If you are reading this article only because of the title, it means you're interested in not writing a business plan and are looking for an excuse why not to. If that's really the case, I'm sorry, no excuse is good enough to not write a plan for your startup. I'm a big advocate of writing simple, straight-to-the-point, effective, workable plans… Not writing what I would, could, or should do but writing what I am going to do… Writing an action plan, a guide that acts as a guide along the entrepreneurial journey you are about to embark upon, instead of writing a 100 page thesis that no one, including you, would ever want to read, follow, or fund.
How much is too much or too little?
Either having a 100 page plan or having the plan in their head is the most common issue that entrepreneurs suffer.Â Many entrepreneurs fail to recognize the difference between ideas and plans. YouÂ think you have the plan in your head, but let me break the news to you – "No, you do not! All you have inside your head are ideas – ideas of and about your business." These ideas need to be brainstormed, streamlined, and documented for effective and profitable implementation.
Everyday, I come across entrepreneurs talking hours and hours about their business but when I ask them to write a precise statement about who is their target market and how will they market their products or services to them — they shy away. That doesn't mean they don't know what they are talking about. It is just one more sign of lack of a plan of action and direction. In their heads, they have all these ideas. A response will be something like — "oh, my target market is college kids… I'll promote on MySpace; I'll make a Facebook page; I'll blog; oh I'll go to happy hours; I'll make that million-hits viral video on YouTube…" You see, all these ideas are in the head, not a plan, and hence more chances of half cooked meals and eventually either failure or mediocre success at the most, even if they worked their rear off.
So, what's the solution?
The ideal solution is an Action Plan. A business Action Plan is best drafted if you pick every element of your business (Idea, Target Market, Product, Operations, Strategy, Marketing, Finances etc) and add details to each element in precisely six dimensions: What, Why, Who, How, When, and Action Steps. Remember, our mind is incapable of having a plan inside; we can conceive ideas in our mind but not a plan because an effective plan is when you pen down the idea and add all the elements of execution to it. Let me illustrate it with the example we started with:
We started with an example of social media marketing, which is a critical piece of the marketing element of your business plan. So, let's add the What, Why, Who, How, When, and Action Steps to our social media marketing piece of the plan and see what we come up with:
Social Media Marketing Action Plan
(What) I want to engage and communicate with my target market via Social Media/ Network Marketing platforms and techniques to market my product and services.
Idea: Reach out to expertsÂ (who) in my network and interview over phone or email (how) then to post one guest blogÂ (why) every monthÂ (when).
- Make a list of experts and send a just to say Hi email to get in touch (action step)
- Request and schedule the interview (action step)
- Have a VA put everything together and edit (action step)
- Proofread, make corrections as needed and publish (action step)
Idea: Brainstorm with marketing team [could very well only be spouse and friends]Â (who) to come up with viral video concepts (why) and post a YouTube videoÂ (how) by the end of the month (when).
- Request for ideas (action step)
- Shortlist ideas (action step)
- Make PowerPoint prototypes (action step)
- Shoot a basic video at home/ hire a pro (action step)
- Post the video (action step)
Idea: Hire one studentÂ (who) as a "college chapter leader" at colleges to represent and promoteÂ (why) within the community in coming Fall (when). Talk to college and professors about this opportunityÂ (how)
- Prepare an interview questionnaire to identify the right representative (action step)
- Start promoting this opportunity (action step)
- Create a guideline for the Rep, what he can and can NOT do as a representative of the business (action step)
- Train him on company business and other background details (action step)
- Follow-up/ reporting system (action step)
Of course this is just one simple example to show you how productive, effective and profitable the same ideas can be, if turned into an action plan, and more importantly, implemented as planned. Addressing each element of business with such precise and questioning approach helps you be concise, actionable, and most productive.
Some Ground Rules:
1. Be precise. Do not write more than two sentences for any idea or element.
2. Answer all six – (what, why, how, when, who, and action steps) for each idea and element.
3. When you accomplish a particular action step, make sure to revisit your plan, strike that action step out, and add a new action step. This way your action plan will be a revolving to-do list style plan that will keep guiding you and your business in the right direction.
Remember, a business plan is an ever evolving document (unless you want one just to decorate your office shelves). Â So, write an action plan, and use it as a guide to help you smooth your journey and keep you on track. Build upon that plan, take one element at a time and you'll have soon written a business plan much more useful than most startups.
Wishing you all the success in your venture!
Devesh Dwivedi, an entrepreneur since 14, has founded, co-founded, and advised multiple businesses. Read more about Devesh here.