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Business Plan Advice

Rethink the Step-by-Step Approach to Business Plans

The step by step approach to writing a business plan is a good start, but you need to be realistic about its long-term effectiveness.

Tim Berry

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Everybody wants business planning laid out in a simple step-by-step way.

The idea is attractive: Start here, go there next, then there and, hooray, you’re done.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way, at least not with business planning. Whichever step-by-step sequence you follow, at some point you’re going to double back toward the beginning to revise.

I’m not advising complete avoidance of that type of methodology. I’ve been working with step-by-step plans for most of my adult life, although it seems like I’m constantly changing the order of the steps. I do, however, think it’s best to recognise that planning is a constant process, not something you start at the beginning and work through to the end.

The Traditional Approach to Business Plans

Take, for example, the following sequence, which I’ve used in a lot of seminars, articles, software and books.

  • Situation analysis. Put together your mission statement, mantra, objectives, keys to success, company summary, business offering and market analysis.
  • Strategy. Focus on well-defined market segments and product areas, set priorities, differentiate and position strategically.
  • Plan. Create financial projections, milestones, activities, dates, deadlines, budgets, specific responsibility assignments, tactics and details.
  • Management. Review progress, track results, revise, correct and manage. Compare the plan to what is actually happening. Develop and manage accountability.

That sequence can be useful. It’s certainly helped me teach and explain how a company might go from nowhere to a first-draft business plan. So it serves its purpose; but it isn’t accurate.

No thoughtful manager or business owner is going to have the discipline to finish a situation analysis and leave it alone while developing strategy, or to develop the plan’s details without referring back to situation analysis and strategy. They keep referring back, rethinking, discussing and analysing. Assumptions change during the process. Business planning is always active, alive and changing.

If you like business and the business you’re in, this is hardly a bad thing. The world and assumptions change, and plans help keep you oriented and remind you of long-term goals.

An Alternative Look to Business Plans

Here’s an alternative sequence I sometimes use. This one starts with the market need and works through the specific company identity to the detailed plan and then the analysis of results.

  • Market need. Figure out the market need or want. Remember that what buyers want is often as valid as what they need.
  • Business offering. Determine how your company can satisfy that need best with positioning, differentiation and a good story.
  • Making it happen. Establish dates, deadlines, marketing messages, media, responsibility assignments and financial projections.
  • Accountability. Review the plan compared with actual results, track achievement of original plans and goals, review why things were different, how assumptions changed, revising as necessary to maintain the long-term orientation without doing anything just because it’s in the plan.

Here, too, the sequence helps people get going and used to planning. In this case, the business offering and the market needs must be interactive, because the strategic core is not just what the market needs but what your company can do well and differently from the rest. Then when you get to the “making it happen” step, you’ll have to review what you want to do with the resources you have.

That often involves revising the positioning and strategy of the business offering and, ultimately, going back to the market need.

I’ve used the phrase “step-by-step” a lot in my work with business planning through the years. I’ve done a lot of task-oriented, wizard-steps-oriented work, setting up a sequence so people can theoretically go from the first step to the last step and have a finished business plan. I do it that way because so many people want it that way.It’s not harmful; but it isn’t realistic.

It’s not just a plan, it’s a planning process.

It also helps to remember some of the basics: Your business plan will never be done; you’ll always be working on it. Assumptions change, so use your planning to stay on top of the interplay between what was going to happen and what actually happened and what you need to do to stay on the right long-term course.

Tim Berry is the founder of Palo Alto Software, a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognised expert in business planning. He makes several notable appearances in Fire in the Valley, Swaine and Freiberger's classic history of the PC industry, and is the originator of plan-as-you-go business planning. He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honours from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame.

Business Plan Advice

The Future Of The Business Plan

When things get rocky, what will keep you on point and on mission? What can you refer to, ensuring you aren’t straying from your original vision? The right business plan can go a long way.

Pieter Scholtz

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Business plans are a lot like maps and GPSes. If the organisational journey is proceeding smoothly, you may believe you don’t need one. Indeed, there’s a school of thought — backed by certain research — that says starting out with a formal plan is no predictor of success and it’s better to get out there and test your concept in a real-world environment.

These naysayers argue that most business plans are theoretical, unrealistic and go out the window the first time the entrepreneur encounters an unforeseen hurdle.

Refer to the original vision

But the pro-business plan lobby argues that, when market conditions unexpectedly change and you’re thrown into disarray, it’s important to refer to the original vision and belief system that you started out with. These will help to keep you grounded and avoid going off at tangents every time you hit an obstacle.

A plan also helps to prioritise your daily activities. Without it, everything becomes urgent and the resulting chaos will destroy your work/life balance and leave you feeling overwhelmed. If you are more than a one-person operation, a business plan enables company teams to align their activities to the overall vision and to work congruently to achieve the same goals.

William B. Gartner, an entrepreneurship professor at Clemson University in the US, believes business plans are essential. After analysing data from a survey of more than 800 people starting businesses, he found that writing a plan greatly increased the chances of actually going into business.

“You’re two-and-a-half times more likely to get into business,” he observes. “That’s powerful.”

Alyssa Gregory, an entrepreneur and writer for the likes of Forbes and the New York Times, says the process of putting together a business plan can help with new ideas, different approaches and fresh perspectives.

“An effective business plan is a flexible, growing and dynamic tool that can help you think creatively and come up with new solutions for some of your toughest business challenges,” she says.

Related: Business Plan Format Guide

Keep the plan simple

However, the thinking around the required depth and complexity of a business plan has changed. A decade or two ago, management gurus advocated elaborate 40-page plans with detailed sections covering objectives, mission, organisational structure, target market, customer behaviour, competitive advantage, marketing strategy, sales forecasts and financial projections.

These days, unless you’re seeking outside investors or looking for a bank loan that requires a detailed risk analysis, the move is towards shorter and simpler documents of no more than a page. The reasons for this change are many. A lengthy document is likely to be unread — particularly by younger-generation employees with short attention spans. Even if it is read, it’s unlikely to be remembered in detail because of its complexity.

So, opt for a one-page business plan that’s easily digestible and lists only the important things like mission, vision, etc. Cut the fluff and keep the essence. If you’ve spent time preparing a longer plan, that’s okay. Turn the key elements that will keep you focused on your goals and the bigger picture into short bullet points that will become your go-to business plan for regular use.

What should be in your one-pager? South Africa-based digital marketing and content strategist, Casandra Visser, suggests:

  • Vision – What are you building
  • Mission Statement – What you do, what your product/service is and who your customers are
  • Objectives – Your business goals for the next week, month or year
  • Strategies – How you plan to achieve your objectives
  • Action Plan – Steps you will take to action your strategies, including dates/deadlines.

Related: Keep It Simple: How To Write A One Page Business Plan

Finally, remember that your plan is a living, breathing document that needs to be meaningful in a constantly changing business environment. So, break up your annual plan into quarterly plans that take into account micro and macro changes in your specific operating environment.

Keep it relevant, keep it simple — and your business plan will be an invaluable asset in navigating your business journey.

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Business Plan Advice

Questions To Consider While Testing The Success Rate Of Your Business Plan

Here are four ways to test your plan’s success rate or you may instead take these as questions to validate your business idea’s credibility.

Angela White

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So you’re finally ready to craft your business ideas out of your head and wondering if the plans you have made are worth hitting the success road or not. Well, this is something that stands as a matter of concern for every budding entrepreneur. Also, checking the viability of your business plan is necessary. For this reason, the online evaluations are turning out to be handy.

Creating tests online to assess your business plan has become a norm these days. You may find several testing tools with ready-to-use quizzes/tests to help entrepreneurs in interpreting results for developing a successful business plan. So before you take the plunge and give your business a shoot, here are four ways to test your plan’s success rate or you may instead take these as questions to validate your business idea’s credibility.

Answer these 4 Questions to test your business plan’s success:

1. Did you assess your target audience/market?

A crucial element of a successful business plan is making an appropriate market analysis and identifying your target customers.

  • Whom are you selling your product/service to?
  • What are their demands and requirements?
  • How big is the market you shall step in?
  • What can you do to launch your business in the market?

An open interaction with your target audience in the form of social media polls, surveys, etc., can help you find answers to the above questions. If your business plan includes all of these necessities, then you have successfully crossed the first milestone.

Related: Business Plan Format Guide

2. Have you made a check of your funding?

What do you need to kick-start your business? Idea, passion, and more importantly ‘MONEY.’ Your business plan should help you identify potential funding sources for your start-up. These sources may include spending your savings, taking loans or sometimes a combination of both. Studies by the University of Oregon say that businesses with a proper plan are more likely to get funded. Therefore, consider making an effective business plan to enhance the chances of getting funds.

3. Did you roll your eyes on the competition in the market?

Analysing your competitors and making a note of their strategies is something that will help you nurture your business. This doesn’t mean that you spend all of your time and energy in eyeing the competition. You need to gather all the tricks implemented by successful entrepreneurs and keep an eye on the factors that lead to failed startups. If your business plan structures key points you take from the competitive market around you, then you have bagged the next milestone in this journey.

4. Have you made a marketing strategy?

Would you like your business to stay stagnated? Obviously not! How you market your product/service to reach your target audience must be included in your business plan. If your business plan gives you a clear picture of when and how you will advertise your product through social media, websites, etc., then you ultimately succeed in creating a full-fledged business plan.

The online test maker software these days has made it extremely convenient to create tests judging the success rate of a business plan. According to a recent study, businesses with an adequately devised plan tend to grow 30% faster. Looking at this number, we can precisely estimate the importance of having a full-proof business plan that includes all of the points as mentioned above. So don’t forget to test your plan before you take the huge leap.

Download a free business plan template here.

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Business Plan Advice

Why Your Business Beliefs Are More Important Than Your Business Plan

Your business plan will change. Your business beliefs should lead you to long-term success.

Bedros Keuilian

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Do not spend more time working on your business plan than you do actually working on your business. A business plan is important, and you should take the time to make one. Just know that your beliefs about business will have a much greater impact on your success than what you put on paper.

I know this because I’ve coached dozens of entrepreneurs and business owners from the very beginnings of their businesses. I’ve watched some of them grow their businesses all the way to six-, seven- and even eight-figure earnings, even when their initial idea looked shaky on paper.

I’ve watched others struggle for years before giving up, even though their ideas looked foolproof on paper.

Related: Bankrupt And Dreams In Tatters: How Sheree O’ Brien’s Self-Belief Drove Her To Success

The short explanation here is that what you put on paper for a business plan will never match reality. Never. As soon as you start selling to and working with real people, things change. There’s a certain amount of chaos. However, there is a way to harness that chaos and use it to build your empire, which is what I’m here to show you today.

Innovation is moving faster than ever before

In the next five to 10 years, most of the jobs that exist today will be replaced by AI. For entrepreneurs, that means your business operations will be cheaper and more reliable than ever before. However, it also means that your daily operations will look completely different than what they look like today.

Plus, many of these technologies will have unintended consequences. They’re going to create problems that we’ve never had to deal with before (such as high unemployment).

I don’t say any of that to scare you. In fact, I’m extremely optimistic about the future, and you should be, too. My point is that none of us can afford to get stuck on how we do business today.

If your idea of success is to find the next “hack” or “quick fix,” then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Those hacks and quick fixes are going to become outdated almost as soon as they appear.

So, here’s what you need to do instead: Become obsessed with the principles of wealth and success, not just the delivery system. Study the entrepreneurs and the businesses you admire most and look for the principles that guided their decisions.

Focus on principles, not quick hacks

principles

The most successful entrepreneurs on the planet are the ones that put in decades of hard work to build their empires. That means that they kept their businesses growing even in times of massive uncertainty, loss and change. How?

It comes back to their business beliefs, which is another way of saying principles. If your business beliefs are solid, you will quickly find a way to create new solutions when the old systems for doing business break down. For a great example of this, look at Ray Dalio. He’s been listed as one of the 100 wealthiest people in the world, and he even wrote a book called Principles.

Related: The Mindset Strategy From The “Rock Star” Coach Can Turn Your Beliefs Into Results

He’s also the founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates, which has a fund called the Pure Alpha fund that only lost money three times in the last 20 years. Keep in mind, that includes the 2008 housing crisis, which was the worst economic downturn in recent history. When most people were suffering financial disaster, Dalio and others like him kept their empires growing.

Again, it goes back to beliefs, aka principles. One of Dalio’s core beliefs was that he could design an investment portfolio that would remain safe and keep growing under any economic season. Through years of researching and testing, he created the All Seasons portfolio and accomplished just that. And he accomplished that because he was looking for the principles that would keep his money growing over the long term instead of get-rich-quick tricks and hacks.

Another great example is Google. Google’s mission statement is “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s not a hack or a get-rich-quick scheme.

That’s a guiding belief in what’s possible. It’s a huge idea that serves the needs of people all over the world. That’s what has allowed Google to create billion-dollar solutions and rewrite how much of the world operates today.

Beliefs can make you mentally strong — or weak

Let’s bring this back down to a personal level. If you believe that you have the creativity, focus and discipline to solve any problem that comes up in your business, then that will come true. On the other hand, if you believe there’s no room left for your ideas, or that you’ll never be able to lead other people toward your vision, that will also come true.

With that in mind, let me offer you a set of beliefs that have helped me succeed in business. These are not beliefs I pulled out of thin air. These are beliefs I’ve seen in action with dozens of other successful entrepreneurs.

I’ve tested them out in my own life and found that they each helped my businesses grow faster. I encourage you to read these aloud to yourself until they become habits in your own thinking.

  • Money is attracted to decisiveness, action-taking and speed.
  • I can learn whatever new skills I need to succeed and keep my business on the cutting edge.
  • I can earn the respect and cooperation of anyone whose help I need.

Now, you might be wondering if I’m preaching some kind of woo-woo, “law of attraction” stuff here. I’m not. If you read those beliefs again carefully, you’ll see that they emphasize taking action. They emphasize going above and beyond what most people are willing to do.

The whole point of this is to prime yourself to want to take these actions even when they are uncomfortable. You will do this because you believe that the rewards will come. No, the rewards will not come immediately. Yes, the reality will be a long and difficult road.

Related: The Power of Dominant Thought

That’s precisely why you need deeply held, empowering beliefs to push you forward even when your plan falls apart. Focus on developing your core beliefs, and you will have the power to overcome any challenge on the path to empire.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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