how to update outdated plans

How to update outdated plans

I saw something floating around the internet last week about how the constitution, written over 200 years ago, was written by men who didn’t believe in science or had electricity. I’m paraphrasing since I can’t seem to track down the exact post.

Take heart, this is not a political post that goes into America’s history. I wanted to use that for reference since that’s what got me thinking; business plans. Specifically, how to update outdated plans.

Most, if not all companies, have a business plan. I say most because I know there are quite a few that operate without one.

Let’s start at the top. What is a business plan? It’s the roadmap for how your company is going to operate. It should cover basic things like who is your target audience and how you’re going to make money.

When I worked as a Product Manager and we were transitioning from clinical trials to commercial products I was asked to write a business plan for my product lines. It was an interesting exercise that helped me understand the need to do a lot of research upfront. I didn’t realize that the second I finished researching and writing, it was out of date. I helped my product line evolve from being available on a floppy disk, to a CD-Rom, to a web offering. And the business plan was never updated. The plan had sections that were for future thinking, but we never went back to see if what we thought would happen was correct.

This is where I started thinking – when was the last time you reviewed your business plan? If you’re a smaller business, you have likely reviewed it recently – or at least know where it lives. This is not always the case for larger companies.

I worked with a larger client that, in a lot of ways, operated like it was 1983. The target audiences, the strategies, and the offerings were all firmly aligned with a very outdated business plan. However, because this company was so large, getting the business plan updated with the current century would be a Herculean effort. If they aren’t able to “get with the times” they will fall behind their competitors and alienate their customers.

So, what do we do when we face this situation? How do we move forward to update outdated plans in a way that isn’t overwhelming?

Don’t try to boil the ocean

While not my favorite metaphor, in this situation it fits. Trying to overhaul documentation that guides a company is a lot of work. Instead, prioritize the sections that are the most broken. Start by asking two questions.

  1. Are we providing products/services that people need?
  2. Are we targeting the right audience?

If you said no to any of these, this is where you’ll want to start. In marketing, we focus a lot on the target audience and we know that it’s ever-changing. People don’t stay static and where they get information is a moving target. Our marketing plans are living, breathing documents that we update regularly. For some reason, we don’t treat our business plans the same way, they tend to be set in stone. Reviewing your business plan is an opportunity to realign with your teams. They are the ones that are in the weeds. Ask them what’s going on, what’s changed, and what customers are saying.

Here is my challenge for you. Make your sections of your business plan as fluid as your marketing plan. Your audience is always changing, therefore so should your offerings. When you do your annual planning, make time to also review your business plan so that you don’t find yourself 200 years from now trying to operate from antiquated ideas.

Want to talk about how to make your business plan fluid? Come find me in our Free Slack Group, Analytics for Marketers


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