Insights into the Business Planning Process

The small-business owner can have a nagging feeling… What happens if I am not available?

Some see this as a good thing because it means he or she is indispensable. Others would identify it as a threat and be concerned about continuity.

If the entrepreneur intends to sell the business, he will want to communicate some sense of continuity and have systems in place for handing it over.

But even if the entrepreneur has no plans to sell, there should be a sense of order. He should aim to have the business run smoothly without him. After all, why leave the formal job to slave for the business?

Hence he should document systems and processes. Evidence of the need for this type of documentation shows itself in everything being referred to you. See if any of this applies to you: You are in meetings, and people call you “urgently” to find out who the contact is at this and that supplier. Or, they are blending a product and have to vary an ingredient, and you have to be contacted to remind them how much to use or how long it should take because no one else can do the calculations, etc. Something happened in the business two years ago, and you are called to remember how it was handled. There is a piece of software for doing routine work, and when it comes to handling certain bits of work, you have to be the one to organize access or to do that difficult little part. Customers need discounts and explanations, and you have to be called to work it out and/or approve them.

These are just some of the things that can happen day after day. Once you take a hard look at the situation, you can organize to make it work better and require less of your personal time and energy. Thus, the small-business operator should document contacts, suppliers, ideas, challenges, assumptions, quirks of the business, customers, customers’ special needs, etc. Once documented, the information is available to staff who can access it without referring to the manager.

See yourself as so organized that you can go off and relax. Alternatively, use this organization to impress the people you want to buy into your firm. Leverage technology and get the business working for you, not the other way around.

Planning to have things going on without you might be the best plan.

Most people have an aversion to precision, it seems. Sometimes when I mention some simple ideas, people look at me as if I am giving them irrelevant work. For example, I use Palm Tungsten, which is backed up on my PC, and recommend that others use similar strategies. Every time I come across a business card with some relevance, I enter the information in the Palm—at least I try to most times. I also try to link the information so I can search for some detail I might forget later.

For example, if I am at a seminar and meet someone who is able to give me information on a novel piece of equipment that will stand out, I will place some reference to the equipment in the person’s general information area. That way, if I am struggling with the name, I can enter the equipment, and when the general information comes up, I scroll around to find the contact information I need.

This works very well in other areas, too. If I hear about a new restaurant or hotel I want to try, I make a note about the interesting food, the location, or the entertainment; years later, I have been able to find such information, even after changing my PDA.

I do not like detailed work, and fiddling with gadgets does not inspire me too much. That has kept me using a few Palms because I find the information transfer easier when they crash or otherwise malfunction. I do not try to keep up with the latest because, as with cell phones, computers and software, I use a small fraction of the power and hype.

When I got a BlackBerry, I tried to upload the information from the Palm into the phone, and the fields did not always merge very well. Sometimes when I search or receive an identified call, there is a mismatch of information. Therefore, my Palm is invaluable, and using the full features of the phone is a chore. I am relating all of this to recommend that each small-business operator have an easy (preferably electronic) way to store and retrieve information.

As for the point of planning, you not only need to have access to the information—you also need to plan to have the system and the access. People are always asking me about names and numbers, etc., simply because I make an effort to store them in a simple and organized way. While I cannot claim perfection, it is extremely useful and time-saving.

So, here is what the small operator can do. Make a list of all that is done on a day-to-day basis and the other tasks for different periods. Involve others and brainstorm to find the information and processes that could be organized better.

Ask yourself if you can put your hands on files and information relevant to the issues. What about important contacts and processes? How are some decisions made? Are some decisions too much within your sole control? What changes can be made, and who else can be empowered to share the burden?

Years ago, we had a simple formulation for a blend of a product borne out of experimentation. It was not in high demand and I was involved in most of the initial preparation and sales. I am ashamed to say that, even years later, when the subject came up, people always had a tendency to call me to verify or approve something regarding the product. This wasted a lot of time and placed more demand and stress on me.

I should have made sure that everyone involved in the matter understood the issues and their roles. Then we should have recorded information and explanations, which would have avoided my later involvement every step of the way. The added benefit here is that such an approach makes it easier to achieve the continuity mentioned before and adds value to the business.

People are always impressed when they see that there is evidence of thought and organization in a business’ operations.

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About Alrick Robinson

Alrick Robinson is the Best-Selling Author of The Small Business Survival Guide: Insights into the First Two Years & Business Coach. I invite you to download a FREE Report "7 Signs You Should Explore Running Your Own Business" Plus a Surprise Bonus! at this link - http://eepurl.com/bVHO1. You may also visit my blog at http://smallbusinessmentorja.com/blog where I share small business resources and survival tips weekly.

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