If you’re involved in business at all, you probably have ideas about new stuff to work on.
You have a flash of inspiration for a new business while sitting on the toilet, or you get a child-like giddy feeling thinking about this new workshop or product you want to design.
Whatever the source of your ideas, the next step along the road is usually to write up a plan. You can then prove how great the idea is, and make sure the strategy is water tight.
Most business plans suck. Not because they don’t include all those stimulating and exciting elements like SWOT analyses and risk assessments. But because they’re pretending to be something they’re not.
Writing a business plan is an exercise in making big-ass assumptions
Jason Fried makes this point beautifully in his (very short) article Let’s call business plans what they are: guesses (longer version in his wonderful book ReWork).
Basically, Fried’s point is that we think business plans are real and robust, when they’re not. They’re guesses, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can get to work, dream and build, rather than think we’ve got it all ultimately planned out.
Not only are most business plans not actual plans (but guesses), but they can really stifle the creative juice you had when you first thought of the idea.
You spend long, tedious hours filling in all the proper sections, and meeting all the right conventions, and by the end you’d rather clean your toilet (the one you had the original idea while sitting on) than think about it ever again. Nice job.
So, what’s the alternative?
Use your business plan as a creative exploration
An actual business plan is based on something you dreamed up in your head, it’s full of assumptions and guesses, is not robust in the slightest, and will probably bear little resemblance to any real thing to come out of it.
So, let go of the idea that it’s a plan, and instead use it for a different purpose.
Ditch the 20-page megalith and use your plan as a creative exercise. Explore your idea, follow your thought threads, bookmark open questions and honour your excitement about the idea!
Basically, I’m advocating you use a ‘plan’ to start a conversation about your idea (either with your colleagues or yourself).
Most of the plans I write for Waking Up the Workplace are (as my colleagues can testify to) pretty unconventional. They have often been…
- Written in the form of a letter – complete with ‘hey guys’ and ‘all the best’ at the start and end, and usually involving some story or other that started me off
- Full of holes – “I think this could be a really cool thing to do but I have no idea how we’d do it, which I’m ok with right now”
- Self-critical – “To be honest I’m not crazy about this bit, but it’s something to work from at least”
- Unusual in their stated goals – including such specifics as: ‘To enjoy the shi*t out of the experience.’ ‘To trust in God.’ ‘To promote the pants off it.’
Now I’m not necessarily advocating you follow all such (un)conventions. My point is that if the experience of writing the plan isn’t a lot of fun, you’re probably not doing it right.
5 ideas for you to find the fun in (not) planning
So, if you want to try writing your business plans in a new way that’s more enjoyable, and more useful, here are some ideas for you to try out.
These are in no way comprehensive, or scientifically proven, but hopefully they stimulate you to have some fun…
- 1 – Try writing in the first person – business plans are ideas, and utterly opinionated. When you don’t write in the 3rd person and pretend they’re objective, it allows you to be transparent in your human perspectives.
- 2 – Include the phrase ‘not specified’ – these things are all based on assumptions and guesses, so you don’t need to have answers to everything. Allow it to have holes in, and just be honest about where they are (as far as you can tell).
- 3 – Don’t worry about a ‘proper’ structure – just write it as your thoughts come through…stream of consciousness, and then go back and tidy it up afterwards if you need to.
- 4 – Make it ‘good enough’ – so you can have a conversation about it and start trying it out in practice. So long as it’s not going to do any damage as far as you can tell, it’s fine.
- 5 – Once it’s done, don’t revise it – it’s not a book that you need to publish, it’s a conversation starter, so don’t make a v2.0, put it into action! If you have more ideas or adjustments along the way, just write a new follow up which builds on the first.
The bottom line is do whatever works for you to ensure it doesn’t stifle your creativity. Business is about trying stuff out and seeing what happens. If you can practice that in your business planning, then you’re off to a good start.
P.S. If you’re doubting the usefulness of the business plan paradigm in general, let me just say “I’m with you”!
Look out for a future blog where I’m going to explore the whole issue in a more comprehensive way and suggest approaches that actually replace the whole need for a business plan.