Sunday, January 12, 2003

Estimate time, costs in plan

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

I'm sure you want to achieve many things in your business in 2003, but how do you improve your chances of reaching those goals?

One of the best ways is by developing an annual plan.

In every business, many things demand attention. If you don't have a plan, it's easy to spend the whole day - the whole year - attending to the most pressing problems instead of building your business.

Remember Rhonda's Rule: If you don't know where you're going, you won't know when you're lost. So it's time to develop your 2003 annual plan.

Developing an annual plan doesn't have to be a chore - keep your business planning process simple. Set aside a day or a few hours for you and your staff to work on your plan.

Here's how to develop your 2003 annual plan:

Look at the past. Before going in new directions, see what's worked for you and what hasn't. In particular, identify which activities have been the most successful in terms of profit, not just income.

List your goals. Start this year's plan by listing your goals - how much money you want to make, products or services you want to add, changes in work patterns or operations.

Get specific. Now go over your list and make the goals specific. Put numbers with each goal. Let's say one of your goals is to increase business. Decide whether that means more customers, more income per customer, or both. Then list the number of customers you want, what type of customers and the target for average per-customer sales.

Develop steps. Identify the steps necessary to achieve each goal. For instance, to attract more customers, you'll need to increase marketing. List the ways you'll do this: advertising, trade shows, direct mail, etc.

Estimate money. Put a dollar figure next to each step. The more specific you've been, the easier it will be to come up with a range of costs for every goal.

Estimate time. Things don't just take money; they take time. Next to each step, estimate how much time it might take.

Estimate people. Figure out who will be responsible for each step and how many people will be needed. This gives you an overall sense of the total "person-hours" necessary to achieve your goals.

Prioritize. By now, you've got a list that would take more money, more time and more people than you have. So prioritize your goals and steps. Rate most highly the things you must do to keep your business going - your "bread-and-butter." Next, choose those with the highest probability of success.

Write an action plan. Based on your priorities, come up with an action plan. Schedule the month, week or day you're going to act on each step.

Reality check. Look over your action plan. Does it fit with how you and your employees truly behave? If your plan seems overly ambitious, it probably is.

Get consensus. Discuss the plan with all affected parties (employees, subcontractors, family members). Do they agree it's realistic? Are they willing to commit to it? Getting everyone on board improves the chance you'll actually achieve your goals.

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