You Can’t do it All with One Strategic Plan

Apr 16, 2007

After doing business plans for more than 20 years, the truth has finally sunk into me: You cannot please everyone with one strategic plan. In other words, the strategic plan for internal purposes is probably not going to be the plan you’d want to show your clients. And the plan you’d want your clients to see may not be the same one you send to your bank. And the plan your bank wants to see may not be the same one that you would want to use to attract a buyer or outside investors. When preparing a plan, you have to consider the audience you are preparing it for. They are different people with varying interests and they don’t all want or need the same kinds of information. Don’t get me wrong. This is not the way I like to do things. I like to have one plan— the “real plan” (for lack of a better way to describe it)— that meets all needs. I have never advocated being a chameleon. But I have learned that it’s naïve to think you can always get away with just one plan— particularly when it comes to business plans. Why do I say this? Employees, in many cases— and even a few clients— want to see the high-minded philosophical stuff about how the firm provides high-quality services, protects the environment, and values its employees. Even if none of this is really true, employees expect to see it in the firm’s strategic plan. If it’s not there, they feel ripped-off or soiled somehow. Yet, experienced bankers and investors could not care less about this stuff. They’ve seen these same words before in a thousand other plans and just go right past it to what they really care about. The bank wants numbers in the business plans they look at. They want to see your historical performance. They want to see your future predictions. They like ratios, especially when there’s an industry standard provided to compare the firm’s performance to. They also like charts, those with trends going the right way. All of these numbers give them confidence that they aren’t lending money they won’t be seeing again. Investors, merger partners, and potential firm acquirers like the numbers, too. But they also want to know a lot more about the staff, what’s happening in the market, what you know about your competitors, what your organization chart looks like, and what your succession plans are. The five-year historical analysis of the firm’s performance they want probably isn’t very interesting to your employees. Clients want to see that your entire business was created to serve organizations like theirs. They want to see words in your plan that point to your specialization in their needs. Clients also want to see that they are working with an organization that will protect their interests as a first priority. You may not, however, want to share all your financial performance data with your clients. They might get the wrong idea. Maybe, in a perfect world, one document could do it all. If so, it would probably be too long. Consider using a different executive summary for your different audiences, one that will allow you to put the spotlight on what’s important in your plan to that reader. Also, consider making better use of appendices so you can more easily pull out or put in what’s relevant to the audience you are trying to get through to. Just as with a proposal or qualification document, with business plans, one size does not fit all. You need to tailor your presentation differently, based on the audience you are trying to win over. How many different business plans does your firm have? How many does it need? Originally published 4/16/2007

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