25 August 2016

Should all businesses have a five-year plan?

life is like a box of chocolates

Image from Twitter

I listened to a radio interview the other day about someone who was about to spend three years running through America to – literally – follow in the footsteps of Forrest Gump.

Although Gump is a fictional character, there is actually a lot that business leaders can take away from his story.

In the film, Gump gets up one day and starts to run, because he felt like running, stopping only to sleep. When he gets to the next town, he decides he might as well keep on going. When he gets to the next state, he decides he might as well keep on going. And when he gets to the ocean, he decides he might as well turn around and keep on going.

Sometimes, you just have to start something, whether this is a cross-country run or a new business venture.

Although it’s important to have a business plan, it’s also possible to put too much thought into the preparation. There is a lot you will learn along the way; some of these things are impossible to plan for in advance.

Forrest Gump simply knew he wanted to get up and run. He never thought about the consequences his run would have, how he would influence both the people around him and even some of the country’s main political events of the time. I think you could even argue that, if he had planned for these things, they might never have happened.

There are so many reasons why a business plan can be great, but they don’t work for everyone or for every type of business. Having a business plan has pushed me to take actions and make decisions, to follow a path, but a plan should be just that. If you follow it too strictly, your business is unable to adapt and change. A ship may have a course and destination but poor weather or a shift in circumstances may make you change that course slightly to ensure you still make it to the destination.

Over a period of three, five or even ten years, the market you operate in will change. So how can you expect to prepare your business for everything in advance?

Great businesses don’t start with a plan, they start with an idea. I think any new entrepreneur needs to be careful not to spend too much writing down their vision, instead putting their effort into actions. There needs to be a balance of both.

Rather than working out business plans in detail, I believe in setting business goals. Decide what it is you want to do or achieve and set off on your journey. Split your five-year plan, work it out in manageable stages or goals. How will it help your business improve and how will it help you towards the ultimate goal?

As Forrest famously says: life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.

I’m interested to hear about your plans. Did yours change as your business developed?

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