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Stop Glorifying ‘Winging It’ and Make a Plan

Staying focused on whatever is the next thing gets you nowhere without a plan. Preparation and analysis are key for any business leader.

This post was originally featured on Entrepreneur.com

Image credit: Pinkypills | Getty Images

This past spring, the Fyre Festival was touted as the most luxurious music gathering ever put together, featuring five-star chefs preparing lavish meals and high-end lodgings. What attendees got instead were cheese sandwiches and disaster tents. The culprit of this high profile fiasco, as discussed by one employee who abandoned ship early, was a top-down failure to adequately plan the proceedings. The dangers of faulty planning were put on embarrassing display to the entire world.

Any pursuit carries some risk.

Any worthwhile pursuit will carry some amount of risk. That’s a fundamental truth both inside and outside of the business world. While there’s no shortage of motivational appeals to jump right into a new endeavor with both feet, that approach will frequently result in disaster. With all that’s on the line, why take those unnecessary chances? Without proper planning and preparation, you’re setting yourself up for failure more often than not.

The hard numbers will tell you the truth.

Preparation in a business environment means acknowledging the importance of crunching numbers and truly diving into detailed analysis of the potential pitfalls and benefits of any new endeavor. When you plan things out properly, you’re building the framework for success. When you fail to do so, you’re already starting out in the negative.

Facing fear for a change in your opportunities.

Of course, this doesn’t mean being afraid of change or opportunity. What it truly means is having the mental equipment to take a great idea from a thought to a reality. Whether opening a high-rise apartment building or running a mom-and-pop shop, any type of ownership will require an understanding of the importance of getting into the nitty-gritty of numbers. It’s the essence of truly being prepared to put your thoughts into action.

How will you research?

In order for numbers to be crunched, you’ll need to gather them first. Research, in a business context, can refer to a number of different methods. There are a multitude of ways that you can gather data for your company: from focus groups and customer surveys, to web analytics to measure your online presence, to the budget numbers in your internal books. Depending on the decision to be made, proper and thorough research must be performed accordingly.

Read publications online about your subject.

There may be other businesses with experience in whatever venture you’re trying. While you’re not always going to be the first to try a particular idea, you can be the best with intelligent and comprehensive research. Even a cursory Google search can offer a wealth of information about the strategy you’re considering. Business publications both online and off are so numerous that there’s a good chance at least one of them has written something on the subject. You’ll be remiss if you don’t make the time to take a solid look.

There’s so much to be gained by thoroughly assessing your ideas and the environment you’re going to be working in that it should be a key aspect of every move you make as an entrepreneur. All decisions affecting the bottom line need to be up to your personal standards of rigor. Running a business means knowing every aspect of what’s happening within it, from top to bottom. If you don’t have that knowledge, you’re not doing your job, no matter what industry you’re in.

The importance of data analysis shouldn’t be lost on any business owner. Your organization might not have the need for big data gathering and software, but you will still need to be able to assess the information at hand in order for your company to perform at its best. Every piece of data, from sales numbers to office supplies ordered, should be informing the way your business is run for the most efficiency.

Business data, in its many forms, will provide a thorough understanding of the numbers that make up your company’s comings and goings. When you’re preparing your business plan, those numbers are what your investors are going to be looking for. When selling your ideas, you can always expect to hear the question “what do the numbers look like?” You might remember from school that math truly underlines all of life, and this wasn’t just something your teacher told you to keep you quiet. It’s incredibly true, especially so in the business world.

The major thing you’re looking for when you crunch those numbers are the patterns that will define the direction your endeavor goes. They might not look like much to the untrained eye, but they can spell out a business’ future to a properly prepared one. Pattern recognition is one of the fundamental aspects of learning and understanding, and one that you should be looking to master if you want to put your great ideas into practice.

A full grasp of this skill set means that you’ll see things that others won’t. In the data, you’ll find the indicators of a promising venture or a doomed disaster. Knowing how to ascertain the meaning of the hard data that you’ve gathered means the life of your enterprise. It’s about seeing the truth buried within all the numbers.

These skills are more valuable than ever. A study performed by GlassDoor to assess the top jobs in America based on satisfaction, salary, and openings ranked data and analytics-centered positions in 3 of the top 5 spots. What that means is that more and more businesses are coming around to the idea that you need to be able to crunch the numbers and assess your data to get to the top (or remain there).

By placing a high priority on data collection and analysis, you’re giving yourself a major leg up on the members of your competition that don’t. You might not necessarily have a dedicated research or analytics department, but if you can find it in your time to gather as much information as possible before making major financial decisions, you’ll see the benefit in short order. The numbers won’t lie.