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How to Build an Action Plan and Why You Need One

An action plan can help you organize, prioritize, and reach your goals. Learn how to build an action plan and understand their value with this guide.

An action plan is a project management tool anyone can use to plan their next project. An action plan is a useful step-by-step outline for organizing and prioritizing tasks in business and your personal life. For example, it could be valuable for getting ready for a vacation or something that has to do with your business life, like planning an awards ceremony event.

Let’s take a wedding as an example. There are many things on a to-do list that need to happen before the big day. This includes searching for and finding a venue, hiring a caterer, booking a photographer, creating and sending out invitations, securing the location for the rehearsal dinner, and preparing the bridal party attire. That’s a lot of things that need to get done in a timely manner.

An action plan breaks the wedding down into doable and realistic tasks. Ultimately, it's a reference tool, acting as a plan of action for everyone involved in the wedding, responsibilities, and deadlines. It helps organize and prioritize everything and everyone.

It may seem daunting for some to break down a big project into smaller tasks, but an action plan isn’t as difficult as you might think. You're on the right track if you consider the overall goal or end result and what it takes to get there. Keep in mind that there's no one perfect way to create an action plan. They can be to-do lists, checklists, listicles, graphics, spreadsheets, journal entries, charts, or all of the above. An action plan takes your idea, puts it on paper, and provides an organized and timely visual to make your concept a reality.

What is an action plan?

An action plan acts as an outline, helping you understand what steps are necessary to achieve a certain goal. It's essentially a list of tasks and resources required to reach an objective or complete a project. An action plan also serves as documentation.

An action plan is a dynamic tool that can be adjusted and edited as needed. It's key to a project's success and a valuable asset for anyone who needs a step-by-step planning tool. Some industries refer to action plans as strategic plans, while others refer to strategic plans as a basis or foundation for creating action plans.

Action plan example

Action plans can be simple spreadsheets that everyone can work with or a visual graphic template you complete for each project.

The action plan should include each required step, person responsible for delivery, the start date, the due date, milestones, resources, and desired outcomes. Create your very own or find a template that lists all actions with notes, priorities, responsibilities, and progress status.

Action plans can be valuable for your marketing strategy or something more personal, like a wedding.

Here is an action plan example for a wedding planning business.

  • 12 months before the wedding–Determine the budget, select the venue, and create a guest list.
  • 11 months before the wedding–Secure vendors, including a photographer, florist, caterer, minister, decorator, and limo driver. You'll also need to hire entertainment, like a live band or DJ. Consider colors and wedding themes.
  • 10 months before the wedding–Book hotel rooms and take engagement photos.
  • 9 months before the wedding–Find and buy a wedding dress and bridal party dresses. Mail Save the Date invites.
  • 8 months before the wedding–Create a wedding registry and add gifts.
  • 5 months before the wedding–Book the honeymoon location.
  • 4 months before the wedding–Select the wedding cake, schedule the final tasting with the caterer, and purchase wedding bands.
  • 3 months before the wedding–Send invitations to friends and family.
  • 1 month before the date–Follow up with vendors and book hair and makeup.

Of course, this is just a sample of the tasks a wedding planner needs to consider, but it gives you an idea of both the large and small tasks, how they work together, and the timeliness of the tasks required before the wedding day.

Reasons to build an action plan

A well-thought-out plan of action is like a map that takes you to your destination. It's a visual guide that will help increase efficiency and productivity. It'll also help you understand which goals to prioritize, make informed decisions, and visualize the progress of your projects.

Team leaders and project managers use action plans to share progress updates with everyone involved in a project, including teams, suppliers, colleagues, and supervisors. This resource keeps everyone on the same page or in the loop regarding timelines, goals, and all the tasks needed to get to the final goal. An action plan is essential in showing everyone what has already been accomplished and what needs to be completed.

How to write an action plan

Let’s get smart with our action plan and discuss the steps needed to create one and reach your goals. SMART is an acronym commonly used to outline the process of goal setting, and smart goals stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.

  • Specific: To make your action plan goals specific and complete tasks, you can focus on who, what, when, where, and how. Outlining individual and specific tasks narrows down and clearly communicates objectives to everyone involved.
  • Measurable: Measuring your goals is the process of creating systems in order to track progress. Tracking project progress can show you what, if anything, needs to be adjusted for better outcomes.
  • Attainable: Are your goals and timeline realistic? Set realistic goals that aren't too ambitious so that they can be achieved. Your team could get frustrated if the objectives aren't feasible or too complicated. This can result in morale issues.
  • Relevant: Setting a relevant goal should take into consideration everyone who's working to achieve it. Each person should clearly understand how each objective plays an essential role in the overall project.
  • Timely: Set timely goals and a logical timeframe that'll assist you and everyone involved to help you keep on track.

Defining your objectives helps you establish where you are now and what needs to be done to get where you want to go. Setting goals is an important part of developing your action plan, and SMART goals can help break down your tasks in a strategic way.

Now that you have your goals broken down into SMART goals, you can move on with your action plan. Take a look at the following helpful steps to get started.

Identify your goals

Write down a clear, concise mission, what you want to accomplish, and who is needed to get you there.

Determine and prioritize tasks

This may take some time and involve multiple players, but creating a list of tasks and things that need to get done with a detailed timeline is extremely important for successful campaigns. This step allows you to rate your deadlines.

Next, take all those tasks and prioritize the ones that need to be done before others can be started. Write down the sequence of events so that everyone knows when they need to begin and stay on track.

Create a timeline

This is an essential part of the action plan. A timeline can be an hour-by-hour, week-by-week, or month-by-month description of what and when tasks should be completed. Set reasonable time estimates for each and every task.

It's also helpful to include important milestones that could mark the end of one task or project phase and the start of another. Without a detailed timeline, keeping everyone motivated and on track can be difficult. That said, this strategic planning tool promotes better productivity and engagement.

You also want to assign tasks as you create your timeline. Evaluate everyone on the team and understand their abilities and talents for more favorable outcomes. Define whose skill sets can accomplish each task and delegate them accordingly. This could include assigning tasks to members of your team, consultants, and professional freelancers.

Revise if necessary

Collect data and input from everyone involved in completing each task and make the necessary adjustments and revisions for future projects. Pivoting and adapting to changes and unexpected issues will be imperative if you need to go to your Plan B. It's not what happens during this process, it's how you react and change directions professionally that will move the project along.

Key takeaways: Building an action plan for your business

Start planning successful campaigns today. Whether you want to grow your audience or build your brand, a well-prepared action plan will help you move in the right direction. Keep the points mentioned above in mind as you organize and prioritize your goals with an action plan.

Mailchimp has all the marketing and e-commerce tools you need, all in one place. We provide world-class technology and support to help your business launch and grow to meet your one-of-a-kind vision. Plus, with various analytics tools, you can easily see where your business needs to improve and build a plan of action to reach your marketing objectives.

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