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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What should you do when you hit a bump (or crater) in the business road?

Yesterday, I received an email from our consultants. They want to write in their newsletter about my observations that the business planning process makes sense, even when the reality diverges far from the actual plan.

We had developed a pretty good and comprehensive business plan approximately 10 months ago -- well-thought projections based on real experience, a good variety of options should one thing or another fail, and everything looked -- and stayed -- on track . . . For one month.

Then the whole planning edifice crumbled in changing circumstances, unexpected developments, and surprising events. The business we have today is nowhere near what we projected it would be.

Yet the business plan -- and its evolving incarnations as it has redefined itself to meet the changing environment -- continues to guide our direction and vision. When we have stepped outside the confines of the original plan, either to drop something that just doesn't work, or to try an alternative that just might work better, we've used the plan as a guidepost and reminder to be realistic and acknowledge the market before pressing ahead.

Today, for example, I went from high to low when a ghost from our past (and present) suddenly haunted a proposal we are making to a major construction association. I wish I could say I don't have any enemies, but unfortunately this is not true. And the person who doesn't like us very much just happens to have held senior positions on the boards of directors of several construction associations in our market area -- including the association to whom we had just submitted a proposal.

Our enemy, frankly, has some justification for his hostility -- a few years ago we stretched our business practices over the line in a matter involving his company. I certainly accept responsibility for the actions of my overzealous salesperson (who is no longer with us). We've made major revisions in our procedures to ensure that all of our clients receive respect and the highest consideration. I suppose we could bring the lawyers out -- I am satisfied our mistake some years ago does not justify the response of the person who is hostile to us -- but having fought one battle, with lawyers, to a satisfactory resolution, I realize that it is better to accommodate and respect than engage in serious fights, unless the principal or business needs justify that kind of energy-draining effort. And since we were indeed wrong in the matter involving the person who dislikes us, I can take my lumps and move on.

But what about our proposal today, and the business plan? The answer is we'll modify our model; we'll demonstrate our value, and resolve any concerns about our business practices. Our template is the publication we produce for another association -- this relationship has lasted 15 years, and is still going strong. New features and components in the proposal, incidentally, have absolutely nothing to do with what our enemy perceives us to be. He is living in the past -- at least as far as we are concerned.

Even these solutions may not work, of course, because an enemy with a grudge (and some power) is truly a formidable force. If need be, we'll take another road, the high road, cautiously, courageously, and with a healthy dose of imagination and creativity.

This is life . . . and business. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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