leadChaos is my superpower. I’m great at pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I’ve bribed a gruff border official to get one of my tour passengers into Vietnam when she had the wrong date stamped on her visa, when I worked as a tour leader.
When roads or bridges washed away in monsoons in Cambodia, I’ve arranged new buses on the other side, and led passengers through the water, their bags on their heads.
I’ve waved my hands in the air and given an extraordinarily long introduction to a course while my brother-in-law raced across the city to bring me the computer cable that I’d forgotten.
I’ve relied heavily on my intuition, creativity and wits to produce great work for clients who found it impossible to articulate what they wanted, no matter how hard I tried to coax it out of them.
I thrive on adrenalin and love the rush of and excitement of landing new clients and work, the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with launching, the ‘what the hell do I do now?!’ moments of making up your own path.
But always flying by the seat of your pants isn’t healthy, nor sustainable as eventually, the nervous system catches up with you, rendering you tired and tetchy and, sometimes, worse. (Running a business while having young children will do that to you.)
Planning has been a process for me – a steep learning curve and a revelation, which is why I’m somewhat evangelistic about it. I did some business planning, saw its benefits, created the Non-Planner’s Business Plan, started running quarterly business planning sessions in Sydney and Melbourne.
When flying by the seat of your pants becomes self-sabotage
Running from thing to thing, without a plan and with little foresight as to what’s around the corner is not only draining, it’s self-sabotage.
Multiple times, my failure to plan was driven by insecurities or unworthiness about a great opportunity in front of me.
Planning allows you to take full advantage of opportunities when they come. It means you’re prepared when someone says “how much?” or “when can you start?”
Planning means you can even out the peaks and troughs of cash flow and not panic when sales are lower than normal. Planning gives you a portal into the future.
The audacity of dreams
“To accomplish great things, we must not only act but also dream. Not only plan but also believe.” (Anatole France)
When I’m leading business planning sessions with owners, we always start with dreaming. This is important. Because the audacity of the dream, and the trust and faith that comes with that, is crucial.
For many small business owners, our dreams are too small. Our experience of business has beaten our audacity out of us. We are reacting and responding and have given up trying to lead from the front with a mission, a vision and a big audacious dream.
This is another way that planning is self-care, especially when it seems impossible to do, because planning connects us with hope. Hope implies the possibility of a better future, according to the hope researcher C.R. Snyder. Hope keeps us going through impossibly difficult times, giving us a glimmer of something better ahead. Hope “opens us up” towards something better, according to Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher.
Hope is not about wishing, but taking an active approach – and it’s essential in goal setting and planning. In this way, tapping into your hope through the audacity of planning, is self-care.
How to plan when it seems impossible
People often stop themselves from planning because they find it impossible to imagine the future; this is even more so right now. But the point of planning isn’t to predict the future but to reap benefits from the process.
When we’re planning our business, we need to:
- Look objectively at our past work and its results
- Note our progress and celebrate it
- Get deeply curious and dig into the better questions to ask yourself
- Affirm our strengths, desires and motivations
- Use our creative brains to tap into hope and desire and turn these into goals.
To do this requires making space for you and your future. And this, perhaps, is the hidden preciousness of planning – you are prioritising yourself before others, you are prioritising your future business before your present demands – and this is an act of self-care.
Planning puts you in a resourceful frame-of-mind
Humans always underestimate their capacity to adapt and thrive when they’re in the thick of it. Humanity has displayed awe-inspiring resilience through millennia of trauma, violence, deprivation and the unique emotional stressors of the twenty-first century.
Planning puts you in a resourceful frame-of-mind as you consider what you have, what you can do, and what’s worked well in the past (and is likely to work well in the future).
Remember, the plan itself isn’t nearly as important as the practice of planning.
How to plan by putting your business first
In my business coaching and training programs, we focus on business development: the activities that create assets, leverage those assets, pitching and selling.
If you’re new to planning and wondering just where you start with business development activities, here’s how:
- Set yourself monthly revenue targets
- Create a profit plan to achieve these revenue targets
- If you’ve got a big goal or task, ensure this is broken into smaller tasks of no more than one hour each
- Prioritise your tasks each week and front-load your days and your week with these tasks first
- Figure out your key measurements (just four or five metrics will do) and create a system to track these
- Focus on raising your business visibility, not just with regular marketing, but with getting in front of other people’s audiences (this is our focus for our upcoming quarterly implementation days, happening May 20 and 27)
- Systematise what you’re doing and automate as much as possible, to reduce your admin and free up your time for creative work
- Regularly stop, reflect and celebrate your own progress, no matter how seemingly insignificant
- Keep going.