Why you need a plan
Background: Goals, Wishes and Their Intangibility
So I am writing this article to pen down my thoughts on why we need to plan before embarking on new business ventures or missions. Or on new projects within existing businesses. I think before doing so, we should have a look into one of my favorite quotes about planning.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
From that quote, it means that a goal and a wish may be inseparable. It further means that they are intangible, as well as idealistic. Whatever you want to do, is surely aimed at getting tangible results. Whether it is money, service, or change, it needs to be seen. Wishes cannot be seen. Mr. Exupéry tells us, a plan would change that. Your goal, with a plan, would be more than a wish. A plan would be a doorway from an idea into a reality. A plan is tangible. It can be seen and can be executed and can make an impact. And in my daring self, I can add, that is why a business plan or a strategic plan can be sold. Not a goal.
Now that we have broken the ice on wishes, goals and idealism versus realism, it is imperative that we explore why it is important for us to plan before opening the doors of our businesses; all the while endeavoring to control the urges of our adrenaline pumping bodies to flip that doorsign to “Open” rather than keeping it “Closed” for a little while longer while you plan. Remember, “haraka haraka haina baraka”.
At the end of this all, I will share my story so you may weigh it out and see whether planning worked out for me as much as I herald it out here. I think that should not start now as I fear that it may drown the basics of elementary planning that I think we all ought to appreciate first.
Background 01: Questions to ask yourself
Basically, while carefully trying not to suggest that the exercise is simple, planning must have you ‘asking yourself’ and answer basic tenet questions such as:-
Is my idea strong? Relevant? Better? (Product/Service Relevance)
What do I need to start? (Capital analysis… both finance and human)
Who else is doing this? (Competition or Inspiration)
How are they doing it? (Execution and methodology)
How can I do it differently (Product/Service differentiation and superiority)
Who is my customer/audience (Consumer identity profiling and demand analysis)
How effectively do I reach out to them? (Supply chain development/analysis)
Where can I set my business? Which areas needs expanding (Identifying gaps, demands, maximum outreach etc)
When do I commence the business? When do I close? (Timing dynamics)
If you look at these model questions, not being an exhaustive list of course, you would notice that the questions are basically asking you to be mindful of the “HOW”, the “WHO”, the “WHAT”, the “WHEN” and lastly, the “WHERE”.
Background 03: A plan for your business defined
Having drawn the roadmap for the factors to consider when thinking of starting a business venture (which is simple planning), it is important now to see what a plan for a business is. Before we delve further into this, I wish to let you digest the definition of a business plan from Investopedia;
“A business plan is a written document that describes in detail how a business— (usually a new one) —is going to achieve its goals. A business plan lays out a written plan from a Investopedia Business plan also this
This Investopedia definition is aligned with many business writers who remind us to be wary of the earlier underlined factors when setting out to do business. You should too. You cannot operate without thinking of your capital, cash flow, markets, team issues etc. These must be thought of. And not in your head. Must be through a carefully written plan, and advisedly, to cover a certain time period.
You are advised to have your plan with the objectives and goals set to a “SMART” meter. That is, “Specific”; “Measurable”; “Achievable/Attainable”; “Relevant” and finally “Time-based”. You can assess and rally yourself when you have these specific indicators of your goals and objectives. A target needs to be set so as to create a focal point, challenge and motivation of a victory upon reaching it. Equally, your desired milestones need to be set and written for them to be later on deemed to have been “achieved” or “failed”.
Planning 01: Importance of Planning
Well, let me narrow down why I think planning is important for your business. At this juncture, I believe we are all aligned on the same page regarding what plan this is. A business plan. My top picks from the list of importances for having a plan includes the following:-
It gives your business a compass
The set targets, objectives, rules, policies etc, create a finishing line that you wish to achieve. They also create the boundaries within which the operations will travel to achieve the goal.
A plan ensures that the focus stays on course and not easy to distract the business into avoidable deviations. Unlike pushing ahead in darkness or like a headless chicken but with passion. Passion without wisdom is useless. Wisdom in this case, is planning.
Planning gives your business an identity and culture
A plan usually provides things like “mission”, “vision”, “motto”, policies and so forth. These, undeniably, build a culture; an identity and a unified synergy of how the business operates and pushes forward.
It is easier to pass a culture and commitment to the entire team when a plan is drawn clearly and shared from the top – down than if the goals, wishes and dreams are in one person’s head.
John Maxwell, in his book “How To Develop Leaders Around You” alludes that “…A leader needs to ensure that his dream is shared with the rest. The enviroment within which the entire team is working has to be conducive and allowing of the objectives to be attained. Conducive enviroment for working and maximum output can be like fertile land for plants. A thriving plant based on manured and watered land will die and dry out if put in unfertile and unwatered land, and vice versa.”
A plan is a backbone, skeleton or mainframe
Almost akin to No. 1 above, a plan for your business is your centre. Your drawing board. You go back and forth, in and out of it to achieve your goal, but always abiding to it.
For those geographers within us, this is the axis upon which your “business planet” must rotate around. For those IT and digital gurus, the plan is your mainframe computer for your bulk data and critical applications on which all other computers will be plugged in and derive their validity, strength and relevance. For those biologists in us, the business plan is the skeleton of your body, without which, no organ or flesh would stand and without which, your entire body and mind, no matter how clever and ingenous, would not move an inch.
Sets targets and KPIs for the business and its underlying units
As highlighted above, a plan would have SMART goals and objectives, which are KPIs (key performance indicators) for the business and its every individual unit (department or individuals). It is a diagnostic system which helps the business and you, understand which part is not functioning properly and improve it; or which part is perfoming excellently, and motivate it or nourish it.
Easy to restructure, repair and revitalize business elements.
This speaks for itself. Since it is written and structured instead of having a mere thought in the head (See No. 1 above)
Planning 02: Downside of Not Planning
From the outset, it is clear that there are many downsides of not planning. I will not dwell here much. Just wish to highlight the two below:-
Retrofits and Time wasting
When you do not have a solid plan, you will always be backtracking and busy devising makeshift solutions and patches. This will eat your valuable time and drag you behind while your competitors or peers sail away.
As highlighted in importance number 2 above; planning create a hereditary commitment and culture in the business. It makes it clear what the company stands for and is all about. With a plan carved out, business continuity is assured even when the founder is not around. Without it, inevitably, business continuity becomes a pipe dream. Expansion, an impossibility.
Planning 03: My Story
The What Question: A Law Firm Dream
I first considered starting a law firm sometime around the year 2007. It was at a café in Mlimani City Shopping Mall, my now Partner, then a mentor, Vintan W. Mbiro and I, sat and discussed about general legal industry and legal practice in Tanzania. By then, Vintan was a Corporate Secretary and Director of Legal Services at JTI’s Tanzania Cigarette Company Limited and I, a Final Year Student at the University of Dar es Salaam’s School of Law.
At that juncture, it was just a dream, a reality which seemed far away, given the position that each of us was in. We kept in touch over the years and continued to reaffirm our desire to one day open a Law Firm and practice.
The When Question; Year 2014
Seven years after we first incepted the idea, around August 2014, by then I was an experienced attorney with 6 years of litigation experience, we decided to start the law firm. The time was ready. I was energetic and beaming with fresh experience coupled with vigor and my Partner was reaping with mature experience and proven goodwill.
The How Question; Design Thinking, Product Design
We met, talked, and planned everyday for about 4 months with doors of the Firm still closed. At this juncture we were already paying very high rent but obviously unready to deploy our services. We discussed potential client niche (corporate-commercial), type of services they (such clients) wanted (as it was important to also draw what the service did not intend to serve to keep the practice steady), values of the firm, compliance checklists, organizational structure, policies and most of all, the type of team we visioned the Firm to have. All these are documented and stored in the Firm’s records. One product of these discussions is the Firm Operational Handbook, which is updated from time to time and still in existence.
The other question was “how do we communicate our services and quality”? We opted for online product and stable and consistent content uploads via our website and other online outlets e.g LinkedIn. This transalated into a constant gruesome, persevering and resolute exercise of creating spotless content and investing into a speaking website all the time.
The Who Question; Internal vs External
We realized early on that strength is within and threats are external. In essence we made sure that we had the best individuals as part of the team and they are drilled very hard with the firm’s policy, plan and vision. They also get to see how they can own it, that is, the dream and the firm. We have a “career path policy” within the Operational Handbook which shows one how they can climb up the ladders of the firm. This is both a motivational tool and a continuity plan for the firm. In recruiting, we have a policy against nepotism and seek the best, based on drive and commitment and personality rather than certificates. In an ordinary recruitment we would see an average of 20 candidates to 50 for a single post, in an attempt to get the ‘best fit’ out of them. Take note that this may not necessarily be the best of them on paper, but rather, the best fit for your organization and team. Occassionally, we would headhunt a specific candidate who is proven fit for the team.
As regards to the external, we had to study and observe firms we considered our competition, peers and inspirations. We had to assume we were them and ask ourselves some questions like:-
What would we keep on doing?
What would we stop doing?
What would we start doing?
The answers to these questions gave us our ideal products design and way forward. The “who” question also enabled us to identify the clientele that we were looking for; i.e. Corporate commercial entities and high networth individuals and businesses. We had to match our product, personalities, facilities etc with the audience (clientele) we were looking for and we did.
The original team consisted of 6 people; 2 Partners, 2 Associates (one of whom is still with us today), Administrative Assistant and a Logistics Assistant (Driver).
The When and Where Question: Location and Timing
The Firm officially opened its doors on the 5th January, 2015 (4 months after we started planning in August 2014). At Oyster Plaza, a new highrise building alongside Haile Selassie Road, in Oysterbay, an elite part of City of Dar es Salaam. Being in the centre of a new and upcoming CBD, the Firm had the opportunity to observe and learn the needs and ways of the niche it had set out to service and support. Charged, committed and driven, we worked very hard, despite our size and within a short time, established itself as a mid-tier law firm in the market and as a firm to watch.
The Present Day:
Today, as aforesaid, the team is made by more than twice the original number; servicing over 20 corporate clients, majority of which are multinationals and world leaders; and the market placement that the Firm has garnered for itself is very resonate to the target desired, i.e. mid to top tier.
The website’s traffic now averages between 300 to 450 visitors a day as the name “Breakthrough Attorneys” is widely heralded. The unrelentless efforts of the entire team have paid off and are continuing to bear fruits. The Firm now is widely revered and referred as amongst the up and coming market leaders in legal industry.