Do You Bother Planning When You Can’t?

Owning a business these days is an exercise in uncertainty. Sure we’re slightly better informed than we were last summer, but we still face a lot of unknowns when it comes to how things will play out this year.

That’s a challenging situation on a personal basis, but it’s a huge issue for a business owner, especially if you’re trying to bounce back from a down year. Your gut instinct might be to throw in the towel when it comes to planning right now – there’s no reasonable way to forecast how or when things are going to play out, so why bother?

Releasing a new product / service offering

This topic was at the heart of a recent discussion I had with a client. Last year was a challenge, but she was optimistic about the future and had used some of the Covid downtime to come up with a new service for her clients.

On paper, it’s a solid idea but as any business owner will tell you, until you actually have clients paying you it’s impossible to really know if a new offering will work. So… you take a leap of faith and roll it out – ideally in a controlled fashion with limited risk, but at some point you just have to see what happens.

But with all of the uncertainty, is it even worth the effort to plan – to set goals when you have nothing real to base them on?

The short answer is ‘yes’, even if it’s difficult. The longer answer is that there are 3 great reasons why you should plan even when you can’t know what’s going to happen.

3 Great Reasons to Plan When You Can’t…

Reason 1 – practical feedback…

For starters, if you’re rolling out something new – product, service, location then you’re going to need some way to gauge if your investment in this new thing is worthwhile. You probably have some idea of what the long term upside of your new effort might look like if things go great – but even more importantly than that, you need to know what the bottom end of your forecast should look like.

You don’t have a practical way to forecast what will actually happen, but what you can do is figure out what it will take to breakeven on your new effort. Breaking even isn’t likely something you’ll get excited about, but it is an important data point that you’ll need in the future as you consider whether you would continue with your new offering.

Reason 2 – Sense of Urgency…

The second reason to do some basic planning and to set a goal / target for what you’re planning to do with your new offering is that you need to establish a sense of urgency. More than likely you have other people involved in rolling out your new thing – could be your employees, an outsourced marketing group, vendors, etc. Without having some kind of target to shoot for, everyone else is likely to assume that this new thing you’re doing isn’t much of a priority.

When you have a target it helps you (and everyone else) get a sense for how much time and effort it’s going to take to hit that target. If your goal is to sell 1 new widget a month then maybe it’s not something to worry about. If the goal is to sell 1000 per month, then others are likely to take notice and adjust their efforts accordingly.

Reason 3 – We all like to win…

Finally – the last reason to plan is that we (collectively) are wired in such a way that we like to win. The last thing anyone wants to do is to go into work, put in a lot of time and effort, and not have any feeling of progress or success. Sure your employees work for the paycheck, but they put their best effort in because they want to ‘win’ – that’s just human nature.

By setting a target, even if you don’t realistically know if you can hit it, you are at least setting up the possibility for a win. Without some kind of goal how will you (or your team) know how they’re doing?

And if your goal is clearly too high, then it’s okay to reset once you have some actual data to work with. People are okay to lose in the short run if they know there’s a bigger plan for victory down the road.

Are you planning for this year?

If there was ever a time to hold off on planning because of uncertainty, then this year would be it. But even if it’s hard (or impossible), their are still great reasons to do your best to come up with goals and targets for your team.

Have you created your plan for this year? Are you rolling out anything new? Do you agree that it’s important? We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment below.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach