How to Write an Operational Plan in 11 Easy Steps

A quote attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra should be top of mind for entrepreneurs interested in expanding their business: “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Do you know where your business is headed and how you’ll get there?

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One way to reach future long and short term goals is to have a detailed strategic plan. And one important element to include in your strategic plan is the operational plan. This section will help you determine what needs to be done to reach your vision. To get started, keep the SMART guidelines below in mind. Your plan should be:






When completed, your plan should clearly outline the day-to-day operations required to run your business successfully.

1. Focus on important goals

It can be tough for a busy entrepreneur to narrow down business goals. Prioritize the ones that are attainable and will help strengthen your business.

For example, if you own a bakery, you might set a reasonable goal of increasing business 20% by introducing new and creative menu items. An unattainable goal might be to relocate to an expensive high-rent neighborhood without a plan to increase profits and cover the higher expenses.

Lofty goals are great but you don’t want to cause frustration if they’re just not realistic. Create goals that can be reached with your current employees and available resources.

2. Set KPIs

Put key performance indicators (KPIs) in place to measure your success. KPIs can be financial, like increasing your net profit, or non-financial like increasing website traffic or improving customer service quality.

While there are a large range of KPIs you can measure, knowing where to focus your attention when evaluating your business can help you be more effective and use your time wisely. Small Business Trends has an article to help you choose the KPIs you should measure: 14 Key Performance Indicators That Matter.

3. Communicate and discuss KPIs with employees

Research from Harvard Business School found that 95% of a typical workforce doesn't understand the strategy and goals of the business they work for. How can employees perform at a high level if they don’t know this important information? You want your team to make the right decisions based on your operational plan to help you meet your objectives.

There are several ways to engage with your employees. You can hold a good old fashioned brain storming session when you’re putting your operational plan together. You can also hold regular company-wide meetings to discuss where the company is headed.

The SmartBiz Loans team is updated on goals and where the company stands during a monthly OGSM meeting. OGSM stands for objectives, goals, strategies and measures. Management presents their results and employees are encouraged to ask questions and make comments.

4. Discuss the production process

Here’s where you outline how your product is produced or the resources needed to implement your services. This may include:

  • Necessary resources like computers, phone systems, and software
  • Required equipment like machinery used for production of your product or service
  • Assets may include:
    • Cash and cash equivalents
    • Inventory
    • Property
    • Land
    • Buildings
    • Vehicles
    • Furniture
  • Special requirements you might need such as zoning permits, drainage, ventilation, etc.
  • Materials you need to produce your product and the suppliers you’ll use to secure them.

5. Costs

What funds are needed for your team to successfully complete their jobs and meet KPIs? Are there ways to reduce costs and still meet goals? Don’t forget to add in the costs of payroll taxes and benefits, equipment repair or replacement, and legal or other fees.

6. What is the budget?

Describe in detail your operating process and budget. Here’s where you can discuss outside funding and explore how much it would take for working capital, equipment, inventory, etc.

7. Work hours

Can you run your operation with employees working a typical 9 to 5 schedule during a 40 hour work week? Are there tasks that need to be completed in off hours? Let employees know when they are expected to work and if flexible hours are available. Remote work can help you retain employees as well.

8. Location

Do employees need to work in an office or onsite? Can work be performed remotely? Again, your employees need to know your expectations and how it fits in with the overall operational plan goals. Include the costs of rent and required insurance. If you run a home-based business, outline the tax breaks you might qualify for.

9. Address possible risk

The process of identifying risks, assessing those risks, and developing strategies to manage risks is known as risk management. Include a risk management plan within your operational plan. Reduce risks where possible and prepare contingency plans where necessary.

10. Set quality control measures

You don’t have to have a quality control team. Have one employee own quality control from beginning to end with a system of checks and balances in place.

11. Create timeline and milestones

Set project deadlines so your team is clear about their responsibilities and objectives. Clearly outline a timeline for meeting important milestones. Employee input can be valuable here. It’s good to know the bandwidth each team member has when working on deadlines.

Final Thoughts

SmartBiz Loans CEO Evan Singer has 20-plus years of business experience. He offers this advice to entrepreneurs in every stage of business planning:

“Remember that your plan doesn’t have to be perfect to achieve your goals. And possibly most importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for help. A financial professional or even members of your team can offer direction and advice if you’re feeling stuck.”