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Getting Started on Your Business Plan

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Getting started on the business plan is often the biggest hurdle in the whole process of business planning. The project can be overwhelming. While the concept of business planning has merit, the actual implementation of the process can be daunting. One of the most effective ways of completing any project, is to break it into smaller more manageable segments.

An off site, two- day overnight meeting, to kick off the process fits right in with this philosophy. It also removes management from the distractions of day-to-day business and allows them to focus on planning. Sometimes being away from the office removes some of the barriers to communications. The Vice President of Marketing is sitting right next to the Controller, not three floors down, or in another building. The goal for this two day meeting should be to review where the company has been over the last few years, and establish where the company should be going in the future.

If there are no more than 8 to 10 participants, a round table discussion puts everyone on equal footing. A leader can be appointed to keep the discussions on track and encourage contributions from everyone. Interaction between functional areas and departments should be welcomed. No ideas should initially be discarded. It's amazing how a seemingly off-the-wall suggestion, unrealistic at the time, will eventually generate the perfect solution to a major stumbling block.

The first day's agenda should concentrate on developing a historical review of the company, and then defining a current profile of the business. What have been the major accomplishments? What are the company's and management's strengths and weaknesses? Who are the company's customers? Wat marketing strategies have worked and which haven't? How has the company performed in relationship to its competitors, its industry and the economy? Has the basic trend of the company been upward, or has it been losing ground? A review of the financial performance is an integral part of this process.

 This is not a time for assigning blame, but rather calm assessment. The process of going through this historical review and developing a profile of the business and its environment, focuses management on what could be accomplished in the future.

The second day's agenda is to determine where the company should be going in the future. At the end of the planning period, what should the company have achieved? These are the goal statements. Keep the number of company goals to a reasonable level, somewhere between seven to fifteen. Establish objectives that support each goal. Objectives are the quantifiable and measurable benchmarks that reflect each goal statement. These benchmarks enable one to judge whether the goal has been reached. Write each goal and supporting objectives on a separate large sheet of paper and then tack the sheets to a wall in full view of the management group.

List the challenges that have to be met to achieve those objectives. The group discussion should focus on determining the strategies that will be necessary to reach overcome the challenges and reach the goals.

Back at the office, the strategies can be expanded and action plans developed for each department in support of the company goals. A management team can be appointed to work with each department to make sure efforts are integrated and the strategies are coordinated throughout the company.

The final step is completing the projected financial statements. Some of the assumptions for the projections will have already been determined by the goals and objectives. The strategies and action plans also have predetermined some of the expense assumptions. For example: if one of the objectives is to increase sales by 20%, and the strategy to achieve that objective is to introduce a new product, as well as implementing an advertising campaign, then projected revenues should be 20% over the previous year with relevant expenses in advertising.

While the planning process may seem complicated, the premise behind the business plan is simple: Where have you been? Where do you want to go? How are you going to get there?

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