There’s a lot of talk about the importance of business planning and how it’s invaluable in business. But there’s next-to-no conversation about what to do when plans fail, which they frequently do.

So you’ve reviewed your plan and things aren’t tracking the way you planned that they would. Considering that the only constant in life is change, that businesses are run by individuals and individuals are highly changeable, and that business should evolve if they are to remain relevant, how do you know if your plan has failed?

How do you know if your plan simply needs tweaking?

How do you know when do we quit?

And how do you ‘future proof’ your business plans so that they evolve with you and your business?

Failed business plans: two key questions

When you’ve reviewed your business plan and things aren’t tracking the way you planned that they would, there are two key questions to ask yourself:-

  1. Is my plan working?
  2. Do I still enjoy it?

Whether your plan is working or not is a big question. You want to look at overall results over a significant period – at least six months. One key metric is money.

Now you may tell me that money is not your first priority or that the money will come later in business, but this is hugely important. You need money in business to fund its future. Work without money is called a hobby and while hobbies are great and highly useful, especially when you’re self-employed, money must be a priority if you’re to keep doing what you’re doing for many years into the future.

The second question – whether or not you still enjoy it – should also be viewed through a long lens. We all have good and bad days or periods when we are highly motivated or just going through the motions. But if you’re no longer deriving joy from your business then it’s important to change.

Often in life we’re told repeatedly we need to “stay the course” and “never quit” and most of the time this is useful advice. But when it comes to business, doggedness can be disastrous, especially when combined with falling income. If your business plan isn’t working, you’re not making money and you don’t enjoy what you do, then quit.

Yes, this will hurt your ego. It will be embarrassing. But it doesn’t need to be disastrous. Ask yourself whether you can pivot and take the best of what you’ve built with you while leaving the rest, or whether you need to start over. A business coach can help you judge this as objectively as possible – clear-headedness is imperative here.

The hard question

Now you’ve answered question one and two, the next big question is: did you refer to your plan? Be honest. Did you write it and put it in a drawer, only to rediscover it and be disappointed that it hadn’t come to fruition?

Your plan is a road map – for it to work, it must be referred to. It should be printed out, scribbled on, stuck to your wall, put in your diary. It needs constant tweaking as you receive feedback from your actions, and refocus, as you come up for air regularly.

Robust business plans identify key metrics that indicate the progress of key goals. These must be referred to regularly – and not just to passively watch them fail to meet the mark. Each time to review your key metrics, you need to write a short-and-sweet action plan to ensure these metrics are tracking well.

When to tweak your plan

Marketing is notoriously fickle (people hate hearing that). All the plans and analysis in the world can only partially mitigate your risk in marketing. New social media platforms rise and fall. Trends change. Conflicting events happen and new competitors appear.

Marketing plans, far more than your broader plan, need to be a living, breathing document to be effective. Timing is hugely important – especially in marketing – so it’s critical that you test and learn what times work best for certain things. This applies to our plans in business too: when do we implement plans; when do we announce plans; when do we put them down and when do we try again.

If your sub goals aren’t going well but your bigger, broader business aims are on track, then you simply need to tweak your tactics, not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The neglected art of compromise

Listening to the ‘rah rah’ business squad, you’d be forgiven for thinking that compromise is death. But learning how and when we should compromise is part-and-parcel of being a business owner. We must choose our battles and prioritise what’s negotiable and what’s non-negotiable.

When we compromise effectively, we only enhance and strengthen our business plans. It’s not a weakness. It’s a strength.

Reviving your business plan

If your business plan is half finished, barely begun or long-neglected, there’s no time like now to start over. Print it out. Save it on your desktop. Write out your top three goals for the year and display this in front of your desk. Keep on keeping on – you’ve got this.

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