Mark Daniels: Do you have a business plan? Does your strategy look as complicated as the London Underground map?

Related tags Business plan Management London underground Idea

Eons ago, when I was a humble numbskull trudging from one end of the country to the other, a business plan was a useful tool for keeping my customers...

Eons ago, when I was a humble numbskull trudging from one end of the country to the other, a business plan was a useful tool for keeping my customers in check. I knew which ones I wanted to focus on, I knew which ones were doing well, and I was able to set myself goals for what I wanted to achieve for each of them - and myself.

And a business plan meant that every time I had a meeting with my boss, I had a ream of paper with customers' names and lots of verbiage all over it that it looked like I had been really busy.

When I took on the pub I wrote up a new business plan. It was full of great ideas, plans for the pub, for the business ... even plans for me. When I wrote that business plan, world domination was achievable.

But then I got comfortable with the running of my pub, put the plan to one side and just got on with letting the days meld from one to the other.

A few years on and heading rapidly towards the end of 2008, the * insert chosen excuse here * began to bite and I revisited that initial business plan; it staggered me to find how far I had deviated from my original course. It was enough to make me smile ruefully.

Sitting down before Christmas with the determination to turn my business around, I set about rewriting my business plan. Most of the old ideas were poppycock - world domination, I conceded, was no longer possible - but the business needed "tidying up" and new goals needed to be put in place. Surviving 2009 was the first one.

Out of practice, I needed to remember what the hell a business plan was: a structured set of business goals, the reasons you believe they are attainable, and a set of actions and plans for achieving them. But how do you go about putting that down all on paper? Some people are good at that; their minds are structured filing cabinets, each drawer alphabetised for instant access.

Mine, on the other hand, is like is like the inside of a TK Maxx store: a sort of jumble sale of ideas with no discernible structure. At any one given time my thoughts revolve around staffing, offers, whether Jenson Button can win the opening race of this year's Formula One season, what drivel I might put on Twitter this evening, cellar cleaning, why am I wearing a miss-matched pair of socks, what's happened to my hair, how much did my wife spend shopping this morning, and whether Jennifer Aniston will walk in to the pub and ask me to marry her.

Finding something sensible in my head to put down into a business plan is sort of like walking in to TK Maxx and trying to find a size nine pair of brogues. They're right there, next to the Simpson's game of Charades.

To make sense of it, I use something called mind mapping. Forgive me if I'm being patronising here, but if you're struggling to put a business plan together - as I was - mind-map applications may just be the answer to your troubles, and a mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or any other random muddle you need to get down on to paper/screen in order to make sense of them.

Marketing people have brainstormed like this for decades, but I find it incredibly useful for putting my business plan - or even my Christmas/Birthday/Valentine's/sorry-I-stayed-out-too-long gift list - together, and then exporting it to Word in a format that everybody else can understand.

Every business aiming to survive needs a plan of what it's trying to achieve, but that plan should be fluid. Not every goal you write down will be achieved. "Kidnap head of pubco and hold ransom for reduction in rent" might seem like a great solution to all our problems, but will actually probably get you into a bit of trouble. But building a structure for your marketing plans, and listing which events you would like to promote or sponsor is definitely good.

If you haven't looked at mind map solutions before, there are plenty available on the web. Time was when such things would cost you quite a bit of money, but today applications like Freemind or websites like are free, although some of their functionality is limited. As a starter for ten, however, they're excellent.

And mind mapping need not be used just by those of us struggling to put a comprehensive business plan in place. They can be used by BDMs struggling to list which of their disgruntled licensees they should be getting out to see, too...

Related topics Licensing law

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