Timing for Planning Activities

After you've committed to periodically scheduling planning periods, how do you determine when is the right time to engage in the planning process? Most small business owners won't have the luxury of a "strategic planning committee" or some other dedicated group to handle planning on an ongoing basis. In all likelihood, you are the only person in a position to create a business plan. Since the demands of the planning process fall on you, don't schedule your planning period so that it conflicts with other demands placed on you by your business. If the Thanksgiving to Christmas period is your busiest time of year, don't schedule your planning process during it.

Unfortunately, it's easy to feel that you're always busy, and planning is something that is done on top of the more important job of running the business. This frequently serves as an excuse to forego planning altogether. If you feel overwhelmed by your business, it's easy to let planning slide. However, the fact that you feel overwhelmed is a clear warning that you need to plan. The planning process itself is just one more ball that the business owner has to juggle. In order to do so effectively and efficiently, several issues should be considered:

  • Do you have the time to spend on planning?
  • Do you have the information you need to create a meaningful plan?
  • Will the planning process be complete in time to act on it?
  • Are there other factors that might help you in choosing when to create the plan?

First and foremost, you have to commit to making the time available. Hopefully, you've considered the benefits of having a written plan and are convinced that time spent on the planning process is justified. You're probably thinking about your business all the time, so the process of creating or updating a written plan doesn't start from scratch each time anyway.

How do you estimate the amount of time to set aside? There is no easy way to answer that. It will depend on how easily you can obtain required information, how involved your business is, and a thousand other factors. We suggest that you review the documents that make up a business plan as a starting point. Consider what is required to complete each separate part of the plan. Armed with knowledge regarding what the finished product will look like, it should be easier to gauge how much time to allocate. It's just that now, you're going to specifically focus on it.

In many cases, you probably won't be able to shut yourself off from the rest of the world and quietly map out your plans. Instead, you'll work on your business plan in addition to your other responsibilities. When you work on a project for an hour here and an evening there, it takes more time. Plan for that. Also plan for the fact that it will take longer to produce the first plan than any of the subsequent ones.

To make the planning process meaningful, you need access to the operating results from the preceding period. Do you know what sold well and what didn't? If you're a consultant, have you noticed any change in your ability to obtain work? Even if you're just starting a new business, you'll need to make estimates regarding the expenses and income that you anticipate.

Make sure that you have an adequate opportunity to follow through on what you plan. For example, if you need to place orders a certain amount of time in advance to ensure timely delivery, your plan should take that into account. It is of no help to determine that you can increase your inventory because sales are on the way up if you don't find out until it's too late to get the inventory you need. Seasonal businesses in particular have to watch out for this. The planning process has to be completed by the time the orders are due.

Finally, consider the need to comply with other regulatory requirements to which your business is subject. Figuring and paying taxes immediately springs to mind as a regulatory deadline you'll have to meet. The information you need to prepare your return is likely to be much the same information you need to adequately plan your ongoing operations. To the extent that you can combine the processes, you can realize substantial time savings. Similarly, your lender might require periodic reports on your financial condition in order to continue extending your line of credit. Wherever you can get double duty out of a planning-related activity, you reduce the overall time spent.