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Every business owner is told they need a business plan. Their accountant will tell them they need one. Banks say they must have one, especially if they want a loan. Even governments provide, often free, help and support to small businesses to develop a business plan. Almost all management courses begin with a unit on business planning. While much of what is taught and talked about the subject of business planning is pretty bad, any business plan is better than no business plan at all.

The problem with all of this is that very few people talk about the need for a personal plan. It is vital to answer the question, “Why did I become a business owner and what am I to gain personally from my business?” The answer can’t be just “money”. That must be part of it, of course, but a great many of our clients employ us for reasons other than money. Many of the reasons given have included the ability to spend more time with their family, to work fewer hours, to see a pet project up and running, to take their company internationally, or to see their employees attain a better and more ethical life. Underlying all these plans are personal motivations, yet they are attempting to attain these personal plans via company plans. This is getting it all backwards.

Let us consider a very basic fact. If you work on something energetically, sensibly and persistently it has a good chance of success. If you don’t it probably won’t succeed. In fact, it will probably get worse. In this universe things never stay the same, they get better or they get worse. Therefore, if you have a plan of some sort to grow your business and work on it energetically, sensibly and persistently there is a good chance your business will grow. But if there is no plan for your own life you probably won’t grow as a being and may very well decline in ability, aptitude and intelligence. Thus, we often have the unlovely picture of an overworked, unhappy owner heading up a company that is far larger than he or she feels comfortable with. As a result, the owner’s intention may shift (often unconsciously) to a desire to ‘shrink the business back to where it was easier to manage, and I was ‘happy’, while at the same time feeling compelled to keep the business growing. This is a problem indeed and, as I have discovered, very common.

All these ills have a common cause, a lack of a detailed personal life plan. This lack is so prevalent and so potentially damaging to a business’s success, and to its owner’s success in life, that development of a personal life plan is usually the first action we deliver to any client. A life plan is always developed before we begin any business plan. The results of this life planning can be miraculous, and we have many hundreds of case histories which support this. 

A successful life plan also results in business success. Here is one of my favorite examples. It took place in Japan in my hotel room, assisted by my translator, while delivering the beginning steps of our life planning program to the General Manager (GM) of a large Tokyo bookstore with 90 employees. Using a PowerPoint presentation I was explaining that a life plan is more important than a business plan. Then, suddenly, the General Manager gasped loudly and appeared have stopped breathing. My translator and I were shocked and assumed the GM had fallen ill. I moved closer and began to unbutton the GM’s shirt in order to deliver CPR when the GM began to speak. He said, “I have realised that I am a bookshop. My wife does not have a husband she married a bookshop. My kids do not have a father they have a bookshop.”

I asked him, “What will you do now?” The bookshop manager said, “I will go home tonight and apologise to my wife and children for being a bad husband and a bad father. I will promise not to work so long at night and never work on Sundays. And next week I will take my family on a holiday for that whole week.” 

I acknowledged the bookshop manager and told him we would stop at this point in the Life Planning as it was necessary he see his family first. We would continue when I returned to Japan in two months. He was fine with that. 

Two months later I went to the bookstore. As I entered, several employees who know me and knew I had worked with the manager hurried toward me, one calling loudly, “Peter-san, Peter-san, what did you do to our manager?” 

“Why?”, I asked. 

“He’s so happy”, he replied.

I then went up to the top floor of the bookstore and entered the GM’s office and saw that he was dressed in very non-typical clothes for a Japanese business manager in jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers. 

“What’s happening?” I asked him. The manager simply pointed to a graph on the wall. It was his sales graph. It showed that sales had increased by 30% since my last visit.

Why did the sales go up so markedly, you may ask. The manager was happy and when the boss is happy the employees are happy. When employees are happy, customers are happy and when customers are happy they buy more. It’s all too simple, really. 

A happy boss is a better boss. And happiness requires that one is doing well in all aspects of one’s life, following a clearly laid out life plan.