Reviewing your plan

What is a review in LivePlan, and what might it entail?

In LivePlan, the concept of 'reviews' is repeatedly emphasized as a core aspect of effective business planning. But what exactly do reviews entail? Essentially, a review is a thorough assessment of your plan and forecast to ensure it aligns with your current business objectives and circumstances. LivePlan is designed to help our users conduct regular reviews, utilizing a cyclical four-part approach.

    • Plan:  What is the strategic plan for the business's success?
    • Forecast:  What is the projected financial roadmap required for that success?
    • Review:  How does that projected roadmap compare to the current reality?
    • Revise:  What changes are required to improve the strategic value of that roadmap?

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Why is review important?

Large private companies, publicly traded companies, and public agencies devote significant time and resources to evaluating their forecasts and strategic plans on an ongoing basis. This practice is equally critical for new and small businesses, as adopting regular reviews will improve forecasting accuracy and help clarify your business’s roadmap to growth.

Business planning is, at its core, a series of educated guesses. Even businesses with highly accurate and expertly researched plans will naturally make adjustments as economic landscapes evolve. Having an objective and flexible approach to your strategy isn’t just advisable; it’s essential for the success of your business. Conducting regular reviews will help you spot problems before they happen, stay nimble to meet changes when they occur, and stay financially healthy.

When to review your plan

Maybe you want to hire additional staff, save for new equipment, or assess if you need additional funding. These types of event-driven evaluations of performance are natural but are far from the only time to review your plan. Developing a keen understanding of your business's cash flow enables you to make well-informed decisions, which will streamline your decisions and plans of action. In short, it’s never a bad time to evaluate how your projected performance compares to the actual performance of your business.

How to review your plan

As an entrepreneur, you’re busy with the day-to-day operations of your business, and periodically reviewing your plan can be time-consuming. It's essential to clarify your objectives within the context of your business to optimize the scope of your reviews. Consider various factors such as the size and age of your business, its scope, and whether this practice is an initial or a subsequent step in your strategy. That said, however, you should tailor your regular reviews to your business's unique circumstances; there are common themes for each step of regular reviews.

  • Monthly Review - Your primary review process to identify & focus on immediate operational metrics and needed adjustments.
  • Quarterly Review - A deeper assessment to establish trends, offer a more extensive analysis, and evaluate the need for plans of action as well as the success of actions currently being taken.
  • Annual Review - A comprehensive review of your overall strategic plan and an opportunity to realign long-term goals and assumptions based on data and trends identified in monthly and quarterly reviews.
LivePlan Premium has integrated features to assist you in this process, such as the Dashboard & Live Forecast, allowing you to analyze in one place.

Monthly Review

Monthly reviews, which rely on your forecast and actual accounting figures as the primary tools for analysis, are the foundation of the review process. By conducting reviews monthly, you can identify and take action on changes your business may face. This regular assessment also enhances the effectiveness of broader quarterly and annual reviews.

Example steps in a monthly review

Update your actuals in your Dashboard.

  • Compare your forecast to your accounting actuals side by side to identify your top movers. In LivePlan, this can be done seamlessly in the Dashboard via a Quickbooks Online or Xero connection, but it can also be input directly.
For more information on connecting your LivePlan account to QuickBooks Online or Xero, see Connecting LivePlan to your accounting solution. Instructions for Entering your actuals into the Dashboard directly and Updating actuals by CSV are also available.

Reviewing your forecast & actuals, identify top movers.

  • Did your revenue exceed or fall short in any particular areas?
  • Were your expenses and costs higher or lower than you expected?
  • How was your net profit affected by these variances?
  • Is your cash flow negative or positive?
  • Highlight your successes: What is going better than you expected? What can you do with this information, and is this something you can leverage to make up for any shortcomings that cannot be quickly addressed?
  • Highlight areas of concern: Where are you spending more or earning less than you thought you would be?

Evaluate your next steps: Now that you have identified the top movers, you know where to conduct a deeper analysis.

  • Analyze your areas of improvement in detail.
  • If applicable, compare your performance to last year and prior months.
  • Review your expenses to look for potential savings.
  • Investigate driving factors behind revenue misses.

If applicable, revise your forecast to reflect the steps you are implementing.

  • If there are red flags, revise your forecast as necessary. Otherwise, make a note of and monitor these variances to determine if trends are being established.

Quarterly Review

A quarterly review adds an additional layer of analysis, building upon the insights gathered in the monthly reviews of the previous quarter. This is an opportunity to step back and identify trends in your business that may not have been as observable from a monthly view. Using these identified trends, the quarterly review stage is generally a suitable time to revise your forecast and update goals for the coming quarter.

Example steps in a quarterly review

What is consistent with a monthly review?

  • A quarterly review begins with a standard monthly review, which assesses the usual variances and metrics as part of the regular evaluation process.

What is different?

  • Trends based on your monthly reviews in the previous quarter become more clear.
  • Review any actions you have taken as a result of your monthly reviews.
  • Adjustments to forecasts are more certain in quarterly reviews.
  • Established trends turn into actionable goals that you can take into the next quarter.
  • Wider view: Comparison to previous quarters and if applicable, previous years.

Review any areas in your monthly reviews that have been acted upon.

  • Highlight quarterly successes: Does a quarterly viewpoint showcase something new that is going better than expected? What actions from monthly reviews have been successful?
  • Highlight quarterly areas of concern: Does a quarterly view bring any concerns to light that you haven’t identified during monthly reviews? What actions from monthly reviews require continued action?

Incorporate identified trends as a basis for your monthly reviews in this next quarter.

  • Highlight opportunities based on the trends you’ve established in your monthly reviews.
  • Evaluate your next steps for the current month's review. Now that you have identified trends, you know where to make a deeper analysis and implement any changes you were waiting to make as part of the current month's review.

Annual Review

Annual reviews are the most comprehensive and critical evaluations in the review process for any business. For early-stage businesses, they are an especially important self-assessment to inform and guide transitions into the next stages. Since your annual review is the most likely time for major revisions, this process can be extensive. However, by conducting monthly forecast reviews, identifying trends in quarterly reviews, and responding to problems and opportunities throughout the year, you can significantly streamline your annual review process.

Example steps in an annual review

What is consistent with less expansive reviews?

  • An annual review, like a quarterly review, begins by performing a standard monthly review, assessing the usual variances and metrics as part of the regular evaluation process.
  • Similar to a quarterly review, an annual review is about identifying trends and making plans of action for your next year.

What is different?

  • With so much data, an annual review will definitely yield changes to your forecast and long-term strategy.
  • You’re analyzing the previous year as a whole and at the very least, asking yourself:
    • ” What was my actual performance versus what I predicted?”
    • “What story do those numbers tell, and how do they inform this coming year?”
  • Building upon prior reviews, this is an opportunity to reassess your long-term strategy, ensuring that your plan accurately reflects the current state of your business.

Review what has been acted upon.

  • What trends have been identified and responded to?
    • Is there a need for further action?
    • What would that action look like?
  • Highlight your successes over the past year.
    • What is going better than you expected at the start of the year?
    • What opportunities can you focus on over this next year?
  • Highlight areas of concern over the past year.
    • What areas of action fell short?
    • What can you do in this coming year to turn these concerns into successes?

Analyze long-term trends and previous years, check accuracy, and apply that data to your long-term strategic planning.

  • What metrics & trends have you observed over the past year?
    • Are any trends not identified in prior reviews?
    • Are your seasonality predictions accurate?
    • Did you correctly identify the top movers in your forecast?
  • How are you performing compared to previous years?
    • What are the aspects you can control?
    • What can you do to mitigate aspects outside of your control going forward?
  • Analyze the big cash flow numbers from your forecast.
    • Analyze your net cash flow - What did you observe while doing your monthly reviews that led to this outcome?
    • Did you have to adjust your forecast or change plans?
    • What is the status of your cash on hand and cash burn rate?
    • What debt does your business hold, and are you on track to pay it off?
  • How does all of this data translate to next year's forecast, and what adjustments should be applied to your long-term financial projections and strategic plan

Should you review your written plan?

Depending on your business's current circumstances, your annual review process is more likely than other periodic reviews to include updates to your plan or pitch.

  • Do you plan to seek investment to expand your business or meet identified cash flow needs? Keeping an updated plan will allow you to quickly take action when necessary.
  • Have fundamental aspects of your business changed? Updating your plan, in addition to your long-term projections, can help ensure that you and your team are in alignment and operating based on what is data-driven and currently actionable.

Even if your circumstances don’t necessitate updates to your plan, reviewing it is an important exercise, especially in your first years of operations. What you currently consider the source of truth for your business, whether it’s written or not, should be in alignment with your current operational practices. Reviewing your plan is a great way to assess your current practices as they pertain to current truths.

Whether you’re updating or not, reviewing your plan starts with a comparative methodology for each section.

  • What was the initial understanding that informed this area of your plan?
  • What is the current reality of this portion of your plan?
  • How has your business evolved to better address this area of your plan?
  • Does the structure of your strategic planning accurately represent the current requirements of your business?
  • If discrepancies exist, what steps can you take to improve its alignment?

Illustrative examples you may find in LivePlan

  • Problem & Solution:  What was the initial understanding vs the current reality that informed the problem that you offer a solution for, and has your solution had to evolve to better address the problem?
  • Competition:  How has your analysis of your competition evolved? How have you deepened your understanding of your competitors and your comparative price structure in order to maximize your strengths, and how can you continue to analyze your competitors in an ongoing manner? Excellent time for a SWOT analysis.
  • Marketing & Sales:  Evaluate your initial marketing and sales strategies against current realities. What has changed based on market trends and new technology? What has been the most effective? What can and is being done to improve the efficacy of your sales channels?
  • Key Assumptions:  Have the assumptions that you made had to undergo any adjustments due to forecast revisions? If they have changed at all, what are those adjustments and how are they more true to your business than the original assumptions now that you’ve been operating?

LivePlan features to aid your reviews

LivePlan Dashboard

Designed for the purpose of ongoing evaluation, the LivePlan Dashboard is an easy-to-use graphical display that combines two important sources of data:

  • Your financial forecast data (your plan)
  • Your company's actual accounting data (your actual results)

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Your Dashboard allows you to capture exactly how your business is performing against the goals you've made in your forecast. Equipped with that information, you can identify potential problems or opportunities early, making reviews seamless and easy to understand.

For more information on getting the most out of LivePlan's Dashboard please see Using the LivePlan Dashboard

Live Forecast

Found in the Projected Profit & Loss, Live Forecast is designed to help you easily review forecast performance alongside your financial actuals for previous months.

When Live Forecast is on, past-period columns will display actual accounting data. This data will come from the Dashboard and requires you to either directly add accounting data or be connected to an accounting solution.

Expanding the view, you can compare your actuals against your originally forecasted values and the percentage difference between the two. This side-by-side layout is optimal for reviewing past performance, particularly for extensive quarterly and annual reviews.

Organizational LivePlan features

LivePlan is designed to simplify collaboration. Our SBDC and consultant partners regularly utilize many of LivePlan’s organizational features during reviews of their clients' plans. Whether you’re conducting your review solo or with a team, these features are here to assist you.

Schedule plan review with milestones

LivePlan features a Milestones table designed for marking important dates and establishing strategic goals that can be seamlessly integrated into your business plan outline. For established businesses, milestones can also be used to create a schedule of periodic review goals for you and your team.

For more details on Milestones in LivePlan, see Adding and editing schedule milestones

Flag areas of revision with progress indicators

The progress indicators are found in the plan & forecast sections of your company in LivePlan. As you conduct your review, progress indicators serve to mark any areas of LivePlan that you’ve identified for review and revision. As your revisions progress, you can mark any finished sections or topics back to the green “Ready” status, helping to mark where you left off and keeping the process organized and transparent for you and your team.

Workshop revisions with Plan Comments & Forecast Notes

LivePlan has an integrated commenting feature in the plan and forecast sections. This feature allows you and your team to transparently workshop strategies in-app, as well as insert revisions before you add them to your plan and forecast, allowing easy side by side comparisons without altering the work in your existing plan.

Please see Forecast Notes and Adding and editing comments for further instructions. 

Setting up for success: Plan review as a startup

Reviewing your plan to improve the strategic value isn’t a practice exclusive to established businesses. Once your plan and forecast are nearing completion, it’s important to take time to conduct an initial review of the material you are preparing to present. This not only helps your confidence about what you’re pitching, you’re also establishing the practice of critically analyzing your plan from the outset, as well as creating a framework for ongoing strategic reviews of your business.

What to look for

Review the written plan and make any notes for adjustments

Read the plan from beginning to end to ensure it maintains a consistent voice throughout. Make sure that all concepts are mutually supportive and comprehensively detailed.

  • Are all of the ideas you’ve presented in your written plan sufficiently represented in your forecast?
  • Is there anything in the forecast that you haven’t sufficiently represented in the plan?
  • Note anything you need to work on.

Review the forecast and note needed adjustments

Review your forecast with a critical eye. Why are your numbers realistic, and are they backed by market research?

  • Are my assumptions represented in the forecast?
  • Are there any important costs being overlooked?
  • Are you projected to make enough money to cover your operations as well as to pay back any loans you’re asking for?

Implement any needed updates

Once your review has identified any needed revisions, the updates you make to your plan will help you answer essential questions you should ask yourself.

  • Does my forecast show that my business will be profitable?
  • Does my plan require more market research to be more accurate?
  • Am I asking for the right amount of money?

An important aspect to consider in your final business plan is that you are not merely presenting the concept of your business; you are also presenting yourself as the entrepreneur driving this venture. This means that cohesiveness is extremely important. It’s important to demonstrate a deep understanding of your business idea, backed by thorough research and effort, affirming that an investment of time and money in your idea is well-founded. Establishing and maintaining a practice of regular review from the beginning will enhance your preparation for the upcoming pitch meeting. This practice will also position you to effectively address challenges and capitalize on new opportunities once your business commences operations.

Did you know that LivePlan has a team of professionals that can help you with this? Our Services team can pair US-based business planners with a seasoned plan writer who will review your plan and provide critical, constructive, and actionable feedback to help you apply the finishing touches needed for a polished, lender-ready document! Please  for more details
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