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Planning in practice

From paper to practice - how business planning works in the real world

An entire industry has grown up around helping large organisations 'manage change' as they go along. But for smaller companies, coping with change is just a fact of life. Planning as you go along gives your business the best possible chance of making sure you end up where you want to be.

Without a crystal ball, how do you know what's around the corner? How many of us really know what is going to be in our inbox today or who might call? What personnel or production disaster awaits?

Quote�It's the small business that can see change coming and respond in time that will truly prosper�End Quote

Change is not all bad. when you run your own business, you have to get used to thriving on it. Often the reasons quoted for not being able to handle change are far more relevant to bigger companies. These reasons include distance from the consumer, bureaucratic management systems and a lack of entrepreneurial sprit.

None of those should apply to any small business worth its salt. In fact, according to business adviser Emma Williamson, a key strength of a small business should be their ability to react fast to changing circumstances - it's an opportunity.

"We should be very close to our customers, hopefully we have some entrepreneurial spirit, and if we have staff, our set-up shouldn't be so complicated that we can't effectively communicate a message over the morning tea break," she says.

Reacting to day-to-day change is one thing. But it's the small business that can see change coming and respond in time that will truly prosper. Tips for coping with change include:

Keep abreast of what is going on in your market place: Change before it is forced upon you. Self-instigated change is far easier to manage

Listen to your customers. Make a point of visiting key customers at least every six months. Ask them how they feel about the service you provide and the key issues in their market place (there may be an opportunity that you had not yet thought of)

Don't forget your suppliers. They may have a different but no less interesting perspective on what is happening in your market

If you have staff, invite their opinions on what they believe could be improved. Encourage ideas and suggestions, either informally, or at a business planning meeting

If you do need to make a considerable change – particularly if it's likely to be unpopular with staff – be as honest as you can, communicate as much information as you can – and listen to what people have to say back to you

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Planning is marketing

Cathy Bentley is managing director of iceni Productions Ltd, a growing video production company.

She says: "From originally offering video production, we now offer video, DVD production and authoring, duplication, web design, video streaming, and online questionnaires. This has been made possible by effective planning.

"To me, planning is marketing. We want to grow the business and all our plans revolve around that goal. As the company grows, it's important to keep looking at how you want the company to be - the number of employees, the premises, who takes on which roles.

"This ensures you are in control rather than reacting to the situation. If you want the company to stay a certain size, there will come a time when you need to say no to new business, to maintain the quality of the work you do.

Quote�It's very important to know where you are going - to set goals�End Quote
Cathy Bentley

"It's very important to know where you are going - to set goals. I've found that once we decide where we're going, it seems to happen very quickly. I think if you have a leader who has a vision of where the company is going and is communicating that to the whole team, then work becomes a positive place.

For Cathy, finding time for continual planning is important.

"As a husband and wife team, planning tends to happen in our own time over a glass of wine. We do discuss our ideas and plans with the rest of the team in our regular team meetings, but it's difficult to think outside of the day to day work when we have deadlines looming."

Planning for growth

Narrow-minded companies only think about the money, but planning for growth can include any or all of the following:

Financials – growth in sales or extracting better margins

Customersmarketing to wider audiences or extending reach in your existing customer base. Don't forget customer service either- it often suffers during spurts of growth

Products - improving your existing products or launching new ones (this is often how new customer segments are reached)

Staff – the recruitment and training you'll need to satisfy growing demand

What next?

Planning is easier if you review your business plan document regularly.

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