Through Updated March 30, 2021
It was Benjamin Franklin who immortalized the words âby failing to prepare, you prepare to failâ. Then again, the sage sage died 128 years before the 1918 pandemic and 230 years before the coronavirus pandemic struck in 2020. As the only founding father to have signed the four planning documents that established the United States , small business owners like you might be wondering what Franklin, in all his wisdom, would say about the wisdom of short, long term and strategic planning. After all, an uncontrolled “external event” like a pandemic can knock any carefully researched and carefully written plan down from its mahogany stand. So what ?
Planning with a goal
Of all the folks, Franklin could have taught valuable lessons to today’s small business owners about the value of being prepared for the immediate and long term future. He was instrumental in four key planning documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. The Constitution continues to be a “living document”, guiding decisions in all three branches of the federal government.
On a smaller scale than creating a new government, there are many benefits to planning for your small business, according to Lumen Learning. Planning can guide action, which can be invigorating as it coordinates activities to ensure specific results are achieved. It can build motivation and commitment to a cause. Once people know where they’re headed, they’re much more likely to line up.
Planning can also set performance standards and benchmarks, making it easier to periodically review goals and objectives. This improves the probability of resource allocation, almost like a falling domino. Often the biggest obstacle to any great idea is the resources required to start from square one; planning can give any great idea a sense of urgency.
Note the downsides of planning
As small business owners now know, a pandemic is just one external factor that can overwhelm the potential benefits of planning. Political unrest, strikes and natural disasters are other such factors. But if you limit this exercise to internal factors only, the downsides of planning always add up quickly. The Management Study Guide notes that these disadvantages include:
- inflexibility – a feeling that you must stick to the plan and never deviate
- discourage creativity, innovation, initiative and experimentation once the plan is defined
- generating a false sense of security and tunnel vision, resulting from putting too much stock in the plan and not seeing or reacting to changing conditions
- blinds employees to opportunities that weren’t planned and addressed
- being a tedious process, requiring research, analysis and interpretation
- loved one, removing resources from a business when they could be used for other purposes
- be made obsolete or irrelevant in the blink of an eye
Dealing with the inconveniences of scheduling
One lesson recurs throughout this list: Planning should be a fluid process, constantly monitored and adjusted so that the plan remains timely and relevant. But save the reality a little further. Just producing a planning document doesn’t guarantee it will trigger results – nor does buying multiple bags of groceries guarantee a spectacular dinner. Many ingredients go into the result.
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons of planning and feel ambivalent, IgniteSpot Accounting says you might want to try tempering the downsides of planning with a few methods. Integrate your business’s short-term goals into its longer-term goals. They should coexist peacefully. Compare all of the goals against your mission and vision statements to see if they are relevant.
Involve employees in the planning process and encourage them not to hold back. Be sure to incorporate deadlines and define roles and responsibilities – inclusions that are often omitted from plans. (Is that a reason they fail to produce?) Include benchmarks that require you to stop and assess how the plan is progressing, as well as milestones that your employees can celebrate.
You can also hire a consultant to help you if you feel like a plan has been derailed. Sometimes all that’s needed is a quick fix by an outsider – who can see things dispassionately – to get the plan back on track. Finally, plan (yes, in addition to planning) for pivots, not just simple distractions. Pivots require a quick change of direction, not just an acknowledgment that âOh yeah; things have changed.”
It’s entirely possible that the final tip is one of the biggest lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic – and a crucial teaching moment for small business owners who want to create their own ‘living documents’. Franklin, a businessman himself, could probably relate to this. As he said: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”