The Anti Business Plan

Aug 25 2011 Published by under Business Start-Up,Small Business

I have taught many courses on writing business plans for entrepreneurs.  So it might surprise you that I am a believer in the Anti Business Plan.

Yes, it’s important to spend time to think through your business idea.  Yes, you need to consider who is interested in buying your solution.  Yes, you need to figure out how much you want to spend on your start-up costs and how much the product or service will cost you to make.

However, many people get trapped in the theoretical aspects of writing the plan and never finish the plan.  So I would rather you spend less time working on the plan and more time on running the business…and going back to the plan and making revisions.  The key reason to write the plan is to test and validate your business idea.  You don’t need 200 pages of charts, graphs and financial projections.    And you certainly don’t need to spend time researching your ideas without testing them.

So if you had limited time (or patience) and wanted to write the Anti Business plan – here are the core areas that you need to focus on. 

Vision Statement

This describes your raison d’ etre – what problem are you solving by starting this company?  If you are successful in your business, what will change in the lives of the individuals or companies that use your product or service?

While it will probably considerable time to brainstorm and word smith this statement, I recommend that you keep the text under two lines.  In addition, make sure your words pack a powerful competitive advantage – someone should be able to read your company’s vision and be invested on a personal level and from their pocketbooks.

Mission Statement

This section describes the core values and philosophies of your company.  It’s the sign you display in your office to remind you why you started the firm and it’s the language that will instruct employees, contractors, vendors and anyone who liaises with your firm how they could expect to be treated and how they need to behave.

Don’t worry about it being a masterpiece.  Keep it simple and powerful and be willing to revise it several times until you have the final statement.  Similar to the vision statement, it should be under a few lines.

Marketing Strategies

Assuming that you have done your homework and identified your niche target market (and not 1% of the entire market), you will need to identify 5-7 marketing strategies for your business.  How will you spend your time and money this year on telling your market that your company can help them solve their problems?

I recommend you update this section on an annual or bi-annual basis and use it as a goal setting tool for how you’ll spend your marketing time and dollars.

Consider the best ways for you to share the message about your company – social media, events, online, offline, etc – and back up your ideas with target goals and numbers.  For example, if you want to increase your social media strategy, don’t share “I will use social media to create 5,000 fans”.  The final number is not as important as why you need the 5,000 fans.

Instead identify how you gather the support of 500 of those 5,000 fans to help you communicate your message.  It speaks volumes about your business if you are able to get people to share comments and feedback and share the messages about your company with their friends and family – rather than stacking the numbers of people who liked your Facebook Fan Page.

Be willing to refer to this section throughout your year and make adjustments where necessary.

Sales Goals

Connected tightly with your marketing goals are sales goals.  Select 5-7 sales goals over a specified time period and share how you will achieve them.  Your marketing tells the world about your product/service while your sales convinces people to buy.  They are two separate but closely aligned goals.

Start testing your sales goals while you are writing the plan.  Many people are often weak in sales and don’t realize the amount of time and resources they will need to spend to secure each sale.  For example, by using the earlier example of the Facebook friends, you might discover as you are gathering your 500 champions  - it really takes 10 people to like your page, 2 who are champions and one who eventually buys your product.  Ensure that you factor in the time and resource that it will take to gather that one person

As you start gathering results on your sales projections, review the information three to four times a year to see what you’ll need to revise.  This makes for a much stronger Sales Goals section rather than selecting random projections that sound good.

Financial Statements

There are many key financial statements I would recommend in a full business plan.  However, the Anti-Business plan looks at three key areas

  • Your anticipated revenue = how much money you will make from your sales
  • Your anticipated expenses = thinking about all areas from technology to marketing to sales calls to professional fees
  • Your estimated profit

This statement is really only an estimate.  Include every category that you can think of and use templates to give you ideas for the categories.  Spend time every six months reviewing your actual expenses and income to see how closely aligned to your projections that you are.

The entire Anti Business plan is approximately 3-5 pages long and would take only a weekend of solid writing and editing.  I encourage you to get started and draft your ideas using this template.

Let me know additional questions you have as you are working!

 

 

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Is Cash The Only Thing Entrepreneurs Need to Make Their Business Thrive?

Jun 29 2011 Published by under Nonprofit and Social Enterprise

As an entrepreneur, I often find myself thinking if I just had more money…I could x, y, z. Entrepreneurs can tell you their biggest, greatest, most pressing need: CASH FLOW. Right? CASH is essential. You’ve got to have CASH to pay vendors, purchase inventory, handle the costs of overhead, invest in marketing, pay employees, maybe even pay yourself. Without CASH, those are tough things to do.

But CASH is NOT the answer for an entrepreneur that is struggling, either to succeed or to take them to the next level, to make a profit, to increase the bottom line, the ROI or ROE, or to thrive rather than merely survive…there are LOTS of things that can make or break a business.

CASH alone will NOT save a business, or cause it to succeed. Entrepreneurs and small business owners need to possess not only a decent product, but the qualities required to take a product from its embryonic brain state to action, production and ongoing sales. That’s never an easy process. Continue Reading »

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How Entrepreneurs Can Earn MORE Money And Work LESS

Apr 29 2011 Published by under Nonprofit and Social Enterprise

As an entrepreneur, you have no doubt already realized that this dream can be challenging to turn into a reality! This is NOT to say it cannot be done, but definitely not when you are just starting out or even three to five years in, especially if your business is really YOU.

There are plenty of entrepreneurs like me, who are the product and service. It is often difficult to figure out where and when to outsource or bring in additional staff to do some of the work your business and reputation is based on. Continue Reading »

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Crash, Burn and Test it Again

I recently taught a business plan class and was blown away by the number of students who had not yet started their business.

The course was at the half way point and all of the students had amazing business ideas.  New products to import and export, new services they could enhance, online applications that could save time or create new communities and even a not for profit that targeted a new client niche.  They had constructed their ideas on well thought theories, were in varying stages of market research, and had outlined their first year of income and expenses.

Yet none of them had actually started the business.

They gave me a host of reasons

  • Not enough cash
  • Finalizing legal structures
  • The need for venture capital of other financing options
  • Selecting potential partners

These were all good reasons.  But none of them could answer why they hadn’t started testing the ideas on a few select customers and getting feedback. Continue Reading »

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What’s your exit plan?

For many of you who are considering starting a business or are in the early days of running it, the last thing you are probably considering is how it will end.  I’d like to challenge you to consider it and decide now what options you want to create.

It’s like Life Insurance – no one wants to talk about it but you need to buy it.

I share this because recently a good friend had the unfortunate incident of being placed in charge of running the family business.  She is the spouse of a successful business owner.  He stepped down due to health conditions and had to have his legal dependent, his wife, take over the reins of the company.

Many of his workers are not happy.  The wife lacks many of the management and leadership skills that her husband had and is not familiar with the day to day operations of the business.

I blame poor planning.

All business owners  – regardless of the size of the business – need to consider how they want to leave their business.  Whether it’s due to Father Time or unforeseen incidents you need to consider options.

It’s also a good to consider an exit plan if you should decide one day that you want to try another industry or are interested in starting a new business.  It’s not just for someone who has worked in one business for 25 years.  You need to consider if you want to sell to another firm, offer shares to your current employees or dissolve the entity completely.  There are pros and cons to all options and I advise you consult with a lawyer and experienced entrepreneurs who have been in the position to exit their business for advice.

The key take-away – The exit plan is not just designed for some fancy smancy high tech startup looking to be bought out in 2 years.  There is huge value for businesses of all sizes and purposes to consider it well in the early stages of planning.

Looking for more information – check out these articles

http://bit.ly/ddgxnj

http://bit.ly/4m5tC4

http://bit.ly/9Uu75M

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Focus on three

I started using a new strategy this year for my business – Focus on Three.

Yes, that’s correct.  I’m setting three goals.  Three big goals for the year where I can review at the end of the year the impact that they made on my business.   Three focused one liners that are already starting to make a difference how I spend my free time, my resources and where I focus my energy.

Why? Because there is so much a great information out there and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  I sat on Twitter the other night and just counted how fast the info came in on my news feed. And that’s not counting my RSS feeds, Facebook and email.  Everyone has great info and great ideas.

But the problem is how to use the ones that work – and spend less time debating about the ones I “should” try. Continue Reading »

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Learn something new today…

Jan 16 2011 Published by under Technology and New Media

Study scrapbook image

a Shelley West creation

No matter what career you choose to be in there is always something new to learn. To stay competitive you need to stay on top of trends or new advances in your industry. Or you may simply need to learn new software to make your work life easier.

There are many ways to acquire new skills -

  • Read a book
  • Take a course at a local university
  • Attend a webinar
  • Subscribe to a podcast

However many universities are offering free online access to their courses:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (mit.edu)
  2. Open University (open.ac.uk)
  3. Carnegie Mellon University (cmu.edu)
  4. Tufts University (tufts.edu)
  5. Stanford (stanford.edu)
  6. University of California, Berkeley (berkeley.edu)
  7. Utah State University (usu.edu)
  8. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania (kutztownsbdc.org)
  9. University of Southern Queensland (usq.edu.au)
  10. University of California, Irvine (uci.edu)

Other places to pick up a few new skills though not all for free are:

  • Lynda.com where you can learn digital photography, web design and development, motion graphics or other software skills
  • O’Reilly School of Technology for more hard core technology skills and certifications.

Since I didn’t list all the universities that have content online a good place to look for free lectures, videos, films, and other resources — from all over the world is iTunes U.

What is iTunes U?

iTunes U brings the power of the iTunes Store to education, making it simple to distribute information to your students and faculty — or to lifelong learners all over the world. With an iTunes U site, your institution has a single home for all the digital content created or curated by educators, which can then be easily downloaded and viewed on any Mac, PC, iPod, or iPhone.

via apple.com

Top 10 Categories on iTunes U

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right now I’m listening to the Cognitive Psychology lectures from Open University via iTunes U. So what do you plan on learning this year?

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“Why Should I Remember Meeting You?”

If you’ve ever attended a networking event, you’ve probably been asked this question “So tell me what do you do?” Seemingly simple, this question strikes fear in the heart of many – how do you answer in a memorable way ?  In other words, will they REALLY remember at the end of the evening when they are staring at a stack of new business cards? Or does your card get tossed because they don’t remember what made your business valuable to them?

If you are an employee, you can share your company, title or industry.  Whatever you think someone will find memorable or impressive.  And it’s no sweat if it isn’t – unless you are a sales person. Continue Reading »

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for networking while having fun

It’s that time of year when there are more parties per evening than there are minutes to  attend them.  You spend time scheduling the ones you want to attend (is it the work or the  friends event?), wrapping gifts,  buying holiday outfits – and measuring the time you’ll have to rest and recover from the celebrations.

This year I recommend that you use the opportunity of reconnecting with friends and family at Holiday gatherings from both a personal and professional aspect.  It is a great time to reconnect with your warm, slightly warm and lukewarm network. Continue Reading »

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What Comes Next?

Nov 23 2010 Published by under Finance and Investment

Have you dipped your feet into the entrepreneurial pool? If not, the term “harvest strategy” may be new to you. But, it is what drives nearly every business venture and is included (or at least it should be) in every business plan.

A harvest strategy is the founder’s exit strategy. Said another way, it outlines how the entrepreneur will cash out on his/her investment after the business has become successful. Continue Reading »

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