As we move into 2014, many businesses and their management teams are taking a step back, looking at the business, considering how the market will develop over the next 12 months and creating plans to grow the firm and take advantage of changes in the business environment.

A typical approach to planning suggests multiplying last year’s financial results by an acceptable growth factor. Industry standards vary, often from 5% to 25%. Add to that number any enhancements to your product or service lines plus solutions to key problems you’ve been meaning to address, and that will essentially give you an outline of a business plan.

What can you learn from last year’s performance

What did you do right – what worked – what should you do more of? What did you do wrong – what didn’t work – what should be stopped immediately? Business owners and managers should also ask themselves what is missing from the business. What could be added which will make a big difference in the overall business. For example, does the firm need to review pricing, do some market research or develop a new training plan for staff.

Focus on objectives and set targets

Targets for sales, financials, etc should be aspirational and dynamic. They should inspire everyone responsible for making them happen to do whatever it takes to get the job done. The objectives should be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. E.g. a true objective is not simply “increase sales”. Instead it would be “increase sales by winning 3 new contracts in the banking sector by August 2014 by leveraging our existing contacts at Bank AB and Accounting Firm CD”.

Map out your plan for achieving these goals

Your implementation plan should consider who is responsible for what. You should map out specific milestones and assign a manager or accountable person to each. They should then be fully briefed and it should be made clear that they are expected to deliver their specific part of the overall plan. These key people can now work with the management team to develop the strategies necessary to deliver the objectives. They can estimate costs too so that finance can assign a relevant budget.

Make an effort to improve a few things to achieve steady growth.  You are trying to build a sustainable business model, not something that grows too quickly and falls over in 18 months time.