It’s easy for business owners to fall into the reactionary trap. We’re so busy keeping the plates spinning, lurching from one crisis to the next, that we don’t have the time and the headspace to get on the front foot and tackle the things that we know would make our business better (if we could just find the time to get to them).

This is even harder if you’re the type of owner who likes to control everything and finds it hard to empower your team.

Business success boils down to being proactive. And the key to being proactive is planning.

Planning forces you to look ahead and foresee potential challenges or opportunities, and then identify the changes required now to mitigate or maximise them.

I’m often surprised at how little planning business owners do … but then it’s not so surprising as most are too busy “doing stuff”.

One of the best things an owner can do for their business (and their lifestyle) is to “sharpen the saw”, as Stephen R. Covey states in his brilliant book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The analogy of the lumberjack who takes time to sharpen his saw before going to work, so he can cut down far more trees with far less effort, is powerful – and resonates for most owners I speak to (including myself).

The key to sharpening the saw is to step away from your business. If you don’t escape the never-ending urgent stuff, you’ll never be able to effectively and objectively look at how your business could be improved so that you work smarter, not harder.

What’s your back-up plan?

I describe proactive planning as “preparing for the best but expecting the worst”. When planning, it’s easy to focus on the upside: getting more clients; releasing a new product; selling more to existing customers.

It’s harder to plan for the downside, because it’s much harder to quantify: a competitor releasing a killer new product; a legislative change that affects your ability to operate; the Uber-equivalent in your industry starting up in your town.

To counter worst-case scenarios, business owners need a back-up plan covering contingencies in case something extraordinary happens. Here are some tips to help you prepare your back-up plan:

  • Undertake a risk assessment. Most businesses don’t do quality (and visionary) risk assessments, meaning risks that could be mitigated are instead left untreated, which can leave you exposed.

  • Get expert help. A local insurance broker can advise on ways to mitigate risk through insurance, which can greatly increase the effectiveness of your risk assessment.

  • Don’t just focus on the premium. Insurance premiums are naturally higher in high-risk environments, but balance this against the cost of being underinsured (or worse, not insured at all). The cost of underinsurance will almost always exceed the damage caused and cost to rebuild.

  • Consider the flow-on effect. Your business may not be directly impacted by an event (such as a flood or fire), but you may be affected indirectly (such as your town being cut off and losing patronage). Business interruption cover may help to mitigate possible flow-on effects for your business.

For more tips to help you take proactive action when preparing your back-up plan, go to

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