When’s the last time you sat down and wrote down a plan - for your business, your next 5 years, your life?

There’s something crystallizing and stark about putting your goals down in black and white. It focuses the brain and gives you a point of departure. Your plans may - and should - change along the way to realizing any goals, but it’s a start. And one that unfortunately many businesspeople never seem to find the time to do.

Even when they do, most of us make the mistake of not going far enough.

In his book, “True Professionalism,” noted industry consultant David Maister says the trouble with most planning in professional firms is not that they don’t have stated plans – they do – but they’re full of amorphous visions, missions and ambitions, “and completely lacking in how we are going to make it happen.”

Stated goals can’t be achieved unless you figure out a way to get from point A to point B. Whether that involves frequently re-examining how your business is being run, getting outsiders to give you a fresh view on how you do business, polling your partners and/or clients on what gives them the greatest satisfaction and/or causes them the greatest distress, the important point is to never let your guard down, and consciously seek to be learning something new about your business and yourself every day.

If you diligently plan and re-examine your plans on a periodic basis, and test new theories or strategies in your firm and in the marketplace, you’ll become better attuned to subtle changes taking place in the world, and be better prepared than your competitors to adapt and go with the flow.

On a personal level, putting stated goals down on paper gives many of us an ideal to reach for. Whether it’s owning a vacation home near top-flight skiing, renting a villa in Tuscany (that one’s on my list), teaching our children the importance of volunteerism or earning a Ph.D., somehow seeing it set down on paper makes it more real…and realizable.

All my life, I’ve admired a particular Robert Browning quote that sums up the human desire to keep setting and attaining goals. “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?”

If that’s too ethereal for you, advertising guru Leo Burnett brought it down to a less cosmic level.

“When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get them, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either.”

Happy writing!

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