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The Action Plan: Making the Business Plan Happen

  • An action plan establishes a short-term effort to achieve the goals of a strategic action plan
  • Assembling a team, monitoring actions, creating a timetable, and other steps
  • Building in flexibility to account for unexpected circumstances

By Denis Jakuc

It’s important for your business to put together a business plan that establishes your goals for the next two to three years and the strategies you’ll employ to reach those goals. These strategies specify what products and/or services you’ll offer to which segments of your target audience, as well as the marketing channels you’ll use for each segment—online, direct mail, telemarketing, or in-person sales calls.

But to make that strategic business plan happen, you’ll need a tactical action plan. This plan specifies the concrete steps your business will take to execute the business plan and achieve your goals. Unlike the business plan’s two- to three-year timeframe, the action plan needs to cover only one year at a time. Here’s how to create one.

Assemble a team

Get everyone who will execute the plan involved from the start. The people who will implement the steps in the action plan are, naturally, the best people to consult.

Brainstorm with everyone involved and write down all the good ideas. Then take the most important ones, study them, and decide which key actions have the most potential for helping the company reach its goals. Prioritize which actions will be most effective at closing the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. And remember, the folks on the front lines often have the best insight on what will work day-to-day.

Detail each action on a spreadsheet

Set up a one-page spreadsheet that lists all the actions. These can be:

  • One-off projects, such as hiring someone
  • Repeating actions, such as monthly reviews of costs against estimates
  • Larger efforts, such as creating an e-commerce site

Each action should list

  • Who’s responsible for it
  • A timeline for executing it
  • A key performance indicator (KPI) for evaluating its success

You should also give each initiative a low, medium, or high priority. The spreadsheet format is great for quick reminders and tracking progress.

Lay out a timeline

The spreadsheet should have a column for each month of the one-year action plan. If you like, you can also add columns for each quarter of the remaining years of the two- or three-year strategic plan to lay out important actions to take beyond the first year.

Commit resources

Be sure to allocate the necessary human and financial resources to successfully complete the actions you need to take. With your human resources, be clear on who does what, using a RASCI matrix:

  • Responsible — who executes the action
  • Accountable — who oversees it; this could be the head of the team, or the same person as the first person in a smaller company
  • Supporting — who’s the backup
  • Consulted — who should be consulted when executing the action; for example, the sales head for up-to-date info on orders
  • Informed — who should be told about progress or decisions; for example, the head of the activity the action is affecting

Establish tracking and follow-up measures

Specify how you’ll track progress. This could be by milestones—points reached until completion—or by quantifiable measures—revenue, profits, or market share. Decide how you’ll follow up to check that steps have been done. This could be with reports or regular meetings, perhaps monthly, with in-depth quarterly reviews.

Spread the word

Make members of the organization aware of the action plan, what their roles are in implementing it, and its benefits to them and to the business. Taking action involves change, which people tend to resist. So, they need to understand that change is inevitable and necessary for the business to survive and thrive. Reassure them that the plan is not disruptive; that the changes will be made one step at a time.

Stay flexible

An action plan isn’t something you set and forget. It needs to be responsive to challenges that arise as it’s being implemented, as well as to changes inside the company and in the marketplace. Watch for these challenges and changes and ask for feedback from those implementing the plan. Revise actions, priorities, and even larger goals if necessary. As the planned year concludes, have the team regroup to work on the next 12-month action plan, building on the lessons learned so far.

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