Ghost Busters Wagon

Planning for Growth Amidst Entrepreneurial Challenges

business planning business systems Jul 13, 2023

My father loved Chevy Chase. I suspect Clark W. Griswold inspired a two-day family road trip from New Hampshire to Disney World in Orlando. But compared to the Griswolds, our trip was relatively uneventful — aside from a tornado, green lightning, and a 2-mile wait to get into Disney World. 

National Lampoons Vacation was released 40 years ago (29th of July, 1983). Gripped in the arms of nostalgia (and poor Netflix prospects), I found taking a journey down memory lane with the Griswold family.   

Griswold was a planner...

The evening before their calamitous cross-country adventure, he sits beside his kids and loads their route on the computer (an Apple II). Clark's 'truckster' bleeps along the dotted Trip Tic line, going through St. Louis, Dodge City, South Fork, Arizona, and Los Angeles, closely pursued by Rusty's angular Pac-creature.

But things go wrong quickly... most of them cringeworthy by today's standards. 

From the moment the car pulls out of the garage…

  • The luggage comes off the roof rack
  • They end up in a bad neighbourhood in St. Louis
  • Aunt Edna's dog, Dinky, gets dragged behind the car
  • Aunt Edna dies (and is strapped to the roof)
  • Clark takes a wrong turn and wrecks the car in the desert
  • and so it goes on... much like the entrepreneurial journey.

Still, Griswold had a mission: to get the family to Walley World, and he clings to his plan. Come death, desert or Christie Brinkley in a Ferrari, Griswold would get to Wally World.

Which is more than can be said for most business owners.

That is to say, Griswold had a goal and a plan to get there... unlike so many business owners who unconsciously drive around the block, going nowhere special. 

They might speak of goals like growing the business, going beyond 5 million, or selling the company. But without a plan to get there, their entrepreneurial journies are more mad-hat than Griswolds. 

The problem is that most business owners are focused on the here and now and refuse to take the time to work on a plan, insisting that once they've put out the immediate flare-up, they'll find time to plan. 

Are you constantly putting out fires?

Fires come with the entrepreneurial territory. There will always be another flare-up to douse, but having the ability to spot the smoke can mean the difference between putting out a brush fire and being engulfed in a wildfire.

One of my clients insists that every leader bring two potential threats or opportunities to their weekly leadership meetings—political unrest in a region that might affect the cost of raw materials, the impact of the cost of living crisis on staff morale, a river that has dried up and might hamper supply, etc.

They have a plan. But they realise that the business landscape is constantly evolving and to keep an eye out for smoke in the form of threats or opportunities. 

In the vacuum of a plan, execution becomes random and reactive. Fires burn out of control. And you begin grasping for the trend of the week: the latest marketing fad, launching an opportunistic product or altering their business model.

When this happens, you start spreading your resources a mile wide and an inch deep. Your marketing and sales efforts deliver mediocre results. Customer satisfaction falls. Sales drop. And growth stalls.

Fires come with growth...

Grow or die. Most business owners choose to grow. But few invest in creating or executing a plan to get them to their growth goals. Scaling from a couple of million to 5 million and beyond takes more than tactics and a 'good idea'.  

Attempting to grow a business without a clear, highly achievable goal and powerful strategic execution system fuels flare-ups. You risk losing control if you don't have a growth system in place. And ironically, it's the fear of losing control keeping most business owners from implementing a business operating system.

You need clarity, structure and systems to take you to the next level. As you become a more serious business, your culture will evolve. You've probably heard the saying: what got you here won't get you there. The people, systems (or lack thereof) and leadership style must evolve for your business to scale beyond the 5 million mark.

Attracting next-level people

Having the right people in the right seats drives business growth. If your hiring process is broken, you're bringing the wrong people onto the team.


I recently heard an excellent analogy: when you put the wrong player on the field, three other players must support that person. And in an owner-operated business, one of the three will likely be you.

Are you putting the right players on the business field?

Without a plan, you'll find it hard to attract top talent. People want to work for a growing business with a powerful vision. They want to be challenged. They want to be part of the solution.

If you don't have a plan and you're constantly fighting fires, your current employees (the good ones, at least) will leave. They become frustrated with shifting priorities, a lack of purpose and low morale.  

I've seen this happen in many businesses. The frustration drives the best people away, leaving a company full of mediocrity—people grumbling but too fearful to leave their comfort zones.

Without a plan, you lose traction (or go off the cliff)

Many business owners experience initial success. They see an opportunity and take advantage of it. At first, they deliver value, and sales are good. But they don't formulate a plan to take the company to the next level. So it stalls. And begins to slide backwards. 

Most business owners consider yanking the exit string at this stage (perhaps five, ten or even years in). But once the business loses momentum, it's too late. Acquirers aren't interested in a business without any upside. It's game over.

Don't be afraid to plan...

I know you're most concerned about the fires you're fighting right now, and it's challenging to step away and plan for the future. But even firefighters battling wildfires need to think and find winnable situations.

"As a crew captain, you're constantly trying to find winnable situations," he said. "While it's grunt work, it's also a thinking man's job." - Captain Rogers of Cal Fire.

While it might feel wisest to focus on the flare-up of the day, if you don't take time to survey the bigger picture and formulate a plan, the wildfires will relentlessly suck the life of your business. 

Take the time to create a growth plan.

Even if you think you're doing fine and making sales, it is essential to take the time to make a clear growth plan. It's like anything else in life. When you want to get somewhere, you look at a map, create an itinerary and determine how to get there.


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