The same struggle happens for every entrepreneur. No matter what industry you're in or what type of product you sell, you'll inevitably encounter the question of "How much do I plan, and how much do I simply move forward on my previous plans?"

On the one hand, you don't want to miss an important new trend or a significant potential pivot that will benefit your business. But on the other, it's easy to run into the kind of "analysis paralysis" that can keep you from achieving any kind of forward momentum.

As you probably already know, I'm biased toward action. However, I also realize that sometimes you need to step back on work on the business, setting your strategic direction and planning your initiatives. Here are a few thoughts on how to balance the two.

Planning: The Pros and Cons

Planning has its place. If you have a new product, a new service, or even a whole new business to launch, you want to make sure you plan effectively and lay the appropriate groundwork. That said, as you plan, make sure you're using your resources effectively by establishing goals that will help you move forward and manage your risk. Use this time to lay out the blueprint for you next set of actions so that you can take your next steps with confidence.

What you want to avoid is over-planning. Sometime, planning is a comfortable place to be--you get to think about big ideas without risk of actually following through on them and risking failure. Unfortunately, while over-planning seems to keep us from failing, in reality, it keeps us from succeeding. When you over-plan, you fail by default.

To avoid over-planning, make sure your planning phase isn't taking longer than it would to simply complete the task. If you're using your planning time to procrastinate on actual action, it's time to reverse course and get to work!

Action: The Pros and Cons

Certainly, action is important to any business' success. If you fail to take action, your business will simply wither and die. Fortunately, some tasks are so simple to implement that they don't require any planning--'just do it' actions are common in all businesses. If you choose to plan out every single move you'll make, you're likely going to get bogged down and fail to implement even the smallest changes.

However, action without direction is like a dog chasing its tail. Make sure that you aren't simply being busy for the sake of being busy, but that your actions are directed towards your goals in order to create the kind of success you want to see.

The Balance: Action Planning

That might sound like cheating, but stick with me for a second. Action planning is an entirely different approach to the usual planning cycle most businesses repeat year after year.

Action planning is defined as setting up a sequence of steps that must be taken for a strategy to succeed. It has three principal steps:

  1. Determining specific tasks, including who will do them
  2. Setting a specific time horizon that indicates when the task will be completed
  3. Allocating resources to ensure that needed funds and personnel are available for the task

When you start each year with an action planning session, you're not only setting the overarching goals and strategies for your business; you're planning to succeed by assigning specific actions to those goals. By assigning timelines and resources to the tasks, you're setting clear guidelines that determine how and when they will occur.

Action is important, and planning is important--action planning allows you to have the best of both worlds. When you plan specific actions for the year, you not only evaluate your business's direction and set goals; you ensure that those goals will be met in a timely manner.

What Other Successful Entrepreneurs Think:

In the process of writing this post, I decided to ask a handful of experienced and successful entrepreneurs and growth experts what they felt was ultimately more important when starting and growing a new business: planning or action?

Here are the answers and reasoning they gave me:

"Action is by far the most important part of growing a business. There's a list of a million things to do every single day--with an inbox filled with 10 or 20 more urgent things to do from customers, investors, employees, etc. If you simply PLAN to get those things done--your business is going no where." -- Ashli Norton, Co-Founder/CEO, Autosend

"Action. Shipping product to market and talking to real customers is the fastest way to validate key assumptions about your business (e.g. product-market fit, unit economics)." -- David White, CEO, Import.io

"ACTION : No amount of planning can compete with facing the uncertainties of real life or determine the metrics correctly. You need to find the levers that will enable to you to grow you business. Only then can you start planning seriously." -- Guillaume Cabane, Head of Growth Marketing, Mention

"I'm a big fan of action over planning, if you had to choose one. Too many entrepreneurs have "analysis paralysis" and never actually DO anything with their amazing business ideas. I think it's best to get started on *something*, learn from your mistakes, get feedback from your customers, and make improvements." -- Kane Thomas, Co-Founder, DoSocial

"Action will inform your plans. Your best plans will be influenced by what you learn from building product and talking to customers." -- Ryan Buckley, Cofounder, Scripted.com

"Action, or better said M.I.A (Massive Imperfect Action). No assumption survives first contact with a customer. It's best to do & iterate based on real feedback then hypotheticals."--Dan Martell, Serial Entrepreneur / Investor

"It's important to plan your work and work your plan. A plan without work is unlikely to produce results, while work without a plan is less likely to reveal the lessons and learnings that are crucial when starting or growing a new business." -- Joel Goyette, Head of Product, BetterDoctor

"Action. I think it's important to have a rough outline of a plan when getting started but success is dependent on being able to execute on your ideas and take action. Once you dive into your business you'll learn things that you couldn't have known when planning. You must take action, figure out what works and what doesn't work, and readjust from there." -- Benji Hyam, Marketing Manager, ThinkApps

Now Over To You:

In your opinion, what's ultimately more important when starting and growing a new business: planning or action? Why? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Published on: Apr 13, 2015