A business owner plots out a business plan in a notebook and on a laptop.
The post-pandemic world will require flexibility and adaptability on the part of your business, and the time to start planning is now. — Getty Images/PeopleImages

By one estimate, more than 100,000 small businesses have shut permanently since the pandemic hit earlier this year. Many of these business owners are selling their companies and retiring early, but other merchants will look for their next challenge: a business that can thrive in a post-pandemic world.

If you’re among the many merchants looking to restart, it can be difficult to write a business plan when so many things are still unpredictable. Here are some tips that can help you build flexibility into your business plan and attract investors by thinking strategically about the future.

[Read more: How to Start a Business After COVID-19]

Build a "future-back" vision

A business plan typically lays out a strategy or a road map for how your venture will serve customers, investors and key stakeholders with product or service. While the elevator pitch stays high-level, the plan should be detailed enough to recruit investors to back your company.

Before you get into these strategic details, Mark Johnson, co-founder of Innosight told Harvard Business Review, start with the vision. “Vision is getting you out in that five to 10-year horizon of what you could and should be, not just about the way things are today, to seize on those opportunities that can develop well past your core. The strategy is how you get there in terms of the choices you make,” said Johnson.

Johnson recommends spending 10–20% of your leadership time developing a “future-back” vision that can then be translated into a business strategy. Think beyond the next two years to five and 10 years into the future. This vision should be the inspiration for how you move forward, a shift in mindset that can pull you and your team out of survival mode into creatively thinking about where consumer trends may lead.

As part of this exercise, try considering some of these questions:

  • How will life change for consumers in five to 10 years?
  • What will supply chains look like?
  • What will the competition look like in your specific market?
  • What skills will your team need to make this vision a reality?
  • What decisions do you need to make now in order to achieve this vision?

Work backward from your vision to create a strategy that will lead to long-term success, rather than exclusively focusing on the present.

[Read more: Business Ideas That Will Emerge Out of the Pandemic]

"The pandemic has given you and your team the opportunity to transform for a more turbulent world."

James Allen, partner, Bain & Company

Practice agile business planning

Once you’re able to shift your mindset, it’s time to build that vision into a strategic business plan. Chris Perfect, owner and principal consultant at Concept and Perspective, LLC, recommends taking a different approach to writing a business plan fora post-pandemic world.

“The traditional approach to business planning is to produce a detailed document setting out 'what, where, for whom and why' of the company's business, along with market data and a financial plan,” said Perfect. “The approach of agile business planning is to simplify how business planning is done by focusing on a small number of key objectives, sharing those widely and using technology to really push forward with implementation.”

The agile approach leads to a living document that is shared and updated regularly, allowing the business to evolve and respond to shifting market conditions flexibly and with accountability. Perfect recommends to start with five to seven high-level objectives that are critical to the growth of your new business. Then, create a hierarchy of tasks and initiatives and then specific actions necessary to achieve those.

“Assign responsibility (defining timeline and budget where appropriate) for each task, but empower those responsible to be flexible and creative as to how they achieve the task,” said Perfect. “Governance is also really important to enable flexibility. Establish a regular cadence of reviewing the business's progress and be ready to change, add or push-out/pull forward the implementation date of key tasks.”

The team you have to implement your agile business plan is critical to the success of your vision.

Transform from the inside out

Asa report by consulting firm Bain & Company warns, “Companies that hurry back to old ways of working may very well stumble in the decade to come. The pandemic has given you and your team the opportunity to transform for a more turbulent world.”

Bain’s report goes on to predict that successful post-pandemic businesses will be defined by their partnerships, rather than assets or products. Perfect agrees.

“It's all about the team. Many merchants make the mistake of not putting sufficient emphasis on the business's 'human capital': who is going to drive the business forward, develop products and services or build external relations,” he said.

Share your future-back vision with your team to inspire, motivate and engage employees around what’s possible. Then, assign different pieces of your plan to team members to create a sense of ownership and accountability. This will help your new business go the distance in our post-pandemic world.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published September 25, 2020