The first trick to small business planning is to plan for the positive. Trying to anticipate and prepare for every possible obstacle is a negative and self-limiting approach. The only necessary plans are those that will lead to success.
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Small Business Success Tips - Planning

Some small business owners plan to the smallest detail, sometimes planning themselves into a nervous breakdown from long hours and stress. Others are completely impulsive, shouting orders madly and cursing the dolts who didn't order enough whatchamacallits. Neither extreme results in smooth production in all areas of the business.

The first trick to planning is to plan for the positive. Trying to anticipate and prepare for every possible obstacle is a negative approach, and self-limiting. The only necessary plans are those that will lead to success. If you want 200 attendees at your next event, plan how to bring in 400, even if your hall will only hold 250. Don't let your production capacity keep you from bidding on jobs that will strain that capacity.

The second trick to planning is to identify the essential elements of success. For your event, you need a sound system, refreshments, and your printed materials. Sure, other items will come up, but set up the essentials, and you will have a framework for any other needs to fit into.

The third trick to planning is allowing lead time. "Too little, too late" should never apply to your business. Being "too busy" is never a valid excuse. "Too busy" comes from an earlier lack of planning. If you are in this vicious cycle, the only way out is to discover what is essential and do only that until you are caught up.

The fourth trick to planning is thoroughness, which is different from obsessing over details. Whether you are planning for a major client project or a minor office rearrangement, make a list of the essential actions. Always, always make a master written list of essential actions when planning. The list can change over time, but the list is absolutely necessary, or guaranteed, something will slip through the cracks and lead to a crisis.

The fifth trick to planning is to plan with a purpose. Plans can encompass any time period from minutes to years. Merely planning how to use your time, however, will not move you forward at any great pace. You can get a lot done and still not accomplish much of what you need and want to accomplish.

Example: you plan to meet with the mayor from 3:00 to 4:00 to talk about parking ordinances. If that is the whole of your plan, you may not accomplish much. A real plan would be meet with the mayor in order to show him how changes in the parking ordinances would benefit the city. With that plan, you can gather your data, practice your arguments, build your Powerpoint presentation, all with a single end in mind.

Similarly, planning to double your landscaping equipment sales in the next year does not give you much of a framework to hang actual actions on. Instead, plan to quadruple your client base by expanding your sales area and establishing the superiority of your equipment through dramatic demonstrations throughout the year. That plan will get you where you want to go.

Finally, be sure to include others in your business plans, especially your staff. They have to plan their own actions and decisions to fit in smoothly with your plans. Key staff should have a complete picture, and lower-totem-pole staff need to know about anything that will affect their decisions and actions in that department. After all, your staff will be the ones who will help you bring your plans to life, even if your staff is only one part-time bookkeeper.

In summary: no planning means constant fires to be put out and bridges collapsing; too intensive and painstaking planning means projects take too long and cost too much. Just enough planning means the company grows through a series of successful actions that always contain some element of surprise. Some level of occasional challenge keeps life interesting. Plan on it.

Don Dewsnap is the author of Small Business Magic, published by Oak Wand Publishing. Small Business Magic details the principles of quality necessary to business success, applying to all aspects of business from production to sales. The principles of quality are not well known, and almost never applied to their full potential.

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