Annual Planning

Man with laptop developing an annual plan during an annual planning meeting

A strong annual plan builds on the company’s broader strategic vision and core values while still providing specific goals, metrics, and budgets to guide managers and employees. If it’s doing its job, the annual business plan is also flexible enough to adapt to an unpredictable and often volatile market.

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What is annual planning?

An annual business plan is a road map for a company and its employees. It contains milestones that carry the plan forward through a series of smaller goals that lead to a broader vision of where the business aims to be by the end of the year.

When a new year arrives, many people make plans and resolutions for the coming 12 months. They look back at the previous year and consider what worked for them and what they want to improve. Then they plan what goals they want to achieve, from getting out of debt to losing weight to learning a new language.

Similarly, a company or organization will use an annual business plan to tighten its belt, improve performance, and reach specific goals over the coming year.

Whether using an annual business plan template or working from scratch, a company will review the expectations and results from the previous year in order to create an annual plan that gives everyone in the organization a sense of where they’re headed and how they will get there.

Why annual planning is important.

An annual business plan empowers workers to set specific business goals based on the company’s overarching strategy, and it also holds teams accountable for achieving stated goals.

The annual plan connects directly to where a company wants to be in 3 to 5 years and defines what’s critical to achieve over the next year to progress toward longer-term targets.

A well-formulated annual plan also keeps the workforce united and focused, energizing them to be more productive.

Additional benefits of an annual business plan include:

What’s the difference between an annual plan and a strategic plan?

In the strategic planning process, an organization describes or affirms its mission, deciding what it wants to achieve over the next few years (vision) and setting strategic priorities to help make that vision a reality.

The strategic plan works hand in hand with the annual business plan. The former provides an overarching vision of what the company wants to achieve, and the annual plan provides the nuts and bolts of the necessary work to be done over the coming year.

So, the annual business plan depends on the strategy for its priorities, and the strategy depends on the annual plan to execute its ideas about the organization’s vision, mission, purpose, and goals. Logistics, projects, allocation of resources, and timing are covered in the annual plan.

Preparing to create an annual plan.

Before you can look ahead, you need to first look back, take what you’ve learned, and recommit yourself to your company’s values and priorities. Thus, reviewing your old plan and assessing its results against expectations is an important first step.

You should also review your company’s:

What is included in an annual plan?

There are many annual business plan templates you can use to make your plan. Generally, they contain these elements:

Stated goals (SMART)

Your yearly plan should include both SMART and stretch goals.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals are an enduring staple of the business world, helping to clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, ensure your time and resources are used productively, and increase your chances of success. Stretch goals, as the name suggests, require above-and-beyond effort and innovation to pull off, with the promise of a greater payoff. Include a mixture of both in your annual plan.

Budget and financials

An annual plan also includes projections for the coming 12 months, forecasting income and outlays. Your projections will help you plan for cash flow dips, pinpoint financing needs, and decide the best timing for projects.

Part of this involves developing monthly financial projections by recording expected income based on sales forecasts and anticipated expenses for labor, supplies, overhead, and so on. It’s wise to prepare a projected income (profit and loss) statement and a balance sheet projection.

You can also use the projections to determine financing needs, if any. Well-prepared projections will make it easier to qualify for a loan.

Timelines and checkpoints

To reach where you want your business to be in a year, take your larger goals and split them up into smaller goals set on specific timelines. As you set your deadlines, include metrics that will indicate how successful you’ve been in achieving your goals.

Clearly outlined expectations and responsibilities

An annual business plan works best if it’s aspirational but achievable, with practical goals that are spelled out in clear language, indicating which individuals, teams, or departments are responsible for which parts of the plan. Given that almost 50% of employees in the United States don’t know what is expected of them at work, a little bit of clarity can go a long way.

Vision for what the business looks like at the end of the year

As much as annual business plans are about the practical implementation of a company’s strategy, it’s also important to keep the organization’s aspirational future vision in mind. Having a clear vision of what successful completion of your annual planning goals looks like increases your chances of success.

Contingency plans

What happens if your company’s cash flow gets into trouble? It’s a good idea to set up emergency financial reservoirs before they’re necessary. Maintaining a cash reserve or keeping room in a line of credit are both good contingency measures. Remember to compare your actual financial results to your projections throughout the year, so you can spot financial problems before they spiral out of control.


Creating an annual plan is easier when you use the right tools. These can include an annual business plan template that organizes planning efforts and a wide variety of software solutions for writing business and strategy plans.

As you execute your annual plan, it’s also a good idea to rely on a work management platform with strategic planning tools that allow you to collaborate productively, create content, and manage complex processes. Using features like Workfront's Scenario Planner, you can simplify the annual planning process, adapt to market shifts with continuous planning, compare scenarios for risk and effectiveness, and stay ahead of the competition.

Armed with the right tools, plans, and processes, you can create a well-conceived and executed annual business plan that ensures the year ahead lives up to your expectations.