As 2020 draws to a close, most of us are probably going through our notes to see what we may jot down as “plans” for 2021. But, as Mike Tyson famously stated: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” If there is one lesson we have learned in 2020 is that plans can be meaningless. The reason is because, in sport and in business, most plans are not based on realistic expectations; instead, they are symbolic gestures that are designed to make some of us feel good about ourselves. Plans, by definition, are a theoretical approach to problem solving; hence, are always sensible to change on the ground. The key to success isn’t planning, rather a clearly articulated strategy, which takes into account different probable scenarios and a precisely calibrated approach at executing each of them. In the following segments, I am outlining five tips to help make planning useful for 2021.
- Start with an understanding of the problem or the thing worth planning for
In my professional career, I’ve attended many coaching sessions where the Coach dove straight into the solutions and started pontificating what to do without a seemingly clear understanding of the problem I was dealing with. Businesses face different challenges on a daily basis and it is unlikely that we will be able to solve all of them at once. Therefore, the optimal approach is to identify the ones that are most critical and tackle them according to both their order of importance and our chance of success at solving them. Let’s say, for example, we need to grow our revenue next year by 5% to maintain a decent margin of profit. One way to achieve that result is to have more sales. To increase sales, we need more customers and one way to get more customers is by investing in advertising campaigns. Increasing sales, therefore, means doing more advertising. But, how do we know that sales is the only way we can increase revenue? Better yet, how do we know we need to increase revenue at all? This brings us to point No. 2.
- Question the problem objectively (is it really a problem?)
Just because something appears to be a problem does not mean it is the one we need to address, or tackle, in the most immediate term. From the example above, maybe raising revenue by 5% is not the only way to increase our margin of profit next year. How about eliminating waste and lowering unnecessary overhead expenses? As I explained in a previous post, when I was in law school, I mentored a small business owner who equated hiring more staffs to growing her business operation. Through various sessions of brainstorming, I was able to help her see things through a different set of lights. Today her business is flourishing in the West Coast.
- Lay out a theoretical approach (or plan) at solving the problem
If after questioning the problem you still arrive to the conclusion that revenue is the most urgent need for next year, then the next thing to do is to lay down a theoretical framework for how this can be done. If it is through advertising, decide where to advertise and the budget you want to allocate for that. A plan tells us what needs to be done to achieve a result. However, to know how to do so, we’ll need a clear strategy.
- Develop a strategy
Advertising may bring customers inside your store, but it is not enough to make them purchase your products. It is therefore critical to have a strategy in place for how you plan to convince the customers to buy your products. One reason customers may hesitate to buy is because they are thinking of better alternative. Therefore, develop a strategy for how you plan to stack up against your competitors. Finally, in business, there are always unforeseen circumstances, which if unmanaged, can quickly derail your plan (not strategy). Create “what if” scenarios that will prepare you to deal with those unforeseen circumstances if, or when, they arise.
- Execute your strategy
Now that you have laid out your strategy, it is time to execute them. As the saying goes “res, non verba.” At the end, execution is all that matters. It does not matter if customers walk inside the store unless sales are made. For a carefully executed strategy, consider several key factors, such as:
- Staff training
- Store cleanliness
- Customer service
- Price accuracy
- Promotion, etc.
Finally, set parameters to measure the success of the execution plan. Are you meeting your sales targets for the week, month, or quarter? If not, look at the strategy again. If one strategy is not producing results, use other ones or multiple strategies simultaneously.