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Small Business Success: Vision – What you do today affects the long run, and the long run affects what you do today

Updated on August 14, 2012

As I mentioned in my initial article on this subject, I have worked with small businesses (and by small I mean usually 15 or fewer employees) for more than 16 years, primarily helping with their advertising needs. Along the way I found there are a number of key ingredients that most successful small businesses have that those who fail don't have. One of those ingredients is vision.

By vision I don’t mean, of course, the kind that can be corrected with eyeglasses. I’m talking about the kind of vision that helps you think about the future, to plan ahead and to anticipate.

Frequently, vision means developing a business plan. There are many fine sites on the Internet that provide guidance in how to create a business plan. Most of these set goals for one year, three years and five years. This is important because most people who start their own business expect to stay in business for at least that long. Having a plan for five years is much better than the “I hope I make it through this day” approach.

Vision goes beyond a business plan

In a successful business, though, vision means even more. Most successful small businesspeople I work with know what they plan to do a year or even five years from now. But they also know how the decisions they make today and tomorrow will affect those future plans. Understanding how the actions of the moment impact the future of the company is sometimes overlooked by small business owners. This is understandable because in most small businesses the owner is also a hands-on employee, possibly the only employee. There are many things to think about just to make it through the day, and they can often crowd out the larger perspective.

But thinking about today’s action in terms of the overall scheme of things is vital. If you buy that new piece of equipment today, how will that affect your cash flow to pay your employees, or to buy that other new equipment you’ve been saving for, or the plans to expand your business? If you take on that big project today, how will that affect the other projects you’ve already committed to? If you make a concession in pricing to land this new account today, how will that affect your other loyal customers down the road – and how will it affect your bottom line in the long run?

On the reverse side, if you have a one-year plan of adding an employee or expanding the size of your store or manufacturing area, what things do you have to do today to make that happen? It may be as simple as taking a few minutes today to call a local contractor for an estimate or finding a new avenue for sales to ensure that you’ll have enough demand to warrant that employee.

Expect the unexpected

Another aspect of vision is anticipation. I have never worked with a business where everything worked smoothly all the time (in fact, most of them would be happy to enjoy one day like that). Unexpected problems pop up all the time – a key piece of machinery breaks down, a storm knocks out the power, a child gets sick and is hospitalized.

It is important to “expect the unexpected.” Having emergency plans such as backup machinery, a generator, a key person who can step in for you in the event of a personal crisis, or whatever else it takes to keep your business running smoothly should all be part of vision.

It can even include such mundane things as maintaining your inventory. Once I stopped to see a manufacturing client whose work had ground to a standstill because he’d run out of the small fasteners he used in his product. He ordered more, but it would take several days for them to arrive. He could have avoided several days of lost production by simply taking a few minutes a week earlier to check his supply situation.

Vision in business is mostly about staying aware – aware that everything you’re doing today will affect your business in some way years from now, and what you plan on doing years from now will affect your business today.

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