During a coaching call the other day, I said something crazy. The client I was coaching is a consultant who has worked primarily in the government and nonprofit market. Her goal is to do more work with for-profit corporations.
She was telling me that her next step in making the transition is to create a business plan. I surprised both of us when I blurted out, "I think the worst thing you could do right now is make a plan."
What was I thinking? Everyone knows it is important to have a plan for your business and for your life. Or is it?
The truth is that my client has no idea how her transition to the corporate market will unfold. So what is the point of pretending she does? She could write a one year plan for her business that looks and sounds good. But this could do her more harm than good. Within days it would become obvious that things were not unfolding as projected. Then she would start beating herself up for failing to follow through. Yet the problem would not be with her, it would be that her plan was not appropriate.
You have no doubt been there yourself. You know what your goal is, but you do not have a clue how to go about achieving it. The obvious solution is to make a plan. Except that when you are in this situation, making a plan is a waste of time.
You see, the purpose of a plan is to help you achieve a goal. The goal is your destination; your plan is the road map that will take you there. When you can't see the best route to take, making up a fictional plan won't help you. It just increases your chances of getting lost on the way to your goal. Surprising as it sounds, you would be better off moving ahead without a long-term plan.
I'm not saying that having a plan is bad. What I am saying is that a plan is only valuable to the degree that it is clear and you are deeply aligned with it. Let me give you an example.
When I first started ProCoach two years ago, I toiled long and hard to write a 3 year plan, but got nowhere. I tried and tried but my mind kept getting overwhelmed. There were so many good ideas and so many unknowns. There was no way I could see more than six months into the future, and even that far away things were very vague.
Then I found a different approach that works like magic, especially when I am not clear what the long term looks like. Once each quarter I take a few hours to identify my top 3 - 5 priorities for the next 90 days. Then I list several steps or actions that will help me advance in each of these areas. I concentrate on completing those items, and the results are amazing. The business stays totally on track and we progress at maximum speed.
There are two reasons this approach works. One is that, whether you know it or not, you definitely have a sense of what you want in the long-term. You may not be able to articulate it, but deep down you know what you are moving towards and will naturally choose quarterly priorities that take you there.
The other reason is that in order to be successful, a plan needs to be built on a firm foundation. Because you know where you are today, you are on solid ground and it is fairly easy to identify your most important projects for the next three months. When you try to make a plan for a year from now, you don't know where you will be at the time and are therefore planning based on speculation.
The crucial rule is this. Only plan as far ahead as you can see. When your business is well established and the road ahead is clear, you can create a detailed plan for the long-term. But if you are still in the early stages of your business, or your operation is small and you need to change directions regularly in response to the market, forget about long-term planning. Trust that you know intuitively where you are going and make action plans one quarter at a time.
Wishing you all the best,
Andrew Barber-Starkey, Master Certified Coach.
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Andrew Barber-Starkey is a Master Certified Coach residing in Vancouver, Canada. His coaching program, the ProCoach Success System, is designed for entrepreneurs, small-business owners, self-employed and commissioned sales people who want to double their income while simultaneously doubling their time off within 3 years.
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