Tag Archive for 'planning'

Continuing education leads to more intelligent planning

The life of a small business owner is hectic, to say the least. Multi-tasking is the norm. So much of our day is spent reacting to the crisis of the moment, conducting the business of the day, and initiating our plans for the future. And once we acquire a level of competence in this life we’ve chosen, it’s natural to want to relax, settle in, and seek the ease that can come with familiarity and repetition.

But the marketplace isn’t a comfortable, lumbering vessel anymore, rolling along like a single screw trawler. It’s become more like a vibrant starship capable of warp speed. Indeed, it takes a much more knowledgeable person to successfully operate a business in today’s marketplace than it did even 10 years ago.

The great American revolutionary and legendary wordsmith, Thomas Paine, said, “I have seldom passed five minutes of my life, however circumstanced, in which I did not acquire some knowledge.” This from a corset maker who dropped out of school at 13.

You can’t anticipate everything, so react when you must. The business of the day, obviously, must be attended to. And what will you have tomorrow if you don’t plan for it?

But however circumstanced, before you succumb to the human tendency to rest on your laurels, make it part of your daily tasks to acquire some knowledge.

Make it your daily intention to learn something new that might help you react more effectively, operate more profitably, and plan more intelligently.

Does your business use lights or gauges?

Trick question: If your business were a car, would the dashboard have warning lights or gauges? The correct answer is gauges because they provide incremental information, while a light is either on or off.

Business gauges are financial statements, numbers and ratios that anticipate attention; warning lights often don’t reveal a problem until it’s too late.

Let’s take a look at these two different dashboards addressing the same three issues:

Inventory warning light: Check Inventory!

This light flashes when you’re out of stock. Oh, you’ve got plenty of inventory, but it’s poorly distributed across lines and you don’t have what customers want now.

Inventory gauge: This is your balance sheet, which helps you see inventory creeping up in any month so you can immediately check stocking levels to get them back in line.

Inventory is cash you can’t spend until a customer pays for it. Can your cash flow wait for a light to flash before you make inventory adjustments?

Payroll caution light: High payroll!

A payroll light only comes on when this expense is already too high. By then you may have made hiring and compensation commitments you can’t justify.

Payroll gauge: The needle on the payroll gauge identifies the payroll-to-sales ratio including a breakdown of how much you should pay sales, management, production, etc.

Payroll is likely your largest operating expense. Do you want to wait for a light to flash or manage it with the incremental movement of a needle?

Growth danger light: Excessive speed!

This light blinks when your working capital engine has reached redline operating levels. By that time, either your internal systems are over extended, you will have grown yourself out of business, or both.

Growth gauge: Certain financial ratios and a cash flow projection are the growth gauges that indicate if you have the working capital to expand or if you should slow down until you’ve acquired the capital to grow successfully.

With sustainable success depending on sound growth decisions, you need the incremental immediacy of a gauge, not the vagueness of a blinking light.

Business gauges are the numbers on your financial statements and the ratios they produce. Like gauges on a car’s instrument panel, when displayed accurately and checked regularly, they move in small increments to show positive trends or alert you to a specific dangerous direction.

Astute business operators not only manage the movement of their operating gauges but also understand the cause-and-effect relationship each gauge has with another.

Write this on a rock …

Businesses that survive long-term have gauges on their dashboard, not warning lights.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

A business plan and business planning

A business plan is the result of thinking, researching, strategizing, and reaching conclusions about how to pursue opportunities. It may exist only in the head of the planner, but it’s better when written down.

Whether elaborate or simple, a written business plan is an assembly of facts, ideas, assumptions and projections about the future. Here are three ways to use a written plan:

  1. Document the due diligence on a new business or the future of an existing one.
  2. Evaluate opportunities and challenges, and compare them with your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Assist when getting a bank loan and essential when courting investors.

So how does a static, written plan work when a business is always in motion? It works when you turn your plan into planning. A plan is like a parked car; planning is taking that car on a trip.

Planning is measuring your business motion against the baseline of assumptions and projections you made in your plan. Planning allows you to see how smart you were when the plan was written, or where your research and assumption skills need work. It also highlights external forces you face.

Written business plans often become collateral damage during challenging economic times. But you can’t allow planning to meet the same fate. Indeed, when things slow down there is even greater need to check your position than when things are rocking and rolling.

Here is a critical two-step planning activity that is the heart of a business plan and the essence of planning. Beginning with these will help you operate more successfully anytime, but especially when things are slow.

  • Build a 12-month cash flow spreadsheet in a program like Excel, so you can project and track the monthly relationship between cash collections and cash disbursements from all sources. This planning tool will provide a rolling picture of cash flow in any given month.
  • Look at the “Ending cash” number at the bottom of each month’s column. A negative number in any month means you’ll need to add cash from sales, reduce expenses, add cash from another source, like a bank loan, or some combination.

A banker once told me that if I could bring him only one financial document with a loan request it should be a 12-month cash flow projection that included both how the borrowed cash would be used and the debt service. I always listen to my banker and you should too.

I talked more about business plans and planning on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. I’ve also talked with Tim Berry, the guru of business planning, founder of Palo Alto Software and author of The Plan As You Go Business Plan, about the difference in business planning and a business plan. Take a few minutes to click on the links below and listen, plus leave your ideas on how planning helps your small business.

Write your business plan, but practice business planning with Jim Blasingame

The difference between business planning and a business plan with Tim Berry




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