Writing a business plan is the same as making a blueprint. A schema is de rigueur when building anything. Things created without first making a plan either fall apart quickly or never operate properly. Every how-to guide in the world about starting up an enterprise will tell you the first step is to make a plan.
Why then do so many of us avoid this activity? Why do we try and try again to achieve success without specifying in written detail how we're going to get there?
It's as if we believe more in luck and our own improvisational skills than we do in the old stand-bys of preparation, education and strategy. This is not surprising in our time: Horatio Alger has definitely given way to Brittany Spears. Seat-of-the-pants is much sexier than old-fashioned hard work.
Unfortunately, successful business is still hard work (or hard fun, if you love what you do). While luck and improvisation can pay off handsomely in the short run, sustainable business is built on skillful planning.
But this article is not meant as yet another lecture on the benefits of planning. More to the point, how can you commit to doing it, how can you overcome your distaste for it, what on earth will make you actually do it? Because, with luck and improvisation, you can indeed progress some distance in business before the lack of planning bites you in the proverbial hind-end. Many businesses start and then fail in this way.
Save yourself from the deception of thinking you don't need a planning document; or of thinking that you will get to planning very soon, but right now you have something else to do. Save yourself from frustration and disappointment as you progress in your business.
Below are 5 ways to make planning an attractive proposition, either to yourself or to your staff members.
1. Don't call it planning. Call it mind-mapping. Call it soul-searching or talking out loud. Call it Space Day, a Day to Look at Things from a Distance.
2. Have a plan for planning: so much time for brainstorming, so much for mission work, so much for strategizing, and on down the full line of thinking about all aspects of your business (user interface, sales and distribution, marketing, production, management, PR, recruitment and retention, and whatever other concerns of your business that exist). If you allot a specific amount of time to planning, and then allot a specific amount of time to each area of planning to be considered, you will end up with a well-rounded document that can be continuously edited as your business grows.
3. Does the idea of writing make your skin crawl? No excuse! You can make pictures. You can talk into a microphone. You can tell a friend, who takes notes. Then you can have a virtual assistant type and format your beautiful plan!
Special note here for solopreneurs: your best planning will include another person, even though you work on your own. The whole idea about planning is communication; a plan is your instructions to yourself. We often believe an idea is all worked out, but if asked to verbalize it, we don't have the words. Your future self will thank you for taking the time to communicate your plan "out loud."
4. Start your planning time with physical exercise. This could range from shooting a few hoops, to doing yoga, to games and fun group interactions for business settings. Include stretches or other physically-based activities intermittently throughout the planning time.
If you're a solopreneur, take this directive as seriously as group planners should. Do not underestimate the power of the stretch to invigorate the brain and heart.
5. Not sure what to include in your plan? Well, are you ready to start your own business? You are if you know clearly that you have a skill or product that other people want or need. If you do, you very likely know enough about the product or skill to anticipate what it will take to make a business of it. These are the items to include in planning. If you're still unsure, check out some business plan templates, or get help from your small business bureau.
Wondering to what level of detail you should go? This is entirely dependent on the time you allow for planning. It's more important to at least touch on all the major areas you've identified than to thoroughly cover each item. We're looking for a wholistic document to come out of this. One that makes sense, but may be at varying levels of completeness.
Your plan is a live companion and support for every day as you do business. Don't shortchange yourself by overlooking this key business secret. It's a lot more fun to plan if you just tweak your thinking about it, and accept it as a friend!