First, allow me to deal with a very common problem: Business owners are often afraid to forecast sales.
I was a vice president of a market research firm for several years, doing expensive forecasts, and I saw many times that there’s nothing better than the educated guess of somebody who knows the business well.
And that also means you should not back off from forecasting because you have a new product, or new business, without past data.
If nothing else, just forecast your sales, track plan versus actual results, and make corrections—that’s already business planning. For a business plan, make your sales forecast a matter of the next 12 months and the two years after that. The math may be simple, yes, but this is predicting the future, and humans don’t do that well. Instead, aim for making clear assumptions and understanding what drives sales, such as web traffic and conversions, in one example, or the direct sales pipeline and leads, in another. Experience in the field is a huge advantage. In the example above, Garrett the bike store owner has ample experience with past sales. A normal sales forecast includes units, price per unit, sales, direct cost per unit, and direct costs.
Your sales are supposed to refer to when the ownership changes hands (for products) or when the service is performed (for services).
I know that seems simple, but it’s surprising how many people decide to do something different. I believe that even if you do nothing else, by the time you use a sales forecast and review plan versus actual results every month, you are already managing with a business plan. If you need some help getting started on your sales forecast and the rest of your business plan, you can try our business plan template. To follow up on a plan and turn it into effective management, you have to have specifics that you can track and manage. Here's one element of the plan-as-you-go business plan that you won't see automatically on most other business plan outlines or formats: the review schedule. One of the lesser know, but more important, facts about planning is that every business plan needs a review schedule. For example, in Palo Alto Software we established the third Thursday of every month as the "plan review meeting" day. I speak in the past tense only because after our UK subsidiary managing director was added to the group, those lunch meetings became morning meetings. Mind the discipline of keeping changes in strategy and changes in assumptions related to each other.
Identifying assumptions is extremely important for planning process and the plan-as-you-go business plan.
The key here is to be able to identity and distinguish between changed assumptions and the difference between planned and actual performance. Maybe you're assuming starting dates of one project or another, and these affect other projects. Maybe you're assuming product release, or liquor license, or finding a location, or winning the dealership, or choosing the partner, or finding the missing link on the team.
You're probably assuming some factors in your sales forecast, or your expense budget; if they change, note it, and deal with them as changed assumptions. Recently I listened to an HBR Ideacast interview with Patrick Lencioni, author of The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. All human beings in any kind of a job need some way to assess their own performance that's objective.
The most obvious metrics are in the financial reports: sales, cost of sales, expenses, and so on. As you build your planning process, look for metrics throughout the business, aside from what shows up in the financial reports. A software company might measure product quality by tracking support incidents, or incidents by type.
I find that in general, developing the metrics required to bring your people into the planning process is very important. When I was with United Press International in Mexico City, many years ago, every day when we came into the office we had "the logs" as a metric. Last spring, on baseball’s Opening Day, I confidently identified the Boston Red Sox on these very pages as the eventual World Series winner—based in part on their analytical prowess. Like the Red Sox (or any analytically-oriented sports team, for that matter) the primary analytical application for the Pats is selecting the best players for the lowest price.
Off the field, the team uses detailed analytics to assess and improve the “total fan experience.” At every home game, for example, twenty to twenty-five people have specific assignments to make quantitative measurements of the stadium food, parking, personnel, bathroom cleanliness, and other factors.
Belichick deserves a lot of credit for the analytical emphasis (God knows, he can’t get by on charm), but so do the team’s owners.
The only thing the Patriots lack is an analytical secret weapon equivalent to Bill James, the god of baseball statistics who acts as a “senior adviser” to the Sox. Using simple software (meaning Microsoft Excel, Apple iWork, Lotus 1-2-3, and of course, Business Plan Pro), you can sort the list by date, by manager, by department, so you can, for example, use these milestones as agenda setters for the review meetings. When and if you're thinking about plan document output, a set of milestones makes a good chart, like the one below.
So I came up with the strategy pyramid, which made it possible to track implementation and work on strategic alignment. Adobe PageMaker e o software ideal para gerar layouts, para quem deseja criar publicacoes de alta qualidade como brochuras e newsletters. Esta versao de avaliacao pode ser utilizada durante 30 dias e nao permite salvar, imprimir nem exportar seus trabalhos.
People measure a business and its growth by sales, and your sales forecast sets the standard for expenses, profits, and growth.
In a pinch, you can just forecast the sales without the units, but consider time as units the way attorneys and accountants do, or trips like taxis and airlines do, or projects or engagements the way consultants do.

He doesn’t know accounting or technical forecasting, but he knows his bicycle store and the bicycle business. Start a forecast by putting last year’s numbers into next year’s forecast, and then focus on what might be different this year from next. To forecast sales for a new restaurant, first draw a map of tables and chairs and then estimate how many meals per mealtime at capacity, and in the beginning.
Direct costs are important because they help calculate gross margin, which is used as a basis for comparison in financial benchmarks, and are an instant measure (sales less direct costs) of your underlying profitability.
Service businesses supposedly don't have direct costs, so they have a gross margin of 100%. The math is simple, with the direct costs per unit related to total direct costs the same way price per unit relates to total sales. And the penalty of doing things differently is that then you don’t match the standard, and the bankers, analysts, and investors can’t tell what you meant. The direct costs in your monthly Profit and Loss Statement are supposed to be just the costs associated with that month's sales. It's about laying out your assumptions so you can manage changes effectively as sales and direct costs come out different from what you expected. You can't review actual results without looking at what happened, why, and what to do next.
You have a strategy, you've got the heart of your business settled, but you want to set it down into concrete steps you can follow and track. The real flesh and bones of your plan is what's going to happen, when, who's going to do it, how much is it going to cost, and how much sales will it generate.
This is why I say elsewhere that it's so important to list those assumptions where they stay on top of mind.
One of the biggest threats to efficient effective planning process is too much time in meetings discussing the same things. The risk is that planning becomes a no-win game in which people commit to future metrics that come back to bite them. You don't truly build accountability into a planning process until you have a good list of assumptions that might change. For example, you might have a table with interest rates if you're paying off debt, or tax rates, and so on. The planning process requires pulling people into the regular review schedule and helping them care about performance and results. It might not be numerical or easily quantitative, but it's somewhat objective and observable by them, because then they are not left to depend upon the opinion or the whim of a manager once a year during a performance appraisal. In my book this one guy works at the drive-through window in a fast-food restaurant and the manager helps him realize that the best way he can measure the impact of his success is to find how many times he can make somebody smile or laugh that comes through his line.
It might also measure the effectiveness of support providers by measuring minutes per call, or calls per incident, or by taking a survey of customers after their service transaction is finished.
Business analysts use scorecard techniques to measure and track performance beyond the simple financial reports.
Metrics in business means some specific set of numbers you measure and get measured by, ideally numbers that anybody can understand.
The logs were a scoring of how many newspapers used our story and how many used the competition's (Associated Press) story. Don't track somebody on things they can't control, and don't accidentally use metrics to push the wrong buttons. They are part of a larger planning process in which plans are kept alive and reviewed and courses are corrected as assumptions change. They employ statistics, for example, to decide whether to punt or “go for it” on fourth down, whether to try for one point or two after a touchdown, and whether to throw out the yellow flag and challenge a referee’s ruling. The team prides itself not only on scoring the most points ever this season, but also on having the lowest wait time for women’s restrooms in the NFL. Just as the Red Sox owner John Henry moved the Sox in an analytical direction, Bob and (especially, I’m told) Jonathan Kraft believed that analytics could make a difference in football. Sort by manager to set the discussion points when you work with the people on your team to set expectations and follow up by reviewing results. The Apple Latin America group at that time was a collection of a couple dozen young, well-educated, brilliant people. Saldana and I were the only ones over 30 years old.
What you want is to lay out the sales drivers and interdependencies, to connect the dots, so that as you review plan versus actual results every month, you can easily make course corrections. The sales forecast is almost always going to be the first set of numbers you’ll track for plan versus actual use, even if you do no other numbers. He’s aware of changes in the market, and his own store’s promotions, and other factors that business owners know. For example, I know from benchmarks that an average sporting goods store makes a 34% gross margin. That may be true for some professionals like accountants and lawyers, but a lot of services do have direct costs.
Accrual is better because it gives you a more accurate picture, unless you’re very small and do all your business, both buying and selling, with cash only. Please notice how, in the examples above, the direct costs for the sample bicycle store are linked to the actual unit sales. Use this to adjust your sales forecast and improve your business by making course corrections to deal with what is working and what isn't. Strategy is nice, but the real plan-as-you-go business plan is about specifics that you can track and manage. Then in 2007 when the new management team took over, the review meetings moved to Wednesdays. Assumptions solve the paradox between managing consistency over time, and not banging your head against a brick wall. What's best is to think about those assumptions as you build your metrics, including sales forecasts and expense budgets, and write them out as much as possible.

People need to be able to go home from work every night, or every week, or every month, and know where they stand, and know what they can do to influence how they're working. Build numbers into your plan so people can see their own progress, and peers can see each other's progress. Often the team leaders fail to realize how well the players on the team know their specific functions, and how they should be measured. You know you have metrics when you find yourself checking the numbers every morning, every day, or every hour. The CEO watches a bunch of them, of course, but the bunch is composed of lots of separate metrics. The goals are built into the plan, and the actual results are compared against the plan regularly. For example, years ago I had a sales manager who was tracked on sales dollars alone, who also controlled expenses and pricing.
This Sunday, I will go out on a much more solid limb and pick the Patriots to triumph in the Super Bowl.
Both its coaches and players (particularly quarterback Tom Brady) are renowned for their extensive study of game video and statistics, and head coach Bill Belichick has been known to peruse articles by academic economists on statistical probabilities of football outcomes—over breakfast cereal, the legend goes. External vendors of services are monitored for contract renewal and have incentives to improve their performance. It's not much more than a list of what's supposed to happen, when it starts, when it finished, what's the budget, who's in charge, and -- in this example, at least -- which department is responsible.
It doesn’t take spreadsheet modeling, much less econometric modeling, to estimate units and price per unit for future sales.
And this illustration is clipped for obvious reasons, but assume you have the rest of the months in your year one, plus your annual estimates for years two and three, flowing to the right.
To forecast sales for a new mobile app, you might get data from the Apple and Android mobile app stores about average downloads for different apps. This is why sales people are generally very satisfied in their job, because they have very clear evidence of their performance. I'm a person who times myself when I run, and I run very slowly, but I still note whether it takes me more or less time on the days I do it.
The plan is reviewed and revised and the course is corrected based on, among other things, the metrics. Sales, profits, cash flow, unit sales, payroll, health, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness, all of which was pretty vague and hard to track.
I’m more of a baseball guy than a football nut, but fortunately both of the Boston teams I cheer for are not only winners of late, but also heavy users of analytical approaches to their respective games (the Celtics aren’t doing badly either, but I think Kevin Garnett is more of a factor in their success than any statistician).
This won’t help them win the Super Bowl, but it helps fill Gillette Stadium every home game. In addition to Belichick, they hired Scott Pioli, a former Wall Street investment analyst and now the “player personnel” guru.
To me it's the most important table in a business plan, because it's so obviously important for tracking progress and making your planning part of your management. In another example, the cafe startup entrepreneur makes guesses based on her experience as an employee. And a good web search might reveal some anecdotal evidence, blog posts and news stories perhaps, about the ramp-up of existing apps that were successful.
When you change milestones—and you will, because all business plans change—you should change your sales forecast to match. But we scheduled all the meetings as part of the next year's plan, and key team members knew they should be there, and wanted to be there. Make sure planning is collaborative, so that it is always understood that change can happen and when it's managed, is good. Most people think they are coin operated, but in fact a quota is a wonderful scoreboard for them evaluating themselves, and all people need that.
They rate potential draft choices on such nontraditional factors as intelligence and willingness to subsume personal ego for the benefit of the team (though I had my doubts about their fidelity to that variable when they signed the famously mercurial Randy Moss before this season). I had done the group's annual business plan for three years when Saldana issued a challenge: "We want you to manage our annual plan again this year, but with a difference. The strategy was desktop publishing, but we'd been working with that for so long that multimedia was much more interesting -- to the managers, but not to the market. The obvious metrics are the financial results, but don't let those be the only metrics (refer to Develop Metrics). Planning helps us manage change; it isn't really just to keep track of how bad we are at predicting the future. The product development people watch returns, tech support issues per capita, and issue flow. Track a customer service agent on call volume alone, or a tech support rep on issues handled, and customer satisfaction will suffer. And blogging gives me a single set of metrics (traffic, page views, subscribers, etc.) I can watch and enjoy, or suffer, every day.
Nobody wants to forecast decreasing sales, but if that’s likely, you need to deal with it by cutting costs or changing your focus. And maybe you drive downloads with a website, so you can predict traffic on your website from past experience and then assume a percentage of web visitors who will download the app. The online webmaster watch visits, pages, pay-per-click yield, orders, sales volume, and search placements.

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