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Always Have a Plan B

Stephen Bush is a consulting and career training expert. He is the CEO and Founder of AEX Commercial Financing Group.


What Is a Plan B?

Advice to "always have a plan B" appears in many settings, but what is a plan B? Under the prevailing wisdom that what you are really trying to do can be referred to as plan A, then plan B refers to an alternative strategy (contingency planning) or goal if something prevents you from accomplishing plan A.

What should you do if something goes wrong? This question usually causes stress and uncertainty because it involves looking at possible failure before it happens. However, this kind of thinking is exactly what contingency business planning is designed to feature as a key element in coping with the possibility of shifting outcomes. But contingency plans have practical applications that extend far beyond business planning. One of the best examples is using a plan B mentality to examine career planning alternatives. What is your career plan B?

The usual rationale for planning of any kind is to reduce the risk of undesirable outcomes. While it might be more "normal" to have a contingency plan for catastrophic disasters such as hurricanes, personal planning for your career and business can also reduce risks.

The enduring value of this simple but practical strategy ("always have a plan B") has become more clear during the past 20 years because so many unexpected changes have occurred. Whether we look at real estate or banking, or career plans (to choose just three examples), the importance of having a Plan B has been dramatically illustrated. More observations are provided in this article.

Make It a Habit

Just like fastening your seat belt, using a plan B approach can and should become a habit.

What Can Go Wrong?

The overwhelming reason that most individuals and small business owners engage in any variation of planning is because of some underlying uncertainty about what is going to happen. A contingency business plan is a specialized approach that takes a different perspective. This kind of business planning focuses on "what if" scenarios so that when or if something goes wrong, the next course of action has already been evaluated and can be pursued without further delay.

"What If" Scenarios Help

This perspective has proven to be especially helpful and successful for small businesses attempting to navigate through the murky waters surrounding troubled banks and commercial loans. The prudent planning strategy of evaluating what might go wrong (while hoping that nothing bad happens) probably makes more sense to many small business owners today than it did prior to the financial chaos beginning during the 2006–2008 time frame.

The fact that some major things have gone very wrong in recent years in no way reduces the likelihood of there being more business and financial uncertainties as we move forward. An area that continues to deserve special attention and precautions is the banking environment. Banks are still in a precarious state, and particular care is still needed for all services that involve a bank.

What can you do? Always have a plan B and develop contingency business plans.

The best way to predict your future is to plan it.

— Peter Drucker

Planning and Predicting

As noted by Peter Drucker and others, a prudent plan can be a viable strategy for predicting the future. However, plan B is not a prediction of the future—but it can be used as a practical tool for achieving a desired future outcome.

Plan B is a simple and straightforward use of contingency planning. This does not mean that such an approach is widely used in actual practice. The failure to use contingency business plans on a regular basis is similar to the initial slow acceptance of using seat belts in cars, even though seat belts took very little time or effort to fasten. It (using seat belts) was simply not an established habit, and it was not always clear how seat belts saved lives. That required time and personal adaptation to drive the point home. Just like fastening your seat belt, using a plan B approach can and should become a habit.

Having a plan B means being willing to adapt to new and quickly-evolving situations.

Having a plan B means being willing to adapt to new and quickly-evolving situations.

Changing Strategies

The importance of having goals and strategies seems to be well-known and accepted. What is much less common is an awareness that each individual goal and strategy needs to be regularly monitored and revised as necessary.

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Read More From Toughnickel

Modern-Day Examples of Contingency Planners

Steve Jobs, George Lucas, and Pixar are true "household names" in the best sense of the phrase. These two individuals and one company represent many of the good things that have happened in entertainment and technology during the past 30 years or so.

But what frequently gets lost in talking about success of any kind is a clear realization and acknowledgment that the positive outcome requires change, flexibility, and mistakes along the path to eventual success. Just as the Pixar of today (now owned by Disney) is not the company it was when Steve Jobs purchased it from George Lucas, Apple has evolved into one of the best and most valuable companies in the world today because its strategies were regularly updated and changed.

Revising, updating, improving, learning, and changing. Sounds like a plan to me.

Some Planning Is a Waste of Time

When executed properly, having an effective plan B is definitely not a waste of time. The key, however, is effectiveness. I prefer to focus on a specialized version known as cost-effectiveness. This decision-making tool is useful for distinguishing between "waste of time" planning and what you should be doing with your time.

Time management skills are often required to get things done—but you might need help to get on the most effective path for managing time. For example, the skills that Peter Drucker referred to as those for "getting the right things done" can be in short supply.

It is frequently difficult for small business owners to ask for help. In many cases, there is simply not a clear realization that assistance is needed. But if an activity involves something that a business manager literally hates, that task probably won't get much serious attention unless additional skills and help are brought into the picture. Two common examples of important tasks that many business owners really do hate are planning and negotiating.

Plan B in motion

Plan B in motion

5 Examples: Using Plan B to Prepare for Uncertainties

Personal Career Plans

Investing in Stocks, Real Estate and Precious Metals

Business Plans

Small Business Financing

Business Career Training

Suzy Toronto: Life is All About How You Handle Plan B

Plan A is always my first choice.

You know, the one where

Everything works out to be

Happily ever-after.

But more often than not,

I find myself dealing with

The upside-down, inside-out version --

Where nothing goes as it should.

It's at this point that the real

Test of my character comes in..

Do I sink, or do I swim?

Do I wallow in self-pity and play the victim,

Or simply shift gears

And make the best of the situation?

The choice is all mine . . .

Life is all about how you handle Plan B.

One More Thing: Plan C and Plan D Are the New Plan B

  1. It is time to update "Always have a plan B" to reflect the fact that plan B might not be enough. Because changes are occurring more rapidly (and unpredictably), additional contingency planning beyond plan B is prudent. When exploring what to do if plan A falls through, be prepared to consider not only a plan B but also plan C, plan D, etc. (because something can always go wrong with plan B).

Revising, updating, improving, learning, and changing. Sounds like a plan to me.

— Stephen Bush

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Stephen Bush

And now, your thoughts on the subject...

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 20, 2019:

Very useful and nice article. Thanks.

anonymous on December 15, 2012:

My Plan B is ongoing right now. It involves getting my Master's Degree to give me more flexibility in the job market.

Elaine Chen on October 23, 2012:

Plan B is important. Past year I had no Plan B and it usually lead to unhappy ending in case any accident happen.

Now, I am practicing to come out Plan B on top of my original plan.

TransplantedSoul on October 07, 2012:

Thinking ahead for contingency is important. Something I need to personally do more of.

RetroMom on October 05, 2012:

Having a contingency plan hurts nobody. It is good to be always prepared.

NC Shepherd on September 15, 2012:

I always try to have a Plan B. If A doesn't work out, I won't waste time casting about for alternatives because I have it ready.

belinda342 on September 01, 2012:

Everyone should always have a Plan B...and maybe a C too. Life happens.

Mary Stuart on August 25, 2012:

I agree completely with the importance of having a Plan B (and maybe even a Plan C, D, etc.). If I don't have one in whatever project I'm trying to pursue, whether in business or in life, I feel lost and unprepared to move forward with my Plan A.

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