CanadaOne Twitter CanadaOne Linkedin CanadaOne Facebook CanadaONe RSS


Create an Action Plan for Your Business

By Julie King |

Business consultants emphasize the need to analyze your business and plan for future growth. A business plan is an excellent tool. However, too often planning stops with the written document.

Your business plan, which is rooted in strategy, should describe how you will grow your business. An action plan will help you put your theories into practice. Think of it as a big-picture 'to-do' list.

Here is how you can create an action plan in just four steps.

1. Start with brainstorming

Before you can create an action plan you need to list the various things you could do to implement the strategies in your business plan. You don't want the first ideas that come to mind - you want to use the most effective and economical ones. After all, why spend money on untested advertising when a combination of cold-calling, networking and sales might work better?

With brainstorming you put as many ideas as possible down on paper. Since your business plan will cover four main areas - market research, marketing and sales, operations, and administration - you will want to develop four action lists. This can be done informally - brainstorming sessions often work best when you feel relaxed and open to unusual solutions.

As you brainstorm you will want to think laterally, coming up with a myriad of different and creative ways to implement the strategies in your plan. For example, if the operations section of your business plan says that you will deliver excellent customer service, one solution on your list may be to provide an online support forum includes relevant information and video clips. This option may be too expensive for some companies, but for others it could be a way to reduce support costs while offering customers a level of service that they will not be able to find elsewhere.

Here is an excerpt from a list you might find for a fictional pet food company that plans to develop to sell its products through pet breeders.

  • Create an opportunity package (letter, brochure, offer statement, infomercial video, website)
  • Join breed clubs that have 100+ members
  • Purchase a booth at regional dog shows
  • Place ad in breed club magazines
  • Offer a bag of food as a prize at each breed's national specialty show
  • Provide free food samples as prizes for each exhibitor at national specialty shows

2. Identify costs

Once you have your ideas on paper it is time to apply critical analysis. While buying prime time TV ads may seem like a great idea, chances are good that you won't have the budget for this option. Also, this form of advertising may not deliver the best value for your money, even if you can afford it.

There are two questions to consider as you evaluate your options:

  1. What are your resources and what can you afford?
  2. Which options will deliver the best results for your investment?

To answer these questions, start by assigning a budget to each component of your business plan. For example, you may decide that you can afford to spend $6000 a month on operational expenses and $1000 a month on marketing and sales.

You are now ready to create a simple spreadsheet that includes time and cost estimates for each item on your list. Here is an excerpt from a sample marketing spreadsheet for a new business-to-business service company. (Please note that the numbers are not meant to accurately reflect costing.)

Marketing Plan: Brainstorm List
Objective*: To contact 2500 potential customers in our first year in business, and to secure 45 customers during the year.
Budget: $1200 start-up budget plus $1000 / month
Action Cost Time
Join industry association $200 / yr 4 hr / month (networking)
Purchase contact management software $200 - $1000 5 hr install & learn
Input a list of sales contacts into content management software, using purchased association directories as the list source $-- 15 hrs
Create an information package:
- Create & print in-house --- 26 hrs
- Outsource $1600+ 6 hrs
Build / purchase media list $400 14 hrs
Create and fax/email press release at 6 week intervals $--- 8 hrs / release
Lead development (telemarketing 1 day / week) $280 / month 6 hrs/month support
Directory advertising $400 4 hrs
Trade magazine advertising $1200 / 4 business card size ads 6 hrs
Direct mail @ $1.50 / piece $750 - $3750 / mailing 3 - 8 hrs / mailing

*Note: Realistic goals are a critical element of a successful plan.

3. Find the best value

Now it is time to sort through the various options and create a final list that fits both your budget and your objectives. You should quickly see that some items will be affordable and effective, while others will be unrealistic at the current time.

If you have a tight budget you will likely be forced to make some difficult choices when narrowing down your list. For example, you may need to decide between an investment in tradeshows and media releases or focusing instead on cold-calling and direct mail promotions. If this is the case you may want to create a second list of items for future consideration.

Here is how your second spreadsheet might look for a company that wanted to spend $1200 on initial costs and $1000 / month in ongoing costs:

Marketing Plan: Semi-Final List
Objective: To contact 2500 potential customers in our first year in business, and to secure 45 customers.
Budget: $1200 start-up budget plus $1000 / month
Action Cost Time
Join industry association $200 / yr 4 hr / month (networking)
Purchase contact management software $400 5 hr install & learn
Input a list of sales contacts into content management software, using purchased association directories as the list source $-- 15 hrs
Monthly cold-calling (hire telemarketer @ $10/hr plus 8% commission 28 hrs / month) $280 / month 6 hrs/month support
Create an information package (develop in-house) $420 26 hrs
Direct mail advertising to partial list of 500 @ $1.50 / piece every 4 weeks $750 / mailing 3 hrs / mailing
Rough start-up costs $1020 41 hrs
Rough monthly costs $1030 13 hrs

As you can see, many items from the original list were abandoned to stay on budget.

4. Add a Timeline

Your final step is to add a timeline to your action plan. It helps to rough in the timeline on a monthly basis at first and then refine it as time progresses. Here is an excerpt of a sample timeline based on our semi-final marketing plan:

Marketing Plan: Semi-Final List Completed
Month Marketing / Sales Activities
June Develop materials
June 1 Join industry association (sign-up online)
June 1 - 10 Write sales letter, create brochure
June 10 Print sample 50 brochures
June 15 Morning networking (bring brochures)
June 11 - 20 Input 500 contacts into contact management software (Act, Goldmine, etc.)
July 14-28 Interview & hire telemarketer
June 22 First mailing
July Start calling
July 2-10 Input 500 more contacts
July 2 Start cold-calling
July 17 Networking (bring brochures)
July 24 Second mailing
August Refinement
August 2-10 Input 500 more contacts
August 2 Continue cold-calling
August 14 Networking (bring brochures)
August 21 Second mailing
August 21-30 Progress review - refine plan and timeline if necessary

As you can see, once the timeline is added your action plan can be used as a checklist to ensure that you actually do the things you wrote about in your business plan. You have turned a theoretical document into a powerful business compass.


Canadian, Eh!

For over 15 years CanadaOne has helped Canadian businesses start-up and grow. All of the content on our site is created to help busineses get Canadian answers!

CanadaOne Recommends

Bullies in the Boardroom: Covering the Legal Bases

Should I Start My Own Company?

Conversations with Entrepreneurs: Billy Blanks

Avoiding Legal Perils: Critical Insights into Canadian Franchise Law

Starting a Business: Choosing a Year-End


Article Tags