Writing a successful business plan

A business plan is a guide to where the business is going and the plan to get there over a determined period of time. The plan defines the business structure, goals and strategies on how to achieve those goals.

“It is your strategic roadmap to getting the business to the place you decide it should be,” says Barbara Fisher, president of Fisher Business Management Inc. in Portland, Ore.

Business plans are very similar to maps—a bad map will you into into traffic while a good map will get you there faster and more efficiently. Business plans allow owners to determine their route ahead of time and increase chances of success.

Fisher takes clients through a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) exercise to identify where changes need to be made and what outside influences may have an impact on the ability to make those changes. “At this stage, I’m always looking for ways to turn threats into opportunities, despite the struggling economy we face.”

These changes, especially ones born out of the economic climate, can be difficult for business owners to adopt at first. Fisher says there’s a quick fix to explaining to owners why changes are necessary. “I bring up their profit and loss balance sheet and show them the numbers—and numbers don’t lie,” she says.

Following the SWOT analysis, business owners should come up with five strategic goals. “It’s important to set goals that are both defined and achievable in a reasonable amount of time,” she says.

Once you have your goals, you must figure out how to achieve them and what you need in order to do so. These tactics are broken down into tasks, with a person named as responsible for completing these tasks.

“We feel that the most successful business plans have achievable goals that are defined both in scope of work and responsible parties,” Fisher says. For example, instead of making one of your goals to increase leads, Fisher would refine the goal into doubling the number of phone calls per week. Then, all involved would have to agree that the sales associate and the owner would be responsible for increasing phone calls each week.

“The reason the goals need to be defined is so everyone in the company has a unified perspective of the goals and the tools to achieve them,” Fisher says. “Then [the goals] are more obtainable on a short-term basis rather than a high-level, long-term goals that never full integrate into the daily operations.”

Fisher says the shorter-term goals need to be tracked and re-evaluated at least quarterly, to ensure everyone is staying focused. “Depending on what the goal is, reviewing it quarterly or at least yearly, is important to make sure that if indeed those are still your goals (they may change over a quarter’s time) that you and your employees are still focused on them.”—Morgan Zenner

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