So you’ve got the entrepreneurial bug. You have nothing against your boss, but it’s time for you to run your own show. “What?” you ask. Your budget is tight?
You know you need a business plan but you don’t know how to write it, and you don’t have a budget to hire someone? Indeed, to do it right, an action business plan with all the crunched numbers is tedious and expensive.
Strategic planning is a key to success. Although I’d recommend a strong action-focused business plan, the good news is that businesses can and do succeed without one. Yep, it’s possible with a well-written vision plan.
Choosing the right game
A personal case study: I became a consultant unexpectedly without realizing for a long time that it actually was my destiny as a career.
In the mid-1980s, my beloved mentor advised me to change careers and go into business for myself. However, I struggled to make the transition from broadcast journalist to entrepreneur.
Surprisingly, even though I had No.1 ratings as a broadcast journalist in Salt Lake City with several years experience in management, I was laid off with several colleagues. So my immediate focus was to get a job, not start a business.
In traveling to a convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, I unexpectedly ran into a former employer. Instead of offering me a job — he asked me to be a consultant to improve one of his radio station stations.
Unable to find a job, three weeks later, I accepted. It was fun. The station’s revenue doubled in six months and I learned the fun of consulting. But I wasn’t sold on the idea.
When the consulting project ended, I continued to job hunt. I jogged six miles every other morning in 10-degree weather and I networked with people over coffee. I called a former colleague whom I barely knew. She had been appointed by the governor to run a state agency.
Surprisingly, she began to use me as a sounding board. Every week I listened to her problems, and responded with ideas from my management and marketing experience.
Even though I had been in journalism and management, I developed a business acumen. Broadcasting was an unpredictable career for me as I was laid off numerous times, and repeatedly took jobs in sales and worked my way into management — even while looking to return to my broadcasting roots.
So my only motive with her was merely to keep my mind sharp as I prepared for my next job.
One day she abruptly cancelled our coffee appointment, which was disappointing because I couldn’t develop any job leads either. Two days later when I got in from jogging, I found a surprising voice message. It was an offer to be a strategist for her agency. Things worked out well.
The experience turbo-charged my confidence as a consultant, but I failed to see I was still trying to play the wrong game for my career. (The right game for me was to become a consultant.)
Although I’d recommend a strong action-focused business plan, the good news is that businesses can and do succeed without one.
Later, I relocated to the Northwest to be closer to family. I had no contacts and I didn’t really know the terrain, and worked at a couple of undesirable jobs.
Early in 1992, a friend asked me to buy his print-marketing company. I turned him down. He asked me a second time. I was about to decline a second time, but on March 2, a vision occurred to me — it was a great idea. We agreed on a leveraged buyout — I paid him 10 percent of the profits for two years.
It was an ideal situation: A tremendous boost for me in a new state to be able to say my firm was five years old; I just happened to be the new president. Suddenly, I got an opportunity to expand the marketing practice into a full-service consulting firm. Two of my new clients were more concerned about their internal issues instead of marketing. Their issues were familiar — similar to my former Utah state agency’s and from my prior experience in management.
But I was unsure how to scale the marketing company by adding services in human resources and special projects.
Yes, from earlier in my career in Los Angeles, my beloved mentor — CEO of a successful publishing company — again played a pivotal role. But he didn’t have experience in actually growing a business.
So he graciously introduced me to his marketing consultant, the iconic Cork Platts, who was the marketing catalyst for my mentor’s success.
Developing the vision
Mr. Platts’ advised me: “Write a one-page vision plan.”
That’s right, a vision plan. The trick, I learned, is to create a solid, tightly written one-page vision plan. That means keeping in mind your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
As a result of my new clients’ internal issues and writing my vision plan, I planned to expand my portfolio — a confidential, full-service business-performance consulting firm. You see, I had kept stumbling into client problems separate from problems I knew how to solve. (Another credo: Find a need and fill it.)
So, here’s how to realize your vision – write a one-page strategy with these six basic elements:
Company mission statement. Explain how you will create more value in your community. The sky’s the limit. Be adventurous. Describe in two or three sentences – max – the mission you will you accomplish.
Summary. Describe the niche you plan to fill. Explain what and how your firm will look like. A very short paragraph will suffice, but allow for flexibility so you can adapt to changes in the marketplace.
Benchmarks. Explain your smart goals. Consider SMART as an acronym – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific.
Strategies. Write the strategies in how you will succeed. Remember, if you have a dream, it’s likely you’ll be able to draw on your experience to make it happen. The minimum you’ll need to help you is a good mentor, a coach.
Expenses. Cash is king. Cash flow is extremely important. Anticipate what your expenses will be. Detail what will be needed in resources. Be conservative. Once you determine what your resources will cost, add another 25 percent to allow for unexpected developments. Do a break-even analysis to determine when you will be profitable.
Sales. Forecast when and how much you will achieve in sales for each quarter of your first year. Then, try to anticipate what sales you will achieve in five years. Oh, and be conservative here, too. Once you’ve identified the sales numbers, subtract 25 percent. All kinds of businesses suffer from unexpected tsunamis.
Good luck. Entrepreneurship is a beautiful thing, but do it the right way. And if you want assuming you have the time and resources, you can think about developing your business plan.
From the Coach’s Corner: here are relevant articles:
The 6 Most Important Steps for Success as a Consultant – In order to succeed as a consultant, bear in mind it’s a challenging occupation. It entails a lot more than just being knowledgeable and providing good counsel.
Consulting: Effective Management of Difficult Clients – Start with this premise: You should be focused on the continuous, improvement and performance of your firm. If you have difficult clients, here’s what you can do about it.
Performance Gap Solutions for Consultants in Income and Image –If there’s a disparity between your income goals and your current financial situation, it would appear that you have a performance-gap issue.
5 Strategies to Build Trust with Clients — Tips for Consultants – The five strategies that enhance relationships between consultants and clients.
10 Tips for Success in Talking with Clients about Money – Tips for consultants and financial advisors to communicate with current and prospective clients in money matters.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.