now?)

3.    Clearly defined gaps – identify what is missing from where you are now that you will need to develop, find or create to get you to the end goal (What’s missing that you need?)

4.    A strategy for addressing the identified gaps, including specific action steps to address each specific problem or gap (What’s the best way to get there from here?) 

As I mentioned, a real strategy is often never developed at all.  Jay Abraham, marketing and strategy guru, states unequivocally that most businesses operate tactically, rather than strategically, the majority of the time.  And he should know, he has consulted on thousands of businesses over the years.

All of this begs the question, what is strategy?  If you think about that for a minute, you’ll probably realize that it is not an easy question to answer.  It certainly has something to do with plans and planning, but not every plan could be called a strategy.  A strategy suggests something bigger than a plan, a kind of overall approach that looks at more than just producing certain results.  One thing you could say is that a tactic is a way to produce a specific result, and a strategy is a way to create, coordinate and implement many tactics in order to realize an overall vision.

The way I expressed this in my last post was that a strategy does not just address getting from A to B, but instead a strategy answers the question, “What’s the best way to get from A to B?” 

Once you have done your work in steps One, Two and Three, the next question you ask yourself is critical in determining whether or not you will be one of those unusual entrepreneurs who actually operates strategically rather than tactically.

Shifting the question just that little bit — from “how do I get from A to B?” to “what’s the best way to get from A to B?” – is shifting from tactical to strategic thinking.

To really experience the difference this simple change makes, you need to engage with it yourself.  Look at your business or business idea – whatever stage you are in on your entrepreneurial journey.  (If you haven’t already done it, you need to do steps one, two and three!) 

Look at your end goal and where you are now and your gaps, and ask yourself “how do I get there from here?”

Then, ask yourself “what’s the best way to get to there from here?”

You will see that different answers, different ideas, different approaches will come to mind with that second question.  That’s not to say that you will necessarily know the “best way” right off the bat, but that’s not the point.  The point is that always asking yourself the best way, the smartest way, the most efficient way, forces you to be strategic. 

When you run your own business, one of the most common pitfalls is the tendency to spend all your time working in the business which means you don’t take time out to work on the business.  Being tactical is working in the business.  Being strategic is working on the business.

If you are committed to creating a successful business, disciplining yourself to consistently think and plan strategically is possibly the most important single thing you can do as an entrepreneur. 

A great exercise to begin to train yourself into the habit of being strategic is to take that simple question, “What’s the best way to get there?” or “What’s the best way to do this?” and start to form the habit of asking yourself that as many times a day as you can.  Not only will this start to train you to think more strategically in your business, but it can be quite illuminating when you apply it to just about any area of your life!  

So what’s your strategy?  Only you can answer that, and you will need to do all four steps in order to create it, so go ahead, get started!  You start with Step One – Where are you going? 

And the sooner you do all four steps, the sooner that great vision you create in Step One will be your reality.

 

 

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2 responses to “What’s Your Plan? (1-4)

  1. Ann –

    I just stumbled upon your blog as a result of doing a google search for “Being Strategic.”

    I really enjoy (and agree with) so much of what you say, and will put you on my blog roll.

    You go, girl!

    Warmly,
    Erika

    • Erika – thanks for the feedback! It’s always good to know when you’ve hit it right. And I’m glad you found me, because now I’ve found you and will be enjoying your blogs. Thanks!
      Warm regards,
      –Ann

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