It doesn't pay to plan too far ahead.
Conventional wisdom says you need to have one-, two- and five-year plans for your business. But speaker and trainer Terry Brock begs to differ. "It worked well for Alfred Sloan when he was running General Motors [from 1923 to 1956], but it doesn't work that way today," says Brock, 42. "Now we've got to roll with the punches, because technology has literally changed everything."
Brock, president and owner of Achievement Systems Inc. in Orlando, Florida, says today's business plans are tools to use--and change--on a daily basis. Ideally, they should include six months of detailed strategy, a year or two of general planning, and a vision for the next five years.
A few years ago, Brock says, he would have recommended planning your tactics for the next year. "Now a six-month time frame makes sense in our environment, and that could change again to more like three months," he says.
One example of how technology lets you--even forces you to--change your business strategy is the advent of color printers, says Brock. Five years ago, they were too expensive for the average small business. Today, you can buy one for less than $200. With a color printer, you can change your marketing materials more quickly and easily, so if a strategy isn't working, you can change on the turn of a dime.
Also consider how technology will affect your customers. If your competitors begin offering extended services on their Web sites, can you afford to dig in your heels just because it's not in "the plan"? To avoid being overwhelmed or left behind, you have to pay attention and stay flexible.