- Most people never reach the goals they identify as New Year’s resolutions because they fail to plan for how they will achieve them.
- Business owners who write thoughtful, thorough long- and short-term plans are more likely to reach their financial goals.
- Entrepreneurs can adapt the planning strategies of sales professionals to their own businesses to make their goals a reality.
If your New Year’s resolutions included getting more exercise, saving money or eating healthier, you’re in good company; the research firm YouGov says those are the top changes Americans promised themselves they would make in 2020.
If you’ve already blown your resolutions, you’re also running with the pack: Research from time management firm Franklin Covey says a third of us ditch our resolve by the end of January, and 88 percent eventually abandon those annual goals.
The reason for the low success rate—no question—is a lack of planning. Success doesn’t come from hoping for it or writing a goal on a list of resolutions. Success sprouts from thoughtful, detailed planning.
That’s true not only for New Year’s resolutions, though. Whether you’re trying to quit smoking or hoping to double your small business’s profits, a thorough plan will make it far more likely to happen.
Studies have shown that:
- Companies with plans grow 30 percent faster than those without them.
- 71 percent of fast-growing, family-owned companies make plans that include budgets and sales and marketing strategies.
- Investors with plans tend to increase their retirement savings two to three times more than those who do not plan.
The good news: The experience that most successful entrepreneurs have with business planning can make writing new plans for specific goals that much easier.
Sales professionals, for example, are great planners. They set short-term goals for each sale and long-term goals for each year and beyond. They identify five key elements as they make their plans—a process that can help any business owner.
1. Identify your goal
One of the greatest values of planning is that it forces you to focus on what you really want. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t be able to plan for it. If you can’t plan for it, you are extremely unlikely to get it.
The planning process gives you the opportunity to figure out exactly what it is you want. Once you have a specific goal, you can plot out a strategy for what you have to do to achieve it.
During the exercise of planning, you can identify the people who can help you get what you have decided is important to you. And it will lead you to take the action you need to take in order make it happen.
When you start your plan, look to the end. What’s your goal? What does success look like for you?
A long-range plan will direct your steps as you progress in your career or plot out how much you need to earn—and what you have to do to earn it, for example. A plan for how to keep a New Year’s resolution or handle a single important transaction, on the other hand, will prepare you for a more immediate goal like asking a new client for business, for example, or recruiting a skilled professional away from a competitor, or shaving 10 percent off of your expenses.
Making a plan, whether it’s for your overall success or for a single transaction, can radically improve your chances that you will even take a shot at reaching your goal. It can propel you to take the action you need to achieve your goals. A study published in Small Business Economics, for example, found that entrepreneurs who created business plans were 152 percent more likely to actually start those businesses.
2. Identify helpful colleagues
Nobody becomes successful without help from someone. So your plan should identify the people who have the authority to say “yes” to your requests for favors, advice, introductions and whatever else you need to succeed.
It’s simply a waste of time, when you’re moving toward a good outcome, to ask the wrong person for help. It doesn’t do any good to try to negotiate with someone who doesn’t have the authority to shake hands on the deal.
Once you identify the right people, do some research on them. Do they have a history of pitching in for your cause or supporting businesses like yours? Are they super busy people who favor early-morning meetings that won’t interfere with the work day? Do you know someone who can introduce you? You’re the one asking for help, so make it as easy as possible for the other person to help you.
Most important, though, is to include potential benefactors and supporters in your plan. Even the most competent, capable, resourceful business owners need help—and ask for it—on a regular basis. Plan to get the help you need from the people who can definitely help you.
3. Identify gaps
One thing successful business owners tend to be good at is knowing what they don’t know. Once you identify what you need to do to achieve your goal, honestly evaluate whether you have the skills, expertise and time to do those things.
If you don’t, include in your plan a strategy for acquiring those skills—whether it’s learning them yourself by taking training, asking experts for advice, or hiring staff or consultants to guide you.
Consider this story about the owner of a small interior design business. His staff of half a dozen designers and decorators find their own clients, mostly through friends of friends and referrals from satisfied customers.
Business was good, but the owner knew it could be better if the designers followed a more formal process for bringing in new customers. So he required each one of them to set up social media accounts as a tool to show off their talents and advertise the business.
It was a great idea, but they didn’t do it. It turns out, they didn’t know how. Neither did the owner.
Do you know how to do what needs doing to reach the goal you’re planning to achieve? Does your staff?
There’s no shame in asking for help or for enrolling in a class to learn something that will help your business succeed. And if your success depends on your employees or colleagues, it’s a good idea to learn if they know how to do what you’re asking—instead of assuming that they do.
4. Identify your weaknesses.
A plan will help you create a strategy to overcome any weaknesses you have so they don’t get in your way as you try to reach your goal.
Do you tend to get emotional, angry or offended when you don’t get what you need from people you believe could help you? Plan for how you will respond when someone tells you “no” or throws cold water on your ideas.
Planning will help you take a step back before you put yourself in a position to react. It allows you to figure out how you will handle any situation—before you’re in it. It will help you figure out how to go about asking for what you want and where else to look for help if your first effort fails.
A plan will give you confidence. It will give you a blueprint for any transaction.
5. Identify your comfort level
The more you prepare for a transaction that can help you reach your goal, the more confident you will be during that transaction.
Preparation is a confidence booster. Consider how much you would prepare to give a speech to a group of fellow business owners: You would overprepare so you would look confident and sound authoritative.
The same level of planning is necessary before every interaction you expect to have with someone who has the choice of saying “yes” or “no” to whatever you’re asking for.
Planning gives you the opportunity to organize your thoughts, do the research that will make you an expert, rehearse the conversation, prepare to answer questions and muster the courage to take the next step—like approaching an important person, asking for a business loan or making a big financial commitment on behalf of your company.
Planning will ensure that you’re just as prepared—or better—than anyone you might have to convince in the process of achieving your goals.
Planning leads to confidence. Your own confidence is key to instilling confidence in those who can help you reach your goals. Your confidence is key when it comes time to taking the action that will make your dreams come true.