Need to Bring Some Sunshine Into Your Life?

Winter can be quite tough, especially if we see all our friends jetting off to warmer climes. But every season has its charm and there are ways we can bring some sunshine and warmth into our lives during the colder months.- Home is an important place to start. Good lighting can make such a difference and lamps, wall lights and candles can bring a cosy, muted comfort to any room. Why not light those lovely scented candles you’ve been saving; then you get the double benefits of both candlelight and fragrance. A diffuser or bowls of pot pourri can add welcome scent to your rooms too.- Warmth matters in winter and whilst central heating can lift the chill and be good first thing in the morning, having a focal point like a fire can really make a room feel much cosier. Some people like to have a coal fire or they burn pine cones and benefit from the lingering fragrance, but for those of us who prefer not to have to clean out a grate, coal-effect fires are a great compromise. They add to the atmosphere of a room and cast subdued light.


- Use bright colours in your decor if you want to bring some sunshine into your home. Shades of red, gold, silver and bronze are a great choice for cushions, curtains, wall prints and hangings and can lift a room. Have fun hunting through local markets and craft shops for unusual, inexpensive items with which to brighten up your home.- Warm fabrics add a luxurious feel. Velvet, wool, corduroy, mohair can move your home from the lighter touch of spring and summer and allow you to enjoy your home all the more. A well-chosen vase of flowers and foliage can add both colour and texture. I like to place flowers somewhere unexpected like the bathroom or hallway so that they’re a treat whenever you see them.- There are plenty of ways to entertain yourself and friends over the winter months. It’s not uncommon for people to rediscover their board games and then continue with a regular games night throughout the summer months. They’ve had lots of fun as well as enhancing their relationships through chatting and friendly competition and it’s good to maintain that momentum.- Another option is to invite friends round and ask everyone to bring a dish. That way the evening is relatively low-cost, low effort and people can contribute and reciprocate quite easily. Or start a book club and meet once a month to discuss the nominated book at each other’s houses, or a music evening where you take it in turns to nominate an artiste or genre.


- Our wardrobes can change significantly during the winter months, with heavy dark clothing often the order of the day. Add a bright scarf, jaunty hat or distinctive accessories to bring a touch of sunshine and colour to your outfit. You can really let your personality shine through.- Food often becomes more comforting during the cold winter months. So whilst we might opt for soups, stews and casseroles we can still appreciate the varied, seasonal colours of root vegetables, beets and accompaniments that make for a tasty, visually appealing meal.Once we adapt to the nuances of the seasons we can start to appreciate the many opportunities to bring colour, sunshine and variety into our lives every day.

Choosing A Retirement Plan For Your Small Business

A qualified retirement plan can be beneficial to employers and employees alike, yet for a small business owner who is busy with daily operations, the time and effort involved in choosing a plan can seem daunting. It does not have to be.

Retirement plans come in two flavors: qualified and non-qualified. A qualified plan is desirable because it provides a vehicle for tax-deferred retirement savings for both the business’ employees and its owner, with allowable contributions in excess of those permitted for IRAs. A qualified plan also provides the employer an immediate deduction for the contributions made. Depending on the plan, it can encourage employees to maximize the business’ profits and to remain with the employer. Plans can be customized with optional features.

Non-qualified plans do not have to meet many of the requirements imposed on qualified plans, and have a wider range of features and provisions as a result. However, in most cases the employer does not get an immediate tax deduction for a non-qualified plan. Such arrangements also have to avoid “constructive receipt” by the employee in order to defer the employee’s taxes until the money is actually distributed. This usually exposes the employee to credit risk if the business fails before the deferred compensation is paid out. Non-qualified plans are sometimes useful, but most small businesses will prefer one of the qualified plan arrangements described in this article.

All of this can leave your head swimming, especially if personal finance is not your area of expertise. To simplify the exercise, think of finding a retirement plan that fits your small business like buying a new car. You should consider what retirement plan vehicle will fit your business’ size, needs and budget, as well as offering any special features you want. The more “tricked out” your retirement plan, the more costly it will be to establish and maintain.

The SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRA is the bare-bones model that gets you from point A to point B. It is easy to adopt, and typically custodians like Schwab or T. Rowe Price offer a basic form to start one. A SEP can be established as late as the employer’s income tax filing deadline, including extensions. After the initial set-up, the employer has no further filing requirements.

With a SEP, the employer makes contributions for all eligible employees. The common threshold for eligibility is an employee who is at least age 21 and who has been employed by the employer for three of the last five years, with compensation of at least $550 during the year. Eligibility standards can be less strict than this if the employer chooses. Contributions are an equal percentage for each employee’s income. The maximum contribution for 2013 is 25 percent of compensation, but no more than $51,000 total ($52,000 in 2014). (The same limits on contributions made to employees’ SEP-IRAs also apply to contributions if you are self-employed. However, special rules apply when figuring the maximum deductible contribution.) In a year where cash is limited, an employer does not have to make a contribution. SEP contributions are due by the employer’s tax filing deadline, including extensions.

A SEP is a great choice for a sole proprietor or a small business with a few employees, where the employer would like to have a retirement savings vehicle that allows larger, tax deductible contributions than does a traditional IRA with minimal fuss and maximum flexibility.

A SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) IRA is also easy to establish and has no ongoing filing requirements for employers. SIMPLE IRAs are only available to businesses with fewer than 100 employees and no other retirement plan in place. These plans operate on a calendar-year basis and can be established as late as October 1.

While only the employer can contribute to a SEP IRA plan, a SIMPLE IRA allows employees to contribute to their own accounts, up to $12,000 in 2013 and 2014. Also, participants age 50 and older can make additional contributions, up to $2,500. The employer can either match employee contributions up to 3 percent of compensation (not limited by an annual compensation limit) or make a 2 percent of compensation nonelective contribution for each eligible employee (limited to an annual compensation limit of $255,000). The employer’s matching contribution can go as low as 1 percent when cash is constrained; however, the employer can use this option no more than 2 years out of a 5-year period. Unlike a SEP, a SIMPLE plan requires that the employer contribute each year.

An employer must deposit employees’ salary reduction contributions within 30 days of the end of the month in which the money is withheld from employee paychecks. The matching or nonelective contributions are due by the due date of the employer’s federal income tax return, including extensions.

All employees who have earned income of at least $5,000 in any prior 2 years and are reasonably expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year must be eligible to participate in a SIMPLE IRA.

A SIMPLE can be a good choice for a small employer who would like to benefit from the tax deduction for employer contributions while encouraging his or her employees to save for retirement. Many employees will find this sort of plan attractive because it allows for higher contributions than a traditional IRA and requires employer contributions. It entails a greater administrative burden than a SEP, although this burden is still relatively small, and offers less flexibility. If cash flow is not an issue, a SIMPLE plan might be for you.

Once an employer makes a contribution to a SEP or SIMPLE plan, the employee is 100 percent vested in that contribution. Employees can take their contributions with them, even if they quit the next day. If employee retention is a concern, a plan that allows for deferred vesting, such as a Money Purchase Plan (MPP) or Profit Sharing Plan (PSP), may be a better fit. Vesting can either be graduated over a period of years of service or take effect all at once after a certain period of years. These plans are the middle-of-the-line models that provide more features than the most basic plans.

Similar to a SEP, a PSP allows for discretionary contributions by the employer. This is a beneficial feature if the business’ cash flow is a concern. The employer contributes what he or she can and the contributions are divided among employees based on a formula set by the plan. This is commonly based on an individual employee’s compensation relative to total compensation. Employer contributions are limited to the lesser of 100 percent of the employee’s compensation or $51,000 for 2013 ($52,000 for 2014). An employer can deduct amounts that do not exceed 25 percent of aggregate compensation for participants. A plan must be established by the last day of the business’ fiscal year. Contributions are due by the business’ tax filing deadline, including extensions.

A PSP is a good choice if cash flow is variable. It can motivate workers to increase profits and the likelihood of receiving a contribution. However, many employees might not find it as beneficial as a plan with guaranteed contributions. These employees may prefer a Money Purchase Plan (MPP).

A MPP is similar to a PSP, but it requires an annual contribution of a specific percentage of employee compensation, up to 25 percent. This creates a liability for the business, and thus may not be a good choice if cash flow is uncertain. An MPP must be established by the last day of the business’ fiscal year. Contributions must be made by the due date of the employer’s tax return, including extensions.

Standard eligibility requirements for both a PSP and an MPP are employees over age 21 and who have at least one to two years of service with the employer. If two years of service are required for participation, contributions vest immediately.

MPPs and PSPs also may allow loans to participants, a feature that employees often find attractive. Loans are usually limited to either (1) the greater of $10,000 or 50 percent of the vested balance or (2) $50,000, whichever is less. Loans must be repaid, with interest, over 5 years, unless they are used to purchase the employee’s principal residence.

The vesting and loan features make MPPs and PSPs more difficult to establish and maintain than SEP or SIMPLE plans. Both types of plan require employers to file Form 5500 with the IRS annually. These plans also both require testing to ensure that benefits do not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees. Employers may also find the administration of plan loans to be burdensome. The added features of MPPs and PSPs make them more costly and complicated than the standard model SEP and SIMPLE plans.

You may choose an MPP or PSP if you would like a plan that encourages employee retention and you can handle the extra paperwork. Whether you choose an MPP or a PSP depends mainly on your cash flow.

The fully loaded model retirement plan is the traditional 401(k). These plans allow employee and employer contributions, vesting of employer contributions (employee contributions are always fully vested), and other options such as loans. These plans can be as basic or as complex as the employer wants. However, with complexity comes cost.

Annual employee contributions for a 401(k) are limited to $17,500 for 2013 and 2014. Participants age 50 and older can contribute an additional $5,500. Combined, the employer and employee contributions can be up to the lesser of either 100 percent of compensation or $51,000 for 2013 ($52,000 for 2014). Employers can deduct contributions up to 25 percent of aggregate compensation for participants and all salary reduction contributions. A 401(k) must be adopted by the end of the business’ fiscal year, and contributions are due by the business’s tax filing deadline, plus extensions.

An employer’s contribution to a traditional 401(k) plan can be flexible. Contributions can be a percentage of compensation, a match for employee contributions, both or neither. However, the plan must be tested annually to determine that it does not discriminate against rank-and-file employees in favor or owners and managers. A Safe Harbor 401(k) does not require discrimination testing but does require the employer to make either a specified matching contribution or a 3 percent contribution to all participants.

Commonly, 401(k) plans must be offered to all employees over age 21 who have worked at least 1,000 hours in the previous year.

A 401(k) is a good option for an employer who would like a plan with salary deferral, like a SIMPLE IRA, but also allows for vesting of employer contributions. An employer considering this sort of plan should be able to afford the contributions and the additional administrative work required. A 401(k) is a good option for larger businesses, where the maintenance of such a plan is less burdensome.

The plans I have described in this article are all defined contribution plans. This mean that the plan determines the contributions made, not the ultimate benefits received. Once the contribution is made, the employee invests it however he or she sees fit. At retirement, the amount the employee can withdraw is dictated by the performance of those investments. Poor investments lead to smaller retirement savings.

Defined benefit plans, in contrast, are the Rolls Royces of the retirement plan world. These plans include traditional pension plans, which pay out a set amount to an employee in retirement. The employer, not the employee, takes on the investment risk and will have to make up most shortfalls if the money originally set aside does not cover the ultimate expense.

While in theory an employee could do better with a defined contribution plan, depending on investment results, the certainty of a set payout in retirement makes defined benefit plans highly attractive to participants. However, such plans are costly and administratively complex. On top of annual filings, the plan needs to be tested by an actuary. The required future payments become a liability of the company. The burdens of these plans have made them unattractive for many businesses, and they have become much less common in recent years. In most cases, especially for small businesses with employees, it is not economical to adopt a defined benefit plan.

Adopting a qualified plan for your small business need not be a hassle, even if you want to adopt one for the 2013 tax year. However, be prepared for the administrative complexity, and cost, to grow in step with the plan’s features. In general, though, the benefits of tax-deferred savings and contribution deductions for employers make setting up and maintaining one of these vehicles worth the price tag.

Better Planning

Better planning. It is often said if work is not ready in time. It is also seen as a solution for organizations to increase efficiency or a better service. It is all true and can thus be saved much money. If this money for the picking, why do we still not done?

Effective planning in practice is not so easy. Understanding the different types of planning is a first step. As is known in which a planning organization desired, then a road to be made to such a plan to come.

Planning is receiving attention. It has worked there since organizations. Yet planning is not an area where organizations always successful.

The constantly changing circumstances, think of changing availability of staff. The standard 40 hours for all is long past time. There are unexpected events. Suddenly there is additional demand in the market, etcetera. Despite the continuously changing circumstances is necessary for efficient operation. The competition is not that extra space (eg in the form of additional people) in an organization is to smooth out the changes.

There is still debate whether there are as many as possible should be centrally or planned. Central planning makes it much easier for all resources as efficiently as possible way. Decentralized planning produces the advantage that the local changes can easily be played, partly because the planner knows the people who planned and are thus relatively easy to bear in mind such as someone once one hours is not available.

The timeliness of planning will include illustrated by a recent article in a magazine automation, which by KPMG introducing a central planning as one of the solutions put forward for redundancies to prevent secondment providing ICT.

What little is written about the people who planned to carry. Rarely is the question whether the documents the employee as it likes to bring the project to which he is assigned. Of course there will a planner in practice into account. If this happens do not explicitly adopt or unconsciously. This may be the main reason why in practice there are many decentralized planning.

To clarify how an organization can better pick up the schedule, we first distinguish the following planning concepts.

-Agenda Planning

-Planning Tasks

-Project

-Planning Agenda

-As the name implies, is planning agenda only to establish a planning agenda of the different resources to come. This could mean hourly, half day or a fixed time each day in the calendar is planned. This situation occurs frequently in field personnel or resources for an organization that posting a few days or weeks makes available to its customers. Also in the planning in a call center is often referred to agenda planning. See also the article: Scheduling Optimization for Call Center

Planning Tasks

In planning tasks are tasks in the various resources planned. A task is an activity that after a certain date should start before a certain date and should be ready. The task is how long it must be taken to implement this. Accounting firms and advertising agencies work with many planning tasks. The professional knows that in a given week 5 to 6 hours per job tasks spend, but he himself can fill in what order the tasks it handles. The worker will not be told where exactly where he needs to work. As it is known when it is off than he himself would appreciate the week to complete.

Project

Is often thought to project when discussing planning. When planning a project involves the planning of several interdependent tasks. Construction projects are a good example. In one building, the foundation can be ready before the start of the masonry walls. The development of software is a good example of a project that requires project.

When planning a focus in the organization, it is prudent to first determine what type of planning is involved. Is there planning calendar, task and project planning. Sometimes, there are several species in a planning organization. It is advisable to first look into the planning issues, which are predominant in the organization.

Existing planning rules

Any exceptions must be made on what the planning rules is created. This has two advantages. It is clear that the planning rules and those rules need to be evaluated and which were probably useful in the past but not now, or how certain rules otherwise be filled. It is through critical to the planning rules used to look and not too quick to accept that a rule is still relevant today, may be more flexibility in the creation of the plan are achieved. This increased flexibility often leads to cost savings. In a service environment, eg the rule that in 95% of reports within 3 hours after the reported failure of the service technician must be present. If this rule is replaced by 95% of reports in the interference within 8 hours after the notification must be resolved, give the organization more flexibility and gives the customer that what is really important to her.

Central or decentralized planning

It should also be given to whether centrally or will be scheduled. If manual is planned, there is often much to be said for a decentralized planning to make. In a little volume it is not central to overlook. If automation can be planned it is easier to central planning. However it is important that the various departments can exert influence on how the schedule is created.

Specialties

The peculiarities should properly be identified.

The desired capacity is every first Monday of the month 30% higher on January 1 and 60 resources are needed. The details of the various resources must be known. The one the other works 36 hours every 2nd Friday of the month only in the morning until 11 hours et cetera.

Employees hold in general if not on them when they decided to have no effect. Furthermore, it also possible that a section on special circumstances at issue. This should be factored in or planning.

Inventory

What are the unforeseen circumstances that may arise? What is the priority when it comes to? Who decides this? How can we determine whether, based on the experience gained in the past, take account of unforeseen circumstances in the future? Ad hoc solutions have always possible, but just a good inventory of the expected “unexpected situations”, the number of ad hoc solutions are limited. This is an important aspect, because practice shows that many developed planning systems failed, precisely because of unexpected circumstances often ad hoc solutions are chosen so that it seems more the rule than the exception.

Culture

Around the planning process there is often a culture. By force of habit is already planning a certain way. The way the plans are made is often a process of evaluation of years. It requires courage of the people here to open fully candid and critical look at. Therefore it is important that this happens in a constructive and open atmosphere.

If all the above aspects are examined, can be examined whether and how the planning process can be automated support. Often there may soon be offered to help the planner. This could for example the use of Excel or a comprehensive planning package. The proposed plan will always be judged by the planner and still be adjusted before the final planning.

The rules for the different schedules used, strongly determine the final schedule. This in turn determines to a large extent the costs are made in the organization and the quality of the services provided. Consider this in all circumstances or based on minimal cost should be scheduled as long as the minimum quality requirements or that there are strategic projects to naming, where even at maximum quality must be planned. Although planning in the final form a strong operational process, regular involvement of management is still required, because the planning rules used to continuous change.

Planning is important in organizations, but is often a difficult process. A process that is time consuming, not always with conclusive results. By identifying what type of planning situations exist, create better understanding of the possibilities. By then the clear and critical process inventory, creates a picture of what the organization. Precisely by existing rules into question could possibly be playing much. If the rules are known which will be scheduled, look how the process can be automated can be supported. This can save time for the planner and lead in complex situations to ensure better planning, because in a short time, the various alternatives can be calculated.

Four Reasons Why Small Business Fail To Plan and Why They Need To Think Again

It is so widely acknowledged that a robust business plan is one of the key ingredients in small business success, it seems remarkable that anyone serious about their business could considerable it optional. For example, Business Link say, “It is essential to have a realistic, working business plan when you’re starting up a business”. A recent survey showed that small businesses were twice as likely to be successful with a written business plan as compared with those without one. The Times in their annual round up of 100 up and coming UK businesses suggest that “poor business planning” is a key reason for failure. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to find an authority that would advocate the opposite idea, a clear signal that this idea is accepted wisdom. Despite this, a recent survey shows that two thirds of small business owners run their businesses on gut instinct alone.

I had a very interesting discussion about this a couple of days ago with a good friend of mine who has run several successful small businesses in which he posited the idea of a “planning gene”. He felt that the only possible explanation for the lack of proper planning in small business was genetic.

According to his theory, the majority of people are born without the “planning gene” and this explains why so many people don’t have any written business plan, despite the overwhelming evidence of a high correlation between a robust and vigorously implemented business plan and business success. The majority of us are simply not biologically and genetically wired to plan.

This is certainly one explanation, although I have to say I have a few reservations as to the validity of his theory. I talk with small business owners about planning every day. I’m part of a small business myself. I’ve owned several small businesses over the last ten years each with varying degrees of success. In all those conversations and all that experience, this was the first (semi) serious discussion I’d had about the planning gene.

If I was to aggregate the results of the conversations I have had with actual and prospective customers on this topic, four distinctive strands emerge explaining why small business owners fail to plan. Whilst I have heard a few other explanations for the lack of effective small business planning, I am treating these as outliers and focusing on the most significant.

I’m Too Busy To Plan – More often than not, the small business owners we talk to tell us that proper planning is a luxury that only big business can afford. For them, business planning, if done at all, was a one-time event that produced a document for a bank manager or investor which is now gathering dust in the furthest recesses of some rarely opened filing cabinet. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and if forced to choose, they would do the real, physical work and leave the mental work undone, which seems to be the poor relation at best, if it is even dignified with the status of work at all.

Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work – The “I’m too busy to plan” excuse is often supplemented with this one. I’ve heard the stories of the most legendary construction overrun of all time, The Sydney Opera House, originally estimated to be completed in 1963 for $7 million, and finally completed in 1973 for $102 million, more times than I can remember. Sometimes, this idea is backed up with some actual research, such as the fascinating study by several eminent psychologists of what has been called the “planning fallacy”. It seems that some small business owners genuinely believe that mental work and planning is a bit of a con with no traction on physical reality.

My Business Is Doing Fine Without Detailed Planning – A minority of small business owners we speak to are in the privileged position of being able to say they’ve done pretty well without a plan. Why should they invest time and resources into something they don’t appear to have missed?

Planning Is Futile In A Chaotic World – Every once in a while, we hear how deluded we are to believe that the world can be shaped by our hopes and actions. This philosophical objection to planning is perhaps my favourite. It takes ammunition from a serious debate about the fundamental nature of the universe and uses it to defend what almost always is either uncertainty about how to plan effectively or simple pessimism. This is different from the idea that planning doesn’t work as these business owners have never even tried to form a coherent plan, but have just decided to do the best they can and hope that they get lucky as they are knocked hither and thither like a steel ball in the pinball machine of life.

As with all of the most dangerous excuses, there is a kernel of truth in each of these ideas and I sympathise with those who have allowed themselves to be seduced into either abandoning or failing to adopt the habit of business planning. Most small business owners feel the same dread in relation to business planning as they do to visits to the dentist, so it’s unsurprising that so many simply don’t bother. However, by turning their backs completely on planning, they are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Taking each idea outlined above in turn, I’ll attempt to show why business planning is critical, not just despite that reason but precisely because of that reason.

I’m Too Busy Not To Plan – Time is the scarcest resource we have and it is natural that we would want to spend it doing those things that we believe will have the greatest impact. Of course, we want to spend most of our time producing, but we should also invest at least some time into developing our productive capacity. As Stephen Covey pointed out in his seminal work, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, we should never be too busy sawing to sharpen a blunted saw. Planning is one of the highest leverage activities we can engage in, as when done effectively it enhances the productive capacity of small businesses, enabling them to do more with less. Nothing could be a bigger waste of precious time than to find out too late that we have been using blunt tools in pursuit of our business goals.

If we as small business owners weren’t so busy and time wasn’t so scarce, then we wouldn’t have to make choices about what we did with our time and resources. We could simply pursue every opportunity which presented itself. However, for the busy entrepreneur, the decision to do one thing always has the opportunity cost of not being able to do something else. How can we be certain that our business is going where we want it to go without pausing regularly, scanning the horizon and making sure not only that we are on track but also making sure that we still want to get to where we are heading? I believe more time is wasted in the single-minded pursuit of opportunities that are not right than is wasted by over thinking the opportunity of a lifetime.

In short, small business owners are extremely busy and their time is precious. So much so that to waste it doing the wrong things with the wrong tools would be tragic. Small business owners that cannot afford the luxury of making expensive mistakes simply must regularly sharpen the saw through continuous business planning.

Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work, So We Need a New Approach That Does – There are some fairly large question marks over the effectiveness of traditional business planning techniques. In an age where business models are becoming obsolete in months rather than years, a business plan projecting five years into the future cannot be viewed as gospel. Nobody has a crystal ball and if they did, they probably wouldn’t be writing business plans but using their remarkable predictive powers to some more profitable end.

Dwight D Eisenhower said “plans are useless, but planning is essential”. Whilst producing a document called a business plan is far from useless, the real value lies in the process by which the plan is created in the first place. If this process can be kept alive in a business then the dangers associated with traditional planning can be minimised or avoided all together. In an environment of continuous business planning, small businesses can be flexible and adaptive to the inevitable changes and challenges they will face. Rather than quickly becoming obsolete, their plan will simply evolve with the changing circumstances.

Accepting that the plan is a living thing that will evolve necessitates a change of approach to business planning. An effective business plan is the response to the repeated asking of the questions what, why, how, who and how much. It is not a 20 – 30 page form to fill in for the benefit of a bank manager or some venture capitalist, who will probably never fully read it. A business plan should help you, not hinder you, in doing business. If traditional business planning doesn’t work for you, it’s time to embrace the new paradigm of continuous business planning.

My Business Could Do Even Better With Effective Planning – If you are one of the lucky few whose business has thrived despite an absence of traditional business planning, then I say a sincere well done. I hope that you can say the same thing in five years time.

Business life expectancy in Britain and across Europe and indeed the world are in rapid decline. A study done at the end of the eighties and then again as we marched into the new Millennium showed that life expectancy had more than halved for British businesses in those ten years, from an average of 9.7 years to 4.1 years. Just because a company once enjoyed market leadership does not mean that its future is assured. Many high street institutions have fallen victim to the recent recession. Five years ago it was inconceivable that UK retail institutions like Clinton Cards, Game, Borders, Barratts, T J Hughes, Habitat, Focus DIY, Oddbins, Ethel Austin, Principles, Allied Carpets, Woolworths, MFI and Zavvi/Virgin Megastore would all be either out of business or teetering on the brink of oblivion in 2012. Yet that is exactly what has transpired.

Any business from the smallest to the greatest is not impervious to the winds of change. A new competitor, a technological breakthrough, new laws or simply changes in fashion and consumer preference can all re-write the future of a company regardless of how bright that future once seemed. It is precisely because these risks exist that business planning is critical. To survive in business is extremely hard, but failing to effectively plan for the future or adapt to current realities surely makes it impossible and failure inevitable.

Of course, it is not necessarily the absence of plans that did for these companies but the quality of their plans and most especially the quality of their implementation. Even a poor plan vigorously executed is preferable to the finest planning and research left to rot in a drawer. Continuous business planning is effective business planning because it emphasizes implementation and regular reviews of real results as part of what should be a continual process of improving company performance rather than simply attempting to predict the future and wringing our hands when our prophecy fails to come true. We believe, like Peter Drucker, that the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Planning Is Essential In A Chaotic World – We sometimes feel small and insignificant as we try against all odds to translate our dreams into business reality. It’s easy to feel all at sea when we consider some of the challenges we face. However, whilst it is true that we cannot control the direction of the wind, we can adjust our sails and change the direction of the rudder. Difficult and challenging circumstances may come in our lives, but we can control the outcome of these circumstances by choosing which path to take.

The truth is that we are fundamentally achievement orientated as human beings. When this is taken away, we lose much of the energy and motivation that propels us forward. There have been numerous studies carried out on life expectancy rates after retirement, which show that when clearly defined goals and daily action moving in the direction of those goals are removed from our lives, the result is literally fatal. The individuals studied who failed to replace their career goals with a new focus for their retirement simply shriveled up and died. The implications for small business owners are clear. Those business owners with clear goals who take action daily that propels them in the direction of their goals are far more likely to thrive and survive than those who take any old goal that comes along or move from day to day with no defined objective other than survival.

It seems to me that precisely because life is so chaotic and challenging that effective planning is essential. Without continuous business planning, our businesses and the small business owners that work in them may find that bit by bit they are atrophying and on their way to becoming another business failure statistic.

There undoubtedly exists an antipathy for business planning felt by many small business owners. Clearly, this cannot be fully explained by the lack of a “planning gene”, but it equally cannot be fully justified by the reasons most commonly put forward by small business owners to not engage in the business planning process. These reasons must be critically re-evaluated and a commitment made to a continual and never ending process of improving the condition of their small businesses. Without such a commitment, the future for small businesses in the UK is uncertain.