by Mike Chiricuzio Blue Moon Solutions, Inc. (Dr. Printing) If this a business plan is so important why is it so often missing, or just living in a file folder known only to the person who wrote it? September 8, 2005 -- In her July article for OnDemandJournal, Barbara Pellow, Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President, Graphic Communications Group, Eastman Kodak Company states that today's print service providers "need to develop a solid business strategy". I could not agree more. A strategic business plan clearly describes the business concept, the mission, the vision and the business philosophy, as well as the methodology for achieving and tracking the goals of the plan. So, if this is so important to the ongoing success of a business, why is it so often missing, or, just as bad, why is there sometimes a plan that sits in a file folder, known only to the person who wrote it? The answer? Human Nature. That's right. Somewhere buried deep in our genetic code there is a defect that causes us to choose chaos and confusion over planning, tracking and success, as this is often seen as the path of least resistance, which is what we always choose, right? Here's a list of some of my favorites, in order of brevity: "We're too busy." "We don't know how to do it." "We did it, but just so we could get our SBA loan." "We have one our consultant wrote, but we don't understand it." "We have a plan; it's there in the fire safe so that nothing can happen to it." "Our business is really good, and the margins are better than every. Why should we?" And my favorite: "I have a clear vision and plan, it's in my head, and I run the company. Everyone here understands the goals, why should I waste my time writing it all down?" Sometimes I don't even know where to begin in responding. I'm certainly in no position to tell the owner of a business, successful or not, that they're wrong, right? Wrong. I am in that position, as that is part of my job, and I have been that person. I've had and used all those excuses. And I was wrong. Somewhere buried deep in our genetic code there is a defect that causes us to choose chaos and confusion. And whenever you believe that your team has your perspective, you're wrong. Whenever you believe that your team understands a vision that you have not properly communicated and articulated, you're wrong. And, whenever the plan, whether written or not, comes entirely from you, you're wrong, and you and your team are headed for missed opportunities and serious disappointment. Ok, I've said it. Don't get mad. And, yes, I understand there are no absolutes, and there are businesses that run forever without having such a planning process in place. And there are business owners that are pretty good at communicating with their team and getting satisfactory results. But, is satisfactory good enough? For that matter, is it not always the goal to improve results, even if they are very good? So, with all the reasons (read: excuses) I've mentioned, and many that I haven't, what's the roadblock that we can do something about? Not knowing how, and not having a resource and/or tool to work with. This is something that we at Blue Moon Solutions recognized recently while working with members of a Peer Group called S3, a program from Caslon (the management company of PODi). In response to this need, a simple to use template was created for members of the S3 Peer Group for preparing their Strategic Plan as part of the Peer Group's managed curriculum. As a result, the tool has been reworked and refined, and is now being offered as a standalone product, including training, assistance and analysis. If we're already reluctant as business owners to start a planning process, almost any impediment can be enough to keep us from ever getting it off the ground. There is nothing magic in the product or process, but knowledge of how to prepare and utilize a strategic plan is not widespread or necessarily readily available. If we're already reluctant as business owners to start a planning process, almost any impediment can be enough to keep us from ever getting it off the ground. However, the basics of such a process are neither difficult nor hugely time consuming. Let's sneak a peek (with permission) at what's involved in the planning process using the Caslon tool: SWOT Analysis Helps you understand where you need to make improvements, where to leverage your strengths, and how to exploit opportunities and handle threats. Management Team Commitments A written commitment by the owner and stakeholders involved as part of the strategic planning team to make changes that will help the company be successful in the future. The 'Report Card' A snapshot of your company's progress using key financial metrics. 3-Year Goals and Strategies Where the company is currently at, what the 3-year goals are, how you will achieve those goals, and who is accountable. Priorities and Timeframes Assign priority levels and timeframes as to when predetermined strategic goals will be met. Markets and Applications Understand what markets & applications you're in and how to leverage new ones. Revenue Mix Input Historical 3-year and projected revenue mix for various margin categories to help you determine profitability in the future and expected gross margin. Customer Analysis Spending and customer revenue data for targeted key customer for profitability analysis. The Result What's critical to remember is that the process is as important as the resulting plan, and who you select to be part of the planning team will largely determine not only the value of the resulting strategic plan in terms of quality, but also in terms of 'buy-in'. You can't create the plan by yourself and get this sense of ownership and accountability; it must be a team effort. After going through the process, you and the team end up with a very good sense of where you are, where you want to be, what it will take to get there, and who's doing what and when. Sounds simple, right? When done right, it is. This then becomes a valuable tool moving forward, the baseline by which you measure your performance vs. expectations and the flexible guide that allows you to be nimble, wise and profitable. And none of those are bad things to be. If you'd like more information on the Caslon Strategic Planning program, let me know.