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Creating an Action Plan for your Canadian Small Business

By Julie King |

A business plan is a snapshot of the essence of your business, capturing your vision. Your greatest expectations. Your dreams.

Business consultants will emphasize the need to plan for future growth and the business plan is an excellent tool. However, too often planning stops with the written document. To have a powerful document, you need to chart out things you need to do to see your ideas turn into real-world accomplishments. In short, you need an action plan for your business.

So how can you do that? Simply follow these five steps.

1. Identify achievable goals

Your plan for your business — whether it is a formal document or ideas you've not yet committed to paper — needs to cover all aspects of your business, from what you will sell to who you will hire. Written or not, there are five major categories to consider:

  1. Marketing
  2. Sales
  3. HR and Operations
  4. Technology Solutions
  5. Accounting and Finances

Your first step is to break down your vision for your business into concrete, measurable goals. Set targets for the number of customers you expect to have, the types of products you will sell, the tactical materials you will need (sales and operational) and any systems you will need to develop and/or refine.

Your goals will be very different depending on whether you are a start-up or an established business. Start-ups may be focused on attracting their first customers, creating supporting marketing materials and taking care of legal and accounting aspects of the business. An established business may be more focused on things like expanding staff, growing market share, implementing systems that will help the company operate more efficiently or even buying other business and/or franchising their own company.

Try to be very specific — if your goals are too broad, it will be difficult to put them into action. It is important to map out a clear timeline for your goals; try setting goals for each quarter. Most importantly, write them down on paper and set due dates for each major goal.

2. Now brainstorm and break them down

Once you have identified the major goals for your first year, it is time to break these down into micro goals that you can accomplish on a weekly and daily basis. Creative, out-of-the-box thinking can go a long way towards getting high impact results from low-cost actions.

Break down each major goal you have set into a to-do list of actions that you will need to do to accomplish each goal on time. This process will help you set achievable goals.

  1. Set a time budget. Time is often an entrepreneur's most treasured asset. Take a realistic look at your schedule and assign a time budget to each major goal on your list.
  2. Set a monetary budget. Money will determine what you are able to do. For example, you may wish to implement a customer database built to your exact specifications, but that may not be something you can afford. Decide what you can afford to spend and then assign a monetary budget to each of your main goals.
  3. Get creative. Brainstorm the concrete actions — your tactics — that will let you achieve your goals.
  4. Create micro-goals. Taking your time and monetary budgets into consideration, now take the time to break down each major goal into a series of steps that you will take to achieve the goal. These micro-goals will probably have a weekly — and in some cases a daily — schedule.

When you brainstorm, try to think out-of-the-box. Some things will be obvious, but in other areas you may be able to find high-impact, low-cost ways to achieve your goals.

Think laterally. Can you amplify your marketing results by working with non-competitive businesses? Can social media help you reach customers? Are there free online software tools that can save you money?

Put as many ideas as possible down on paper and write them all down. A bad idea may be the spark of inspiration for the best ideas you have.

3. Prioritize your goals and double check your costs

Once you have your ideas on paper it is time to decide what you can afford. Consider these two questions as you evaluate your options:

  • Prioritize your goals, deciding what you absolutely must do and what actions can be implemented with a lower-cost solution.
  • Evaluate your expected Return-On-Investment (ROI), spending your time and money on the actions that are likely to be most successful.

A simple spreadsheet will go a long way towards helping you map out your priorities and budget.

It helps to put your estimated costs into a projected profit and loss statement for your business. For a start-up business, this can involve a lot of guesswork. Fortunately the federal government has provided a helpful tool, the SME Benchmarking Tool, which will let you see year-end profit and loss statements from real Canadian companies, available for each North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code.

For an existing business I like to create two columns for each month, where the first column shows the regular ongoing business earnings and expenses in each category, with the second column showing additional costs and revenues for new activities. This approach can help you picture the money you will be investing into your action plan and it also lets you project what new sales are expected from your efforts.

4. Add a Timeline

It's now time to add a timeline to your action plan. It helps to rough in the timeline on a monthly basis at first and then refine it as time progresses.

Here is an excerpt of a sample timeline based on a semi-final marketing plan for someone starting a business in Canada:

Action Plan: One Month of Micro Goals | Category = Marketing

  • May 1: Sign-up for my industry association
  • May 1: Purchase and install a contact relationship management system (CRM)
  • May 1 - 10: Develop a database of prospective customers
  • May 10: Create copy for a brochure
  • May 15: Print copies of draft brochure for feedback from trusted friends and advisors
  • May 11 - 20: Interview and hire a sales assistant
  • May 21: Begin sales outreach to prospective clients

5. As your final step, create achievable "I CAN" memories

The following visualization strategy is often used by Olympic athletes in their pursuit of the gold. It may sound strange, but this technique works wonders.

Reflecting on the process you went through to create an action plan for your business, close your eyes and visualize the success that you wish to achieve. Try to picture your business with as much detail as possible. It may sound strange, but the more senses you engage, the more successful your visualization will be.

Build a clear picture of your "success memory". Can you see yourself meeting with potential customers, shaking hands, closing deals? See yourself at your best, projecting the image you wish others to see. Can you hear the people around you as you are busy at work? Are there any smells that are part of your business experience? If so, try to sense those as well.

Let yourself relax as you go through this exercise, breathing deeply and feeling as comfortable as possible.

Now prepare yourself.

To achieve the success you have just visualized you will have to work hard. There will be great days, but there will likely also be tough days, the kind of days that make you want to quit or but-back on your ambitions.

But true achievers don't quit. They plan and then they find ways to adapt when the plan isn't working. They "endeavor".

This memory is something you can draw on as you take action. Whether you are feeling nervous about a big meeting, distracted by different tasks competing for your attention, or are overwhelmed by challenging business issues, you can take a few deep breaths and draw on this memory.

Talk to yourself. Remember. And hope. When it comes to self talk in our own minds, we are the movie director and are the ones who control the script. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of allowing discouraging or de-motivating self-talk to fill your thoughts.

This is your action plan. It is your dream. So if things get tough, remember the most important thing: these are your goals and you CAN achieve them, even if it means you need to occasionally update or alter the original course you set in your action plan.

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