In business, especially in smaller businesses, getting the balance right between planning and action is always a challenge. The default position is often, “That’s a good idea, let’s just get on with it”. Whilst this leads to a good deal of action, it is often disjointed, and its effectiveness limited. However, there is a saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail” – Interesting aside: This quote is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin. In reality, there is no evidence to support he ever said it. but whoever coined the phrase, they are wise words. However, take these words to their extreme and you spend the whole time trying to create the perfect plan. As a result, you never actually get around to doing anything! The answer has to be a balance between planning and action. The trick is getting that balance right.
Planning is an important process but it needs to have a purpose. Furthermore, your plan must ultimately lead to action or it is meaningless. Here are 3 tips for good planning
- Use a framework. Using a structured framework allows you to take whatever is in your head and get it down “on paper” with some structure. There are many tried & tested planning frameworks out there – Here are some that have stood the test of time.
- Run your plan by someone else. When working on a plan (especially if you are working on it alone), you can get too close to it. A good way to address this is to pass it by someone else. The concept of a “Critical friend” will help to test your plan. This should be someone you trust to be honest and not just tell you what you want to hear nor just make comment for comment sake. The role of a critical friend is to ask the questions that you either avoided or overlooked when creating the plan.
- Allocate resources. Setting a realistic and appropriate budget (time, money, or a combination) is important. There is no point in creating an all-encompassing business marketing plan to then realise you don’t have the resources to implement it. At this point, it is also useful to incorporate the concept of S.M.A.R.T. Goals into your planning
Planning is an important first step but the best plan will get you nowhere without proper implementation. Don’t forget, marketing is creative. You have to be responsive, versatile and occasionally willing to go off-piste. A plan gives you structure and guidance but don’t forget you’re working in the real world. If you stick to it blindly, you may miss opportunities, or end up going down ultimately unproductive tracks. Planning needs to lead to action.
Like planning, actions need to be purposeful and focused. Here are 3 tips for making the most of your actions.
- Be clear. Make sure the people who are involved know their roles and have the knowledge skill and resources to carry them out. Make sure that everyone is clear about the S.M.A.R.T. objectives that were set out during the planning phase.
- Be versatile. If, whilst in the midst of a marketing programme, you see that an element of your plan isn’t working so well, don’t be afraid to modify it so as to better suit the situation. There is another famous quote stating “NO plan survives the first contact with the enemy”. In reality, when a plan is implemented, something in the real world will not behave as expected. You need to be ready and willing to respond when this happens.
- Focus on quality. Don’t skimp. If you cut corners or regularly choose the cheap option, it is highly likely you will be less successful. One quality action will normally deliver better than three weaker actions.
If I had to make a choice between planning and action, I would always choose action. Setting off on a journey gives you more chance of reaching your destination than sitting poring over a map – but maybe having a look at the map before you start, deciding the best route and ensuring you have the kit you will need on your travels might not be a bad idea – or even just buy in some expertise and make sure you have programmed the satnav!
I will leave you with my ultimate philosophy of the subject of planning and activity, which is:
"Do stuff and iterate"