Plan A

If you don't know where you are going, how will you get there? Pilots, hikers, ship and submarine captains, and anyone moving from point A to point B file a travel plan because it is essential to get where you want to go safely and on time. This is a much better way to think of a business plan. Rather than thinking of it as a tedious, probably unnecessary document that some ineffective philosophy demands or uninspiring manager assigns, (and you spend time thinking of ways to get out of writing it) imagine it as a business flight plan. A business flight plan will help you successfully and safely navigate the unfamiliar high mountain barriers of business. So let's get past the traditional terminology of "business plan" and call it what you need: a "Plan A."

Plan A is a written document, whether it is a word document, Prezi, PowerPoint, or artist's sketch depends on who you need to communicate the plan to and what you are doing. Like everything with a business, your Plan A format is contingent on the needs of your particular business. If you don't have a written business plan or maybe the plan is just in your head, then call what you do an expensive hobby rather than a serious business. Plan A, in whatever form you decide works for you, covers the elements of what, why, who, how, where, and when. You can find templates that have complicated layouts but if you cover what you want to happen, on what schedule, and what you need to make it happen in whatever format you will actually USE, then that is a successful Plan A. The power of Plan A is that writing your plan out brings into sharp relief what you need to do to meet your goals. Reviewing your Plan A regularly helps you stay on track.

Before you look for a template, think about the answers to the following questions. (Capturing these answers in the format of your choice will give you a great start on your Plan A.)

What is my business?

It is difficult to find customers or employees if the purpose or service of your business is unclear. (Read more about the One-Sentence business description in the MRC article “One Sentence Rule.” Clarity on your business is a MUST HAVE piece of your Plan A.

Do I need to borrow money from a bank or get investors?

If the answer is yes, your Plan A may need to be on a specific template. Find out what is expected in a Plan A from your investors. It will probably be more formal but it will still cover the key planning elements.

Why am I in business?

This question is not usually in traditional business plans but if you are an entrepreneur, seeing your reasons for being in business in writing is invaluable. Why? Because you may find what you want and what you are doing are mismatched. For example, you may have started the business to have a flexible schedule and enough income to buy a boat but then come to find out your business will require 60 hour weeks and debt for 2 years.

Customers increasingly try to connect with businesses that have their same values. In other words, they want to know why you are in business and what you care about. Are you an ecologically-minded business? Are you making money so you can give some of it back to the community? If you have a passion or values that are part of why you are in business, include them in your Plan A if for no other reason than because it is important to you. The side benefit is that it may also help you attract customers.

Who are my customers?

If you want people to buy your service or product, you need to reach out, to connect with them. To reach them, you need to know who they are and how to market to them. The level of detail of this sales and marketing plan, again, depends on the size and complexity of your business. The sales and marketing plan for the current Maze Runners expansion is a sketch of a tree and includes initial customers and then developing branches. It wouldn't work for a formal plan but it contains a sales and marketing strategy. And, I like to look at it which is an important marker of any good Plan A.

How will I conduct business?

If you have a product, how are you making it? If you deliver a service, how will you do that? A very important element in the answer to these questions is deciding how will you get whatever resources you need? Formal business plans will require a detailed plan of how you are planning to conduct your business, AKA the financial plan. If you don't have a complex business situation or you have a great deal of flexibility in your cash flow, then the ‘how’ part of your Plan A can be very general.

Where will I conduct business?

Your business may be remote like a website, from your home, or in a big building. The bigger the business space, the greater the likelihood of needing a more formal Plan A.

When do I want things to happen?

This is last in the list but not last in importance. Time has a funny way of slipping by and, before you know what happened, you have spent your initial capital or missed an important launch window. There is no debate that writing out a goal with a definite deadline, and telling other people about that deadline is one of the best strategies of successful people for getting things done. Sharing your plans can create positive pressure to stay focused on the goal.

Another part of the ‘when’ question you should at least think about in your Plan A is when to get out. What is your exit strategy? Like any good emergency plan, thinking about your exit strategy before you are running for the door may save you money, time, and panicked moments later.

Whether you are expanding an existing business or starting out on a brand new venture, take out your calendar and schedule time to work on your Plan A. Defend this time like a wolverine on steroids. Work through the list of questions and then decide if a template will help or if you have your own way that will work. Make sure to include as much detail as possible. Your Plan A will be a success no matter the format if 1) you take the time to write it out, 2) it meets your needs to communicate to others about your business, and 3) you look at it at least monthly to stay on course. We wish you happy trails and blue skies.

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