Can you remember what your business plan looked like at the start of 2020?
For most people, the first coronavirus lockdown was the point at which all plans went out of the window, replaced by tactics to keep their businesses afloat.
But with things slowly reopening, is it time we start thinking about long-term planning again?
Stick or twist
There’s lots of talk about ‘the new normal’ and how life has changed due to the pandemic. Rather than getting drawn in, the best thing you can do is think about how well your business has actually fared during the pandemic.
Maybe you’ve had to change up your entire sales operation, offering deliveries or selling online for the first time to cope with a drop-off in-store footfall. Perhaps you’re a tutor, life coach or music instructor who has had to move into running 100% online sessions due to the ‘stay at home’ order.
If what you’re doing today is working better than your pre-coronavirus approach, don’t look back: build yourself a new plan to take this business to the next level.
In contrast, if you’re desperate to go back to your pre-coronavirus business, be aware that many customer behaviours have changed during the pandemic. There’s no guarantee that customers will also want a return to the old ways.
Writing a business plan
Whether or not you had a clear business plan before the pandemic, now is the time to get a new one down in writing.
The internet is awash with instructions for writing a solid business plan, so the Government has helpfully provided some direction to get you started. As many guides point out, there is no set format – every business is different, after all. But here are a few elements that are worth considering:
Company overview: what does your business do, and can you describe how it operates clearly and succinctly?
Market research: describe the market you’re operating in – how big is it, who are your customers, where are your competitors, and how are you different? Practically every market has been affected by the pandemic, so this is a great moment to carry out a new analysis, even for well-established businesses.
Marketing plan: How will you promote your business and make your audience aware that you exist? And how much is this going to cost?
Financial projections: how much money do you want to make, and what do you need to charge for your products or services to get there? Also, what do you anticipate having to spend along the way (e.g. staff costs, equipment or office hire etc.)? Try to be as comprehensive as possible when mapping out these outgoings.
Back-up plan: we’ll get into this in the next section!
Planning for known unknowns
It’s pretty difficult to predict what’ll happen next with the coronavirus pandemic. But you can anticipate that more disruption is at least a possibility - so remember to think about how this disruption might affect your ability to deliver on your business plan.
The same is true of other external factors. None of us ever know exactly what’s around the corner – from minor illnesses to life-changing events – which is why the best businesses are built with contingency measures baked in to protect us in the event of the unexpected.
So why not plot out some basic scenarios and think about what your business response would be to each one? No need to get morbid; it’s about developing simple contingencies, such as how much reserve cash you’d need in the bank were you forced to take time off work or if a major client was struggling to pay you.
Stop planning, start doing
We can overthink anything if we put our minds to it, and this is true of a business plan too! The more detailed you get, the more you risk getting caught up in the details. Yet, in reality, even the most well-considered plans still rely upon good fortune, good timing, and good reactions should you come up against unforeseen obstacles and challenges.
Go easy on the nitty gritty, and above all else, make sure that your plan is actionable. What are the steps that take you from strategy to selling?
Without this understanding, your business is destined to remain a pipe dream, locked away on your laptop. Write out the essential tasks that need to happen to get your business off the page and into reality, set yourself a realistic timeframe for completing them, and then get out there and put your plan into practice.
Don’t be afraid to change
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about your business prospects right now. But there’s also no harm in changing your plan if you feel you’re not getting anywhere, or equally, if an even better idea comes along.
It’s nearly impossible to predict the future, so it’s essential for business owners to be adaptive in good times and bad times.
So don’t be afraid to switch things up, but do check yourself to make sure you’re not being too hasty. Go back to your original plan and remind yourself of the timings you set out. After all, even the best-laid plans take time to come to life.