Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: Business planning - Dougal Paterson, RAWA

Dougal Paterson is a co-owner of RAWA.

Dougal Paterson, co-owner of RAWA.
Dougal Paterson, co-owner of RAWA.

Can you tell me a bit about your business?

RAWA is a full service property company, which I started with co-owner Jeremy Waters in 2007. We started just months before the global financial crisis hit, but in retrospect I think it helped shape the business in terms of making us really adaptable, and keeping a sharp eye on the bottom line.

We have a small team in our Auckland office and work with a larger pool of contractors, depending on the project. We also have representation in Shanghai, Sydney and London, which we've established this year to facilitate the flow of capital into property projects.

What's your approach to business planning?

Planning is central to the business but our philosophy is that plans also need to be responsive and adaptable. Our experience with the GFC was a great example of this - we'd established the business aiming to create a property fund but suddenly investors wanted the security of individual property ownership.

We have a range of plans from very short to longer term. We have a weekly plan, one- to five-monthly plans, a one-year plan and a five-year plan. We've found it's important to have the shorter-term plans to help implement the strategic plans or it just sits in a file on your computer.

The weekly plan is an action plan for the week and we've found Smartsheet, which is an online project management tool, a real benefit because all projects can be tracked and accessed by all.

The next plan is a breakdown of what needs to be achieved monthly with KPIs. The 12-month plan is focused on the financials and the five-year plan is where we want to drive the business both in terms of brand positioning and how we want the business to perform in the future. Every quarter we also bring in outside advice to help with a particular aspect of our planning.

To hash out the big-picture plans we always meet offsite, often around our kitchen table at home. I think it's important to get away from the everyday needs of the business if you want to think clearly and strategically. We do this two to three times a year. That's also a good time to identify what's not working in the business and where we have lost focus.

What impact have these plans had on the business?

We've learnt that by sticking to the plan we've been able to grow the business in the direction we want, rather than going where the short-term opportunities are. Too often in the past I think we jumped at opportunities that appeared attractive in the short term, but in the end they often just took us off course.

Planning has also allowed us keep a number of our clients over a long period. It extends to how you run their projects and our clients like that we plan and can see we have a track record of delivering.

And for staff it means they feel better supported because at executive level we're across the whole business. We're better able to recognise when we need more resources earlier on, and because we plan ahead we can get the best people for the job.

What's challenging about your planning processes?

The biggest thing is that it takes time, which is a challenge when you're working in the business and being responsive to clients. You need to prioritise it. But it's a bit like exercise - once you're in the habit you don't think about it, you feel better for it and when you see the benefits you keep going.

What are three key factors you think have made business planning successful in your business that you'd like to share with other small business owners?

1. You need buy-in from the whole team to make it work. Everyone needs to know the broad aims of the business.

2. The plan is a live document. We plan on a weekly basis, because we think twice a year just isn't enough.

3. Look back as well as forward. Planning is always a chance to sit back and think strategically about what hasn't worked, as well as what has.

Coming up in Small Business: New Zealand Fashion Week is in full swing. So what's it like to be a small Kiwi fashion brand with big global ambitions? How are you getting where you want to go? If you've got a good story to tell, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com

- NZ Herald

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