Best Advice I Ever Got: Always Have a Plan

There’s really nothing worse than a cold-call handshake. It means you’ve walked up to someone with no information, no introduction, and–worst of all–no plan. That’s never the way to do things, which is why the best advice I’ve ever received is to always have a plan, even if it’s created on the fly.

When I attend a conference or event, for instance, I never go up to people without first observing the room. I create a mental picture and form a game plan in my mind. To do this, ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of this situation?” If the answer is free food and drinks, then have a good time. But if you’re going to an event specifically to meet the CFO of a certain company in hopes of landing an accounting client, you need a better plan than that.

First, walk into the room, and scout it out. Locate the person you want to talk to, and observe him. Is he a guy who laughs? Does he seem like the serious, straight-to-business type? Next, start talking to people in the groups near him. If he seems to like jokes, make the people around you laugh–he might take notice. When you’re ready, start conversations with people you saw him talking to, and get them to introduce you to him. That way, you can achieve a successful meet-and-greet with a warm handshake.

After 30 years, this comes naturally to me now. I’m able to analyze situations and make plans accordingly. In the end, hopefully, I’m the person in the room people want to talk to.

1. Observe and plan for all situations.

Having a plan works great in short-term situations like networking, but it also translates to the big picture. This is something I learned by observing business leaders who didn’t do this very well.

For example, I once worked for a company that planned to do some PR, land good press and release a new product. The problem: the product had a major failure rate when it came out. On top of that, the company was overcharging because it didn’t use multiple factories. In the end, the product was a complete failure because a plan didn’t exist for all situations–just some of them.

In another situation, I worked for a nonprofit organization that went through all the motions of hiring a great team. But the company’s leadership didn’t even know how to fill out the proper paperwork. In the end, the nonprofit spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on employment in just six months. As you might have guessed, the money ran out because there was no set plan.

I attribute much of my business success to what experiences like these have taught me. I’ve internalized those experiences, and they reinforce the idea that having a plan matters–always.

2. Take your time and prepare.

To have a good plan, you must prepare yourself or your team by looking at all of the angles. Having multiple voices in a room during planning is often the best way to set yourself up for success.

Once you create a plan, let your team poke holes in it. Treat the plan like a game of chess: the direction it could go in and what moves others make can threaten the pursuit of your goal. By knowing the obstacles in advance–and having a way around them as a part of the plan–will help move you toward your goal.

Plans also need to have different stages in order to meet goals. For example, if the goal of a certain plan is to get to point Z, but that can’t be achieved without first succeeding at points X and Y, align the stepping stones that get you to the end game. One of the biggest wastes of time in business is saying “and now what?”

Time may be of the essence, but that doesn’t mean you should rush. I’m a firm believer in taking your time to prepare, but always be cognizant of the deadline.

3. Keep your plans in pencil.

You’ve probably heard about what happens to the best laid plans, right? It’s good to have plans, but write them in pencil. Even the best plans can be bent, changed or erased. But if you sketch some plans as you go along, you’ll naturally be able to roll with the punches. That way, if things don’t go as planned, you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way.

Learn from the plans that other people have made by not repeating their mistakes. When you’ve taken the time to make a plan, get others involved to make sure it’s battle-ready. Make your plans in pencil, and be ready to erase parts of them along the way. Using these techniques, you’ll be ready to face anything with the right mixture of preparedness and flexibility.



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