Tag Archives: lean business plan

How to Start a Business Plan

MarketingHow do I start a business plan? It’s a common question. And you can find lots of definitive answers. People answer with outlines, prescriptions, and recipes. Unfortunately, most of these misunderstand how people are different, and the way they approach the business plan ought to reflect that difference.

Let me explain with some examples of how your own preferences might determine the best way to start your business plan. See if you fit with one of these general patterns:

  • Mission-driven. Some people tend to build the concepts first and go from there to the specifics. So they start with a general concept like a statement of purpose, often called mission. That’s a matter of words only, but it seems to work for some. The downside of this is that these are way too often just empty promise words, vague marketing hype, in which case they are pretty much a diversion, or waste of time. For more on this: How to Write a Mission Statement in 5 Easy Steps – Bplans Blog
  • Problem and solution. Starting with the problem the business solves, and how it solves it, can be a useful way to get going. These two are the core of strategy and market analysis. And don’t think of that problem too narrowly either. Many successful businesses address what people want – prestige, confidence, status – more than what they really need. For more on this: Don’t Just Describe Problem and Solution in Your Business Plan; Make People Care – Bplans Blog
  • Strategy and tactics. Strategy is focus: I recommend a simple framework that considers the interaction between your identity (unique differences, strengths, goals, etc.), your market market, and your business offering. Then add tactics to execute, aligned with the focus. For identity: Strategy Step 1: Understanding Identity. For market: Strategy Step 2: Market Focus. For the three factors together: How to Develop Your Business Strategy
  • Numbers first. I’m one of these. I prefer to develop the sales forecast first (How to Forecast Sales). Thinking about the sales forecast helps me to imagine the whole business, and to think about what will work and what won’t work. In fact, I often to the financial forecast all the way to cash flow, before working on the words and concepts. Numbers help me to think about the whole business. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I’m also sure a lot of people prefer to do concepts first.

Conclusion: Get started. Get going. Do first whatever seems easiest, or most natural, to you.

Planning Principle: Do Only What You’ll Use

Efficient business in general means avoiding waste, doing only what has value. Therefore the right form for your business plan is the form that best serves your business purpose. Furthermore, for the vast majority of business owners, the business purpose of planning is getting what you want from the business – setting strategy and tactics, executing, reviewing results, and revising as needed. And that purpose is best served with lean business planning that starts with a lean plan and continues with a planning process involving regular review and revision. You keep it lean because that’s easier, better, and really all you’re going to use.

Form follows function

Consider the illustration that follows. I call the central image the lean plan because the lean business plan is about what is supposed to happen, when, who does what, how much it costs, and how much money it generates. It’s a collection of decisions, lists, and forecasts. It doesn’t necessarily exist as a single document somewhere. You use it to track performance against plan, review results, and revise regularly, so the plan is always up to date. I hope it’s gathered into a single place, as if it were a document, but it doesn’t have to be. And it’s only as big as you need for its business function.

Form Follows Function

The main output, and therefore the main purpose, of the lean business plan is better business, which means getting what you want from your business. That’s what your lean plan is for and that function determines what’s there. Forget the additional descriptions for outsiders until you need them. Wait for that until you have a business reason for it. But don’t let not having to show a plan keep you from using planning to help your business.

The lean business plan is the bones of other business planning outputs, including a summary, a pitch slide deck, and a full business plan document, if you need one. Do the lean business plan, keep it up to date, and to the rest as the need arises. Maybe you’ll never need to do the formal document. But you’ll always need strategy, tactics, milestones, metrics, and essential business projections.

Know your market, yes; describe, analyze, prove – not necessarily

You have to know your market extremely well to run your business. Know your market like you know the back of your hand. Know your customers, what they need, what they want, how they find you, what messages work for them, what they read, what they do, and all of that.

What you don’t have to do, however, is include any of that in your lean business plan. A lean plan doesn’t need rigorous market analysis. It doesn’t normally include supporting information — at least, not until later, with the business plan event, when it is actually required.

However, your lean plan is about what’s going to happen, what you are going to do. It’s about business strategy, specific milestones, dates, deadlines, and forecasts of sales and expenses and so forth. It’s not a term paper. Yes, you should know your market. But you don’t have to prove it until you’re trying to find outside investors.

Form follows function: The function of the lean business plan is management, not selling something to outsiders.

You don’t need supporting information. It’s still a business plan without it. It still serves its business purposes. You don’t have to do a rigorous market analysis as part of your plan if you know exactly what you’re offering, and to whom. So what about market analysis? Think about the business purpose. Do you need the market analysis to help determine your strategy? Then do it. Are you ready to go with that strategy regardless? Then don’t sweat the market analysis.

This is ultimately your responsibility. You don’t gather all the supporting information and do a rigorous market analysis just because somebody said you should. You do it if you’re actually going to use it to make decisions, or if your business purpose requires proving that there is an attractive market opportunity. You do need to know; but proving your knowledge isn’t necessarily part of the plan.

Stick to your business purpose

Planning is about managing. It’s a tool to set priorities, milestones, metrics; to track results, compare results to expectations, and steer the business.

 

The Lean Business Plan for Small Business Owners

“What? No, I don’t have a business plan. I’m not a startup.”

Too bad so many small business owners think that way. A good lean business plan for small business owners ought to be a great tool for running a business. Set strategy, tactics to match, major milestones, metrics, tasks, responsibilities, and essential business numbers. Keep it lean, review and revise it every month, and you’re way better off. Whether you’re a startup or an ongoing business. Just like planning a trip makes the trip better, so too, planning a business makes the business better.

That myth of the business plan for start-ups only gets in the way far too often. If you own or run a company, you probably want to grow it.  And if you want to grow a company, then you want to plan that growth. And the planning is only the beginning; you want to use the full planning process to manage growth.

Think for just a minute about how many different reasons there are for an existing company to plan (and manage) it’s growth. There’s the need first of all to control your company’s destiny, to set long-term vision and objectives and calculate steps to take to achieve vision. Without planning the company is reacting to events, following reality as it emerges. With planning, there’s the chance to pro actively lead the company towards its future.

For an existing company that wants to grow, planning process is essential. Everybody wants to control their own destiny.  The planning process is the best way to review and refresh the market and marketing, to prioritize and channel growth into the optimal areas, to allocate resources, to set priorities and manage tasks. Bring a team of managers together and develop strategy that the team can implement. Work on dealing with reality, the possible instead of just the desirable, and make strategic choices. Then follow up with regular plan review that becomes, in the end, management.

This normally starts with a plan.  The plan, however, is just the beginning.  It takes the full cycle to make a plan into a planning process. Here’s my view of the business plan for small business owners:

Core plan-900W

Interested? Download my new book on the Lean Business Plan: Lean Business Planning with LivePlan

Lean Business Plan to Get What You Want From Your Business

Are you running your own business or looking to start a new business? The lean business plan is an easy way to set down your strategy, tactics, milestones, and essential business numbers. Just do it for yourself and your team, with a few streamlined bullet points for strategy and tactics; plus lists of key milestones, tasks, assumptions, and performance metrics; and essential business numbers. Then review and revise it regularly and you’ll have your progress towards goals, and accountability.

Lean Business Plan in Four Steps

One: Strategy

Strategy is focus. A lean business plan uses a few bullet points to remind yourself and your team of your focus on a well-defined target market, and how your business offering solves the problem your business solves for that target market, and how your unique business identity makes you different.  Keep it in bullets, reminders you’ll use yourself.

Two: Tactics

Strategy is useless without tactics. In a lean business plan, tactics define your choices related to pricing, channels, website, mobile app, launch dates, features, benefits, messaging, media, promotion, platforms, locations, signage, financing, recruitment, bundles, and so forth. There is no reason to define all this in detail, or defend it for outsiders. Just decide and set it down as a bullet points. These are the core thoughts of marketing plan, product plan, and financial plan — but just what you need to do it. You don’t need elaborate text. Keep what you say about your tactics simple.

Three: Concrete Specifics

A lean business plan includes milestones to make your planning real. Milestones include dates, deadlines, tasks, responsibilities, and plan your budget and goals to reach specific milestones. List your important assumptions. Set dates for review and revision, plan vs. actual analysis, at least once a month. Set performance metrics you can track. Match every key task with somebody who owns it and lives with its results.

Four: Plan for Cash Flow

A lean business plan includes a sales forecast, spending budget, and cash flow. Profits don’t guarantee cash in the bank. Allow for time to wait for clients to pay, and money to buy what you have to before you sell. The purpose of forecasting is management not accurately predicting the future. Connect the dots so sales depends on drivers of sales like traffic, conversions, leads, closes, and so forth. Match sales forecast to projected spending on sales and marketing expenses.

Review and Revise Often

Always track results and review and revise often. What’s happened with the plan? Were assumptions valid? Was it executed?

Management is tracking results and revising as needed. Leadership is knowing when to stay the course and when to pivot.

Lean startup? Yes. Borrow the concept of minimum viable product and apply it to minimum business plan. Borrow the concept of small steps and frequent reviews and apply it to planning and management.

Nothing lends credibility like milestones met. Nothing says planning better than a revised fresh plan. Be a line, not a dot.

The Lean Business Plan is to Get Stuff Done

Times have changed. Don’t do a big traditional business plan but don’t throw out planning either. Do it right. Do a lean business plan. Your business deserves it. Focus, set priorities, highlight execution and specifics, manage cash. Get what you want from your business, whether that’s high-tech growth and funding or independence and peace of mind. It’s not about a plan; it’s about optimizing your life.

For more on this, I have a whole site dedicated to it at leanplan.com.