A strategic plan is the ‘where’ of the planning process – where you plan to be at some point in the future. The ‘how’ is the business plan – how you are going to achieve the ‘where’ of the strategic plan. The business plan usually focuses on a 12 to 18 month period, setting out in operational terms what must be done. Again, the planning process and the commitment to it are the keys. Here are the main steps in the business-planning process…

1. Consider adopting a strategic approach.

A useful strategic approach to adopt in drafting a business plan is to see the plan as comprising three main sections – the NOW analysis, the WHERE analysis, and the HOW elements of the plan…

  • The NOW analysis outlines where the organisation is now and would consist of a business diagnostic or situational analysis.
  • The WHERE analysis contains essential information linking where you are now and where you want to be.
  • The HOW analysis details actions required to achieve desired outcomes.

Given that your plan will be read by organisational support persons like bankers and investors, give it a title page, a table of contents, an executive summary, and a general description of the business and its history. Supporting materials such as brochures, articles, research summaries may be included, but they must be brief.

2. Conduct a diagnostic – the NOW.

The diagnostic component involves coming to grips with the key issues in the organisation as it presently operates, referred to sometimes as an operational audit. In addition to your personal observations, you may decide to include in this analysis customer surveys, attitude surveys, questionnaires, and other information gained from staff interviews. A financial analysis will give an indication of how the business is travelling. A diagnostic may be run in parallel with the development of the strategic plan.

3. Investigate realistic futures – the WHERE.

Though the business plan is a ‘how’ document, your process must ensure that due consideration has been given to the ‘where’. Here you will need to consider vision, mission, SWOT, and crucial issues, aspects which will no doubt be investigated in compiling strategic information for other components of the plan. Try to involve as many stakeholders as possible in this process. If people’s commitment is required in implementing the plan, their involvement in its development should be encouraged.

4. Prepare action plans – the HOW.

Consideration has to be given to marketing, general operations, human resources, innovation, finance, and the actions required to convert ideas to actions. The action plans will indicate ‘who’ will do ‘what’ by ‘when’ and any costs associated with those actions. The inclusion of a financial component is essential to show the viability of the plans.

5. Provide realistic cash-flow projections.

The financials may include monthly cash-flow projections, quarterly or annual order projections, profit and loss projections, and capital expenditure projections. Cash-flow projections are based on the difference between the money that you expect to take in (your cash receipts) and the money you expect to spend (cash expenditures). In a start-up phase, cash flow will be negative but that number gives you and an investor an idea of the financial support you will need. Projections can never hope to be precise, so aim at raising 25 to 50 per cent more than what your projections indicate. But remember: excessively optimistic projections can ruin your credibility as a responsible business person. Be conservative, but don’t use the word ‘conservative’ – it’s a tip-off that you actually think you’ll do much better.

6. Consider adopting a more traditional approach.

The key to developing a business plan is to make it simple, yet businesslike in its approach. The alternative traditional structure comprises five sections:

  • Executive Summary. An overview statement.
  • Product Profile. A description of the product: what, where, how.
  • Organisational Structure. Present and proposed venture structure and who is involved.
  • Operational Plan. The strategy and basic financial forecasts.
  • Appendix. Market research data, product brochures, CVs, assets and liabilities, competitive information.

7. Make sure the plan is usable.

Your business plan needs to be a working document and be kept under regular review. Its format should be simple and straightforward, contain essential information only, and have an in-built flexibility to respond to organisational and marketplace changes.

8. Maintain confidentiality.

The business plan is not for public display and should be kept in a secure place. As appropriate, your employees can be advised of the plan in broad terms, but it is not the kind of information you would want in the hands of your competitors.

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