Why Our Plans Fail (and how to keep that from happening)

“We are launching our new product next month and expect to sell at least 10,000 units in the first three weeks.”

“We are deploying a new line of services targeting this niche, and expect to capture at least 25% of that market.”

Plans are great, aren’t they?

But let’s get real: What you read above- those aren’t plans. Those might be considered goals, but they’re certainly not plans. According to the dictionary, a plan is a “detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.” How much detail can you really pack into a one sentence description of a goal?

Almost none.

The bigger issue, of course, is not how we phrase our so-called plans. We can actually have faulty descriptions of our plans and still be successful. Our descriptions matter, but if we plan well, they become mirages of the plans instead of the plans themselves. When your stated goal is a defined summary of your overall plan, it acts as a salivation-inducing image of the final dish, not as the ingredients and steps to make it. The recipe is what matters. How we internally process getting from Point A to Point B, that’s the recipe. That’s a plan.

And your recipe will determine whether your final dish makes it to the table…or into the trashcan.

To launch a new product or deploy new services, you’ll need a number of things in place. The obvious pieces are the products or services themselves. Most of us can get there without much help. Setting a launch date — ok, we’re there too. But let me ask you this: is your accounting system ready to handle 10,000 orders? Is your schedule sufficiently available to accommodate 25% of a target market? Will announcing everything on Twitter move the needle with your market in any meaningful way? If it does, can your infrastructure handle the change? If it doesn’t, do you have a “Plan B” or additional funds to open up new marketing channels? If you achieve all of your sales dreams, is your manufacturing partner prepared to meet the challenge? Do you have a shipping partner? Can your website or app handle the increase in traffic? If you’re already working 40 hours per week, can you add another 20 hours to your schedule without imploding?

I could go on, but I won’t. You already see the problem.

Business decisions — and, more importantly — life decisions, are not made in the same way we determine how to cook food. Our recipes, from Risotto to Tagine to Mofongo, have the potential to be masterpieces or dumpster fodder, depending how well we follow a recipe. Recipes can always fail, but if you achieve even a base similarity to your goal, you might still have a winner on your hands. That’s food, not life. The wrong ingredients in making risotto might yield jambalaya or paella instead. Choosing a manufacturer that can’t keep up with your product orders won’t lead to a magical anything other than failure. Same with a site that crashes from increased traffic. A failed recipe means you might eat something unexpected but still quite delicious. A failed business plan means you fail. Period.

The point I’m trying to illustrate here is that our business plans most often fail because we simply do not plan. We identify a desired outcome, start the engine, and hope for the best. That’s not planning. Instead, we should be identifying the steps that lead to the goal, and all the ingredients to get there. I think most of us do this intuitively on a very big picture scale, but the vast majority of people fail to dig into the details.

And success is in the details.

The other frequent reason our plans fail is because we lack the proper context/knowledge for making the plans. Demographic information will tell you, for example, that most of the adult population is on Facebook, which makes it an easy choice when considering paid ad campaigns. Instagram and Pinterest are probably your next best platforms for capturing an online audience. But can you insert links on all three platforms? Can you even buy ads on all three? Is the reason you choose to run ads on Facebook because of the audience or because of the ad placement infrastructure? Should you go native on each platform, or spam one campaign across all three? Did you even consider those questions when you started making plans for your product or service launch?

See, making a plan is only one step in hoping your plan will not fail. Your plan also needs to be good. And by good, I mean you can’t think, for example, that you’re going to use the same “social media” campaign for Facebook and Instagram, because those two platforms function differently and have almost no cultural similarities. If you “planned” to use one social media campaign for both social media platforms, your plan wasn’t good. That’s a fact.

So how do you plan well and lower the potential that your plans will fail?

You always start by identifying where you want to be and writing that down. Once you do that, start working backwards, identifying each step in the process. To launch a product or service, you need to know where you’ll launch it. Do you need a shopping cart or payment gateway? Do you need to install a plugin on your site? Knock out each question moving backwards until you’ve backed all the way up to where you are right now. Once you’re back in present time, walk forward through the entire process in your mind and see if you missed anything. You’ll be amazed at how much information flows from this process. In my coaching program, I guide entrepreneurs and business owners through this exact process.

Next, characterize each step as: (1) an activity you complete (i.e., writing copy, sending email, meeting with vendor, etc.); (2) a tool you use (i.e., an app, a shopping cart, a social media platform, etc.); and/or 3) something you outsource (i.e., an activity, management of a tool, etc.). Once you characterize the steps, start asking yourself questions like, “does this scale?” “Do I have time?” “Are they reliable?” “Are there alternatives?” “Are there sufficient funds?” As with the overall plan itself, you’ll see a literal flood of information come from this process. We do this in my coaching process as well, and it yields amazing results.

Once you’ve done the foregoing, write out your actual plan. Don’t wait to pull the trigger, though. Change the things that need to be changed, and keep the things that work — but work on things while you’re working on things. You don’t want to spend all your time strategizing and not building, so get to work and start building. Meanwhile, if you want a free resource that teaches you Five Tips To a Better Business, Join our email community and have it delivered to your inbox. It’s my free gift to you.

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© 2015 Brock Shinen. All rights reserved.