Owners must always look and plan ahead to stay ahead

For many small business owners it's enough to focus on where they will be next month, never mind in 10 years. But it's not a bad idea to occasionally think about where you'd like to see yourself in a decade, if only to be reminded of why you chose to build your own business.

For many small business owners it's enough to focus on where they will be next month, never mind in 10 years. But it's not a bad idea to occasionally think about where you'd like to see yourself in a decade, if only to be reminded of why you chose to build your own business.

Oliver Lee, founder of Office Athletes, says in 10 years he wants to have made as big an impact on the world as he can. "I call myself a social entrepreneur," he says. "Everything I do has to have an altruistic motive and therefore everything needs to reflect my passion."

Lee came to Australia from Canada 18 months ago after deciding he wanted to live abroad and start a business. He established Office Athletes, where corporations compete in a range of sports while giving back to the community. The goal is to also provide the tools to break down communication barriers within their workplaces.

"The sports aspect is only a vehicle," he says. "What I'm trying to do is help people to communicate better. Giving back to society is also something that is very important to me."

Lee says it's very important to plan when you're in business but you also need to take the opportunities that come up.

"Entrepreneurs are passionate about learning and they need to learn how to adapt to challenges as they present themselves," he says. "Many entrepreneurs, for example, don't think about an exit plan, they think only about growing the business."

What separates successful and not-so-successful companies, Lee says, is a vision. "I'm a start-up and if you are a start-up you already have a plan in place. The timeframe in which you then operate isn't as important."

Penny Spencer, founder of Spencer Travel, says in 10 years she'd still like to be involved in the business but probably more as a strategist. "I'd like not to be as hands-on in the business ," she says. "I'd like to take more of a helicopter view of the company and maybe sit on a few boards."

Spencer believes planning is key to getting to where she's going. "I believe you need a map to know where you're going," she says. "If you don't have a map you're winging it. I have one year and three-year plans and my annual plans are tracked monthly."

She says when you're thinking about 10-year plans you are really talking about succession planning. "You can't plan 10 years ahead for what you want to happen in your business but you can plan for succession or for an exit strategy," she says. "Businesses change too much in that time."

Spencer Travel was established 15 years ago. Ten years ago, Spencer says she was just stepping up to the next level.

"I had three to four staff and was moving to employ 10. Five years ago I did have a succession plan for 10 years' time. If I didn't plan then my business would still be in existence but it wouldn't be doing as well. I would be working in the business not on it."

Elisa Limburg started the events and marketing business, elevents, during the global financial crisis while looking for work and what she'd be doing in 10 years was far from her thoughts.

"I didn't have many ideas when I started; I created a business plan and the first year I was really trying to find my feet," she says. "While I initially had a plan it wasn't a 10-year one - one to three years is a more crucial time period for small businesses. In the industry I'm in a five to 10-year plan would need to be vague as this industry changes so much."

Limburg agrees planning is important no matter how near or far in advance you do it. "Businesses that don't plan can often be taken by surprise and find themselves with unnecessary stress and sometimes last-minute expenses while scrambling to pull things together," she says.

"It's important to be flexible and adaptable to change or your business won't survive. Businesses also need to be innovative in order to appeal to new and existing customers. I always say 'same, same' doesn't always cut it; you need fresh ideas to keep customers and clients on board."

Limburg says from a personal point of view, in 10 years she hopes to have a family and be winding back a bit.

"I am entrepreneurial by nature and I have another few ideas for businesses that aren't necessarily in this industry," she says.

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