Business Plans – Are They Worth It?

I’m not a big fan of business plans, but apparently that’s not always been the case. In my Google Drive there is a folder called “Business Plans”. Inquisitively I clicked on the folder to see what it contained.

Business Plans

My last modification was on April 10, 2008 (6 years ago). None of the five businesses listed are still in existence and only two of them ever made money. I thought it’d be fun to open them up to see what I wrote.

Able Trainers

The idea was to create courses on basic computers, the Internet, and Microsoft Office applications. Our target market was “small businesses and suburban schools.” Phonebooks. Business cards. Paper flyers.

Comp LubeComp Lube

This business plan contains a logo and the words, “Sustainable computer repair.” I’m not sure what that means. I ended up giving the rights to this company to a former employee, who never used those rights.

Telablue

This plan is 9 pages long, 2,250 words. The objective was, “User-friendly, professional, sites with personality based on customer needs and desires. Generate Profit. Grow at a challenging and manageable rate.”

Turn FilmTurn Film

Like Comp Lube, this plan is nothing more than a logo and the words, “Film editing and conversions.” At least it actually described what it did. The idea was a “VHS to DVD” service, which dates it pretty well.

Watershawl

Watershawl was a “new media company specializing in computer services and design.” That’s pretty much true to what it was. I did a lot of web design and IT work, but what I loved doing was process management.

Are Business Plans Useful?

Planning is useful, but I’m not so sure the actual document is useful. It can be used as a way to flesh out ideas, but it doesn’t have to be a long document. One page should be enough to state what you’re doing, how you’ll make money, and who your target audience is.

A business plan is usually all made up numbers, but it’s easy to feel like you’re building your business by writing a business plan instead of actually trying to Sell First. Customer development is one way to figure out whether or not someone will buy what you are selling.

I’ve spent the last year and a half helping one of my customers develop a business plan while another customer has already sold tens of thousands of products. Not all companies can be bootstrapped I realize, but the sooner you can validate your idea, the better.

How Can I Better Market My Business?

One of the questions I often get asked is, “How can I better market my business?

How Can I Better Market My Business

10 Things You Can do to Market Your Business

  1. Remove obstacles stopping customers from giving you money – How can someone buy your product or service? How many clicks does it take? How many forms do they have to fill out? How many emails do they have to respond to? How many phone calls or in-person meetings does it take? Ask yourself why you’re making it so hard for someone to give you money and then think about the ways you can make it easier on them.
  2. Lower the risk involved in choosing your company – How can you make is so the client literally feels foolish for not choosing you? Are you showing ROI? Are you providing testimonials? Do you have examples of your work? Are you using a SSL certificate? Do you have trust icons in place? Remove all hesitations to the sale.
  3. Start with value and prove value or savings – How does your product or service move the customer closer to pleasure or farther from pain? How does it provide value (ie. give back more than what it costs)? What case studies do you have to show this value? What videos do you have to show the value? Do you even have a brochure? Pictures?
  4. Start with the familiar (Think “Cover songs”) – If this is the first time someone has seen your product or website, they are going to latch onto anything that looks familiar. That’s why symbols like “As seen on NBC and Huffington Post” as well as trust symbols like “Trusted by McAfee” are so important. It’s the difference between starting your set with an original instead of cover song.
  5. Be consistent – waffles are delicious, but nobody likes a waffler. McDonalds is a force to be reckoned with because they are always the same. Seth Godin’s blog is so powerful because you know he’s going to post everyday. While pivoting can be good, it’s not something you should do every day. People crave consistency and it helps to sell. Marketing supports the selling process.
  6. Be transparent – show your processes as much as you can. People now expect it and when you don’t it makes it look like you’ve got something to hide. Your picture should be on your website and marketing materials. No stock photography! “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
  7. Email marketing – nothing converts higher than email marketing, but you’ve got to actually do it. Reading top 10 lists like this is easy. Collecting email addresses and consistently sending out weekly or monthly emails is not. Thankfully there are systems that can automate some of this for you, but it doesn’t do all of it. You’ve got to want to grow your business. This is one of the best ways.
  8. Social proof – famous marketer, Gary V says “social media is the Internet” and while that’s not entirely true, his point is still valid. Go where the people are. They may not be on your website, but they are on social media. And the more Likes, Followers, or Loves you get is social proof to customers that buying from you is probably a smart thing to do.
  9. Video marketing – Youtube’s been out for a while now, but there’s even better options now for marketers such as Wistia which can work in conjunction with your email marketing to get more opt-ins or conversions. Like email marketing, the key here is to just do it. It’s not as hard as it once was, but there is still a big fear of video that a lot of people have trouble overcoming. Start small. Get going. You can delete your old, bad stuff once you get better.
  10. Measure what matters – candy metrics like unique visitors do not likely matter to your business. What matters are conversions, email signups, and sales. What are you tracking? It matters. What you ask about leads both your mind and your employees down a path so it better be the path you want to be on. If you’re not on the right path, turn the ship around, Captain.

Be the Benefit, not the Butler

How can I move away from ‘being the butler’ to ‘being the benefit’ to my client?

When you’re a business consultant who works on retainer without any long-term project goals, there is a tendency for the relationship to become more responsive and less proactive. Instead of always ‘seeking to add value’, it can trend towards ‘waiting to add value’. The latter is like a butler who stands beside your client, dutifully waiting for their client to request a website update or to fix their computer systems.

Contrast this with a business consultant who is more agile, who works in sprints, who has clear objectives laid out on a project plan. The progress they are making is track-able, and like a lean waterfall, is continually making iterations on an ever-improving product. Which do you think adds more value to the client? The always available butler or the constantly improving business consultant?

Which of these is more like an employee and which of these is more like a business owner? While a business owner would love for their employee to always be improving the reality is that they may be perversely incentivized to do as little as possible in order to maintain the status quo and ‘not rock the boat’ or ‘work themselves out of a job’ whereas a business consultant should always be striving to add value or reduce cost for the client.

You Are Who You Think You Are

How are you spending your time as a business consultant? A large part of that is dictated by how you view yourself, your role in the organizations you serve, and what value you provide. The negotiator who is most willing to walk away will most often win the negotiation. The employee or business consultant most worried about losing their job or contract is always the one who gets let go first. This isn’t playing ‘hard to get’, per se, but is more like playing ‘hard to lose’.

The primary difference is the mindset.

As a business consultant, it’s easy to think of yourself as being better than others, but doing the work is hard. Business owners expect to pay you a bigger check for a less-risky or less-timely result that they would get from hiring, training, or using an employee to do the same set of work for the same outcome. They are paying for results, not for your time and as a business consultant, you should price accordingly.

Business consultants are people – people who are known to either undervalue their services or mistakenly charge for time instead of value. This is generally a result of the people we hang around and the type of upbringing we’ve had. Most educational systems are setup to create employees who will show up to work each day and do what they are told. Business consultants who do this are more akin to a butler or an employee than to a trusted advisor.

Permission to Speak

Who am I and what right do I have to say these things? What proof do I have? I can only write of my own experiences and what I am learning. I have been blessed to have been raised in a safe environment, been educated in a standard way, and surrounded by people who encourage me. I have only relatively recently entered into a new world of business owners and other ‘doers’ of the world and this has made all of the difference.

James Altucher recently released a new book called Choose Yourself which is premised around the idea that you shouldn’t wait for other people to give you permission or to choose you for their team. You should instead choose yourself first. To use dating as an analogy, let’s say you’re asking someone out. Instead of saying, “Will you go out with me to the park?” you say, “I’m going to the park. Why don’t you come with me?”

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” is a quote often attributed to Gandhi, but what he actually said was, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him…We need not wait to see what others do.” This reminds me of another quote, a poem by an unknown monk around 1100 A.D., which one of my clients keeps up on his desk, right in front of his keyboard. Here it is in full below. I’ve hyperlinked how it’s affected me:

When I was a young man,
I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world,
so I tried to change my nation.

When I found I couldn’t change the nation,
I began to focus on my town.

I couldn’t change the town and as an older man,
I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man,
I realize the only thing I can change is myself,
and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself,
I could have made an impact on my family.

My family and I could have made an impact on our town.
Their impact could have changed the nation and
I could indeed have changed the world.