Ask a mentor – business planning

The information in our Ask a mentor article series is designed to help businesses better understand some fundamentals on each topic. It is not designed as a comprehensive resource or toolkit.

What's in a business plan and do I really need one?

A business plan details how you will handle all the important aspects of your business. It identifies where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there. It is a 'living document' that will grow and change with you and your ideas.

If you are starting a new business, your business plan will help you get your idea off the ground. It will also allow you to make the most of new opportunities and identify potential risks and act before problems occur.

Most plans include information on market research, marketing, legal and risk management, operational planning, human resources and financial planning.

Planning is one of the most important things you can do to make your business successful—whether you are starting, running, expanding or exiting a business.

Learn more about business planning from our Mentoring for Growth (M4G) mentors:

Business planning webinar

Watch our business planning panel webinar recording where business experts from the M4G program provide information, tips and resources on business planning. They talk through the key elements of a business plan and how to best use it once you have one.

David Furze—M4G mentor since 2017

David Furze (M4G mentor since 2017)

David's top 3 tips for business planning

  1. Develop a strategic (3–5 year) plan on how your business will look, and what you need to do to get there.
  2. Develop a 90-day operational plan (what do you need to do in the next 90 days to move toward your 5-year view?)
  3. Set KPIs (key performance indicators) and goals that will move your business forward—you cannot manage what you do not measure, but do not measure irrelevant data.

A business plan creates a focal point to enable your business to move forward. It is a decision-making tool (does this decision help me achieve my 5-year plan?) and it is a roadmap of achieving what you want from your business. Without a plan, you are flying blind and have no strategic pathway.

The business plan template and the financial plan template on Business Queensland are good starting points, but use them as a guide into developing your own. Do not be afraid to change some things around. As long as you cover all of the points which will help your business to move forward, it will be a valuable plan.

I worked with a client who had grown quickly but did not have a plan. As such, their systems and processes were not well organised as they were implemented to meet the need—they were not very productive because of that and were losing money for every sale.

The business owner was not aware of the financial position, they had big dreams and no way of getting there. I worked with them to get clarity on their strategic direction, and then created an achievable plan to support them in their progress. They have now over $1 million in revenue (and growing) and have around 20% profit. They were also able to take a holiday for the first time since they opened the business.

Write a plan for the audience. The business plan you write to manage the business, is different from the one for the bank (for example). A good plan will give you a destination and will provide you with a guide on how to get there, how to grow, how to reduce risk and provide opportunities. Keeping an eye on the achievement of your plan is paramount. Do not write it and put it in a drawer—use it every day/week/month to support your decision making and to ensure you are continually on the right path.

Connect with David on LinkedIn.

Paul Khan—M4G mentor since 2020

Paul Khan, M4G mentor since 2020

Paul's top 3 tips for business planning

  1. Have realistic ambition and keep cash-flow issues front of mind at all times.
  2. Your plan has to talk to all your audiences.
  3. Everything relies on selling—so go deep on how you will grow.

As in life, as it is in business, being in as much control as you can of your destination is essential. A SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed) business plan with clarity of goals will give you comfort, guidance and a reference upon which your success can be judged, and where you and others who can help you adjust those plans, can do so much easier.

I was asked by small leasing business to develop their 3-year business plan that would give them huge growth. I started with an analysis of what the business does and 'why' they want to grow. This is more than a SWOT analysis, but a deep dive into the motivation of the owners. It was soon clear that they had differing visions and needs and were unwilling to invest cash equally in growth. Further analysis revealed that their assumptions of their financial strength was totally wrong. So, the business plan ended up being a 'back to basics' rescue plan which allowed them to shrink and then to grow again—which they did. This was a great example of 'why' a plan must be built on great foundations and not sand.

I believe that 'planning' is only valuable when based on knowledge and deep, honest dialogue. It cannot be just template based. 'Why' is as valuable as 'how' when developing a business plan. Strategy [to address goals] must be agile and each plan has to be true to the culture of the owners. A wordy plan that the business owners refer to once every 6 months is a waste of time—we must keep the plan alive and adapt it in real time.

Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.

Helen Cowley—M4G mentor since 2007

Helen Cowley, M4G mentor since 2007

Helen's top 3 tips for business planning

  1. Your business or strategic plan is the guide for all your well-informed strategies and decisions.
  2. The more focused your plan, the easier it is to implement.
  3. Don't let your mindset block your capability or possibilities.

Your business plan is your most essential business management tool. Business planning takes you through your thinking, where you are now, where you want to be and how you are going to get there. Business planning identifies and clarifies, analyses situations, develops strategies and gets you clear and focused on what and how you need to do things.

I often find that many businesses that have been operating for a while, that come to me, don't have a clearly focused vision, brand or planned strategies with smart goals and actions. They may have written a business plan a while ago, but they didn't realise the value in the plan they wrote. They didn't develop clear strategies and actions that related to their day-to-day decisions and what it meant to their day-to-day work.

When I work with a business, I review market and industry research and analyse their current situation and develop their strategies for 5 or so areas of their business with sets of action for the next 12 months.

  1. Master your mindset.
  2. Have a clear and focused vision and brand.
  3. Know your relationships.
  4. Create excellent systems.
  5. Monitor and control your outcomes.

Connect with Helen on LinkedIn.

Tim Stokes—M4G mentor since 2018

Tim Stokes, M4G mentor since 2018

Tim's top 3 tips for business planning

  1. Focus on strategy selection, it's what will grow the business.
  2. Set realistic achievable financial goals.
  3. Deeply understand your target market—age, demographic, location, income, education, interests, fears, desires, frustrations and buying frequency to name a few.

To obtain clarity of what the business is about, what it will sell, to who it will sell to and how with marketing strategies. The research gives the business owner clarity that leads to confidence and confidence makes a big difference.

I think anyone starting a business needs to complete a business plan and should get assistance from a business expert to help set achievable financial goals and to choose strategies that are matched to and supportive of the business's goals. Strategy choice has everything to do with the growth rate of a business, and there is much more to growing a business than just lead generation or increasing sales. I go through a business growth planning exercise with every new mentoring client and have for 25 years.

I find a business growth plan works better for established businesses—it isn't as thorough as a business plan but these clients often don't need it as much. The business growth plan I use has the key ingredients, such as setting accurate, achievable financial goals for 3, 6, 9, 12 and 24 months plus the top 12 strategies, listed in a priority order of implementation for the business owner to implement. I also look at weaknesses and opportunities as these are how I will grow the business, and help with identifying the priority strategies to focus on. I always recommend 10 to 14 strategies in my business growth plans, based on implementing or developing one strategy each month.

Look online for business planning templates, the free ones often have links to many resources online including document templates to use. The business planning content on the Business Queensland website is a good source of information and resources.

Connect with Tim on LinkedIn.

Roger Phare—M4G mentor since 2019

Roger Phare, M4G mentor since 2019

Roger's top 3 tips for business planning

  1. Be brave.
  2. Nail your niche market.
  3. Focus on your business.

The old saying 'If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there'. Having a business plan provides stretch goals, a forward—not backward view—and allows you to stay ahead of the game.

I worked with a business that assists with patriation of prisoners and provides training and career opportunities in the creative industries space. By working with them to put a business plan in place, the organisation now has a clear line of sight regarding structure, content and sustainable revenue strategies.

Plan for 3 years—not just one. Looking to 2025 provides a much more strategic 'what do I need to do that's different' rather than the 12-month view, which tends to be more business-as-usual focused.

Connect with Roger on LinkedIn.

Gerard Byrne—M4G mentor since 2018

Gerard Byrne, M4G mentor since 2018

Gerard's top 3 tips for business planning

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Grow the plan as the business grows.
  3. Engage staff in the process, have a public version.

Ideally, a business plan should guide the business and inform about the business. Practically, it can support loan, grant and tender applications. In my experience, business plans are often under-utilised in tendering by many businesses.

I’d recommend a range of resources on the Business Queensland website, including:

Look at some short business planning videos on YouTube or LinkedIn Learning. Register for a free M4G session and have a mentor critique your business plan. Or talk to your Chamber of Commerce for feedback.

Connect with Gerard on LinkedIn.

Michael Wall—M4G mentor since 2006

Michael Wall, M4G mentor since 2006

Michael's top 3 tips for business planning

  1. Ensure your plan covers all areas of your business—make sure it is a complete process.
  2. Business planning is a process, so do the process. It's not about the paper document that you create, but what you do with what you find in completing the process.
  3. Take action on your plan and review it regularly, every time something changes in your business.
  1. Planning forces you to assess the risks that you will face in your business and find solutions before they occur. You are then prepared for the worst-case scenario.
  2. In addition to risk strategies, planning also allows you to look at your entire business in terms of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
  3. The entire process is a planned approach to business which is a proactive approach to success, and without it, it's only a matter of time before an unforeseen circumstance hits your business.

Have a look at the business planning resources on the Business Queensland website, including how to write a business plan.

We recently became involved in a larger small business that had no plan and, after extensive growth, were experiencing difficulties in their business due to:

  • the loss of staff (no HR plan or model)
  • loss of profits on jobs (no financial model or benchmarking resulting in incorrect margins on quotes)
  • considerable workplace health and safety problems (an inexperienced person running the area with a lack of processes to cover the risks for the business)
  • a general lack of effective policy and procedures.

The business now has a strategic plan dealing with all areas, one at a time, to ensure that the risks associated with running their business are planned and acted on.

Your business plan needs to cover all areas of your business including legal structures, financial models, resource management, marketing and sales strategies and processes just to name a few. If you are not sure about some parts, engage a professional and make sure it is a complete process.

Connect with Michael on LinkedIn.

Lance Meikle—M4G mentor since 2019

Lance Meikle, M4G mentor since 2019

Lance's top 3 tips for business planning

  1. Having a business plan template that enables you to make a start is critical—find a template design that makes sense to you.
  2. Start, start, start!
  3. Don't finish your business plan and leave it on the shelf, spend an allocated day twice a year reviewing and updating it.
  1. Every stakeholder will take an owner and business more seriously if there is a business plan as it enables them to have confidence about investing resources in a business relationship whilst providing them with answers, thoughts and doubts they may have.
  2. Accountability—a business with a business plan means that someone or numerous people are open to being measured and critiqued. This mindset demonstrates a point-of-difference to external stakeholders.
  3. Attracting talent—'If you can't measure it, you can't manage it'. Needing to establish the answers to headings in a business plan creates a culture that enables recruits to glean comfort that the business has a direction and that the people in it can articulate its direction, vision and future.

I'd definitely recommend looking at the business planning resources on the Business Queensland website—all of them. The resources on the site are out of this world and should be, in my opinion, the absolute must go-to as the starting point for any small-medium business.

Connect with Lance on LinkedIn.

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