3 essential levels: Strategic plan; business plan; operational plan

If you are planning a vacation, there are three steps. The strategic plan determines where you are going to go, the time of year, and who you will go with. The business plan determines how you will get there, how much money to bring, and a basic idea of what you will be doing. Finally, the operational plan determines all the actions you will do once you are there.

Business planning is the same. Just having a "good business idea" is not a strategic plan. You need to know the long term prosperity of your business and whether it is positioned correctly for the marketplace today and in the future.

Don't skip the steps. Research shows that strategic planning is the only form of planning that has a strong connection to financial performance. In other words, if your foundation isn't solid, the rest of the business can't thrive.

STRATEGIC PLAN: Consider putting your "good business idea" through a strategic planning process BEFORE anything else. Below is a free online class.
Creating a Strategic Plan
Developed by SCORE.

This free, online course shows you how to create a mission, visions, goals, and strategy for your business.
BUSINESS PLAN:Once you have a strong foundation, you are ready for the business plan. There are many sources of help to create business plans - online classes (free and low-cost), low-cost classes through the SBDC and SCORE, books and software.
Click for free business plan tools

Make sure that your business plan clearly supports your strategic plan. If it doesn't, go back and refine your business plan - or it is like building a house and not attaching it to its foundation. You can also take a class on business planning or get free assistance by using the links at the left.

Palo Alto software, maker of BusinessPlan Pro, provides sample business plans at http://www.bplans.com/samples/sba.cfm. They also provide biweekly classes to teach you about their software.
OPERATIONAL: Your operational plans are all the details you will need to do business: the forms you will need, the procedures, the sales process to follow, and more. Get a binder with dividers and write notes as you think of things. Also, supplement your operational plans by reading books about business and talking with others. Make sure your operational plans reflect your business plan. Usually that means to make sure your operational plans (expenses and revenue) stay within budget - but it can also help you prioritize your time.

You need to revisit your strategic plan every year; your business plan every quarter; and your operational plan every week.