Let me be blunt: Between "planning" and "marketing," companies waste thousands of dollars and hours each year for things that may not happen. I daresay that if a single business simply concentrated on refining their products and services, they could dispense with 90% of the idle chit-chat and wasted money that constitutes planning and marketing.
On the other hand, some degree of both is warranted. After all, I did say 90%. You have to forecast your taxes, you have to know the metrics of weeks and months, etc...
But how can you plan efficiently?
The first thing is to acknowledge that because something is planned does not mean that it will occur.
Sure, you might have an amazing fourth quarter, but when a blizzard hits on Black Friday and you lose that weekend's sales, where are you?
Yup. Stuck with a plan that didn't work.
So, what are some key factors to include in your plans?
First, you need to understand that any plan you have needs to be one you wholeheartedly believe in. Passionately. If you and your team share that passion, even a mediocre plan is far better than one that is technically superior but you don't feel good about.
Take our Black Friday example above: if all the principals can agree to a solid, albeit basic, marketing plan for the holiday season, then weather likely cannot impact sales. Especially if we spend time to create the product that consumers really want instead of repurposing something they were lukewarm about.
In short, you need to approach planning as part art and part science. Documentation, charts, graphs, and loads of metrics all give you the impression the result is a virtual lock. Back away from the Power Point and binder and remember that even the best planning is really just an educated guess. An educated guess based on an assumption!
Here's a tip: when you're planning, keep a document in that plan that holds all the assumptions that were used to create that plan. When your results exceed - or miss - those goals, you can revisit what happened and use that knowledge in the future.
One critical thing that many entrepreneurs forget in any kind of system is a way to change or modify that system. Let's say that you planned on a $500,000 year this year. In April, you got one contract that totaled $480,000! Do you close the doors because you've met the goal? Not at all.
But, to keep your numbers and plan "honest," you need to be able to show that quarterly, or monthly figures can still be tracked, despite that particular windfall in the Spring. It's great to have met a goal quickly, but if you cannot create or modify the guides that you're using in the plan, then you're still just winging it. Develop a system for building change into every type of plan that your company uses.
Once you've made a plan, keep it out. Revisit it. Make it a part of meetings and keep it at top of mind. "We inspect what we expect," to quote the old Manager. This is a key reason that you need to document the assumptions made and to have a means to modify - you'll be getting more information every day which can guide the plan.
Lastly, as you plan, keep your team involved in that plan. Do they know? Do they understand? Do they see the impact they personally are having?
No matter what, don't fail to plan, but don't write it in stone. Keep it flexible and concentrate on what matters most - the impact you are having on your customers!