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Revisit your plan

How to use your business plan as your company develops

Unlike an old flame, a business plan is a part of your life that you really must go back to – more than once. And when you do, you won't feel that tinge of disappointment that coming face to face with a previous date brings. Instead you should feel invigorated and better prepared to face the new challenges ahead.

However, your time is money. You have so much to do every day, can you afford to take time out to go over a plan you put together as you started out? The answer, when you look at the progress of companies who do take that time, is can you afford not to?

Snap happy

When local paper photographer Rob Pearson launched a commercial photography business, he never dreamed that 15 years later he'd be at the helm of an internationally known advertising agency.

The last time the Stoke-based company did a major review of their business plan was two years ago – and says Rob, they are ready to do it all again.

Today he has a growing turnover, eight staff and an enviable reputation as an innovator in the specialised field of online image storage. And the key to Rob's success? His finger on the pulse through an ever evolving business plan. Original services were photography and commercial print but radical changes have followed.

Rob launched CIC Photographic in the midst of recession at a time when marketing budgets were being squeezed. "I was driving back from a meeting with Aston Martin in Northampton six years ago when I realised major change was needed. No matter what I had said to them and no matter how good our photography was, we weren't going to get the contract because geography was against us. I had to do something to make distance from clients less of an issue.

"That meant greater investment to pioneer the use of new technology – and all of this had to be reflected in our business plan.

"Revising your business plan forces you to focus on short and medium term aims and keep your long term goal in sight. We also have a 10 year strategy which also helps us look at the ‘bigger picture'."

Aye aye captain!

"Running a business is like sailing a ship, sometimes wandering off course, with peaks and troughs. If you don't regularly re-visit your business plan you will go off course," says Rob. There's nothing wrong with going down short-term avenues to sort out problems and take advantage of opportunities, but it's important to keep sight of the greater goals of the business.

Quote�Goals may remain the same but how you get there can differ�End Quote
Rob Pearson

"Long term goals may remain the same but how you get there can differ because of how a business changes and develops over time. Every business needs to have goals to aim for and having a business plan helps you to focus on monitoring performance and net and gross profit levels.

"Monitoring past performance can also help you see a trend before it becomes a problem. All businesses should look and plan at least three months ahead when it comes to cashflow. A lot of businesses fail because they don't monitor past performance and look for potentially harmful trends."

No guesswork

Rob says that as time goes on, business plans become less of a pain to work on – as much of the guesswork is removed.

The key change in CIC Photographic's business plan was the development of new technology. The team developed an online photo library facility, called the Digital Asset Management system as a sales tool – as a way of getting a foot in the door with major companies.

But the impact of the system was much greater – it has now become the central hub of the business – something that the company has carved out a strong reputation for, and is now promoted as a unique selling point. Rob says: "The development of this system has elevated CIC from being a small regional agency to a company that has international clients.

"This development has turned the original business plan on its head because it has meant a huge learning curve and hefty investment. It has meant an additional unexpected overhead that wasn't in the original business plan, but all this pales into insignificance because of the additional sales that the system has brought. Now we have to re-work our business plan to keep up with the demand."

What to revisit

As Rob Pearson found out, the questions you'll ask at pivotal points in your company's growth are often quite different from those you'll ask at the start. Here are some key things to revisit:

Your product range and its place in the market

Viable marketing and promotion techniques

Management and staff strengths and weaknesses

Asset control: premises and capital goods and the cost of renewal or growth

Financial forecasts

Trends in your marketplace

Your list of key objectives. When you started out, No. 1 was probably "get clients, come hell or high water". It's now likely to focus more on change management or extracting greater market share

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What next?

This theory of reviewing a plan is great. See how it works in the real world.

We can show you why you need a business plan, and what you should include.

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