What’s the value of a business plan? Decisions. Action.

How do you build decisions and action into your business plan? Milestones. What makes a business plan more than just strategy and wishful thinking? Milestones.

Milestones are concrete, specific achievements, such as a product launch, some number of customers, opening of a new location, number of reviews, presence in some list, overcoming some legal hurdle such as approval by the FDA or a patent, finishing a draft or a complete document, reaching the 1000th blog post, some defined number of likes on Facebook or Twitter followers, or some other measurable, visible, trackable achievement.

Milestones are what you use to manage responsibilities, track results, and review and revise your plan. And without tracking and review, there is no management, and no accountability. Your milestones are the substance of the strategic action plans for business offerings and marketing and sales that you’re going to do.

[pullquote]”Your milestones are the substance of the strategic action plans for business offering and marketing and sales that you’re going to do.” [/pullquote]

Don’t be one of those frustrated business owners who occasionally steps away from the business to develop strategy, but never sees the strategy work through the normal business routine into actual business activities. It happens all too often.

Getting results from a business plan takes setting specific goals and tracking progress.

You have to set milestones, and pass them. Milestones turn your business from a dot to a line. A dot is just one static condition. A line is moving along from one dot to another. It happens by setting and meeting milestones.

Develop your list of milestones

Give each milestone at least the following:

  • Name
  • Due date
  • Budget
  • Person responsible

You might also have ending dates, department, planned benefits to result (with metrics that can be tracked), and additional information for main milestones. Then make sure all your people know that you will be following the plan, tracking the milestones, and analyzing the plan-vs-actual results. If you don’t follow up, your plan will not be implemented.

And you develop your milestones by thinking through strategy, tactics, and actions for business offering and marketing. So of course you can naturally divide them into categories: marketing and sales, product, and other. “Other” might be, for example, financing activities like raising investment or contracting commercial credit. Or they might be related to legal issues, or managing a team, or logistics like moving or opening a new location.

Manage the milestones

You should use the milestones to facilitate real management. Make sure you have a monthly review meeting so you can get together with key managers, check specific progress for each milestone, and make course corrections. Look at the milestones that were due and those coming up. Ask the questions:

  • Are you on budget?
  • On time?
  • Do you need to make any corrections?
  • Did we achieve the desired results?
  • What were the specific metrics?

The value of a plan is measured in its implementation. The milestones should be one of the most important sections of the entire business plan.

Do you break your business plan into actionable milestones? Do you have tips for fellow entrepreneurs on how to do so effectively? Share them in the comments. 

And, if you’d rather leave it to the pros, check out LivePlan’s business consulting—you’ll get an MBA-written business plan in five business days.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.