When it comes to planning a new business or launching a new endeavor, an execution plan is where the pedal hits the metal. While a business plan outlines your entire business and a financial plan shows where the money will come from and go, the execution plan outlines what specifically needs to be done and when. You can think of an execution plan as your how-to guide for your business. It's the tool you will use to review your critical goals or milestones, as well as to track specific tasks to ensure that everything is on track, on time and on budget.
An execution plan consists of three components: milestones, tasks and budgets. Milestones are your key business goals. These are the goals that, should you miss one, your business endeavor will fail. Tasks are the specific things you need to do in order to reach each milestone. The third component, your budget, details how much your plan will cost.
Milestones will vary, depending on the nature of your business and the market you are entering. If you are in the life sciences or pharmaceutical industry, for example, milestones will likely include clinical trials and FDA approval. In "The Art of the Start," Guy Kawasaki offers a list of milestones any business in the tech industry should consider using, but these can be adopted for any company developing a new product:
- Prove your concept works, both technically and as a business.
- Finish your design specifications.
- Create a working prototype.
- Raise capital.
- Ship a testable version of your product to your first customers.
- Ship the final version of your product to customers.
- Reach a break-even point in sales.
Each milestone should include the budget required for it to be reached, the target date, as well as any resources you need, including people. If you do need to raise capital, you will want to share these milestones with potential investors
Tasks are the important details that are required to ensure your execution reaches each milestone. While it may be tempting to leave tasks out that seem obvious, documenting each important task will ensure that nothing is left to chance, which can easily happen when you soon find yourself working 12 to 18 hours each day to get your business launched. Just like the milestones, each task should include the resources needed to complete it.
In addition to many other tasks, most businesses would require these to be done in order to get up and running:
- Incorporate your company.
- Lease office space.
- Contact three key vendors.
- Set up an accounting system.
- Hire a lawyer.
- File legal and tax documents.
- Buy liability insurance.
- Design a logo.
- Create a website.
Tasks are usually used only by yourself and your team, however, there are occasions when specific tasks may need to be shared with investors. Investors, for example, may want to see that liability insurance has been purchased or that intellectual property rights have been protected before they will invest.
Some tasks may need to be broken down into additional tasks. If you're starting a landscaping company, having a website may be a single task, but if your website is central to your business, like an e-commerce website, it may require more attention to detail:
- Choose and register a domain name.
- Select a web host.
- Select a payment plugin or service.
- Hire a graphic designer.
- Finish the homepage.
- Create the first sales landing page.
- Set up analytics.
It's also important, however, not to include micro-tasks. For example, leasing an office could be broken down into a half-dozen steps, like calling a realtor, meeting the realtor, visiting the first, second and third offices, etc. It may give you a feeling of satisfaction to check off a bunch of tasks as being completed, but you risk losing sight of the big picture: your milestones.
Execution plans aren't just for launching a business. They can be used for any new project or endeavor. To see what's behind a comprehensive execution plan, let's use digital marketing as an example. Digital marketing strategies can include several different components, depending on your needs and resources. These can include:
- Email marketing: such as MailChimp, AWeber, etc.
- Social media marketing: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.
- Search and display marketing: Google search or search engine optimization (SEO).
- Video marketing: YouTube, Vimeo.
- Mobile marketing: Google Maps.
Many small businesses make the mistake of trying to work on too many strategies at once. While straining their resources, they get dismal results across the board, like a few dozen Facebook likes, a couple of hundred YouTube views and website content that is stuck on page two or three of Google's search results. Developing an execution plan will ensure that you have the resources to work on your strategy successfully. If you're lacking in resources, you can adjust your milestones accordingly to focus on those that are most important to your business.
Suppose you are a sole proprietor with a website selling informative e-books and you have decided to work on your digital marketing. Because your time and budget are limited, you have decided to focus primarily on email marketing, social media marketing and SEO.
Ideally, the three strategies will all interconnect. Better SEO and increased social media activity should increase website traffic, resulting in more email subscribers. More email subscribers should increase web traffic and social media views as well as give you your most important milestone: a spike in online sales.
Digital Marketing Strategy Milestones
- Double current online sales in the next year.
- Increase website traffic from organic searches by 50 percent in the next six months. Researching keywords and developing content should take two hours each day.
- Triple current email subscribers in six months This will require approximately eight hours initially to set up and two hours per week thereafter. Budget: $400.
- Increase Facebook likes by 50 percent in the six months This will require 30 minutes each day.
- Increase Instagram followers by 100 percent in the three months, which will also require 30 minutes each day, with a budget of $200 for Instagram ads in the second month.
Digital Market Strategy Budget
The financial budget is $600 initially. The first expenditure will be in the first month, with a cost of $400 for an annual subscription to an email marketing service. Another $200 will be spent in the second month on Instagram ads. If the ads prove successful, then a percentage of increased sales will be put into future advertising on Instagram or another platform.
The time budget is, on average, two hours each day. Half of that will be spent on developing quality website content, while the other half will be spent on email and social media marketing.
Email Marketing Tasks
Task 1: Select an email marketing service that doesn't exceed our $400 annual budget.
Task 2: Set up and configure the new service.
Task 3: Replace current email subscribe buttons on the website with a pop-up.
Task 4: Set up 12 emails to send out monthly.
Task 5: Invite current subscribers to our new service.
Task 6: (recurring) Review marketing weekly and develop additional email content as needed.
(Note that you would need an additional set of tasks for each of the other milestones.)