Tear up the five-year plan: 6 weeks make more sense

Planning over months or years is less useful while COVID-19 remains a threat. It's time leadership teams embrace agility in every aspect of business.

Tear up the five-year plan: 6 weeks make more sense

Planning over months or years is less useful while COVID-19 remains a threat. It’s time leadership teams embrace agility in every aspect of business.

Our professional and private lives have never been so closely intertwined. Like our social calendars amid this uncertainty, our business plans have to be flexible. Right now, as the world continues to fight COVID-19 and the effects of restrictions are not yet fully understood, there’s less value in trying to build a five or even one-year plan: planning just six weeks ahead may better serve your business.

Many five-year plans were no doubt torn up in March. Lockdown saw business leaders managing teams remotely and adapting to new demands and circumstances. We’ve seen successful pivots across every industry and I don’t believe that this stage of necessary ingenuity and flexibility is over.

Businesses need to continue adapting and improving their offering to remain relevant as restrictions change and consumer priorities shift. It’s safe to expect measures like social distancing to remain in place for some time. But there will also be further developments that we can’t anticipate more than 6 weeks or so in advance. From supply chain disruptions to restrictions on movement, we need to be comfortable with the idea of adapting our businesses as quickly as possible.

This isn’t the time to try fitting a business that needs to rely on its agility into a rigid year-long plan. Currently, for many leadership teams, planning towards specific ‘moments’ in the year might be more useful. 

Consider planning towards concrete calendar dates such as Black Friday to New Year’s Eve as a way to structure shorter planning cycles. This isn’t about ‘marketing moments’ ‘ rather, it’s a helpful way to set a timeframe that’s more manageable and realistic with current fluctuations. A shorter period both anticipates and facilitates potential changes.

Cash flow, your next fundraise or growing your team must all be factored into your plan, but instead of trying to map these out over a year dogged by unpredictability, think about what’s likely to happen just between now and Christmas, for example.

What alterations do you need to make to your product or service so it’s relevant next month? Consider what factors can influence infection rates (and therefore restrictions), and what your customers will require. Anticipating changes like these is incredibly difficult months in advance. Once you make these decisions for the next six weeks, your team has to be properly briefed and ready to action them.

The New Year, for example, hails whatever Brexit deal we end up with. What can you do now to protect your business from supply chain issues or potential import and export tariffs? Work out if you have the cash reserves necessary to cover any delays or increase in costs. Do you need to employ anyone to help you navigate the impact, or organise any training for your existing team?

When it comes to cash reserves and debt, you want a clear idea of what funds you’ll have access to if business is impacted by new measures. Forecasting your expected spending and sales over 6 weeks is much easier than trying to compare year-on-year performance. There’s excellent accounting software available like Xero that can help make this task easier, or turn to your accountant or financial director for help with this kind of planning. Next to you, they’re the one with the firmest handle on your company’s finances and what strategy to put in place to keep them on track.

It’s also worth noting that the CBILS deadline is 30 November. If you haven’t explored government-backed financing yet, it’s worth considering as a safety net over the coming months. It’s far easier to enter this process before you’re truly in need.

Over the past six months at MarketFinance, we’ve introduced new products, created new partnerships and worked tirelessly to adapt to a new lending environment. We’re constantly changing and reassessing the situation in line with our customers’ needs. The bigger picture is, in this environment, less important than the now.

The way many people work has changed. This extends from where we set up a desk to the business plans we create. Business owners must accept that they can’t reliably predict five years in advance at a time when even the next five months remain uncertain.

Anil Stocker
Anil Stocker

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