Five Steps to Successful Business Planning

As we enter the New Year, small business owners everywhere commit to a more stringent plan to increase profits, achieve life balance and mold their business into something that actually resembles their vision. It’s a ritual, so to speak, that helps us to feel good, renew our passion and hold on to our hopes for positive change. But how long does the uplifting effect of this annual ritual last - and why does the plan often fail?

There are three primary reasons that the well-meaning entrepreneur is unable to bring their plan to fruition: lack of funding, lack of time, and lack of proper planning. The irony here is that without a viable plan in place, funding and increased revenues will not find their way to your business.  And, without more money for additional resources you will continue to remain deeply ensconced IN your business instead of running your business from the helm. This may feel like a safe comfort zone for you but realistically you could get stuck on this hamster wheel forever!

But don’t despair! I have helped hundreds of exhausted business owners to escape the hamster wheel and you can too! It begins with the plan.

Your plan must be achievable, actionable and measureable. Let’s walk through the steps to lay a solid foundation for growth – and sanity! Remember, if you are in a growth-phase and ready for outside financing, you will need a more robust plan.
Step one: Your vision. Where do you see your company in five years from now? Without a proper destination, you don’t have a roadmap and will continue to go around in circles. Are you building a company that you hope to sell someday? Do you simply wish to earn a good living? Will you increase, or bring on, employees at some point? It’s important to have a clear five-year vision and to keep it present in all of your planning and execution.  If you don’t know what your vision is, don’t go any further until you establish it. Daydream, talk to creative friends or a mentor or coach. Journal about what your life will look like in five years from now and think big to establish ways that your business can support your dreams.
Step two: The Operations plan.  Identify what you need to have in place to achieve your vision. Will you add products or services?   Do you need a more robust website? Will you require additional office or retail space? Are partnerships in the picture?
Now identify what resources are required for you to achieve your five-year plan. Don’t forget the most important resource; human resources such as employees, contractors, mentors, and coaches.

Step three:  Financials. A critical component of your roadmap is financial planning, which many small business owners avoid. It can be intimidating to look at the numbers, I know. But if you neglect this piece of your plan you will continue to fall short on everything else. Learn how to construct and understand a profit and loss statement. You can find free resources to educate yourself in many places. For women, a local Women’s Business Development Center may be an option. There are also free services at your local S.C.O.R.E. office - and endless information online. Don’t forget your small business accountant as a very valuable resource. If you don’t have one, include that in the plan as well!
As you create your financial projections, set target points that will tell you when to initiate the next steps of your plan. For instance, if you would like to bring on your first employee or purchase a new piece of equipment, what revenue point will enable you to do that? Understanding this aspect of business planning will ease decision-making exponentially because you will know what to do and when to do it.
Step four: The one-year model. To get from point A to point Z you must break down everything in between. What will you achieve in the coming year?  See your plan as a staircase with four landings and your vision of financial freedom at the top. Each landing represents the completion of a phase of the plan and the start of a new year. Each step represents an action, taking you closer to the next year and ultimately your five-year vision.
Step five: Marketing plan. Social media makes marketing much more accessible and affordable than ever before. It’s critical that you have a social media plan; your clients and your competition are all there so you must show up as well. But try not to limit yourself to one marketing vehicle. Identify as many marketing resources as you can and choose at least four new approaches to work with; one per quarter.  Add these to your ongoing marketing plan to boost your brand and presence in the marketplace. So, your ongoing strategy may include some aspects of social media, public speaking, search engine optimization, and networking, for instance. Now choose four new approaches like print ad, couponing, contests, and direct mail. Create a marketing calendar and schedule these new strategies, one per quarter.
This is a foundational plan; from here you can expand and grow. Most importantly, don’t try to do it alone. Successful people have coaches and mentors. They surround themselves with other success-minded individuals. Stay connected, take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to dream.
Happy New Year!
Marla Tabaka is a life & business coach who inspires entrepreneurs around the world to attain what she calls, The Million-Dollar Mindset. As a result, many of her clients have achieved – even surpassed – the million dollar mark in annual revenues and are living the life of their dreams. In addition to running a thriving practice, Marla is a columnist for Inc. Magazine on-line, and hosts two international on-line radio shows, The Million Dollar Mindset and Million Dollar Mindset Tapping. Marla wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie (, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.