What’s the plan? Are you ready to thrive in 2024?

This guest blog is by TLC client Michael Stewart. With a background in business finance, marketing, sales, management and elite sport, he brings a unique energy to helping businesses to grow, become more profitable and more financially sustainable.


There’s no doubt that 2023 threw everybody plenty of financial challenges. Skyrocketing prices, problems with getting hold of goods and raw materials, inflation leading to demands for higher wages, and interest rates starting to rise again after many years.

I would be amazed if I am the only one wondering what’s in store for us on the other side of Christmas. The signs point to a pretty flat start to the year, but that doesn’t mean it has to be flat for you in 2024. And while no one is using the “R” word, I’m reminded of this quote from Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart:

“I was asked what I thought about the recession. I thought about it and decided not to take part.”

Not taking part and not being a hostage to the conditions you find yourself in, needs you to do something different. How are YOU going to “not take part”? If you simply go with the flow and hope things will change, you’ll end up where the current takes you, not where you want (or need) to go.

What’s the plan?

Before I go any further, I know that people would rather do the ironing than do some business planning. After working as a consultant to SME businesses for nearly 13 years, I know that many business owners spend more time planning their holidays than they do planning the success of their business.

On the 5th May 1980, those of us old enough to remember will have seen this iconic image of the SAS storming the Iranian Embassy in London to rescue hostages after a siege.

No-one suggests that they didn’t have a plan. They didn’t just gather at the end of the street and agree that Charlie would go in the front door, Billy would go in the back and Jonny would go in over the balcony. No-one was saying, “Let’s give it a go and see what happens!”

Of course they weren’t – they had a plan. Lives depended on it and it was crucial to their success. Having a solid plan that every one in your team understands and believes in is just as crucial for your success.

There are many elements to creating a high performing team in your business; one that can execute for your business just like the SAS.

Is everyone in your business 110% clear on what is expected of them in Q1 of 2024?

Do you trust everyone in your business to do their job, so much so that you would put your life in their hands?

Is everyone crystal clear on what success looks like, not just financially but in every other job or change or initiative that needs to be completed to build a stronger business and thrive in 2024?

If you are not saying “yes” to these questions then maybe there’s a bit of time needed to give these some serious thought.

Are you predator or prey?

In a market where there’s less business and money to go round, there will inevitably those who win and those that lose. It’s survival of the fittest; eat or get eaten. Those that are best equipped and fight hardest are the ones that will thrive.

Being fit and strong in business isn’t about big muscles and just getting stuck in. You won’t be literally fighting for customers, but some of your competitors will be more focused and understand how they will make sure that they win in 2024. The wise hunter, the one that wins more times than they lose, is the smart one – they have a plan.

Do you feel strong like a hunter, or if you’re less confident, does that make you the hunted!

Building a focused and high performing team that can win in 2024

Creating a plan doesn’t have to take days of work and a great plan isn’t a document that is pages and pages long.

My aim is to get all the key information, critical success factors and key initiatives onto a single piece of A3. There’s some supporting info required for sure, but that single sheet is something that everyone in the business can refer to regularly, understand and execute against.

With a comprehensive and well-thought-out plan, you have the some of the foundations on which to build that high-performing team.

Profitability isn’t simply about selling more stuff though; those sales need to be at the right margin too. More revenue at less margin just makes you busier and less profitable. That’s not a winning plan. Profitability can also come from reducing costs of course. The problem with that is that it can only take you so far and I don’t know many businesses that haven’t been looking hard at where they are spending and what they can reasonably already.

And so, driving revenue through effective Sales and Marketing is where you need to start for sure. But equally important is to take a look at your whole operation and challenge each area to find ways to be better in 2024 than they were in 2023.

How can we improve our operations, customer service, systems, people, purchasing as well as being smarter financially. Every area and everybody has a role to play in creating a business that is better, stronger and more profitable. And if everyone knows their job and does what they say they will as part of the plan, then you’ll have a better business at the end of 2024 than you did at the start.

What makes a great plan?

Search “business plan template” on Google and there’s 1.27 billion search results.

Here’s some key questions that you and the team need to debate. Be pragmatic and honest about where the business is in terms of strengths and also areas where you need to be better. With an agreement on what needs to be improved, someone can take responsibility for making those improvements. Knowing what makes you strong allows you to use those strengths to win.

Here are a selection of questions that will help everyone to understand your business and your opportunities better:

 – What does success look like?
What are your financial and non-financial goals?
How do we measure progress in non-financial areas such as customer service?

 – What do we want to be famous for?
What are you trying to do and in what way can you shine in your market?

 – What do we know about the market in which we operate?
How big is it? Who else is playing and how are they better and not so good as you? Who buys and what’s the problem that we solve for them? What are the products that are the key ones for you in 2024?

 – What are the growth levers that we can pull?
Growing existing customers, finding new ones, introducing new products, acquiring other businesses?

What routes to market are key for us and what new ones could we open up?
Ecommerce, joint ventures, via distributors, direct to consumer …

 – What other improvements (in every area of the business) will drive profitability, improve our customer experience or make us more efficient?

Work through these questions and discuss them in detail and you should get a view on what will drive your success. They will also help you formulate a list of tasks, initiatives and projects that need to be completed.

Get everyone behind the plan, make sure they understand where your success will come from and how you will win. Make sure all the things that need to get done are allocated to people to complete with agreed timescales and then hold them accountable for doing them. Finally, review regularly, measure and track progress and (once again) hold people accountable for doing what everyone agreed needed to be done. Execution is key.

Get this right and you’ll have a team that is focused, is pulling in the same direction and you’ll also create a culture of getting stuff done and of continuous improvement.

That’s got to be a step in the right direction and to building you a stronger and more profitable business.

Michael Stewart is a York based business consultant.

His experience covers many household names as well as lots of local SME businesses that have great stories to tell and who he’s helped to grow.

As a founding client of TLC he’s offered to chat with any of our contacts that would like to talk about their business. If you would like to talk to Michael about working with him, he also offers a 100% money-back guarantee on all kick-off workshops with clients.

He’s also hosting a FREE 30-minute webinar in which he’ll expand on many of these ideas and give examples, from The Red Arrows, the RNLI and Billy Connolly, of how solid planning will help you be the hunter and not the hunted in 2024. Find out more about his webinar: http://bit.ly/hunter231215

Feel free to add and follow Michael on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mj52art 

If you’d like to contact Michael, call him on 07974 981293 or email him at michael@askmjs.co.uk