Congratulations! You put a lot of research and thought into writing your business plan—and it’s finally finished. That’s a big accomplishment, and now you have a valuable road map for starting a business that will thrive. Be sure and celebrate this milestone!
Because so much goes into building your business plan, it’s tempting to think that once it’s done, you’re in the clear—all that’s left to do is open your doors and let things take their course. But actually, there are a few simple things you can do to give your new company a smart, strategic foundation, so you have a better chance to grow and succeed.
(A quick note: Of course, you may need to use your new business plan to get some funding—maybe a bank loan or money from an angel investor or venture capitalist. If that’s the case, our team has covered the topics of getting funded and pitching to investors in detail on Bplans. But you’ll still need to do the steps in this article as well.)
Once you start doing business, your days will get very busy. You’ll be making decisions and solving day-to-day problems. It’ll be difficult to carve out space to think about how your new company is performing and where it’s headed.
And yet, if you don’t make that time, you can easily run into critical problems, like cash shortages, costs getting out of control, or making the wrong decisions at the wrong times. That’s why we recommend that you build your foundation for good strategic practices now, so you’ll have developed good business management habits before you’re swamped.
We quote this statistic often because it’s powerful: companies that regularly review their numbers are 30 percent more likely to grow and succeed. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t have the time. Here’s how to set up a strategic foundation for your business.
Schedule a monthly business plan review
Right now, before you get busy running your business, schedule a one-hour business review meeting in your calendar every single month. The timing depends on your accounting operations—you’ll want to review the previous month’s finalized numbers, so choose a standing date in each new month when you can do that. You can have this meeting with your management team, or with a trusted advisor like your accountant.
In these meetings, you’ll look how the previous month’s actual financial performance stacks up against your business plan forecast. You’ll make this comparison for your revenue and your costs, and when your actual results are different than your forecast, you’ll explore why. It’s no more complicated than that.
Choose a few starting KPIs to measure business health
A KPI is a “key performance indicator.” It’s a specific statistic that helps you see whether your company is reaching the goals you set out in your business plan.
There are endless varieties of KPIs, and different industries and businesses use different ones. In fact, two departments in the same company might watch different KPIs. Don’t let that be intimidating, however—it’s really about deciding which metrics are most important to help you see your company more clearly. At this early stage, we recommend choosing just a few KPIs and watching these in your monthly review meetings.
For example, a retail business might track total sales per month. A service-based company might track its profit margin each month. If you’re not sure what to track, start with a few of the 29 metrics available in the LivePlan Dashboard, and add more to the mix as you gain confidence.
Set up a simple dashboard
In your monthly reviews, you’ll need a way to compare your accounting data against your business plan forecast, so you can easily see how your company is doing each month. You can do this with spreadsheets, but if you’re not a finance person, that can feel like more of a chore than it needs to. A good dashboard is as automated as possible, and it should display your key metrics in a graphical way. The easier your dashboard is to read, the more it helps you keep up the habit of monthly strategic reviews.
If you used LivePlan to create your business plan, then you’re halfway to having a complete dashboard. You can connect your accounting software to the LivePlan Dashboard in as little as 90 seconds if you’re using QuickBooks or Xero. You can also enter your accounting results manually each month if you prefer. However you enter your accounting data, when you have a visual way to compare it to your forecast, that makes your monthly reviews quick and simple.
Consider a Strategic Advisor
If you feel at all intimidated by numbers, it can really help to form a working relationship right now with a Strategic Advisor—an accountant who can interpret your numbers and help you formulate solutions when problems crop up. We keep a directory of advisors who work in LivePlan, so check that out.
We hear from entrepreneurs all the time who worry about the cost of hiring a Strategic Advisor too soon. But if an advisor can help you find and resolve problems before they become major financial issues, then you’re likely to find that your advisor pays for herself pretty quickly. Besides, you’ll have plenty of learning curves to hike as you start your company—you won’t have to scale them all at once if you get some expert help.
Get ready to update your forecast—often
In your business plan, you made the best estimates you could with the best information you had. But, don’t let that prevent you from making changes now. As you do business, you’ll learn more every day about your company and your market. Soon you’ll be in a better position to forecast realistically.
There’s nothing wrong with your original forecast needing an update—you didn’t know what you didn’t know before you started this company! So each month as you’re reviewing the numbers, consider how you might need to change your forecast to create targets your business can hit.
A startup company might adjust its business plan even more fundamentally that a typical small business, as it tries out different approaches in search of the most viable business model. It’s fine if your mission changes after you launch, or the way your company is structured, or the products and services you offer. Again, as you do business, you’ll learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and that will lead to updating your business plan so it stays realistic.
Good habits help you grow faster
We think of “growth” in two ways: the financial growth of your company, and your growth as an entrepreneur. By paying attention to your financial results regularly and revisiting your plan, you’ll be able to grow in both ways. Your company will stay healthy, and you’ll gain confidence to take on the challenges of running the business.
That’s a big reward for investing a little time in setting up good habits.