The Lead Taker : Tis the season to be planning!

With the year soon drawing to a close, it’s time to think about planning your strategy for the New Year and putting things in place to transform that strategy into reality.
As the fairy lights start to go up and the shops fill up with early tinsel and Easter eggs, I have been reflecting on the “interesting times” we live in and the changes that we have seen over the last twelve months.
An associate of mine showed me an email recently from a business transfer agent, stating that now would be a good time to sell your brokerage, saying at the same time that the average value of brokerages in the recession had fallen by at least a third!
Whatever the case, your business is almost certainly not in the same place it was a year ago. In an attempt to thrive and not just survive, some of you will have diversified, some will have built stronger alliances, some will have cut overheads and simplified your business model. Many of you will have poured time and effort into your marketing, to make sure that you get the best and biggest slice of the market possible.
Whether your business has gone up or down in value over the last year, it makes sense to step back at this time of year, take a long hard look and strategise for the year ahead. Without an overall strategy, all the tinkering in the world will just act as a sticking plaster. I think you will agree that there is no place in the business environment of today for planning just to turn up at work every day and do the same old same old.
If you are doing well, don’t become complacent and if you are not doing so well, don’t be downhearted. The market is constantly evolving and there are opportunities to change and adapt your business with the changing environment. As the boy scouts have always said, “Be prepared”!
There is absolutely no point in worrying about the future. Instead, why not get on and plan your next steps? As Winston Churchill said: “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning”.
It feels to me as if we have been operating almost in a state of war for the last few years, or at least in a state of siege. It is reassuring to know that this is nothing new. Some two and a half millennia ago the Chinese warrior philosopher, Sun Tzu, spoke of the importance of flexibility and improvisation in the face of difficulty. His words were originally focused on the art of war, but in recent years they have been applied to business and strategic planning of many different types. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt”, he said. Half the battle in business is to understand your own organisation and to know how it fits into the wider context, particularly as the lending industry becomes ever more homogenized and therefore more challenging. There is no point moaning on the sidelines. You need to take action.
So how do we set about strategic planning and how do we bring our plans to fruition? Firstly, be clear about the difference between strategy and tactics. A definition of the difference between strategy and tactics that I once heard involved a tribe defending their hilltop from invaders. The tribe’s chosen strategy may be to throw rocks at the invaders from the top of the hill. Their tactics will be to plan how to get sufficient rocks and people to the top of the hill at the right time to do the job. Without tactics, or action plans, the best strategies will stand little chance of success.
So as we approach the end of the year, plan to take a bit of time while things are quiet to ask yourself as a business where you are going and how you are going to get there. Take every opportunity to go to industry seminars, and network extensively to pick up ideas. Keep an open mind. Remember that when Alexander Graham Bell offered to sell his patent for his recent invention, the telephone, to Western Union, the president of Western Union turned it down, saying that it was just a toy and would never catch on!
Next, whether you are a one-man business or a larger organisation, take the time to brainstorm and look at your strategies, weighing up the pros and cons to come up with a realistic direction, given the resources that you have. When you have decided what your strategy is for the year ahead, work out an action plan so that you know how you are going to achieve your aims. Remember, people don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.
Then, when you launch into the new year, you will be ready to get on with what you have planned in an orderly and energetic way. Nobody knows your business like you do and nobody can plan better for the future than you. It doesn’t matter if your plan is not quite perfect or if you haven’t got everything lined up exactly as you would like. If you wait until everything is perfect, you may never get started. But strategy and tactics, combined with action, are the only way to get to the light at the end of the tunnel.
We will end with a Leonard Bernstein quote: “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time”!