Why Long Term Planning Doesn’t Work for Small Businesses

Ahh, the start of a new year is right around the corner. There’s nothing better than a brand-new notebook and a clear calendar, full of possibilities. It’s a time when we usually sit down, take stock of everything we’ve accomplished over the past year, and begin plotting out what’s next.

Before you get out the complicated spreadsheets and 100-page five-year plans, let’s take a look at a different way to plan.

A lot of us tend to plan our business growth the way we’ve always heard planning “should” be done:

  • You do some recon on the competitors in your niche.
  • You copy what they are doing that’s working.
  • You figure out creative ways to compete on their weaknesses.
  • Then, you develop a 5-year plan for global domination and put it in a binder in case someone asks if you have a plan.

First, I have to say:

Starting your business plan by looking outside of yourself is a recipe for disaster.

You can generate revenue that way, but you can also easily get sidetracked from the very reason you started your business in the first place.

Believe me, I know. We started our business using this approach. We quickly created a “successful” consulting business that meant traveling almost every week, becoming a platinum VIP member at the Hampton Inn in no time.

It was exhausting.

We had to regroup and plan differently, so we decided to begin with what our real definition of success looked like.

The whole point of creating your business is to create the life you imagine.

Doing what you see “competitors” doing may or may not deliver the way YOU want to feel in your business and in your life. Work backward from what you want to get up and do every day.

Ask yourself, “How do I want to feel when I get up and look at what’s on my calendar for the day?” (Hat tip to Danielle LaPorte who inspired this question for me)

Once we were clear that we wanted to feel “inspired” and “energized,” it became clear what we needed to immediately stop doing that wasn’t delivering that feeling. Goodbye, Hampton Inn. Thanks for the free Cheerios!

Why Five-Year Plans Don’t Work

Once you are clear on how you want to feel, the next step is to figure out how to make money doing what makes you feel that way.

When you sit down to plan, it’s important to have a longer-term view of where you are going.

Where do you want your business to be in one year? Two years? And yes, even five years. This is important to think about, but it’s also critical to recognize that there is a serious limitation with only thinking long-range.

The big problem with five-year plans is that we underestimate greatly what we can actually get done in that window of time. Small business owners and solopreneurs like us are nimble. We are fast, flexible, and we can adjust on the fly. Speed is our advantage.

The reason five-year planning doesn’t work for us is because it’s almost impossible to fully grasp the “distance” between now, and five years from now. The farther the distance, the harder it is for us to fully grasp it.

In the same way, we struggle with this, we also struggle to imagine how much we can accomplish in a time frame beyond a few weeks. We all know what we can accomplish in five minutes, five hours, or even five days. What about estimating what you could really do in five years?

On Saturday morning, I grabbed my Starbucks and started to skim through a few years of journals. I wasn’t really expecting any big surprises.


As I started to make notes on all the things we accomplished, I was STUNNED by the sheer volume of it. There were major business milestones I thought had taken years to accomplish that actually happened in less than a year. There were seismic shifts in my personal life that happened instantly. There were many big decisions, made and executed in weeks.

The incredible insight: When I decided how I wanted to feel and committed to taking action on the thing(s) that would make me feel that way, I could quickly make anything happen.

We are capable of creating so much more than we realize. The key to tapping into that potential lies in deciding what you are going to do, and taking the next step in making it happen.

This is why those complicated five-year plans don’t work. If you are only thinking in terms of where you will be in five years (or even at the end of the year), you are short-changing yourself. You can do way more than you think you can.

What to Do Instead of a Five-Year Plan

Start by working backward from how you want to feel. We make every business decision with this as our compass. Relying on that compass got me out of living in airports. Surprise bonus: That compass helps me quickly say “no” to speaking engagements with a stay at the Hampton Inn without a second of guilt.

Knowing how I want to feel, I decide how I will generate profit in my business by doing what makes me feel that way.

Next, I create a quarterly-based profit plan.

You can do this too by answering the following questions:

  • Profit: What is the profit goal? (You can start with your revenue goal)
  • Product: How are you generating that revenue? (What product are you offering? You have to have something you are promoting)
  • People: How many people do you need to serve with that offer to reach this goal?
  • Plan: What is the most important thing you need to do this quarter to make this happen?

These questions got us to our first six figures and then to seven figures. Your plan does not have to get more complicated than this for you to grow.

Remember: you are capable of creating and achieving much more than you realize.

The path to getting up every morning LOVING what you get to do starts by reflecting on how you want to feel, and what you need to DO to make that feeling happen.

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