Budget or Plan? Which One Do You Use?

In our last post, we discussed the annual planning ritual, and a three step process for more effective and useful planning.  After thinking further about this issue, we thought it would be helpful to define the difference between Planning and Budgeting, as the terms tend to be used interchangeably in many organizations.

As defined by Webster’s, there is a very clear difference between these terms:

  • A Budget is a plan for the amount of money that can be spent, and how it will be spent.
  • A Plan is a detailed formulation of a program of action to achieve something.

Most budgets are simple plans that are generally prepared by businesses that have not yet developed a formal Vision and Strategy for their future.  While budgets are generally relatively easy to prepare, most do not necessarily consider longer term strategic objectives or actions, or the full extent of potential changes in the business environment.

The basic Budget is developed using the current year’s results to date, which are then projected for the year, and applying a percentage increase to each line item, to calculate projected revenues and expenses for the new year.  Monthly financial projections may then be calculated for use in reporting and evaluating the operating results during the year.

An Annual Operating Plan, on the other hand, will utilize the results of the Vision and Strategy process, to develop a comprehensive plan (read chart or map) to help the business execute the actions required to achieve the strategic objectives, and navigate through the year.  These plans are generally very detailed, and typically include the following:

  • Monthly financial projections
  • Specific tactical programs, actions, and milestones required to meet/exceed those projections
  • Key metrics to evaluate and measure performance to keep the business on track.

Which would you prefer, a spending plan, or a detailed chart to navigate and guide the business for the year?

Regardless of what process you choose, it is critical to have a plan to manage the business.


“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

“We have to build the framework in which we will execute the tasks.” ― LTG Christianson

It’s Back – The Annual Planning Ritual!

If you look at the calendar, there are now less than 12 work weeks until the beginning of 2015.  If your business is similar to those that I’ve worked for, we’re now in the Annual Business Planning Cycle, where the business performance so far this year is evaluated and projected, in order to peer into the future to identify objectives and potential changes that may be required, not only for 2015, but also several years out.

In my former lives, I’ve participated in, and led, this annual ritual in different roles, from Staff Accountant to President and CEO.  However, the prescribed process and schedule was always the same;  Review and evaluate the results so far this year, consider and set objectives for the next three years, and define the changes that may be required to achieve those objectives.  Once this is done, update the current Strategic Plan, and develop the Operating Plan to match Year 1 of the “new” Strategic Plan.   In many instances, however, this process doesn’t include an objective, critical review, or discussion of the Vision for the business in the future, and how it will be achieved.  Generally, it’s just a rehash of last year’s plan, updated for new conditions and goals, with a new Year 3, and placed on the shelf until next year.

Over the years of using this process, I noticed that most businesses very rarely, if ever, get to Years 2 and 3 of the Strategic Plan.  Most of the management effort, and reviews, focus on next year (Year 1), and then on Year 3, assuming if the right things are done in Years 1 and 2, Year 3 will be the culmination of all of those efforts, and won’t it be great when we get there!  However, Year 3 never comes – it’s always pushed out another year.

This year, I’ll challenge you to develop a clear Vision, and prepare Strategic and Operating Plans that will actually be used to manage, control, and guide the direction and decision making of the business over the next three years, with the ultimate goal of achieving Year 3, with only minor adjustments.  Yes, I know it’s three years out, and conditions change.  However, if you’ve done this properly, and have the right Vision and Plans, shouldn’t you be able to get there?

I recommend the following three step process for effective, and useful planning:

1. Define the Vision  

What will the business achieve, and look like in the future, say three years out?  This step is the most critical part of the process, providing clarity about the objectives for the future, and the framework for the rest of the planning process.  The Vision should be clear, written, and communicated to all stakeholders, before proceeding further, to ensure that the entire organization understands the objectives for the future.

If the business doesn’t currently have a Vision, it should take the time to develop one as the first step.  Size doesn’t matter, every business should have a Vision of its future.  If there is already a Vision in place, is it still relevant, or should it be revised and updated?

2. Develop the Long Term Strategy and Plan 

The Strategy and related Plan will provide the course and direction that the business must follow to make the Vision a reality.  The strategy and high level plan will clearly define specific actions and programs, including resource requirements, performance goals, organizational structure, and any other actions necessary to achieve the Vision.  It will be the framework to guide decision making over this period, and keep the business moving in the right direction.

3. Prepare the Operating Plan

This will be the detailed plan to execute the Strategy for Year 1, including specific tactical actions and programs, and monthly operational targets to measure progress throughout the year.  The Operating Plan is used to manage and control the business, and guide decision making in the short term, and to allow for regular reporting, performance evaluation, and identify potential course corrections, during the year, to achieve the strategic objectives.

This process, done properly, does take a great deal of time and thought to be useful, and in my experience, is well worth the effort it.  By the end of the process, the business and organization know the course and direction, and have the “charts” necessary to control and manage the business, make the right decisions, and measure progress to achieve the Vision, and that elusive Year Three!


The winds and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.” – Edward Gibbon

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” – Jack Welch

What Business Stage Are You In? – Part 2

Here’s the second part of our series on the “7 Stages of Every Growing Business”  that Les McKeown, President and CEO of Predictable Success, described in his Inc. Live presentation last October.  Part 1 summarized the first two stages, Early Struggle and Fun.  In this part, we move on to the next two important stages, White Water and Predictable Success.

As we left the business last week, it was in the latter part of the Fun stage.  It’s grown rapidly, become more and more complex, and the team is having difficulty managing it effectively, and losing control.  At this point, the business now has a critical decision to make about its future.

There are only two real choices;  1) Stay small and continue in the Fun stage for as long as it can survive, or  2) Take the actions necessary to move forward, and grow the business for the future.   The business can’t have it both ways, it must choose one of these directions.
If it decides to grow, it will need to enter, and successfully pass through the next stage, White Water, to scale for future growth.  A businesses cannot scale from Fun to Predictable Success without going through this stage.

Stage 3 – White Water

The decision and commitment have been made to scale up for growth, and the business is now in the water.  However, it is now much more complex, with more products and services, customers, people, and management.

The business activity has outstripped its capacity, capabilities and resources, and it’s out of control, losing focus on its direction, and customer requirements and expectations.  As a result, customer problems and complaints are piling up, in terms of service, quality, and delivery, etc., operational issues are increasing costs, and customers are beginning to defect to competition.

The first tendency is to try to sell more to prop up the business, but this strategy will only make matters worse, as the problems and issues continue to increase with the level of activity.

To survive and make it through this stage, formal Systems, Processes, Structure, must be developed and implemented, the Culture may need to change, and an expanded Management Team put in place to effectively manage, stabilize, and get the business back under control.   In most instances, however, the initial team and programs won’t work out, and the business will remain unstable for a period of time.  In fact, it may take several years and attempts, and different team members, to finally get through this stage.

Also, during this stage, the business may go back and forth between Fun and White Water several times, and it will be a very painful process, fraught with challenges and opportunities.  But, successfully navigating through this stage is absolutely necessary for future scale and growth.

The strategy is to develop and implement formal Processes, Systems, and Structure, Change the Culture (as needed), and to recruit the proper Management Team to effectively manage and control the business to provide long-term growth.

Once the business has successfully passed through this stage, it is now positioned for ….


Stage 4 – Predictable Success

The business has finally made it through the White Water stage, after several attempts.  The Systems, Processes, Structure, Culture, and Team, are all in place and working well, and it is stable, growing, and profitable.  Life is good for now.

Growing and maintaining the business in this stage, will require an ongoing, dynamic process of evolution and adjustment to consistently meet the changing expectations of the market, customers, and other stakeholders over time.  As long as the business continues to do this, and maintain its focus on its vision, strategy, and customer base, it can remain in this stage for a long time.

The strategy is Keep Doing It, Evolve as Needed, and Grow the Business.  

With long-term success, however, there is a danger is that, over time, the business may become too successful and stop evolving, resulting in complacency, a bloated and bureaucratic organization, and a loss of focus on vision, direction, and most importantly, its customers.  Once this happens, the business may eventually fall forward through one, or all, of the last three stages, including Treadmill, Big Rut, and finally, Death Rattle.

What will happen next?  Will the business survive?

We’ll find out in Part 3, next week!

“The great thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

 “Making an enduring company was both harder and more important than making a great product.” –  Steve Jobs

What Business Stage Are You In? – Part 1

In an Inc. Live presentation last October, Les McKeown, President and CEO of Predictable Success, described his “7 Stages of Every Growing Business”.  These stages can help to define why some businesses grow and succeed, while others stall and/or fail.

In keeping with our recent posts on Business Growth and Strategy, we thought it would be helpful to provide an overview of each stage, and the related strategy and actions necessary to move a business forward.  Obviously, there are a great many factors, management skills, and organizational requirements that are required at each stage to make it through to the next one.  The complete series is at www.inc.com/les-mckeown/7-growth-stages-of-every-business.

As McKeown noted, all businesses will eventually pass through some, or all of these stages in their lifetime.  Each stage brings with it a different strategy, organizational culture and requirements, and a set of challenges that must be met to grow the business.  It is critical that a business understands these stages, what stage they are in at the moment, and hopefully avoid some of the hard lessons that other businesses have experienced.

The 7 stages include the following, in order:

   1. Early Struggle
   2. Fun
   3. White Water
   4. Predictable Success
   5. Treadmill
   6. Big Rut
   7. Death Rattle

As noted, a particular business may not pass through all of these stages, but as it grows, it will move through the stages in this order.  While there is no set duration for each stage, it is critical that the business make decisions about where it wants to go, to survive, and move on to the next one.

In this post, we’ll discuss the first two stages, and the strategy required to move to the next level.  The balance will be covered in our next posts.

Stage 1 – Early Struggle

This is the beginning stage for every business, the struggle to get, and keep it, going, and finding the Profitable, Sustainable Market (or PSM) for the long-term success.  It’s a race against time, and the most dangerous stage, with 80% of businesses failing in the first 3 – 5 years.

This requires an intense focus on identifying that PSM.  However, keep in mind that one large customer is not the PSM.  While that one customer may be profitable, at least in the short term, the customer base must be diversified, over time, to be truly sustainable.

Finally, this stage is also all about cash flow, and the ability of the business to fund itself, in any way possible, to survive and move to the next stage.

The strategy is to Find the PSM, Stop Being a Start Up, and get out of this stage as soon as possible!

 

Stage 2 – Fun 

The business has managed to survive, found its PSM, and can now mine it for growth, which can be dramatic.  In this stage, it can now have some Fun, grow, and build the myths and legends of the business.  The mantra is “do whatever it takes to grow the business and please customers.”

Sales and Profits are increasing, and there is usually a simple organizational structure, infrastructure, and processes in place to run the business.  The team is pulling together, improvising, and tap dancing every day, to make things happen and take care of their customers.

The strategy is “Sell More, and Grow!”.

As the growth continues over time, the complexity of the business will increase to the point that the management team cannot effectively manage, or control it.  The business is falling forward into Stage 3 – White Water.

It has a decision to make for the future – what will it be?

Stay tuned!

 “Think big, start small, then scale or fail fast.” – Mats Lederhausen

What Is Your Sales Strategy?

In a recent Inc. post, Geoffrey James quoted a statement by Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of Selling Power magazine, “that within 10 years, as much as 80 percent of the sales situations, currently handled by salespeople, will be handled automatically”. However, he also believes that there will continue to be a need for salespeople in specific situations, where the customer may not be able to identify his own problem, a solution, or an ROI for a purchase.

This means that for the remaining 20%, customers will be looking to their suppliers and sales representatives as resources to assist in providing solutions to help their business vs. just showing up to peddle their wares.  This will require salespeople that can understand their customers’ business issues and objectives, have the ability to be problem solvers, and the capability to build long term, personal relationships that bring value.

While this will be bad news for stereotypical, schmoozing, glad handing salespeople, it will create opportunities for businesses to differentiate themselves in their markets, and generate more profitable revenue.

As technology continues to automate and streamline the purchasing process, and time constraints increase with the pace of business today, there is less and less time for customers interact with salespeople that are “ just visiting”.   In fact, many organizations set specific limits on sales appointments, and only those salespeople that can help solve problems and bring value to the relationship, are invited and welcomed to participate as a partner.

This environment creates the opportunity for businesses to strategically differentiate themselves from the competition.  In many industries, the table stakes of the “game” are price, service, and quality and it is assumed that the majority of competitors in a given space, all have same relative levels of each.

As a result, without differentiation and value creation, the product or service eventually becomes viewed as a commodity, and the primary focus becomes price.  When this happens, price levels and profitability deteriorate, larger competitors take advantage of their economies of scale, and smaller competitors get squeezed out of the market.  A primary example of this evolution is the commercial printing industry which is now considered a commodity, and has become dominated by larger and larger organizations.

Those businesses that are able to differentiate themselves as solution providers, and can bring value to their customer relationships, will separate themselves from the competition, and as a result, create the opportunity to maintain, and possibly increase, their prices, profitability, and market share on the basis of that value.

Is your business considered a Solution Provider you your customers?  If not, now is the time to review your sales strategy and direction, training, and market message, and make the evolution from product peddler to a valued solution provider to protect and grow your business for the future.

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss your organization’s specific issues, please call us at (727) 637-4666, or email me directly at Don@HuttlinAssociates.com.
“A strategy delineates a territory in which a company seeks to be unique.” – Michael Porter

A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. – Michael LeBoeuf

Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different. – Michael Porter

Trying to do what your competitors are doing but basically a little bit better is probably not going to be the winning strategy. The problem is finding what your competitors wouldn’t even consider doing. – Jamais Cascio