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10 Business Plan Tips for a Successful Start to The New Year

Nadav Shemer
10 Business Plan Tips for a Successful Start to The New Year
The phrase “new year, new beginnings” will take on even more significance in 2021, given all that has happened in 2020. For small business owners, the rollout of vaccines should be a cause for optimism that business conditions will improve in the new year. On the flipside, there’s no guarantee that the economic recovery will be quick nor that your business will reap the benefits.

Having a business plan that prepares you for all the potential opportunities and challenges of the new year will be key to success in 2021. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when writing your business plan. It could be as simple as updating your plan from previous years or writing a new one using project management software

Here we look at 10 things to consider when crafting your 2021 business plan:

1. Conduct a Review of 2020

Before you can begin to plan 2021, there’s that all-important task of reviewing what went right and wrong in 2020. The annual review can be done before the year is out. You may think of 2020 as a once-in-a-lifetime event that you don’t want to dwell on, but there are always lessons that you can carry into the new year.

If you run a relatively large business, then a good starting point is to ask senior people in your organization to submit a list of 2-3 successes and 2-3 failures in their department. You might also want to ask them to highlight things that they think could be done differently or better in responding to challenges in 2020. 

Project management tools are good for this type of group brainstorming activity, because they allow you to share files and comment on each other’s work. 

Once your 2020 review is complete, you have a good base from which to build your 2021 business plan.

2. Set Business Goals

Your 2021 business plan should begin with a few (say 2-3) overarching goals for the year. Your goals could be financial, related to customer acquisition or retention, or really anything else, as long as these goals are consistent with your overall vision for the business.

It’s a good idea to make your business goals quantifiable; that way you can actually measure if you achieve them or not. For example:

  • “40% year-on-year revenue growth” is better than “grow our revenue”
  • “Achieve 25% market share” is better than “beat our competitors”

3. Build a Project Timeline

If we were to draw up a sort of flowchart for your business plan, goals would be the strategic top line. Below that, you need a set of tactics, i.e. projects and initiatives, in order to bring your goals to fruition.

Again, this is where you can call on team leaders and use those file-sharing tools we discussed earlier to encourage them to collaborate and give feedback to one another. One way of doing this is to show team leaders the goals and get each one to suggest 2-3 strategic initiatives consistent with trying to achieve these goals.

Once you’ve settled on a project timeline for 2021, it’s time to put the details into your project management software so your team can keep track.

4. Be Flexible

Military people are fond of saying that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that no business plan remains intact during a global pandemic and economic crisis.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have a plan. But it is important to build some flexibility into it. That’s because no matter how well you plan for the next year, there will always be challenges (and opportunities) that stand in your path.

If you’ve been in business for at least a couple years, chances are there are parts of your original plan that are no longer relevant. When putting together your 2021 business program, it can be helpful to think of it as a living, breathing document rather than an immutable document that must be obeyed at all costs.

5. Plan for Different Scenarios

Continuing from the previous point, it’s worth having a backup plan or two in the pipeline – just in case Plan A doesn’t quite go as expected. Think about the sorts of challenges you could face–like struggling to get financing, customers not returning to pre-pandemic habits, or COVID-19 restrictions staying in place for longer than you thought–and have contingencies in place for the various scenarios.

There are many examples of small businesses succeeding in 2020 because they had a Plan B they could take out of the drawer–like focusing on e-commerce. 

No one knows for certain what 2021 will throw at small business owners, but it’s worth having a plan in place.

6. Make People Accountable

For every business initiative, make sure there is a person or team that is accountable. 

Martin Zwilling, a veteran start-up mentor and investor, says business leaders must act as role models when it comes to getting team members to be accountable.

He says business leaders can demonstrate accountability by sticking to these 5 steps:

  1. Be willing to proclaim that something needs to be done
  2. Accept personal responsibility for tackling an issue
  3. Make positive choices or decisions to act
  4. Think deeply about the consequences of each choice
  5. Set high expectations for yourself and your team

7. Track Your Goals

Creating an annual business plan makes no sense if you don’t track the results. In your document, you will have outlined quantifiable goals for the coming years. Tracking the progress of projects on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis can be a good way of keeping your finger on the pulse without overdoing it.

The team leaders in charge of each project should be a little more hands-on in terms of tracking progress. Again, project management tools make it easy for department heads to manage and track time, resources, budget, scope, and teams efficiently.

8. Be Clear and Keep It Simple

Unless you’re a one-person show, it’s no good just scribbling out your business plan in a way that only you can understand. 

Your business plan provides the foundations for the next year. You can share it with your team. You can use it as the basis for a business loan application. You and your team may want to refer back to it from time to time, so it needs to be legible and easy to understand.

9. Keep an Eye on Regulatory Changes

We’d love to be able to say which regulations to look out for in 2021, but things are too unpredictable right now. As a small business owner, you’ve probably been affected by COVID-19 rules and restrictions and you may already have had to adapt multiple times to new rules and orders.

Knowing the latest rules will be crucial to being able to plan for the new year. The most obvious ways of keeping up to date with rules and regulations are to read/watch the news and network with other business owners in your community. There are also lots of helpful resources on the Internet, such as this page with up-to-date State-by-State COVID-19 Guidance from law firm Husch Blackwell.

10. Focus on Your Customers

It’s often said that customers should be at the center of your business, but there’s probably even more truth to this as we approach 2021. Remember, 2020 was a tough year for everyone, not just business owners. As the economy (hopefully) recovers in 2021, focusing on the customer will be key to a successful year.

Wishing You and Your Business a Successful 2021

No matter how your business performed in 2020, that’s all about to be in the past. New years are time for fresh beginnings, and we wish you and your business only success in achieving your 2021 goals.

Nadav Shemer
Nadav Shemer specializes in business, tech, and energy, with a background in financial journalism, hi-tech and startups. He enjoys writing about the latest innovations in financial services and products.