Top 5 action plan templates for small businesses

SMEs can use an action plan to break down project goals into practical, easy-to-follow steps. Here’s our top templates for designing the perfect approach.

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Action plans are a visual map of every small task you need to reach a larger business goal. They are typically time-sensitive and will be continuously consulted to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

The majority of project management (PM) systems now include an action plan template due to their popularity amongst business owners.

However, a surprising number of platforms are missing important features – such as task assigning – which can prevent your team from working effectively and jeopardise the successful delivery of your project.

Alongside an independent analyst, our experts have pinpointed a range of outstanding action plan templates that will ensure you meet every task on-time, and to-budget.

Below, we’ll take you through the unique features of each option, and where they perform best, so you can find the template that best matches your objectives.

Best action plan templates

As the name suggests, action plans are all about efficient decision-making to dive into a project as quickly as possible.

Some people choose to build their action plan on basic, web-based programmes like Google Sheets. But these alternatives often lead to poor collaboration that will severely limit your ability to edit action plans – disastrous if you run into trouble down the line.

Having a pre-built action plan template with project management software can get you started instantly and give you access to clever, time-saving features.

Below, we’ve identified the top template choices from leading PM software brands including monday.com and ClickUp.

All of our choices are based on important factors identified by our users such as ease of use, data visualisation, and collaboration.

Monday.com: Best for teams receiving regular client feedback, like agencies

Available with: Free plan

monday.com action template

monday.com is our top-scoring PM software for data visualisation (5 out of 5), beating rival software Smartsheet by a whole mark.

As the above example shows, monday’s modern-looking template is endlessly customisable so you can monitor every aspect of your project. There’s even a progress tracker to help managers monitor pace in case you need to push the pedal down.

Because of its flexibility, we recommend monday.com’s action plan template for projects that are subject to change. For example, design agencies working to short, week-long deadlines with demanding clients.

You can use monday’s customisable features to easily make edits. The Startups team also really liked the app’s simple, traffic-light organisational system during our testing, which means you won’t have to sacrifice clarity.

monday.com pros and cons

Pros
  • Assigned team members will be instantly notified - minimising time spent in meetings.
  • monday.com is third in our research for usability, as templates are quick to set up
  • Managers can easily set up an automated reminder if tasks are missed or delayed
Cons
  • User permissions only available on premium plans - so managers have less control over changes
  • No task dependencies means you’ll find it harder to prioritise tasks
ClickUp action template

ClickUp’s action plan is as clearly organised and colour-coded as monday’s. However, the former’s list-based layout is more suited to individual task management compared to monday’s collaborative focus.

Your action plan might be something as simple as reaching a certain objective by the end of the day. ClickUp’s time tracking – unavailable with the monday.com free plan – allows you to maximise your resources and take on as many gigs as possible while still prioritising deadlines.

Similarly, using task dependencies, you can order each job based on which has to be completed first to find the most streamlined path to completion.

Most excitingly, ClickUp is entirely free forever. In comparison, you’ll definitely have to upgrade monday.com, Wrike, Smartsheet, and Asana if you want them as a long-term PM solution.

The app’s feature limits mean it's best-suited to solo entrepreneurs. However, it will give you access to advanced resource management tools including pre-built automations.

ClickUp pros and cons

Pros
  • 24/7 live support and live chat available to help new users during onboarding
  • Communication integrations including Slack and Microsoft Teams
  • Automations are available on the free plan to take care of fiddly admin tasks
Cons
  • Our researchers gave ClickUp just 3 out of 5 for collaboration - it’s better for solo workers
  • Feature limitations on the free plan include building only 100 Gantt charts per month
Smartsheet action template

As you can tell from the above, the Smartsheet template (Click to Try) is not as attractive as those offered by ClickUp and monday.com. Consequently, we’re not big fans of the platform for user experience.

However, Smartsheet’s lowest tier offers a larger number of alternative views for you to analyse your plan through. That’s more than Wrike, monday.com, and Asana. ClickUp does offer the same number of views but you are limited in how many times you can use them.

Users can display their action plan as a:

  • Gantt Chart
  • Kanban Board
  • Spreadsheet
  • Timeline
  • Calendar
  • Burndown Chart

From our analysis, this is helpful for businesses that are working on longer projects that will have lots of pairs of eyes involved, such as charity fundraising.

You can sort your achievements and objectives into various formats, highlighting everything from individual performance to your ability to meet deadlines.

Smartsheet pros and cons

Pros
  • Finance integration means you can closely manage your project budget
  • Calendar view lets you see deadlines in weekly or monthly increments
  • Assign members to subtasks as well as just tasks in case a job proves more complicated down the line
Cons
  • Smartsheet came seventh overall in our ranking for help and support tools
  • No free plan available - you’ll need to download the action plan template as part of a 14-day free trial
Wrike action plan

Wrike doesn’t score as highly for the more advanced areas of project management. Compared to ClickUp, its feature range is thin, while its internal collaboration tools are lacking compared to monday.com.

However, Wrike sets itself apart as a practical, low-maintenance option for storing files and providing guest access for free. Tasks can be viewed by anyone with access to the project – this includes guests. All of the other platforms on this list require you to pay for this luxury.

If you’re working on a project with external collaborators, Wrike is therefore a good option. You can allocate tasks to team members who aren’t necessarily based in your business.

You might not want to share Wrike’s dashboards with your employers as our testing found it is not a very attractive template to view. Projects with lots of sub-contractors involved, such as construction, will reap the most benefits from its offering.

Wrike pros and cons

Pros
  • Unlimited users and guests are permitted on the Wrike free plan
  • Project message board and task comments make it simple for team members to update each other
Cons
  • Poor for data visualisation - only list view is permitted on the free plan
  • If new users get stuck, Wrike is our lowest-performing platform for help and support scoring just 1.8 out of 5
Asana action plan

Asana easily outperforms PM software for Kanban-style management. Whilst its list view is more limited, we recommend Asana for action planning thanks to its drag-and-drop dependency feature.

To ensure that one task is completed before another can start, you only need to drag a line between each task on the ‘timeline' view (although a caveat to this perk is that the tool is only available with Asana’s lowest paid-for tier).

There are some key tools missing from Asana’s inventory that will make managing large teams harder. Unlike ClickUp and monday.com, there is no time-tracking function, for example.

As a result, we recommend Asana’s action plan template for project teams with no more than 5 members.

Asana pros and cons

Pros
  • Over 200 integrations including CRM, marketing, and communication
  • We gave Asana 4.1 out of 5 for its fair pricing and scalable plans, placing it third in our rankings
Cons
  • No guest access permitted on Asana’s free plan
  • No time-tracking feature so you won’t be able to monitor how long employees spend on a task

What is an action plan?

An action plan is essentially a list of tasks required to reach a decided outcome. This is probably the simplest form of project management. Duties are usually plotted out in stages using a chart form.

The most common aspects of an action plan are:

  • Tasks (description of what needs to be done)
  • Deadlines (when it is due)
  • Owners (who is responsible for the task’s completion)
  • Milestones (what specific targets you need to hit to be able to complete the task)
  • Resources (the budget or external/internal consultants needed to complete the task)

Why use an action plan?

When properly-designed, an action plan gives you a complete picture of all the minor tasks needed to achieve your overall objective.

Structuring your plan in this way means you’ll be able to spot instantly where something might go wrong. For example, if lots of tasks are dependent on another being completed, you’ll know to give this step critical attention.

Ultimately, action plans are a manager’s cheat sheet to success. Using one makes managing your team much simpler and helps you to prioritise resources more effectively.

Verdict

  • For flexibility, we recommend monday.com. Action plans may require edits down the line, and monday promises a smooth transition if anything changes.
  • For freelance work, ClickUp is a full-featured choice for maximising your resources during short, day-long projects.
  • For projects with lots of stakeholders we recommend Smartsheet. You can easily give updates on progress or budget using its impressive reporting tools.
  • For subcontract work, we recommend Wrike. It’s the only app with an unlimited number of guest users, making it ideal for B2B collaboration.
  • For time-focused projects, we recommend Asana for its simple task dependency feature which makes step-by-step planning effortless.

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Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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