[I posted this earlier on the Huffington Post. I’m posting it here as a cross post for the convenience of my readers here. — Tim]
The traditional business plan has been under attack lately. There’s been a lot of chatter about Twitter, a Web 2.0 star, which supposedly found investors without a business plan. One pundit suggests business plans are bad for entrepreneurs because investors will just use them to nitpick. Several others suggest a business plan is bad because, in their minds, if you have a plan you have to follow it.
The detractors are confusing the plan with planning, and not planning is just plain dumb. Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best: “The plan is useless. Planning is essential.” I’m biased. I’m a business planner. I don’t die with a plan, though, I steer with planning. I think the assault on planning is dangerous.
I may have found the answer. I’ve been reading Sarah Susanka’s the not so big life, a brilliant book, sequel to her not so big house book. It makes me think of the “not so big” business plan.
Just as her not so big means simpler, streamlined, and more practical, so too with my “not so big” business plan. It’s appropriate to what you really need for your business. Yes, even you Web 2.0 geeks in the back of the room, celebrating your alleged freedom from the business plan as if the math final had been canceled. So it’s time for the not so big business plan.
What is it?
It’s a selection of simple mix-and-match pieces. Do just what you need to run your business, no more. At its core it defines your business, how it’s different, what it does for people, its meaning. That core is wrapped with specifics like dates, budgets, and responsibilities.
- It’s never done. You keep it alive and working. “Done” is a bad quality in a business plan. Review it regularly and revise as needed. It’s a perpetual work in progress.
- It leaves tracks. It’s going to change. You want to know afterwards how it changed, when it changed, and why it changed.
- It’s not necessarily a document. You might never print it. It’s a guide and it takes whatever form works for you. You turn it into a document only when and if you want (or need) somebody to read it.
- It doesn’t have to be “right.” You’re not going to implement it blindly, like running into a brick wall. It leaves tracks you can look back on to trace changing assumptions. You’re going to use it to steer. Steering involves constant corrections.
- It’s concrete and specific about what is supposed to happen, when, who is responsible, and how much it costs. Otherwise you won’t be able to follow changes.
How is it done?
Do it in pieces. Start wherever you think it is easiest and add to it as needed. You don’t do it in any particular order; you don’t have to start at the beginning and go through to the end. Jump in wherever you feel like. You don’t necessarily cover all the bases, at least not all at once. In this case it’s a process, not a document. Choose what works for you: