Using cards to build timelines

Basic timeline plan sample layout
Marketing planning cards

Let’s look at a business plan as a timeline.

Remember all businesses are different – your priorities differ and you may have some tasks already in hand or completed. So this is just one possible approach by me to a fictitious business plan.

The first question for a timeline is, ‘Where do you begin?’ The obvious answer may be, ‘The beginning,’ but where is that? Often it’s best to start with a bunch of tasks that are important to you, then work out from there. For example, let’s assume that financial tasks are key for me: I need to get a handle on projections and cashflows that I know my bank will want to see. So I’ll just begin by getting all the financial cards together; Create profit and loss forecast, Create cashflow forecast, Calculate break-even etc. – I can sort them into order later and maybe even discard some.

I have something to work with. Now, before I can start with the financial calculations there are some things I need to know – the cost of premises, competitors’ pricing, the cost of equipment and materials, perhaps. In short, I need to do a bit of serious research before I can start on my financial projections, so I’m going to collect together all the cards which will help me collect that information, and I’ll put them in a loose group before the financial cards. Let’s suppose my timeline is running left to right – I’ll place these on the left of the financial cards.

Time to make next cut

Now the cards are thinning out I can see a handful of cards that relate to marketing matters – Market research, SWOT Analysis, Competitive analysis, Sales Strategy and routes to market. Where should I put these? My instinct is to put these early on – it’s good to know you have a marketable idea before you start working on financial details. For now I will put them before the financial research on the left-hand side.

There are some very basic things we need to look at, such as setting our objective and defining our purpose – I can confidently put these right at the start, on the far left.

Now things are taking shape, we have a group of cards that are about getting started, then marketing analysis. Next we gather our financial information then make our financial plans – the next stage is implementation, making it happen.  At this stage I will need to : Source key advisors, Set quality control policy, Plan advertising and communications, and put into action some practical things like: Arrange insurance, Protect IPR and most importantly: Set roles and responsibilities – who will do what?

Detail work

We can now start fine tuning the individual card positions to make the most logical sense. Don’t be afraid to move whole blocks around. Remember lots of things may happen at the same time so your timeline is unlikely to be one straight line, but may have groups of tasks together or even two or more lines running in parallel.

One thing I would recommend is looking over your plan and see what tasks are mission critical – by that I mean items that could result in a decision to go ahead or not. Perhaps the legal requirements are very strict and if you cannot comply with them the project is a non-starter. So place that card (and any other critical ones) as early in the process as possible to save you wasting time and energy.

Now go back to the start and walk yourself through the plan – if everything makes sense, congratulations. You have a plan!