Unpredictable Times

So, my small business owners…. As we move into month two of 2022, I have a couple questions for you.

What were your plans for 2020?  And how did they work out?

How about for 2021?  Any success managing all the changes this past year?

Makes it seem questionable to even be making any plans in 2022, doesn’t it?  If anything, we can predict that this year will be just as unpredictable as the last few years.  Maybe that’s a lesson for the future in general?

We can predict that there will be a steady stream of unpredictable changes.

Planning for 2022

Certainly, there are predictions that are more general, about the stock market (up or down), interest rates (up or down), the pandemic (better or worse?) and so forth.  And we can look at some of the expert predictions for the year as a start.

But what about for your business – or you personally?  How might these predictions or situations impact you?  Do you take the time to reflect on what’s going on in the world around you and how it could impact your business moving forward?  Do you set goals for the year in terms of growth or innovation?

And how do you set aside the time to plan for your business when you end up spending so much time just dealing with the day-to-day activities that require immediate attention?  Especially in a pandemic with inflation, low unemployment, supply chain issues and everything else that’s going on?

Big vs. Small

Here’s one time when the big businesses have an advantage.  Many of them have a person or an entire team devoted to strategic planning or long-range planning.  I just saw a press release from Sargento Foods this week that listed some new hires, including one taking on the role of Vice President of Pricing & Demand Planning, another as Vice President of Strategic Planning, and a third role listed as Vice President of Financial Planning & Analysis.  That’s a lot of planning!   Side note: One of these employees started at Sargento as the Director of Marketing for Natural Cheese Adjacencies.  There’s a title you don’t see all the time.

My point is that you, my small business owner, likely don’t have a team of planning professionals working for you.  Who on your staff is assigned to be on the lookout for change and ensure the future success of the company?  Yup, you guessed it!

I'm pointing at myself

Planning Tools

Now I know plenty of small business owners who set aside time each year, or even each quarter, to put some plans in motion.  Some businesses follow Geno Wickman’s book Traction and his Entrepreneurial Operating System.  Others follow the “father of management thinking” Peter Drucker or Michael Porter’s Five Forces.  And some turn to tools such as the business model canvas and other one-page tools from Strategyzer.

There are also plenty of other business owners who create financial projections for the new year that are just slight modifications from previous years.  This isn’t truly a planning process but it’s certainly a start.

The key is to set aside time in two ways.  Big chunks of time and little chunks of time.  Ideally each year, you can set aside some time away from the office or shop to concentrate on looking toward the future and setting goals for the next year or two.  But then every week, you can ideally block off a couple hours to stop putting out fires and start creating a more fire-proof business. 

Plan for the Future

Let’s talk about those weekly chunks of time.  How can you make the most of a few hours once a week to help drive your strategic plan?  First, you can assess how your business is doing moving toward any goals you have already set – that should ideally be measurable in some way – such as OKRs and KPIs.  I hear these terms come up a lot for larger businesses, but less often for small businesses.  If your business sets some OKRs, I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Even without these measures, you can certainly assess how your business is doing with a simple SWOT analysis.  Then set goals to strengthen any weaknesses and focus on your strengths when pursuing opportunities.

Aside from setting and monitoring goals internally, it’s equally important to look at external factors that could influence your business or your suppliers or your customers.  If you are paying close enough attention, you can be prepared for change when it comes, and pivot if necessary.

External Factors

Where can you find the time to read or listen to the news and connect the stories to your own business?  Here are some cool resources that I use that won’t even take up half a day per week.

  • Google Alerts – Sign up to be alerted when your business, your competitors or your top customers are mentioned in news stories or press releases. You can ask for immediate, daily, or weekly notifications.
  • Feedly – Even the free version can help you aggregate relevant news stories and share news feeds based on keywords you input. Log onto your account once a week to see what’s going on in the world around you based on your customized feed.
  • Visual Capitalist – Super cool visualizations of top news stories that are relevant to your business – and just plain interesting! Sign up to get a daily visualization in our email for free.
  • Curated News Emails – Even if you don’t subscribe to every news journal, many of them offer free newsletters that share the top news stories of the day. That brief summary might just be enough to keep you up to speed.  (Check out my own weekly Five for Friday video & newsletter!)

Intentional Planning

If you struggle to set aside the time to be more intentional about planning, then turn to your peers to help hold you accountable.  This is where a Mastermind group or a Business Owner Roundtable Group of similar sized businesses can be a huge value.

I am not talking about a networking or business referral group.  That is for selling.  I am talking about a group that is laser focused on problem-solving and planning.  You can put a Mastermind group together yourself by just asking a few peers to make a commitment to meeting on a regular basis.  Speaking from personal experience, this can make a huge difference when it comes to planning and accountability.

One step up from that would be a larger Business Owner Roundtable Group that meets off-site for a half-day or full day each month.  These groups of 6-12 business owners typically have a facilitator to manage the discussion and keep things on track.  In these days of COVID, you can find both in-person and virtual peer groups, so look around to see where you might a group that works for you.


And, of course, consider signing up for my bi-weekly blog posts like this one for more content on strategic planning, research, marketing, and other topics relevant to small business owners!

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Ready to plan for the future of your business?  I have open slots for Virtual BORG members in the following three groups: (1) Solopreneurs; (2) B2B Industrial; and (3) D2C E-Commerce.  Groups start later this month and meet virtually once a month for 90 minutes.  Limit 9 members per group.  See more and learn about special introductory discounts here.