Don’t roll your eyes at me. I didn’t invent business plans. They’re an important part of any business’s growth and development but I’d like to share with you some of my insights into what makes a good one, what makes a bad one and how you can use them. You may disagree with me. And that’s fine. But everyone in the entire business world can’t be wrong…can they?

The answer is, yes. They could be. There’s been evidence of this in several instances in financial history including market collapses and other financial blunders. So yes, everyone in the entire business world could be wrong. In the instance of the case for business plans, they’re not…entirely wrong. You need a business plan. You really do. For a few reasons. First, it’s THE document you can refer to and say “what were we talking about?” It’s the one document that contains within it your goals, your dreams and your vision for your business. Secondly, sometimes other people are going to want to give you money because they think that you have a good idea. But no one works on spec. You’ve got to provide something tangible that tells investors what you’re planning and why You think it’s a good idea. (Watch season one of Silicon Valley. You’ll see what I mean). That being said, we will talk a little later about business plans for THEM and business plans for YOU. Finally, the sheer process of wiring a business plan will help you flesh out the areas where you’re solid and the areas where you need some work. Let’s talk about these reasons.

I know that you know why you’re running your business and what you expect out of it. But there are going to be days where that knowledge becomes, at best, blurry. There are going to be days where you don’t have a clue what your “vision” is because of the noise that’s in the way. There will be days when you can’t remember what services you said you were going to provide. There will be days where you vaguely remember what exactly your job description entails (and more importantly what it DOESN’T). And on those days, it’s nice to have that document sitting there. And believe me, it should be sitting there. I mean, LITERALLY, SITTING…THERE. Have you ever seen Angles and Demons? National Treasure? You know those scenes where they go looking for the original Declaration of Independence or the Bible? And it’s kept in one of those secret vaults, with controlled oxygen and bulletproof glass? If that’s were you’re keeping your business plan, what did you write it for. In particular, keep your mission statement simple and keep it somewhere that you and everyone who SHOULD see it, CAN see it. Put it on your business card, your shirt, your office door. Wherever. Don’t forget that THIS is why you’re in business. Well, that, and the money part.

Remember those people that are going to want to see your document…? Well, you should have a special one just for them. It’s going to be longer (not filled with useless things for them, but some things you DON’T need to refer to all the time). You see, they want to see that document because they are not a part of your business. And as such, they’re not a part of your business plan. They’re not living it every day. So there are some things that they are going to need spelled out for them that you’re not going to need spelled out for you. So, write a big, huge, honking business plan, with charts and graphs and numbers and pictures. Don’t make it wordy or big. Make it eloquent and perfect. Make it your thesis. It will contain EVERYTHING. And THAT’S what you give to people who need to see it. That’s not the one you use daily or weekly or monthly or however often you use it. If the business plan that you refer to on a regular basis has appendices or a table of contents, I’ll tell you a secret…it’s too long.

Let me tell you about childbirth. Trust me, it’s related. I’m the (usually) proud father of two (usually) wonderful children. And before our first child was born, my son, we had a doula. She was a joy and it was a wonderful experience. I learned about breathing and contractions and ALL sorts of things I would like to now push out of my head. And we learned about birth plans. We even wrote a birth plan. We wanted flute music and flowers and we wanted the whole room to smell like maple and we wanted 1-2 hours of painless, drug free labour and in the end we wanted to hold our baby immediately and then take him home that day to a chorus of cherubs singing “We Are The Champions”. And we basically wrote that. And that’s great. And then our doula told us to realize that when the baby wanted to come it was going to come and it wasn’t going to refer to our plan and it was nice to have and we would follow what we could. But as Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody’s got a plan til the get punched in the mouth”.

That’s how I feel about business plans. It’s as much about the process as it is about the product. It’s about getting you to think about it. How DO you want things to work? What IS your ideal client? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? It’s not so much about constantly referring to the document, it’s about constantly being in the mindset that you were in when you wrote the business plan. When you wrote your business plan (the short one, not the ridiculous one that you have to write for investors but rather the one that you wrote for yourself) you were in the perfect mindset to define your business. Just reflecting on that process will out you in the right mindset to move forward.

So, consider all this and think about whether or not you think you need a business plan. If you do, read my next post. If you don’t, well, read it anyways.