Business planning, not business plans

I usually cringe when I hear an entrepreneur or small business owner talking about writing (or worse, being told to write) a business plan.  The reason I cringe is that, too often, what people mean by “business plan” is some 30+ page Word document that no-one will ever read and which will end up as a dusty binder on a bookshelf, or some forgotten bytes on a dusty hard drive.

Let me make it clear – I’m not advocating running your business without any plans; I am a big advocate of planning – both strategic and tactical.  I just want those plans to be meaningful to you and your team in running your business.

At this point, you may be asking “what about if I need to give a ‘business plan’ to a potential lender or investor?”.  Then what you are going to create is an “investor-facing” document which is based on the needs of that audience.  Such documents are based upon the plans that you have defined and from which you run the business.  If, for example, the audience is Venture Capital, they are not going to read a traditional 30+ page business plan.  On the other hand, your bank loan officer may demand one (not because he is going to read it, but because it is on his checklist of items you must submit).

Plenty of other people across the web-o-sphere (with more knowledge and experience than me) have basically said the same thing; so why do we keep seeing people asking for help creating “business plans” and others pointing them to the same old tired templates?

I want the people I advise, mentor, coach and consult with to create plans that are reasonable and feasible – both in terms of what gets done when, and how much money they need to support their efforts.  Plans that show they’ve done their homework about how to get from here to there.  Who is the audience for these plans?  You and your team.  It’s the map that keeps you all on the same page.

In broad terms, I tell people that they need to:

  • Define a destination
  • Create strategies that will get them to the defined destination
  • Understand the tactics and actions that must be undertaken to bring the strategies to completion
  • Ensure that their resources and daily processes/procedures are aligned with the tactics and actions

In other words – make sure your ‘wagon team’ is all facing and pulling in the same direction; because it is real hard to get your wagon moving if the horses/oxen/asses are all pulling in different directions.  After all, while creating ideas may best be done in a solitary environment, turning those ideas into reality needs a good team (see last week’s blog Isolation vs Collaboration).

Out of this will come the marketing and operations plans, the staffing requirements, the financial projections, etc. that make the plans something for you and your team to work with.  From here you can then create your elevator pitch, one page teaser, pitch deck, traditional business plan document, or whatever you need to communicate to the audience you wish to communicate with.  Of course, any of these external-facing documents you create will just be a current snapshot of where you are with your business and what your plans are currently – those plans will change and a later snapshot may look very different.

So, ask for help with ‘business planning’ not writing a ‘business plan’ – and if someone offers to “write your business plan for you”, turn around and run (yes, run don’t walk) away from them!!

Excellent Execution

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