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How to plan my business year

Proper planning prevents poor performance. It may be a truism, but it remains valid, because, to quote US Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to plan – you are planning to fail”. This page looks at things to consider when planning your business year, so you can prepare in good time and remain in control.

Why is planning important for my small business?

Planning is crucial because it allows you to maintain control over your business, instead of being at the mercy of events. As Alan Lakein, celebrated American time-management author, explained: “Planning is bringing the future into the present, so you can do something about it now”.

Some events are predictable because they happen every year, for example, the Self Assessment tax return filing deadline. Others only happen in specific years or occasionally, for example, a major legislative change or high-profile event such as a royal wedding, which may or not have relevance for your business. 

Some events will be unique to your business, for example, the end of a new major contract, while others may be relevant to your region or market, whether they affect all businesses or just smaller ones. National or international events can also affect small businesses.

Some events may threaten your business, while others bring opportunity. Once you’ve identified them, planning enables you to act in a timely, logical manner to either mitigate risk or capitalise on opportunity. Once you’ve created a plan for the year ahead, obviously, you must work to it, because although action without planning can prove fatal – planning without action is futile.

Key UK and world dates in 2019

The following dates are not strictly business-related but may impact on how you plan your business year. For example, if you’re working in retail you’ll need to prepare for busy annual sales periods such as Christmas, but also 2019-specific events such as the UK leaving the EU and the Rugby World Cup.

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What predictable events should my business plan for every year?

  • Tax deadlines

    Many filing and payment deadlines remain the same, including filing your self-assessment tax return online if you’re self-employed and paying tax due (midnight January 31) or the balance (31 July if you make “payments on account”). There are also regular monthly dates for filing corporation tax returns, paying corporation tax and submitting your company accounts, as well as deadlines for VAT returns and payments.

  • Staff holidays

    If not managed and planned for, staff holidays can be hugely disruptive. Ask your people to give you as much notice as possible, especially if they want a week or more off. You should have a system that records all holiday requests you agree, so you can make plans if you’re likely to be short staffed. Having an agreed shutdown period during the summer may provide a solution. Otherwise, you may need to plan temporary cover.
     

  • Public holidays

    Time off for Christmas, Easter and bank holidays can also affect many small businesses, but at least their dates remain the same (or change little from year to year in the case of bank holidays). This enables you to plan to minimise their impact and hopefully even make the most of the opportunities they create.

  • Seasons

    Although the British weather is unpredictable, their timing remains fairly predictable each year. And you may sell more products/services in one season than another, which is something you can also plan for. You may sell less at certain times of the year, but at least you can plan to use quieter times to work on other aspects of your business. Cash flow issues might be more likely at certain times of year, which you can also predict through cash flow forecasts and plan for. 

  • Special days/dates

    Whether it’s staff birthdays, the anniversary of the day your business was started or days each year when you organise staff social events to bring your team closer together, if you know when these are, you can plan for them. They need to be days that work for you, your business and your team, of course. Planning them at least gives everyone sufficient prior notice.   

Who should I involve when planning for the year ahead?

It’s advisable to first speak to others when planning for the year ahead. Ultimately though, as the business owner and leader, you’ll have to make the final decision on how best to plan for the year ahead, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite input from other key stakeholders.

If you have employees, they’re probably the best and most logical place to start. Find out what their plans are for the year, for example, they might want to take most of their annual leave in the winter rather than the summer or carry over holiday into next year.

If you have employees, they’re probably the best and most logical place to start. Find out what their plans are for the year, for example, they might want to take most of their annual leave in the winter rather than the summer or carry over holiday into next year.

Moreover, they might experience issues at certain times of the year that you can plan to alleviate, for example, times when they struggle with their workload or times when they’re less busy, which might be a good time to organise training, for example.

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Suppliers and customers

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Also, speak to your suppliers to find out their plans for the year ahead. Maybe they’ll be having a summer shutdown, before which you may need to increase your regular order. They might have issues with their suppliers at certain times of year or more exceptionally, their services might be disrupted by moving premises.

They might have no expected major issues, but you won’t know unless you ask. If there are any, you can plan to limit their impact on your business. You’ll also want to make sure you plan to meet your customers’ expectations for the year ahead and speaking to them directly is the best way to find out what they want, when they need it and how they want it.

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Accountant

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When it comes to cash flow and other finance/tax issues, it can be advisable to consult your accountant when planning for the year ahead.

Forming an effective working relationship with your accountant will seriously help your business. Part of this is to speak to them regularly and plan appropriately for key finance-based deadlines; not dumping last minute paperwork their way.

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How can I create a plan for the year ahead?

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What about updating my business plan?

When planning for the year ahead, take time to update your business plan. If you haven’t got one – produce a business plan. You need goals for your business’s immediate future, as well as a sound strategy for how you will achieve them. Creating a reliable business plan means you have to research your market and carefully consider all aspects of your business – and crucially – key financial information. 

A business plan can prove to be a useful tool you use to remind yourself of your goals and strategy, while enabling you to judge your performance and growth. But it will only remain useful if you keep it up to date. And if you’re not progressing well and unlikely to achieve your business plan objectives, you’ll be able to rethink your strategy.

Most aspects of a business plan can change over time, so rule nothing out when updating. You may have gained or lost market share; you may have introduced new products or services; key people could have been replaced by others; the way you market your business or sell could have changed, too. 

Pay particular attention to your business plan’s financial data. Ensure that this is accurate and as up to date as possible. Where you can, replace forecasted figures with actual numbers. Look at your business plan every month and update it at the beginning of every year as a key part of planning for the year ahead. Seek input from others within your business and trusted advisers, especially your accountant. 

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