Plan to Fail

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on July 08, 2009 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Project Management

There’s the old saying, “If you’re failing to plan then you’re planning to fail”. That’s good advice but I would add that “you SHOULD plan to fail”. Okay, so that might not sound like the most positive advice around, but you’ll thank me for it after you’ve read this blog.

I’ve been coaching a client through a fairly significant business transition. He had a business that had been slowly failing for about 5 years before he came to me about three months ago. Through the course of our discussion we discovered that his real vision for business was not in the area of business he’d started but it lay elsewhere and (in his case) the right decision was to wrap up his failing business and pursue a different direction. He is taking a couple of weeks away from his business to clear his head and to prepare a business plan for this next step.

In our final conversation yesterday evening, before he left for his “business-plan-getaway”, I advised him to include contingency planning into his business plan. At first he said, “Yes, I was planning on including an exit strategy”, but then I clarified what I meant: He shouldn’t JUST create an ideal exit strategy; he needs to also consider other possibilities that he could encounter in the course of his business. For example:

  • What happens if some other product replaces his in the eyes of his target market?
  • What is the amount of money he is willing to spend on advertising? And what will he do if he reaches that amount and has acquired no new leads?
  • What will he do if there is a sudden flood of new customers and he cannot fill the orders himself or with the raw materials he has on hand?
  • What if he suddenly gets bad publicity (no matter what the reason)?
  • What happens if his vendors go out of business tomorrow?
  • What happens if he has a power interruption for a significant period of time?

These are just six of many possible situations he could face in his business. Some are positive, some are negative, and ALL should be planned for.

As I went on to explain to him: Admittedly, you’ll never fully plan every contingency to a “T”, and even if you do, it’s rare that a situation ends up exactly the way you expect. However, you will be so far ahead of the game should a similar situation actually occur that you’ll have far more confidence in handling the situation and be far more likely to come away with a positive outcome.

Here’s an example of what I feel is an adequate contingency plan for a couple of the above-mentioned situations:

Situation: I spend $2,000 on Google AdWords and end up with zero leads at the end of 30 days.
Plan: I need to revisit my offer, my AdWords copy, and my landing page. While it could be other factors, those are three areas over which I have some control. At that time, I should also consider finding a professional who can help me with my AdWords and landing page copy.

Situation: I get a flood of orders amounting to more than I can personally handle and/or more than I have raw materials on hand for.
Plan: I should have another trained person available to help and “on-call” for situations like this. I should talk to my vendors and see if they have any surplus on-hand. I should also have a couple of other secondary vendors who might help. I’ll pay with my credit card if I have to, in order to resolve this temporary solution to the satisfaction of my customers.

Once these scenarios are planned, you’ll have a list of to-do’s in order to prepare. In the above two examples your to-do’s might include:

  • Visit or to source a couple of AdWords or landing page professionals. Bookmark their profiles for future reference.
  • Train spouse in how to assemble the products so that he/she can help in emergency situations.
  • Find 3 vendors to keep “in reserve” should extra raw materials be needed.

So, if you’re failing to plan then you’re planning to fail. But if you are actually planning then you should also be planning to fail… and then mitigating those possibilities proactively.

Good Luck!

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