Write Your Business Plan, But Do So in Pencil

Write Your Business Plan, But Do So in Pencil

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I have a few words of advice for first-time entrepreneurs, as well as seasoned business owners looking to hit a new stage of growth. My advice is this; write your business plan in pencil.

Why you ask? Because it will illustrate two important principles:

1. Change is inevitable

I have little doubt that you (the small business owner) will shortly have to change, amend, modify, scrap or abandon your original business plan altogether. One of the attributes of successful entrepreneurs is flexibility. Writing your business plan in pencil forces you to look at change as the only constant. Make change your friend, embrace it and work it to your benefit. Every entrepreneur discovers new opportunities that didn’t appear until there was actually a business up and running.

2. Avoid business plan worship

When we see documents neatly typed (and maybe even praised), we are reluctant to change – especially those of us who attended business schools where the plan took on a larger-than-life importance. It’s my hope that the mental image of a pencil will remind you that change is good and will help you reach your goals. Most people who write a business plan do it to raise money or because someone told them that’s what they’re supposed to do. The fact is that a detailed plan is only required if you want to raise money from a bank or venture capitalist. And both hardly ever offer a loan or invest in early stage companies. So your energies are wasted writing those long and thick plans. Now don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe in planning, just not in long, voluminous tomes that will probably go unread.

Step by Step

If you really want to write a business plan, try this: At the start of each year write what your goals are and specifically target new areas of distribution and the names of new accounts that you want to clinch. Also, put on paper the names of current customers with whom you want a deeper relationship and the strategies you’ll employ to do so.

This plan should only run one or two pages. I also recommend you write down your accomplishments and shortcomings from the previous year. While you can do this exercise primarily for yourself, I would also share it with members of my team.

As your company gets bigger, that’s when those written business planning documents become paramount. As your company grows you want to be sure all your employees are on the same page and equipped with the knowledge of how they can contribute to the company goals.

It is a reversal of commonly accepted logic to suggest you postpone the business plan until you’ve reached a growth spurt, but it’s important to give your employees a map of the road you (and they) are on.

Bob Reiss
Bob is a business school graduate who has has been involved in 16 start-ups and is the founder of a number of highly successful companies.