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Plan like you would a trip of a lifetime

Whether or not you have a shiny pink folder to keep it in, make sure you have a proper business plan, says Steve Elsom.

I struck up a conversation with a couple in the departure lounge at Gatwick the other week. They went into graphic detail about how they had left no stone unturned in the planning of the trip that they were about to embark on, and they showed me their itinerary, including a ‘plan b’ for each and every day, if the weather changed.

‘Meticulous’ doesn’t do it justice; the plan was beautifully typed up, together with an colour coded index and presented in a shiny pink folder. There was even a duplicate printed off just in case the pink folder went astray. I was treated to a detailed description of what each leg of the trip included and my ‘new friends’ exuded energy, excitement and effervescence.

The conversation eventually moved away from the ‘trip of a lifetime’ to more mundane matters like the economy, and I then asked the question: “So what do you do for a living then?”

I must admit, I asked it primarily as I saw the guy reaching for the pink folder again and the response was an eye-opener.

“We run a gift shop and sometimes we wish we didn’t and I tell you what, we might just stay out in South America given the hassle and the challenge that we are facing right now.”

“So what does your business plan look like?” I enquired.

The gentleman was becoming a little uneasy. I sensed that he hadn’t thought of any of this, and if he had, he certainly hadn’t committed any of it to a document in a shiny folder.

“We haven’t got time for that my friend,” came the reply.

“Oh, so how do you know how well the business is performing against your initial expectations?” I asked, “and more importantly, how do you know when it’s time to maybe change things up a little?”

“We have never looked much further than the next season, so when and if we come back from this trip we’ll be full on for Christmas, and then it’ll be a focus on Valentine’s Day and then Mother’s Day. Get it?”, the gentleman said with an assuredness in his voice.

“Right,” I said “but how do you plan for those ‘what if’ scenarios?” This was met with a shrug of the shoulders. I continued: “So you have just told me about your trip of a lifetime and how you have even planned for any changes in the weather, by having a ‘plan b’ for each and every day, yet you haven’t got a plan for your business?”

“We just never seem to have the time,” the lady said.

We then established that they had spent 15 months planning the trip. They had taken the decision to leave the shop in the hands of their one staff member and I didn’t get the sense that much of a ‘handover’ had taken place. I talked to them about the concept of planning, even quoting Eisenhower a couple of times around the importance of planning and the consequences of not planning. I could sense that I had their attention; the pink folder had been put away, and we talked about why they were in business, their business journey so far, their plans for the future and their plans for the business.

Enjoy a trip of a lifetime by all means, says Steve Elsom, just give your business plan the same attention to detail.

Over a couple of coffees we learned a lot about each other. I learned that they didn’t have a ‘trusted partner’, someone to confide in, to talk to, to bounce things off. They learned that I ask some awkward questions, not because I am ‘pushy’, but because I passionately believe that every business should have a plan, that it should be kept up to date, so as to be relevant and it should act as a reference point for where the business ‘is’ in its cycle.

By the time that our respective flights were called for boarding, we had spent an hour jotting down things that the business could do, might benefit from and could do better. The list wasn’t exhaustive, far from it. We barely scratched the surface, but I could sense that the couple felt that they had achieved something. They had made a start and they committed to follow things up on their return. Every business plan must start somewhere and theirs started in the departure lounge at Gatwick. Where did your plan start?

As we said our farewells, I saw the pink folder sticking out of the rucksack and pointing to it, I said: “If I were you, I’d go buy another shiny folder and carry my business plan around with me.”

They both smiled and in unison replied: “Indeed we will, in fact we can’t wait to get back to get started!” and off they skipped.

If you would like to discuss the business plan for your business, contact me on

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Steve is a regular contributor to B2B publications, see some of his recent articles for insights into current business news, leadership and much more...