I once attended a lecture given by a young woman from the Australian Olympic Netball Team. This energetic athlete discussed her training program and the importance of keeping her goals front and centre. She asked the group, “Who has a ‘Plan B’ for their business?” Proudly, every hand shot up.
Her next words were, ‘Get rid of Plan B.’
Plan B is a distraction
In the world of Olympic-level training schedules, Plan B is a distraction. This athlete’s Plan A was to get to the Olympics. But with a ‘Plan B’, if she missed a training session, she told herself it didn’t really matter. Plan B would not get her to the Olympic Games, but it was still a pretty good option. So, to keep her attention purely on her primary goal, she imagined a world where there was no Plan B.
The many uses for a Plan B
Most business owners have a Plan B and use it in different ways.
For example, my Plan B was to make sure I never quite got around to doing Plan A! Plan A was bigger and more demanding. It would require significant effort and I had a fear that I might not be able to do it very well.
But Plan B was a softer and easier option. The more I focused on Plan B, the busier I was doing that, and not working on the more intense Plan A.
So what’s your Plan B?
- Is it work that covers the bills? It’s relatively easy work, but you don’t love it. You tell yourself that if you had a choice (which you do!) you wouldn’t keep doing it (even though you do!).
- Is it a comfort zone where you focus on one major client/company? As long as that client/company sticks around, you don’t have to focus on Plan A, which might be to have a more diverse strategy in case something happens to the Plan B client.
- It could be any number of different activities and fads that you use to distract yourself from the work that you suspect you should be doing to make your business more profitable, but it’s not as fun/easy/comfortable as the Plan B.
Working with uncertainty
The recent global reset has certainly shown us how tenuous all plans in life are. In the fallout from Covid-19, my Plan B was swept away like a sandcastle hit by a wave. Suddenly, I had a big empty space in my business diary where Plan B used to be. This sharpened my focus immensely! Overnight, every excuse not to do Plan A was gone.
I realised, Plan A was now or never!
In this moment, I understood the Olympian’s advice to ‘get rid of Plan B.’ With Plan B, you can avoid the commitment that it takes to make Plan A work. But without Plan B, you must forge ahead and give Plan A all you have got.
So what’s your Plan A?
Is it work that you deeply desire to do, but know that it will take major commitment to achieve? Maybe like writing a book, starting a new career, or getting to the Olympic Games?
Is it the one thing that you know your business needs for you to go ‘next level’ but you’ve been avoiding doing it? Does it feel too scary, too uncertain or you don’t know where to start so you avoid it?
Is Plan A the entrepreneurial business you really want to create? Maybe a side-hustle that has been side-lined because the day job (Plan B) takes up most of your time and energy? Many entrepreneurs eventually realise that Plan B needs to go to make Plan A possible.
Planning for negative risk
In business, we plan for known risk events which could have major to severe impacts on the work we do and the people who work for us. In these circumstances, a contingency plan guides us to quickly recover and get back on our feet, ideally with minimal loss and disruption.
But if your attention has not been on forging a stable and solid Plan A for your business, then your contingency plan becomes less about proactively managing a crisis and more about reactive damage control.
For example, businesses that relied on one major client, supplier or export market for years might have believed they were acting on Plan A. But when borders shut, or suppliers went broke, or export markets closed, it became clear that the strategy was more of a comfortable Plan B.
Australian wine producers are a good example of how the industry is now totally focused on putting their goals front and centre by developing a Plan A. Plan A must be about diversifying clients and income streams for wine sales. But Plan A is only in action because Plan B showed itself to be a poor strategy to manage the risks which stemmed from their primary export customer’s strategy. Putting all your eggs in one basket inevitably exposes you to the strategy of other businesses or customers and this is a risk that you should always weigh up very carefully.
The Benefits to Having a Plan A
Any project that has significant value to your business is worthy of a Plan A approach. But first you must determine what ‘value’ is to you. Are your goals to increase income? To have a greater spread of your network? A book deal? A reputation that extends globally? A gold medal around your neck?
When you know what goals you are seeking, you can decide whether to put them first. As soon as you do, you massively increase your commitment to their success.
For example, when the new Mars Rover Perseverance landed perfectly on Mars last week, it was an example of the project team’s unrelenting focus to putting one goal front and centre, in spite of the incredible risks involved. While there would have been many contingency plans to counteract those risks, they would all have been focused on getting Plan A to succeed. Plan B was always going to be an expensive and unacceptable outcome. No one would have uttered the words, ‘Ahh let’s not worry if it crashes, we can always go back to the moon!’
What about you?
I took the leap in the end – nervously of course – and being pushed off the cliff helped a lot!
I am developing Plan A and yes, it is taking a really long time and concentrated effort. I’m yet to see immediate benefits. But in terms of the long game, Plan A is the only strategy that will keep my business viable for the next decade. Plan B will never do that because it wasn’t designed to do that. That’s the purpose of Plan A.
Do you still have Plan B in your back pocket?
Is it the safety net you need, or have you positioned it to protect you from the scarier, riskier but more valuable Plan A?
Plan B can appear to keep you safe in these uncertain times, but ask yourself if Plan B has become so comfortable that it prevents you from reaching for the more rewarding opportunity that could be your Plan A?
By focusing solely on strengthening your Plan A, you might discover that opportunities you previously overlooked or felt were ‘too hard’, might be the thing that helps your business find a more secure and rewarding path through continued business chaos.