Posted by: Bill von Achen | August 27, 2010

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

As we roll into the last portion of the year, many of you are beginning the process of creating business and financial plans for 2011 (those of you who run on a different fiscal year have either completed that process or are well into it).  So it seems like the right time to talk about the annual business planning process. 

First, let’s agree on what annual planning is not.  Planning is not a long “to do” list of tasks and activities to accomplish.  Also, annual planning is not a wish list of dreams and ideas that you’d like to accomplish, someday, if you ever get around to it.  And, maybe most important, annual planning is not about setting aside months of time to create a 100 plus page document that ends up collecting dust on a remote shelf in your office.

Instead, effective annual planning is a dynamic process that creates a clear and detailed roadmap for your business for the next 12-15 months by tapping into the knowledge and expertise of your company’s management team.  Further, it seamlessly integrates company, department-level and individual goals and objectives to ensure a unified approach and to avoid confusion.  Finally, it implements a process to  ensure that company goals and objectives are regularly reviewed and modified to account for the unexpected changes that inevitably occur during the year.

While every company’s annual planning process has its own unique aspects, the most successful planning processes include the following steps:

Look Back:  Review and measure your current performance against the goals and targets you’ve previously set for yourself.  Give yourself a grade to quantify your overall level of accomplishment.

Evaluate Successes and Setbacks:  Evaluate your successes and setbacks during the same period.  Determine what you could have done differently to achieve a more successful outcome.

Assess Strengths and Weaknesses:  Assess your strengths and weaknesses as a company.  Think about how to build on your strengths, and how to counter or minimize the impact of your weaknesses.

Scan the Environment:  Take a look at the environment affecting your business today.  Identify the opportunities and threats that are likely to impact you in the year to come.

Formulate Your Goals:  With the above information in mind, formulate your key goals, objectives and action plans for the next 12-18 months.

Develop a Financial Plan:  Then (and only then), develop a realistic financial plan that both reflects and supports your goals and objectives.

Track and Review:  Set aside time every month to review your plan, discuss your results to date, and make adjustments as necessary. 

For those who are interested in learning more about effective planning, view my webinar detailing the key elements of the strategic planning process at  (Full disclosure:  there’s a brief sales pitch at the end of the webinar).  I’ve also posted on the Resources page of our blog ( a link to a simple annual business planning template (look under the heading “Planning”). 

Tell us about the tools and techniques you use to plan and guide your business by posting your comments here.  Thanks!

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