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Jeff Cates
Jeff Cates

Leadership Lab

The power of the plan: how to reach your goals Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Growing a company doesn’t happen by accident. In addition to the blood, sweat and tears that go into building a business from the ground up, it takes a considerable amount of planning to ensure you stay on the path to success.

Leaders of big businesses know this, but at Intuit we were interested to learn how many small business owners in Canada are applying this best practice to their operations. It turns out there are many brilliant entrepreneurs who are excited to bring the next big idea to market (69 per cent launched their business within six months), but our recent research study also revealed that quite a few of them are winging it. Across all industries and age groups, 62 per cent of entrepreneurs launched their companies without a business plan, and this figure rises to 69 per cent amongst millennials.

While it’s inspiring to see that the next generation is creating its own opportunities and diving right into entrepreneurship – one quarter of millennial-age small business owners have never held a full-time job – they risk setting themselves up for a challenging road ahead. The thing is, developing a lean business plan doesn’t have to be an excruciating undertaking.

By having a clear understanding of your company’s goals and values, and by mapping out how you’re going to achieve success, you will be better positioned for long-term prosperity. Notably, entrepreneurs who developed a plan before launching their business have demonstrated how essential this step is to continued growth: more than half (52 per cent) with five or more employees took this step, compared to 71 per cent who didn’t and are still a staff of one.

Knowing that this can be a pain point for many small business owners, we developed this simple free tool to get you started, but in the process we began thinking about why seasoned executives should get back into that entrepreneurial mindset and revisit the initial business planning process.

Once your business is off the ground and thriving, it’s easy to get complacent. If what you’ve been doing has historically yielded positive results, why tamper with the formula? The reality is that the pace of change is too fast to rely on strategies that were once tried and true. Rapid technological advancements, ongoing changes in the political landscape and regular fluctuations in global financial markets are some of the many factors that are forcing business leaders to operate in increasingly unpredictable environments.

Using past behaviour to help secure the future of your business is becoming progressively unreliable, so taking a renewed look at your plan is vital. As part of this process, you should also re-examine how your own professional growth might be impacting the growth of your business.

Start by redefining your goals

Because your business plan should be a living, breathing document that evolves with your company, your goals are subject to change. It’s normal to have to reset every few years in order to maximize the opportunities for growth ahead of you, and this is also true of your own professional development. At Intuit, our annual business plans are revisited quarterly to ensure we are pivoting and refining as necessary.

Reconsider how you want your customers to perceive your organization, as well as how you want your employees to perceive you. What will be your company’s renewed differentiating factors? What about yours? In order to enhance your long-term prospects, set goals that ladder back to how you want people to feel about your offering moving forward. Also, when reflecting on your company’s journey, don’t forget to take note of what you were most passionate about in the early stages so that the next phases of both your company and your career are still rooted in the things that excite you most.

Next, take an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses

Whether you’ve pro-actively addressed these areas as your business developed or are revisiting them a few years later, one thing is certain: your strengths and weaknesses – your company’s and yours as a leader – are not what they used to be. Having a current understanding of where your organization shines and where there are opportunities for improvement is an essential part of any evolving business plan, and knowing how your own strengths and weaknesses contribute to this is equally vital.

We work closely with a variety of businesses, and while their strengths are often diverse, one common weakness we see far too often is financial management. As a leader, having a firm grasp of your company’s finances is central to a prosperous future, but by no means do you have to tackle this alone. Reassess how financially savvy you are and develop a close relationship with an accountant and/or bookkeeper to help you manage this aspect of your business. Also, if you integrate the use of cloud-based financial management software into your operations, you will become part of a global ecosystem of apps, customers, employees and contacts that can help you and your business achieve new levels of success.

Finally, be as adaptable as possible

Entrepreneurs excel here naturally out of necessity, but this is one skill that big business leaders will likely need to hone. In an age of innovation and risk, adaptability is a competitive advantage that cannot be overlooked.

Take another look at your marketing and sales strategies. Are they still aligned with the needs and interests of your customers? Also, is your leadership style still in sync with the needs and interests of your employees? If not, adjust accordingly. Even if it makes you uneasy, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will help your company reach new heights as you reach your full potential.

Jeff Cates is president, Intuit Canada, Toronto.

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