Skip to content


Business Planning Made Easy: Just Answer Four Questions

Stacking jenga pieces to represent stepping blocks of building a business plan

Small business owners are not big on business plans - that’s my conclusion after 25 years as a small business consultant, thousands of conversations with owners and personally writing more than 2,000 business plans. For most of them, the enemy of business planning is the business plan – the formal, structured document that sits on a shelf and no-one looks at (except maybe the bank). The result is that the practice of business planning is seen as irrelevant, too hard or too expensive. Not knowing any better, without clear direction, purpose or a set of targets that everyone works towards, the business can easily fall short of its potential.

Business planning is a practice - not a single event - something that you do every day and week. For small business owners, changing the mindset to one of actively planning and reviewing is the hardest part, but this can harness the power of business planning. 

Getting back to basics, there are 4 questions that you ask in business planning. Let’s look at each question and explain what’s involved. 

1. Where are you now?

This question involves getting out of daily operational mode and taking an objective look at where the business is up to – internal and external. Businesses have a lot of moving parts, and you need to know what is happening in all of them. At least once per year, business owners should remove themselves from daily operations to take a bird’s eye view of the business. To really know how your business is performing and where it sits in the market is the crucial first step. It can be useful to have some external expertise to do this. What you assume to be true may be changing without you knowing; just look at taxis, newspapers or travel agents as a few examples of industries caught unawares. 

What you might look at:

  • Financial performance, deep dive on all metrics
  • Marketing performance and new marketing strategies
  • Market trends and changes
  • Technological advancements
  • Competitors deep dive
  • Internal performance and team feedback

2. Where do you want to go?

This part would seem like the easiest part, but really pinning down specific targets and goals can be more challenging than expected. Do you want to grow, expand, introduce new services or even sell the business? Setting clear targets, goals and objectives that everyone can see and work towards means that, in the day-day hubbub of business, you make decisions that take you in the right direction. 

What you might include:

  • Financial goals – make them detailed so you know all costs, profits and other metrics. 
  • Business goals such as awards, employee satisfaction, new sites, markets or products. 
  • Lifestyle goals for you as the owner, such as less time at work.

3. How do you get there?

Road maps are not very useful without directions, coordinates and milestones, so this question addresses the steps and stages involved in achieving your business goals. It will need you to develop the detail, such as timelines for activities, milestones, actions for development projects, schedules, plans and budgets.

When you are documenting your plan, you will include descriptions of the initiatives that will underpin the goals, such as:

  • What team members you will need
  • Marketing plans, partnerships and business growth strategies
  • Infrastructure needs
  • Risks
  • Action Plan

4. Are you getting there? 

The first three questions should be developed in a process of dedicated review, with an annual calendar ideal. But to make business planning effective, tracking your results against the plan creates the greatest value. Working with your plan every month, week and day is where the results will come from; if the actions and goals from your plan is not in your diary then they probably won’t happen, so take the big picture goals and turn them into weekly and daily tasks so they stay top of mind. Check milestones each month, sales targets every week, tick off the projects and market as per the schedule. If you aren’t on course, find out why so you can get back on track again. 

Getting the mindset in place is of much higher importance than the format of the plan itself. Many of the business plan formats available are designed for bank applications or government, not for real operating businesses, so keep evolving your own to include the content that you need to steer your business to its destination. Don’t be afraid to get help either, as a professional can work with you to make sure the plan is created and then keep you on track. 

From what I see, it’s very easy to get a great return on your business planning investment. 

The Business Plan Company logo

The Business Plan Company

A team of specialist writers of business plans, grants and tenders for small and medium businesses as they start, grow, get finance or accreditations. Our team are all business owners themselves, so clients get real-life experience plus a thorough business plan.

subscribe + learn

Beany Resources delivered straight to your inbox.

Beany Resources delivered straight to your inbox.