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Build a plan

May 10, 2016 -  By

Do you want to have a successful business? Really successful? Do you want to make money? Real money? Do you want to avoid 72-hour weeks? Have time with your family? Have a company that’s worth a lot in the future? Of course you do. Well, it doesn’t happen by accident; it takes planning. You need to have a plan.

For the dozens of companies we’ve worked with and owners we’ve talked to, we find that if they don’t plan for at least one year, the company runs them instead of the reverse. So ask yourself:

  • Do you have a current written plan in the hands of all your key people?
  • How often do you review the plan? What changes have you made to the plan?
  • How much time do you allow for planning, and how often do you plan? Annually? Quarterly? Monthly? Weekly? Daily?
  • What are the key areas in the plan?
  • What goals have you set? Are you achieving those goals?
  • If you were to change the way you plan, how would that be?

If you don’t have the answers to these questions, then perhaps it’s time to build a plan. So why not take time this winter and build one? The following are simple tips to help you prepare for a planning session.

Surveys, fact finding, lessons learned.

Before you start planning, prepare. Gather as much information beforehand as possible. Suggested items are employee and customer surveys, financial and sales reports and results, and lessons learned (good and bad). Also, conduct one-on-one sessions with key employees to get their input.

Who attends?

This topic can be sensitive, so be careful and considerate. Sometimes it’s difficult to invite some team members and not others to this process. Send the invite at least a few weeks ahead of time so employees can prepare.

When to hold planning meetings?

You should conduct planning meetings two months before the start of a new fiscal year. For most companies, this timing would be from October to Dec. 15. This way, you have enough information to use from the current year, and you will have the plan completed, reviewed and adopted before the start of the next fiscal year. The plan will have fresh legs and positive energy for a start to the new fiscal year.

Have an agenda.

Make an agenda with clear expectations, let participants know if they should prepare anything for the planning session and start and end on time. If there are problems, issues or missed opportunities that need to be resolved, spend 10 percent of the time talking about the problem and 90 percent of the time deciding on the solution and action steps needed to remedy the situation or move forward.

Where to hold your meeting?

If possible, don’t hold these types of meetings at your place of business. Usually, we like to have them at an off-site location, maybe at a client’s facility, such as a hotel, the back room of a restaurant or a homeowner association clubhouse. Hold it in a quiet, comfortable room that has enough space where you aren’t likely to experience interruptions.

How long should the planning session be?

These meetings will vary depending on the size and complexity of your company and where it’s heading. At a minimum, it will require a four-hour session. For larger, more complex companies, it can take as long as two days. For most companies, though, this meeting is a half- to full-day session.

Facilitate or not to facilitate?

If planning is new to your organization, having a meeting facilitator is a good idea. If you feel confident about your meeting facilitation skills, got for it.

Take action.

Be prepared to review and decide what areas need work. Examples are your vision and mission statement, sales and marketing, customers and financials. Also, perform a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of your company and your competition. Then decide what best practices need to be implemented or tuned up.

Follow up.

Pick one to three key areas that will have the most positive effects on the organization, and assign champions to these areas. Identify time frames to accomplish goals and how you’ll measure the results of your efforts. Review your progress regularly, but don’t wait until the next year’s planning session to review that progress.

If you follow these suggestions, you should be in a good position to build your plan. Remember, by having a well-executed plan, many good things will happen for you and your organization.


Bill Arman, an author and speaker, is co-founder of The Harvest Group, a landscape industry consulting firm. Reach him at

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