The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

I was cleaning out a drawer the other day and found my very first work ID with a photo of a fresh-faced, absurdly impressionable version of me that I barely recognized. Since those days, I’ve worked with companies in various forms, in far-flung geographies, and at different stages of maturity (theirs, not mine…well, mine too I suppose). 

Dismissing with any further nostalgia, in 30 years of doing what I do, I’ve reviewed more business plans than I can count and I’ve written a whole bunch. It’s one of those things that is so important to do but for some reason, a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs are reluctant to do it. Really, they’ve done studies on this and the evidence is pretty clear that a company’s chance of success is much higher with some sort of plan in place. 

So why doesn’t everyone have one? I won’t get into the psychology of that but it I think a big part of it is that it’s just not a very fun thing to do. It’s way more exciting to build your product, hire workers, design logos and follow Nike’s mantra and “Just do It.” But guess what? When Phil Knight dreamed up Nike, he sat down and wrote a business plan so it’s really “do what I do, not what I say,” isn’t it Phil?

So once you’ve decided to take on this task, where in the world do you start? Well, maybe I can help.  Here are a few things to think about when reading, reviewing or writing a business plan:

  1. It’s a PLAN, so it envisions future events that may or may not happen. If things go awry, don’t beat yourself up. Go back to the plan and adjust it if needed but at least you have a compass point to steer to. A good sailor plots a course when the sea is calm because once the storm hits, waves can turn you around and you don’t want to steer into the rocks.
  2. A plan is just a tool. At some point, someone has to actually go out and execute.
  3. They’re not just for startups. Any business at any stage needs a plan and a business plan is never actually finished. It’s an iterative process and it evolves as the business evolves (I bet even Nike is working on one now).
  4. It doesn’t have to be War and Peace (that’s a really LONG book). Perhaps one of the best business plans ever written was the Declaration of Independence and it was just 1,458 words, including 56 signatures. 
  5. A good business plan needs to answer three basic questions (These are the basics, if you want to know more, you know where to find me):
  6. What is the vision?
  7. How will the vision be carried out?
  8. Are these the right people to do it?

OK, that should get you started or at least get you thinking. Maybe it’s not the plan itself but the exercise of planning that is more important so even if you never start or run a business, it’s a good thing to do some planning for whatever it is you want to do (cleaning the garage, getting your kid into college, grocery shopping). 

Well, that’s all I have to say about that. Now, here are some words of wisdom from people who aren’t me:

“Plans are nothing: planning is everything”   – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Gardens are not made by singing ‘oh how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade”- Rudyard Kipling

“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect” – Oscar Wilde

Thanks for reading. 



The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
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