Before I founded my business, I created a full written business plan. I repeated the exercise annually, though in the last 10 years I reduced it to a shortened key points version though still with a detailed budget. Trying to run a business without an explicit strategic plan is like trying to play football without goals. To keep the analogy going, you can try to improve your skills, keep possession and probably have quite a good time just kicking around, but in the end without goals you have no idea if you are getting closer or further away from achieving your mission. In business your mission is where you are trying to get to, your strategic goals are how you are trying to get there and your tactics are how you are going to achieve each one of those goals in the short term.
A detailed written plan is an essential tool to helping you fulfil your mission. The act of writing requires you to be far more specific and consistent than talking. You can nuance what you say differently each time you say it, but the writing of a plan requires exact and consistent definitions. Consequently, the plan also acts as a great communication and collaboration tool, both internally with members of the team but also with external stakeholders, such as potential investors, accountants, bankers, lawyers, contractors etc. Properly created, it can also be a great team-building device.
At my company, most years the planning process would start with an ‘open space’ company-wide brainstorming event, allowing all members to kick around ideas for business opportunities and potential improvements and get them before senior management. Anyone could contribute from the tea-boy to the sales director. There were no ‘wrong answers’. It gave different departments free license to talk to each other, to discuss issues and more fully undwerstand what each other did and how they did it. Over the following weeks the ideas would be reviewed and discussed by senior management. We would then decide which to investigate further, which to adopt into our plan and which to reject. We would update staff on what happened to all the suggestions and if we rejected something, why we did. These would then be distilled down into a three year business plan, which we revised in light of market conditions annually. This process, not only served to generate fresh ideas but it also built commitment to the plan and injected some renewed enthusiasm among the team, providing clarity as to where we were going and how we were going to get there.