When was the last time you looked at your business plan? Last week? Last year? Last decade? The day before you officially opened for business?
In my experience, surprisingly few people write a business plan (I made exactly that mistake!); and those that do, write it and then let it grow dusty on the shelf, as if the plan was just a small and annoying step that needed to be checked off of the list. I’ve met many people who spent more time fretting over a new car purchase than the start of their business. They don’t mind pouring over vehicular statistics and comparing models of the car they’re going to drive (which will immediately depreciate as soon as they drive off the lot) but they’ll cringe at the thought of writing some ideas, strategies, and financials down to give a little proactive thought to an investment of their time, money and effort that should appreciate over the years. Heaven forbid that they do a little business planning now to figure out the trajectory of their company for the years to come!
I think part of the problem is the we we perceive business plans. They are often thought to be stuffy, formal documents. They are thought to overflow with buzzwords that would make any MBA drool. Their numbers are said to be nearly meaningless. In many ways, these documents need to be written at the worst possible time — usually the point when the aspiring entrepreneur feels the most passionate and energetic about their business and they just want to get out there and take action… they don’t want to get bogged down in research and details and buzzwords and proformas. Business plans are perceived to be soul-crushing documents that are purely optional and typically only written by the anal retentive and extremely cautious.
But good business plans aren’t like that. They shouldn’t be stuffy or stuffed with buzzwords. A good business plan doesn’t have to be arduous to create and highly formal in how it’s structured and written. A good business plan shouldn’t crush your eager-to-start spirit — it should stoke the coals of your imagination and motivation by sharpening your focus. (Mixed metaphor alert).
A good business plan is meant to be used, not stored on a shelf. A good business plan should be both strategic and tactical, and something that a business owner can refer to every single day. Yes, a business plan is a high level document that you might use for banks or investors but it should also contain your operational plan, your sales funnel (your marketing and sales plan), and contingencies for when things go horribly wrong. It should inspire and guide… EVERY TIME YOU LOOK AT IT.
Heck, don’t even bother getting a professional to write it (unless you are going to use it to help you find investors). Just sit down and do it yourself. Roll up your sleeves and dig in. Write your goals and then the steps you want to take to get there. Create financial statement projects and proformas that are useful for you. (Tip: Create 3 versions of each financial statement — a set of high projections, a set of medium projects, and a set of low projections). Research. Add information based on what you’ve seen so far (if you’ve been working in the industry already). Create a document that you can hand off to someone else while you go away for a year-long vacation and when you get back, they’ll have built the exact business you had dreamed of!
Starting and running a business is like going on a long journey — it’s best accomplished when you have a map that you can refer to, which will help you get to your destination.
Like a map for a long journey, it’s not something you should write once and put away. It’s something that you should leave open on the seat beside you while you drive. When you’re not sure where to go, you can consult your map. When you’re tempted to veer away and chase new ideas, you can be reminded of the original plan. When you are forced to take an unexpected detour, you can get back on track. THAT is the value of a business plan.
If you haven’t looked at your business plan in weeks, months, or years, go get it right now. (Do you know where it is?) Dust it off and look it. Is it practical? (Probably not since you haven’t looked at it in so long). So figure out what you can do to make it practical. My suggestions are:
- Erase the buzzword-filled nonsense that doesn’t help anyone. Replace it with some unpolished ideas in raw form — specifically, big-picture goals, smaller-picture goals, and the actions you’ll take to get there.
- Write about how you want your business to grow, what you plan to do to get it there, and what you’ll need to scale up along the way.
- Create financial projections that actually mean something by doing a bit of research and writing 3 sets of financial statements, with high-priced assumptions, medium-priced assumptions, and low-priced assumptins.
- Add an operational plan.
- Add your sales funnel (a marketing plan and a sales plan).
- Add in your document templates, logo variations, branding rules, operational checklists, etc.
- List contingencies and plans to implement them if the need arises.
If you have never created a business plan, do it now. Here are a couple of good sites to start with. These sites contain a mix of information, step-by-step instructions, and even templates to get you started.
- Entrepreneur.com’s ‘Guide to business plans’
- Small Business Administration’s ‘How to write a business plan’
Go and make your business plan useful to you!