5 Fundamental Principles of Business Planning

Author: Tim Berry

Tim Berry

Tim Berry

4 min. read

Updated May 10, 2024

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I’ve been doing business planning professionally since the 1980s. It’s changed a lot.

These days, I very much advocate the one-page business plan for managing all businesses and all business owners, regardless of whether or not you need the full formal traditional business plan used for seeking investment or business loans.  

What I recommend for real business planning has changed a lot over the decades, but these five fundamental business planning principles have remained constant.

1. Do only what you’ll use

Lean business means avoiding waste and doing only what has value.

Therefore, the right form for your business plan is the form that best serves your business purpose. Furthermore, for the vast majority of business owners, the purpose of planning is getting what they want from the business—setting strategy and tactics, executing, reviewing results, and revising as needed.

That purpose is best served with growth planning that starts with a one-page plan and continues with a planning process involving regular review and revision.

You keep it lean because that’s easier, better, and really all you’re going to use.

2. It’s a continuous process, not just a plan

With growth planning, your business plan is always a fresh, current version. You never finish a business plan, heave a sigh of relief, and congratulate yourself that you’ll never have to do that again. You don’t use it once and throw it away.

You don’t store it in a drawer to gather dust.

The PRRR cycle in growth planning

However, this kind of regularly updated planning is clearly better for business than a more static elaborate business plan. With growth planning, the plan is smaller and streamlined, so you can update it easily and often, at least once a month.

Your plan is much more useful than a static plan because it is always current, tracked and reviewed, frequently revised, and a valuable tool for managing.

  • You run your business according to priorities.
  • Your tactics match your strategy.
  • Your specific business activities match your tactics.
  • And accountability is part of the process.

The team is aware of the performance metrics, milestones, and progress, or lack thereof. Things get done.

Furthermore, even in the old days of elaborate business plans, it was always true that a good business plan was never done. I’ve been pointing that out in published books, magazine articles, and blog posts since the 1980s.

That’s not new with growth planning. It’s just more important and more obvious than ever before.

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3. It assumes constant change

One of the strongest and most pervasive myths about planning is dead wrong: planning doesn’t reduce flexibility. It builds flexibility. Growth planning manages change. It is not threatened by change.

People say, “Why would I do a business plan? That just locks me in. It’s a straitjacket.”

And I say: wrong. Never do something just because it’s in the plan. There is no merit whatsoever in sticking to a plan just for the plan’s sake. You never plan to run yourself into a brick wall over and over.

Instead, understand that the plan relates long-term to short-term, sales to costs and expenses and cash flow, marketing to sales, and lots of other interdependencies in the business.

When things change—and they always do—the plan helps you keep track of what affects what else so you can adjust accordingly.

4. It empowers accountability

It is easier to be friends with your coworkers than to manage them well. Every small business owner suffers from the problem of management and accountability.

Growth planning sets clear expectations and then follows up on results. It compares results with expectations.

People on a team are held accountable only if management actually tracks results and communicates them to those responsible after the fact.

5. It’s planning, not accounting

One of the most common errors in business planning is confusing planning with accounting. This is true for growth planning too.

Although your projections look like accounting statements, they are just projections. They are always going to be off one way or another, and their purpose isn’t guessing the future exactly right but rather setting expectations and connecting the links between spending and revenue.

Then when you do your monthly reviews, having made the original projection makes adjustments easier.

They are two different dimensions.

Accounting goes from today backward in time in ever-increasing detail. Planning, on the other hand, goes forward into the future in ever-increasing summary and aggregation.

How these principles apply to growth planning

All five of these principles apply to all business planning, not just growth business planning. However, it’s important to note that growth planning emphasizes all five.

It’s a reflection of the best in business planning.

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Content Author: Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognized expert in business planning. He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning.