What a comprehensive business plan should look like is different for every business. There’s no right or wrong way, and the way you create it should reflect your individual business needs. But there are some tips you can take from the finalists of this year’s award.
In 2017, 94 per cent of Telstra Business Awards finalists had a strategic plan. Of those, 51 per cent had the plan fully documented. And because 99 per cent of them had some sort of review process, their plan was a living document. It was designed to be adaptable, and to be updated as ‘the future’ changes shape.
For these finalists, a comprehensive business plan means considering every working part. It’s a given that you’re probably stronger in one area than in others, and focusing on what you’re good at might drive success in one part of your business. What the judges noticed about this year’s finalists is that they covered many key business areas. Mission statements (79 per cent of finalists), product plans (74 per cent), financial plans (70 per cent), and marketing plans (70 per cent) appeared most often, but they also looked at competitors, operations, key challenges, and how to manage risk.
Sales figures alone rarely tell you everything about business health. Clear vision comes from knowing not only how you are performing overall but also why. If sales are up but marketing spend has tripled, that tells you something meaningful. If you can then see that customer satisfaction is way down, you can start to identify the real issue, and move forward. Every part of the business intersects with every other part, and a great plan reflects that.
This year’s judges noted this holistic approach time and again. The finalists they chose all demonstrated careful consideration for every part of their business, even the less fun stuff.
A comprehensive business plan also allows for flexibility. Forty per cent of finalists with a plan review it at least once a month, to better understand what’s happening, and to seek new and better ways to move forward. Being malleable means the plan can change as they change, as their industry changes, and as business itself changes. Being able to adapt is make-or-break in small business.
It’s impossible to predict what the next generation of tech looks like, but you can plan not to know. Your phone, your laptop, your car – they will all change. With a great business plan, you’ll be able to find the ‘IT equipment’ section and rethink it to incorporate this new future – and you’ll know the potential impact on other key areas.
A comprehensive business plan allows for proactivity. Tech is unique in that it also creates opportunities as it changes. Having the latest gadget is one thing, but what this year’s judges are really excited about is the way tech is being used inside these small businesses. It’s being used to scale and reshape all industries – not just IT or engineering but aged care, social services, agriculture, manufacturing.
Successful businesses are planning to be turned inside-out by technology. They plan for it to change their product, and to change their customer. Their core business values might stay the same, but the way they achieve them is constantly revised. They don’t just plan to survive change, they actively seek it out.
The best small enterprises also looked outside of themselves for success. The judges commented that this year’s finalists all demonstrated, in one way or another, a desire to contribute more widely. Yes, they planned to sell their product, to connect with customers, and to grow revenue, but they also looked for ways to have a net positive impact on the world. Many had considered how to operate sustainably, to reduce their carbon footprint and to be environmentally conscious. They also planned for social good, identifying ways to give back at a community level.
Finally, a comprehensive business plan means knowing what ‘success’ looks like. Without clear ways to measure outcomes, it’s impossible to work towards a definitive goal. Most of this year’s finalists had metrics in place to measure financial performance, sales, online activities, and customer management. Of these, 69 per cent said their metrics were directly related to their business goals. They plan to succeed, and they’ll know about it when they do.
The great thing is, you can improve – or start – your business plan right now. Where do you want to be in five years? What does success mean to you? How can you better use technology? Are there ways you can be more innovative? What are your competitors doing? How will you market your new products? What contingencies do you have in place if it goes a little pear-shaped?
Everything in a business plan is changeable. Write it all down. Come back to look at it again, and again. Once you know where you’re heading, you can take calculated risks. You can deviate, shake things up, try and fail and try again. A great plan will protect your business as it grows, not restrict it.
With a comprehensive plan as a foundation, small businesses can start to explore these new frontiers. Success, for the Telstra Business Awards finalists, has come from challenging ideas, from smashing the status quo, and from knowing what to do next.