Posted by: bevmeldrum | August 8, 2007

Is Planning Really Worth It?

This is a question we often get asked at The Tool Factory. We tend to come across two types of social entrepreneurs – those that want their business plan all written before they start their new venture and those thatjust want to get on with the business of changing the world.

I’ve seen both approaches work and I think it’s more down to the individual’s character than anything else. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it. Personally, I like to get started first and then think about a written plan but that is just me.

However, there is a point in time in any organisation that going through the strategic planning process is helpful. If you go too far down the road without a business plan there is a danger that you will lose focus and end up doing too many different things and becoming experts at nothing – I’ve made that mistake in the past.

When talking to clients about writing a Business Plan two concerns keep coming up:

  1. where do I find the time?
  2. won’t I lose my ability to be creative if it’s all written down on paper

Of course writing a business plan takes time – going through the planning process should be something you spend quality time on. However, there are some tricks and tips that might speed it up:

  • use a suitable template (stick to a basic structure that funders and banks will recgonise – this could be paper-based such as the one provided by The Forth Sector or a piece of software like our Business Plan Writer)
  • have a couple of business plans from other organisations to hand (you won’t want to copy them but they will give you a idea of what other people have written)
  • get someone outside of your organisation – a consultant or someone from a support organisation – to read your business plan (they will be able to see which parts don’t make sense or use jargon that they don’t understand)
  • share the burden (ask other people in your organisation to do some sections)
  • use a finance or accounting package to do the figures (if you try to do it yourself you may get some of the sums wrong – there is nothing more embarassing than a bank pointing out that your Balance Sheet doesn’t acually balance – trust me)
  • format the plan and bind the final version (use pictures, tables and graphs)

As for the second common concern that putting everything into a Business Plan will rob the organisation of its creativity, I can see where the fear comes from, but actually I believe that a Business Plan allows you to be more creative not less.

One client who resisted any forms of planning for many years finally found that when he had finally gone through a process of planning he could actually be more creative in his thinking. He described being able to focus on particular ideas he wanted to develop rather than feeling like he was being pulled in all sorts of directions, not being able to identify what were priorites in relation to his vision for his organisation.

We’ll talk about this more another day but the Business Planning is not a finite process – once the final Business Plan is printed and bound it doesn’t stop there. Your Business Plan document should be a part of everything you do and it gets updated everytime there is a change in the organisation. It becomes your road map for where you want to go with your organisation. You can take whatever route you want and even take a detour (that’s the creative bit) but ultimately you are heading for one place.

This reminds me I must put some time aside to update our Business Plan …

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