You might think there’s no way to write everything there is to know about your brilliant business idea in one paragraph. Guess what? You’re wrong. You probably don’t have much to say – because it’s likely that you haven’t proved a thing yet.
A one-paragraph startup plan is exactly what it sounds like: Your entire business concept boiled down into an easily digestible format. Unlike traditional business planning that teaches people to brainstorm-write-brainstorm-write-revise-revise-execute, the goal of the one paragraph plan is to have you brainstorm-write-execute-revise-execute.
There are fundamental differences between these two approaches. The traditional route would have you finalise your entire strategy based on a hypothesis without testing or validation. The one-paragraph startup plan is designed to test your hypothesis through daily experimentation.
It also serves as a fluid action strategy that grows along with your startup.
Here is a five-point guide to help get you started
1. Answer key questions about your business.
To get started, you must have answers to key questions about your business and its prospective customers. Answer each of the following questions completely, honestly and in no more than one or two sentences. It is important to be confident that you can substantiate your core beliefs with relevant arguments.
- What product or service does your business provide today?
- How does your business produce or provide the product or service right now?
- How will customers use your product or service as it exists right now?
- How will your business generate immediate revenue?
- Who are the primary clients your business will target immediately?
- How will you market your startup to prospective clients with the resources currently at your disposal?
- How are you different than your competitors right now?
- What secondary and tertiary client bases you will target once you’ve achieved success with your primary base?
When you organise these statements in paragraph form, you have a first draft of your plan. It not the final plan. Think of it as an outline for the beginning of your journey.
2. Write checklists.
This exercise is about field-testing your assumptions to learn whether they are true, false or incomplete and turn your paragraph into a functional, action plan you can revise regularly. As you learn lessons from your successes, failures and nonstarters along your journey, you can modify your plan to make it a formula for success.
Break each sentence in your start-up plan into five immediately executable steps – statements you can convert into reality. Each step should move your business forward in some way. List each action step chronologically in a checklist format, like a to-do-list or a series of task reminders on your mobile phone or computer.
Include applicable deadlines and note any related expenses. Estimate what you think the expense will be and write it down.
3. Execute your plan.
Once you compose the checklists for each sentence in your draft plan, it’s time get to work. Execute each action step as completely as possible. Keep your checklists with you at all times – either on a mobile device or paper – and jot down notes whenever you learn something new.
Once each task is completed, evaluate your findings with these six questions:
- What worked and what didn’t?
- What was the result of each action step?
- Was the overall experience positive or negative? Why?
- What did you learn during the process?
- Which steps can be modified or improved for better results? How?
- Which need to be deleted all together?
4. Revise your draft plan.
Based on the information gathered while executing your checklists, determine whether your original assumptions in your draft plan are true, false or incomplete. Sometimes you’ll validate your hypothesis. In other cases, you’ll see that you were far off base.
Whatever the outcome, identify and plug the holes in your false or incomplete statements in your draft plan.
5. Continue to update your plan.
Scrap what failed and improve on minor successes to create home runs. Adjust your plan accordingly, so you can begin transforming each of your flawed assumptions into true and complete statements. Use your findings to create new, more educated insights and craft more in-depth, specific checklists. Repeat this process on a regular basis.
Just because you prove all of your original premises doesn’t mean you’re done and on your way to easy street. In fact, you’re only at the beginning. Always look for ways to improve your checklists. Doing so will keep you on top of your game and allow you to produce a series of well-defined blueprints for every part of your business.
Constantly questioning and improving my one-paragraph start-up plan has led me to building a profitable, scalable company poised for strong growth in various new markets.Your one-paragraph startup plan is a living, breathing document that has a symbiotic relationship with your business. If it dies, your business may not be far behind.
Why do I need a business plan?
The process of developing your business plan allows you to focus on the business and how it’s going to operate.
I’m starting my own business and have downloaded business plan templates from your website. But it seems like a huge amount of information is required and it’s going to take me ages to complete. Exactly why do I need a business plan?
Starting, and developing, a sustainable business takes more than just a good idea, a superior product or great trade skills. Being the very best electrician, fashion designer, or website developer may cause you to be an excellent employee in a company, but it will not guarantee that you will be able to grow a successful business of your own.
An employee only needs to focus on his specialised role in the company, but a business owner needs to focus on every single aspect of the entire business.
You need a map to success
Building a business is like building a house. Can you imagine building a house without any designs or drawings? Or starting to build without first raising sufficient money to complete the house?
This is no less foolish than trying to build a viable and sustainable business without first sitting down and planning every aspect of your business. How many people could successfully build a house if all they had were some building materials and a picture in their mind of what they wanted their house to look like?
Sadly, this is exactly what happens to so many small businesses in South Africa. They start out with a good idea, some resources and practical skills, and they begin their businesses without any further planning or research. A recent survey revealed that only one in five small businesses manage to survive beyond three years.
There are many reasons why businesses fail, but in most cases, these failures could have been avoided if they had developed a comprehensive business plan before starting their business.
As with building a house, you will need to plan and develop beyond the scope of just your area of skill or expertise. Being a great bricklayer will help you to build the walls, but you will need more than just bricklaying skills to successfully complete the entire project. Similarly, having a skill, or a thorough knowledge of your products and services, will help you to build your business, but you will need more than just this to be successful.
Things to think about
- You will need to research your industry, market and competition.
- You must consider your marketing strategy, target market, ideal location
- Know your potential customers “needs” and “wants”
- What are your operational and management structures?
- You must consider the financial components of running your business. This includes properly costing your products and services, preparing a realistic cash flow forecast and sourcing any required start-up finances.
How many financing institutions would give you a loan to build a house if you were unable to produce proper building plans, architectural drawings and a detailed cost analysis? Similarly, financiers will not give financial aid to your business if you are unable to present a detailed business plan.
A DIY plan is best
It is important that you write your own business plan, and not just pay someone to draw one up for you. Successfully running your own business requires you to know the very fabric and heartbeat of your business, being personally familiar with every aspect of it.
Take the time, effort and energy to personally research, plan and develop the best possible business plan for your new venture.
This is probably one of the most important things you could ever do for yourself and your business!
A business plan is not as difficult as it sounds. There are many great resources out there to help you to draw up a good business plan. If you are going to take the risks, and make the sacrifices, of running your own company, then you cannot afford not to develop a thorough business plan.
Start by breaking it down into its various components and focus on one at a time. Do it yourself, but seek advice and mentorship from others who have experience. Keep working on it, and keep reworking it, until you have developed the best possible business plan for your business. This will be one of the greatest factors in ensuring the success and sustainability of your business.
Do I need a business plan for my one-man business?
All businesses, regardless of size, will benefit from having a business plan.
I have a small business in which I am the only employee. Do I still need to write a business plan?
In my experience (as a business mentor) my answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!”
- One Person Business: As a one-person business, you might feel that you have all the knowledge and information needed to run the business and to steer it in the right direction in your mind. However, a business plan can be used as a working document that can be moulded and adjusted over time as things progress. Michael Gerber in the E-Myth book points out that as an entrepreneur you need to know your primary aim because it provides you with purpose and energy for your daily activities. You should consider asking yourself questions that will help you to understand your primary aim.
By having an official business plan that has been designed by you to steer your course, you can assess any potential opportunities as they arise and make a decision about whether or not they stray from or affect the original vision of your business.
If so, how far does it stray? And if it strays from it too much, will you be able to get back on course after the detour by making a lateral move? Or will it mean that you would have to backtrack after the detour to get back on to the original road.
It’s very important that your business plan is aligned to your life vision because it becomes product of your life.
- Future Growth: You should also look at future growth in the business and the possibility of needing investment such as financial investment at a later stage. Without a decent business plan it will be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to attract any assistance. Ask yourself, “Would you get on board a ship which has no compass and simply trust the captain who says he knows where he is going?” I don’t believe you would. A solid business plan will provide some assurance to potential investors that you do have a plan and know where you’re headed!
- Review: As previously mentioned, your business plan is a working document that should be reviewed every year. Add information where necessary and take out information which has become obsolete or irrelevant. This will allow you to look at opportunities which were perhaps not capitalised on during the year and others that could be put in to the plan for the upcoming year – all the while keeping the vision of the business in mind when making any decisions.
Every business, including the ‘one-person-owned business’, should view a current, relevant and company specific business plan as a powerful tool to assist them in ensuring that the business stays on course and ultimately reaches its full potential.
What information should my business plan include?
Your business plan should capture who you are.
I’m in the process of doing a business plan but am swamped by information overload. Which information and how much detail should I include in the business plan?
The most critical information for any business plan is your vision and mission – the heart of who you are. Take time and effort over this part of your plan because this speaks to the core of everything your business is about and why you started it.
Your passion for your business becomes clear to the reader through the key words of your vision and your motivation behind starting your business is reflected in your mission statement.
This is what makes you, you, and why your business stands out from the crowd. These elements tell the reader this is where your business is headed.
- It can excite a potential investor particularly where there is a “connect” with your dream.
- It allows a marketing agency to properly understand your dreams and put together a package to successfully push your business into your target market.
- It will speak to the heart of a potential employee, creating a desire to work for you and be a part of your team.
Your business plan also serves as a reminder to you the business owner of who and what you are about and in the tough times, it’s your bench mark, for things past, present and future.
6 important elements of a business plan
The guidelines below give you an overview of what the business is about, and demonstrate your research, planning and understanding.
Bear in mind that even if the reader knew nothing about you or your business, that after they have read your business plan, they should have a good idea and enough information to begin making some informed decisions.
Broadly, cover the following:
- Business and industry information
- Type of legal entity
- Where you fit into the related industry
- Your product or service offering and what makes it unique
- Your target market – ie who is your customer
- Marketing – how you plan to reach your target market
- Broad operations and structure of your company
- Financial projections and requirements
- Personal investment into business
- Start-up requirements
- Expected returns
Each business plan is unique and specific to that business, so these are just some guiding principles. And, remember that your business plan should be viewed as a living document that you need to keep up to date and relevant.
You’ll find a free business plan template here.