Category Archives: Planning and Consultants

True Story: My Worst-Ever Business Plan Consulting Engagement

In more than 30 years with business planning, my worst-ever business plan consulting engagement was for a startup that should have been funded but wasn’t. It was a good business plan. But the business plan process became the fatal flaw.

A good plan, excellent team, good startup

worst business plan consulting

I learned this lesson while sitting in a series of meetings, sitting in venture capital offices at 300 Sand Hill Drive, Menlo Park, CA. That office complex has been the epicenter of venture capital for four decades. It’s a rangy maze of stylish and expensive two-story office complexes. I was the business plan writer for a startup looking for funding. It was a long time ago, in Silicon Valley, in the early 1980s.

The three startup founders formed an excellent startup team. All three were Silicon Valley veterans. One was a marketing guy, another a technical guy, and the third a deal-maker salesman.  They had about 40 years of computer company experience between them. They had a good idea and, much more important, a market window, differentiation, and experience to make it happen.

I had done the plan, built the financial model, written the text, shepherded the document through the painful coil binding and the whole thing, but I wasn’t part of the team. I didn’t want to be. I was still at grad school, getting my MBA, and my part of this venture was writing the plan, period. I needed the money to pay tuition.

My three clients had good connections and managed to get meetings with several leading venture capital (VC) firms in the Sand Hill Drive offices in Menlo Park, just outside of Stanford.  in the heart of Silicon Valley.

But there was a problem with business plan consulting

In meeting after meeting, at key moments, as the venture capital partners asked critical questions, all heads turned to me. I would answer.  I knew the plan, backwards, forwards, and inside out; but I was the only one who did. It was my plan. And the meetings made that obvious.

The three of them never really got into the plan. They thought of the business plan as a hurdle; and they paid me to jump that hurdle. Every meeting generated new changes, so I would go back to the basement computer at the business school, and re-run the financial model. The team of three didn’t include a financial person to learn and manage the model, so I did the financial projections alone, tweaking. Which meant I was the only one who knew the plan. I’d re-run my financial model, edit the text, and publish a new version of the plan. They read paragraphs here and there, glanced at the numbers, but they stayed with the big picture, and left the details to me.

Details that, in fact, they didn’t read. They trusted my faithful recording of their ideas, and my financial modeling. They assumed, I guessed at the time, that these were functions that could always be delegated to somebody with special skills, while they generated high-level strategy.

And time after time, when questions came, I was the only one with answers. It was my plan, not their plan.

They never got funded

They did not get financed. I was disappointed. When you develop the plan and revise it dozens of times and support it and defend it through the long series of meetings with supposedly interested investors, you want it to take flight.

All these years later, memory of that disappointment is still fresh. I did learn my lesson, though, and I changed my strategy as a business plan consultant. From then on I made sure that any plan I worked on belonged — and I’m talking about intellectual ownership here, conceptual ownership — to the real plan owners, not the consultant.

How to work with a business plan consultant

If you have the luxury of a budget to pay an outside expert, consultant, or business plan writer, then maybe you should use them. This might be a good use of division of labor, and perhaps you can lever off somebody else’s experience and expertise. However, that will not work for you unless you always remember that it has to be your plan, not the consultant’s plan. Know everything in it, backwards and forwards, and inside out.

It’s not for nothing that I always say a business plan has to be your plan and nobody else’s. It can’t be your consultant’s plan. You must know it backwards and forwards and inside out, or it won’t work.

By the way, I still do some business plan consulting. And I highly recommend LivePlan, the web app, to do it yourself.

Marketing Plan Opportunity – Today

My friend and colleague John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing, sent me this overnight. I had the pleasure of participating in one of his workshops last month in Chicago, and I highly recommend it.

If you're anywhere near Northern California, or going to be on Nov. 13th and 14th, Jantsch will be doing a two-day marketing plan event in person. The workshop includes our new software, Marketing Plan Pro powered by Duct Tape Marketing–the special version Jantsch developed in partnership with Palo Alto Software–and the goal is for you to have your marketing plan done right then and there, and with his help.

In his e-mail, Jantsch said the organizers are offering a 25 percent discount to my readers today through Monday, Oct 27th. So if you're interested, sign up now.

For that discount, use special purchase code EBMK1108 by midnight Monday, October 27. That's $1,121.25 per person ($1,495 regular price).

Click here

Why Don’t we Talk More About Displacement?

DisplacementDisplacement: In the real world of small business, everything you do rules out something else you can’t do.

Understanding displacement is vital for business planning, vital for growing a business, vital for small and medium business in particular. Consider the picture here, marbles dropping into a full glass of water. The water comes splashing out of the glass and onto the table. That’s a good illustration of displacement and how it works in business.

I’ve seen it so many times: trying to plan their business, people start making lists of things that ought to be done and end up with huge unrealistic and impossible business plans because they haven’t come to terms with displacement.

Everything you do displaces something else that you can’t do. Learn to live with this and you’ll do better planning your business, and, particularly, growing your business.