Writing Your Business Plan - Podcast Transcript

writing business plan podcast

[00:00:05.450] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

Hello, and welcome to the Complete Small Business Show podcast. I am your podcasting host Gus Ryan (Host). The Complete Small Business Show will deliver short bursts of knowledge designed to help SME owners navigate some aspects of business life that might not be their area of expertise. For example, in our podcaster series one, we looked at human resources. In series two, we covered promoting your business online. And in series three, we are going to take a look at leadership, strategy, and planning for SME owners to do that. In each episode, we will talk to Carol O'Reilly from Redwood and Co. Redwood and Co is an international collective of highly experienced learning and development specialists, business coaches, and trainers. Carol is the founder of Redwood and Co. And has over 20 years’ experience in business management, leadership, and organizational development across the United States and Europe. 

Prior to her business coaching career, carol was the Executive Assistant to Estee Lauder, a time in her life that she likes to refer to as her Devil Wears Prada years. In episode four, Carol is going to share some great advice on how to write a really effective business plan. 

[00:01:34.270] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

Okay, so, Carol, John Lennon had a great quote about, life is what gets in the way when you are busy making plans. And the same applies to work. The work can be deemed more important than the future gazing or planning. So how important is it to get a strategy or a plan down in writing and agreed among the stakeholders? 

[00:01:51.470] - Carol O'Reilly 

It is a great quote by John Lennon, and actually, on a level, it is one I agree with. However, in business, I think there is a difference between just getting the work done and knowing where and how that work fits together and also with where you want to go and how you want to get there. We touched on these in the previous episode as the pre work of sorts to business planning, things like defining your purpose, values and your value proposition. But it is really from here, that future gazing that we called it there, that business planning comes into its own and can help you. And it helps you more in the here and now than anything else. Believe it or not, even though it is about planning, it helps you decide what needs to happen now to actually create that future. So, in that way, it helps you to shape your business, prioritize what needs doing and by whom, and make some of those tough choices that are required today to actually enable your tomorrow. So, all that pre-work where your vision is about creating an image of what you want your business to be at some point in the future, and in a way that probably inspires and motivates others. 

Defining that mission, which is about what your business is, why it exists and its reason for being, exploring those values, about your principles and standards that guide the way in which you do business and your value proposition. It is about what makes you different and attractive to the market. Well, all those actually serve as really context now for the business planning process. All right, so with business planning, you are looking to further link all those together by taking them down a level, probably articulating them into more specific goals and detailing out how you are going to actually achieve them. So, it really is about pausing, and kind of business planning is around having done all that big stuff, bringing it down and starting to really get your head around what needs to happen. Who do I need to involve in it? How much can I get done in what space of time? Looking to make it as what they call it as smart as possible. For me, the process of getting it down on paper, whether it be a one pager or multiple pages, is about the discipline of clarity. This clarity is typically a resultant of some really rigorous analysis combined with probably some critical decision making that you have to go through. 

But it is from this clarity that the real benefits of business planning kick in. For those involved in the business plan itself, it nurtures passion and commitment, often fueled by the conflict that the process invites. And in this context, I see the conflict as constructive as well as collective thinking about the overall business and the linkages between parts of the business, not something as negative. It is about actually learning through the process of thinking with others, that type of conflict. Okay. 

[00:04:33.800] – Gus Ryan (Host) Yeah. 

[00:04:34.390] Carol O'Reilly 

For those not directly involved in the business planning process, what it does is it brings context to the what of their role when you do finally share it with them. It allows them to see their place and their value in the business and it offers them some decision-making parameters within their own roles. People become clear on where the work and efforts are taking them, how you see the distribution of resources being best served and putting in place metrics that will let you all know the type of progress being made so that both course corrections can be proactively made and successes actually, which is just as important celebrated along the way. I suppose in this regard, I see the business plan as a part of the business's daily life, really not a separate event or something that is only about the future, but something that guides decision making today so that tomorrow can be realized. It should certainly not be just a piece of paper that gets trotted out yearly or even quarterly. It is a critical tool and guideline for daily decisions in one's business. And not just for the owners of the managers, but if designed and communicated out properly, for everyone involved in the business. 

[00:05:41.230] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

So, it sounds like it shouldn't be just what we used to call the big hairy audacious goal. It should have, like not I want to be one of the top renowned companies in my field. It should be I want to grow by 20%. 

[00:05:53.700] - Carol O'Reilly 

Yes. Much more. 

[00:05:54.800] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

Something like that. 

[00:05:55.540] - Carol O'Reilly 

Exactly. It is about taking that detail down if you say something I want to grow by, but that is not a plan. That is actually the goal. But what you are looking to do in the business planning process is, all right, if that is what I want to achieve, what do I need to get there? And it is starting to bring that down into something then that everybody understands how the pieces of the business not only fit together but work together to achieve. 

[00:06:17.420] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

Those goals and their role in it. 

[00:06:19.930] - Carol O'Reilly 


[00:06:20.520] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

Maybe not even names on paper, but maybe names on paper. 

[00:06:23.420] - Carol O'Reilly 

But maybe names on paper. Absolutely. 

[00:06:25.370] - Gus Ryan (Host) 


[00:06:26.280] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

So, what is the biggest blockage to writing an effective business plan? And how do we get over that? 

[00:06:31.100] - Carol O'Reilly 

The challenge here, I think, is that for many SME owners struggling with the idea of having to first devote time and resources to defining their strategy is what kind of holds them up. They often have a general sense of where they hope things will go and lead them, but they also like to keep their options open as well. That is typical entrepreneurial spirit. Kind of like, let's just play this out a bit, right? So, I hear statements like, let's see how things developed, let's see how our customers respond, let's see what our competitors are doing, and then we can plan. And although those challenges are useful and indeed need to be acted on through the living of the business plan, they should not stop one from first defining their strategy and writing their business plan. Does that make sense? 

[00:07:16.280] - Gus Ryan (Host) 


[00:07:16.760] - Carol O'Reilly 

Okay. Having to choose and commit to one clear road is often a real barrier to actually sitting down and writing a business strategy. There are so many options out there. Getting someone to commit to one is actually kind of that puts a lot of pressure on a business owner. I am going to actually commit to this one now. I have it on paper rather than being seen themselves a bit more fluid and responding as they might like. Okay, so the whole thing can be seen as daunting as there are many hard choices that will need to be made along the business planning process. Choice is not so much built on right or wrong, but more on this or that or this and that type questions. So, to get around it, one needs to reframe this investment of time and energy as something that is done for right now as well as for the future. Recreate the future from today. After all, there is an excellent book called The Three Box Solution by a fellow called V j. Govinaharin. I call him VJ for short that speaks to this. In it he talks about strategy as looking to balance a company's often competing realities of the past, present and future. 

So working on a business plan in this context is not about sacrificing the current business, but rather focusing on those choices in today's current business that will enable tomorrow 

[00:08:35.010] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

The difference between a right and wrong question or a this and that do you have a for instance there? Like is there a good example of a dis or that question? 

[00:08:41.580] - Carol O'Reilly 

So for instance, should you enter a new geographical region? All right, you have two choices. So, you might say, all right, should I go into the UK market, or would I go into the French market? So, given all the context of Brexit and things at the moment, you lost choices, right? So, it is not, look, can I do this or that? Is it right to go into the UK market or wrong? Or is it a choice that actually I am going to hedge this one, return better results or give me something more. There is often no right or wrong in those decisions. It is actually making the decision and then seeing how to make the most of. 

[00:09:16.230] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

I am doing it and let's see how we go kind of thing. 

[00:09:18.840] - Carol O'Reilly 


[00:09:19.480] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

Very good. So, to sum up, can you give us three tips or steps for SMEs on how to capture an effective and meaningful business plan or strategy on paper? 

[00:09:28.470] - Carol O'Reilly 

Okay, let's see, here are a few steps and models that perhaps can help deliver an effective business strategy. The first is to be sure to gather the facts. I think to know where you are heading, you kind of have to know where you are right now. So, before you start looking ahead, you should review kind of past performance and your current situation. Look at each area of the business and determine what worked well, what could have been better and what opportunities do you think lie ahead. There are lots of tools and techniques available to help you with that. Very popular would be the SWOT. So, it is one that regularly gets kind of trotted out that takes a look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and is a real good analysis to understanding what is going on. You need to look internally at your strengths and weaknesses so that is that end of the SWOT, the OT end is actually taking a look at your opportunities, is looking more externally. And as you look to those external factors, there is probably one other framework that might be worth mentioning and that is the pestle. So, the pestle again is just an acronym really for taking a look at your surroundings. 

So, in that regard, pestle stands for the political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental landscape that you are facing. All right. And really taking a look at what threats and opportunities could arise under each of those categories really brings new insights as you start to take a look at your business. All right. The most important part of the process is involving the right people in those analysis though to make sure you are collecting the most relevant information. So having maybe as a small SME owner you might have a go at it yourself, but you would certainly want to invite challenge from what other people in your business are seeing. I think that is really valuable to get other people to look at it. You might even go so far as to take a look at asking some of your customers or some of your suppliers to get involved in that process for you if they are really in that partnering kind of mindset to really bring new challenge things you might be missing into view. 

[00:11:22.270] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

So, it becomes the business's goal or aspiration rather than just the boss man. 

[00:11:28.170] - Carol O'Reilly 

Exactly. Yeah. 

[00:11:28.890] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

It is the whole company then getting involved. Very good. 

[00:11:30.940] - Carol O'Reilly 

Absolutely. All right. A second kind of tip or framework that might help is really to take a look at identifying your strategic objectives then. So that would come after you gather all your facts. What do you want to do? Okay, so at that stage, what you are really aiming for is to develop a set of high-level objectives for all areas of the business. They need to highlight the priorities and inform the plans that will ensure delivery of the company's vision and mission. By taking a look back at the SWAT and the pestle, you can incorporate any identified strengths and weaknesses into your objectives then. And crucially, your objectives in that regard must be labelled what we call SMART. All right, so that is the acronym for specific measurable, Achievable, realistic and time related. All your objectives should really include such factors as KPIs, resource allocation and budget requirements as well. So, you are really starting to drill down kind of saying, all right, this is the objective, but actually what it is going to take to get it over the line. 

Okay. So, you are identifying those objectives and bringing them down. And that is where we come into the third part, which is starting to define those tactical plans. Okay. Putting some meat on the bones of your strategy by translating the strategic objectives into more detailed short-term plans. These plans contain actions for departments and functions or individuals, even, as you were saying earlier, who needs to be doing what and how and by when to make the first step towards that longer term goal. In that way, you are now focusing on measurable results and communicating to stakeholders what they need to do and when. You even need to think of these tactical plans as maybe short-term sprints to execute the strategy in practice. So even thinking about your business plan laid out as short-term sprints that enable steps towards the longer view is a useful framework, I think, to make it seem more practical about something that, as you said earlier, this big, hairy, audacious thing that you have to kind of tackle. All right, breaking it down into the day to day brilliant. 

[00:13:30.790] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

So, if anyone is struggling with a business plan, even if they did like the SWOT, the PESTLE the SMART and then tactics around those three things, I mean, that would be that they had probably grow ideas out of that and it would grow legs, as they say. 

[00:13:45.240] - Carol O'Reilly 

And that is exactly the point. What it does is it starts a fuller conversation in your head and actually, among others, around the entirety of the business. So instead of isolating out marketing or isolating out production or finance, you are actually starting to knit them all together by considering the totality of it all. And that is really you have to think about the whole business. And really what the business planning process does is it invites you to stop working in the business and start working on your business. 

[00:14:13.840] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

Very good. Great way to leave us. Thanks for mailing, Carol. 

[00:14:16.360] - Carol O'Reilly 

Thank you. 

[00:14:30.630] - Gus Ryan (Host) 

So, there you go. Lots of great advice on how to get your business plan down on paper. For more podcast episodes like these, head over to the Virgin Media Business, Ireland’s leading business broadband provider and that is at www.virginmedia.ie/business.

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