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15 Secrets for Effective Business Planning

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

15 Secrets for Effective Business Planning

In the quest for the most effective business planning strategies, we’ve gathered insights from CEOs, founders, and other top executives, distilling their wisdom into fifteen actionable tips. From the importance of planning for the unexpected to the critical step of identifying early market opportunities, discover the secrets these leaders rely on to navigate the complex world of business planning.

1. Plan for the Unexpected

The most important secret I’ve discovered for effective business planning is to account for the unexpected. No matter how strategically you lay out objectives and milestones, external factors and unforeseen challenges will inevitably affect timelines and available resources.

My approach is to carefully examine industry trends and do extensive competitor research to identify vulnerabilities and growth opportunities, but I also carve out flexibility in my budgets and roadmaps. It’s about being prepared to pivot and having a Plan B (and even a Plan C) ready to go.

For established companies, I suggest war-gaming wide-ranging scenarios like material shortages or shifts in customer demand. Rather than leaving business plans stagnant, revisit them regularly with an open mind to ensure your strategy and operations stay resilient.

Juliet Dreamhunter, founder of Juliety

2. Seek External Plan Reviews

One secret I’ve learned in business planning: Get someone to look over your plan. Back when I was just starting out, I’d pitch all sorts of business ideas and business plans to my network and experienced mentors. To me, these ideas sounded valid and solid, but often, they’d tell me to come back with a more focused and sustainable business strategy.

Here’s my advice: Don’t hesitate to ask for help, even when you think you’ve got it all figured out. For a business plan to really grab the attention of lenders and investors, it needs to be clear and straightforward, without any industry-specific jargon. Having someone proofread and critique your business plan is very important. They can catch not just spelling or grammar errors or help ensure you’re not using language that’s too technical or niche, but also get you to bring about what’s actually needed and important in the first place. 

Remember, most lenders and investors aren’t specialists in your field, so your plan should be easy for them to understand, and business mentors, or even your professional networks, can help with this.

Jonathan Merry, founder of Moneyzine

3. Test with Rapid MVPs

Launching an untested concept is incredibly risky, yet initial research and assumptions can never fully predict real-world success. My solution is to create stripped-down minimum viable products (MVPs) that contain only core features. Rapid MVPs validate needs and functionality without wasted engineering and design on extras that may prove unnecessary.

I select target test groups, limiting sample sizes, and measure key metrics like conversion rates. With a simplistic prototype, I can quickly expose flaws in the product-market fit, user experience issues, or incorrect value propositions before scaling. Early-stage missteps are relatively easy to fix with iterative adjustments, but foundational problems amplify after heavy investment or public launches.

Eric Lam, head of business strategy at San Francisco Tax Appeal

4. Overcome Personal Biases

In my experience, the key to effective business planning is to see past your own biases. When you’re creating a plan for your company, you’re going to be looking at everything through the lens of your own experience and knowledge. But that means you might miss out on some crucial information about what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s still missing from the picture.

One of my favorite tools for this is a tool called the “5 Whys,” which helps you understand why something happened in the first place. You ask yourself five questions about something in your business: Why did it happen? Because of whom? For what reasons? And so on. You might find that something isn’t working because it conflicts with someone else’s goals or needs or because it just doesn’t align with what’s going on in the rest of your company.

It’s hard to get past our personal biases and see things clearly — but when we do, we’re able to make better decisions about how we want our company to grow and evolve over time.

Mac Steer, owner & director of Simify

5. Embrace Flexibility and Client Focus

This may come as no surprise, but I’d have to say embracing flexibility is paramount for effective business planning. Working in digital marketing, where there are constant ongoing changes, rigid plans can and often do become obsolete rather quickly, so you have to remain flexible in this regard. 

To counter this, I’ve developed adaptable strategies that can pivot in response to any industry changes and trends. So it’s not just about having a business plan; it’s about having a plan that can evolve. I’m also a big advocate of client-centric focus, meaning that every strategy or decision made is with the forethought of how it will benefit our clients. 

Such a focus ensures that we’re not just chasing the latest trends but instead providing real value, and I have to say that both approaches have helped us to retain clients and acquire new ones through referrals, cementing our agency’s reputation in the industry.

Shane McEvoy, MD at Flycast Media

6. Implement Agile EAT Strategy

At Wainbee, our secret to effective business planning is implementing agile expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EAT). We consider everyone’s input through brainstorming, surveys, and open-door meetings. The finalization of business plans entails an iterative process.

Upon satisfying all the requirements of one department or team, the planning progresses until the groundwork for meeting the company goals has been laid. Hence, our business planning is ongoing, subject to changes as the needs arise and demands fluctuate.

Campbell Tourgis, executive vice president & chief operating officer of Wainbee

7. Write Executive Summary Last

Here’s my secret for business planning: always write the first part last! It’s a technique that has worked well for me and could be useful for other entrepreneurs too.

Your executive summary is the first thing people read, so it needs to grab their attention. It should highlight the key points of your plan, like what your business is about, what makes it stand out, your expected earnings, and any initial funding you might need. But just because it’s at the start of your plan doesn’t mean you should write it first. I suggest writing the executive summary last. That way, you can better summarize everything you’ve already detailed in your plan.

Thomas Franklin, co-founder & CEO of Bitinvestor

8. Set Realistic Goals

If you’re planning to start a business for the first time, make sure to set realistic goals. Setting realistic goals is the most important emotional aspect of effective business planning. From hard experience, I’d say that not meeting those goals can shatter you from the inside and demoralize you to the extent that you consider winding up your business. It’s good to be optimistic about your goals but never plan for things to be extremely perfect.

The upside of setting realistic goals, obviously, is a positive atmosphere and boosted morale for you and your employees. I’ve seen many business gurus tell you to aim high, and you’ll see an increase in performance and productivity with your very high goals. But even achieving those small wins initially will keep you going, and that’s why I’d say realistic goals have a more powerful effect on your business.

These realistic goals can also impress potential investors who’d see that you’re crushing objectives one after the other and may provide the much-needed funding. So, all in all, setting realistic goals and achieving them secures a better image for you and helps you in building more trustworthy relationships and peace of mind — the top aspect.

Jack Vivian, chief technology officer at Increditools

9. Outline a Clear Exit Strategy

I suggest having a clear exit strategy outlined in your business plan. This is particularly important for startups looking for investors. An exit strategy shows that you have thought about the long-term future and potential outcomes of your business, which can be reassuring for investors.

Stephen Hasner, managing partner at Hasner Law PC

10. Prepare Hiring Systems in Advance

My recommendation here is to prepare hiring systems and processes in advance, so that you’re not having to scramble and struggle when there’s an inevitable growth phase of your business. You need those hiring processes in place beforehand!

Tracey Beveridge, HR director at Personnel Checks

11. Create Robust Support Strategies

For effective business planning, I always make robust support strategies. A business plan has many components: marketing, operations, sales, development, etc. Each one requires specific strategies for smooth implementation and satisfying results. 

After identifying all the departments’ needs and objectives, I created suitable plans accordingly. The supporting plans include recruiting qualified employees, allocating resources and budget using appropriate tech tools, and taking advantage of outsourcing. 

With the good execution of each plan, the primary business plan will always be successful. My support strategies acted as pillars and brought excellent results to each department. Thanks to them, we were able to increase our revenues and expand our business. Our business was able to grow in a short time.

Wayne Mills, head of operations in the UK and Ireland at Seven Seas Worldwide

12. Ensure a Clear Vision

It’s essential to know what you want to accomplish, how you’re going to get there, and where your company is going in the future.

For me, the most important thing is making sure that my vision is clear and specific. If I don’t have a clear idea of what I want my business to be, then it’s hard for me to set goals or make plans.

The second thing is knowing what resources are available to me — and being able to access them when I need them. For example, if I need funding, incubation space, or a mentor who can help me out, I try to make sure that those things are available when I need them.

Arvin Khamseh, CEO of Sold Out NFTs

13. Forecast Realistically

Something I rarely see is being realistic with the numbers, especially at the early stages. You have to forecast realistically and not be sidetracked by lofty projections or simply what you would prefer to see. 

The more realistic you can keep things, the better you’re going to forecast and budget in the future.

Wendy Makinson, HR manager at Joloda Hydraroll

14. Research Extensively, Plan Concisely

The best business plans are short and concise, but that doesn’t mean they’re rushed or short-sighted. Coming up with a strong, compact business plan still requires a load of time spent researching and strategizing — without a full breadth of knowledge, it’s impossible to tell which “cream rises to the top.” 

I like to follow the 80/20 rule — spending 80% of my time researching and 20% of my time planning and writing. By building a solid foundation on data, it’s so much easier to see where the real gaps exist and determine how best to shape your goals!

Robert Kaskel, chief people officer at Checkr

15. Identify Market Opportunities Early

But the most important part of a business plan is the opportunity. Many businesses that fail first failed to see a real opportunity to fill a niche market. As soon as a new market opened up in Minnesota, we filled it. And by being one of the first, we’ve received a lot of exposure that companies late to the party don’t get. They’ll have to invest more in marketing to compete.

In addition, the secret to effective business planning and a successful business is failure. I don’t know of any entrepreneur who has not had something that failed and learned from that before finding success. Even the most foolproof business plan can run into complete unknowns. However, with experience, those unknowns become much fewer. And with enough research, a niche market with a real problem to solve is out there.

Kam Talebi, CEO of Gigli

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15 Secrets for Effective Business Planning