Do we really need to plan?
Making business and life plans... well its just not sexy is it! I’m sure you can think of other things you’d prefer to be reading about!
And yet, if we’re serious about our self-employment, we know there are things we need to think through. The day-to-day demands of building a business are huge and we need to be able to step back and see the bigger picture so we can read trends, spot opportunities and steer away from difficulties.
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans” - Peter F Drucker.
On the other hand, to a large extent, creating a business is a step into the unknown. If you are basing your business on another, with a similar product/service or market, you have their experience to draw on but they are still not you and their business is not yours. There are too many variables for you to predict the future sufficiently to produce a comprehensive plan that will ensure your success. In essence, you are making it up as you go along!
“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans” - Allen Saunders.
In business, most ‘all singing and dancing plans’ are produced for funding or some external requirement. They show you have thought through the ‘what ifs’, have some verbal and numerical skills and are sufficiently committed to investing time in producing a report. Business plans often fail to become working documents as they are not really created for that purpose.
“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” - Gloria Steinem.
One of the most useful parts of the business planning process is bringing your assumptions into the open. When you are considering your business, in your mind you imagine its scale (how many customers you have, the price of your products/services and how much you sell, the size of your premises etc). Even if these are complete guesses, they are a useful starting point and they act like a hypothesis that you can test once you get started.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else” - Yogi Berra.
Another key part of the planning process is creating your vision. I work with people who are wanting to create a fulfilling business that engages all their passions so this is especially important. Your vision inspires you through the day to day work and guides you in the moment when you are deciding your priorities. It is easy to get caught up in seductive too-good-to-miss opportunities and referring to your vision, checking in with what you really want, keeps you on track.
Rather than burying your vision in a lengthy document, I would create it in a way that has meaning for you (perhaps a vision board) and put it somewhere accessible where it acts as a reminder.
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago” - Warren Buffett.
Planning enables us to take a longer-term view and get prepared. I posted on Facebook recently a gif of the famous lift in the film Dirty Dancing. If a ghost Patrick Swayze was standing in front of today me arms open, sadly I wouldn’t be ready to jump! But I’m not writing this off! I could train for it, get fit, lose some weight and practice. I’d need to set up the occasion and brush up on my salsa! Having a plan would enable me to do things in the right sequence and to get others on-board at the right time.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” - Benjamin Franklin.
Most businesses do not fail because the idea doesn’t work. Most run out of cash or supplies. When we have thought through what we will need, and when, we are better equipped. Many think of a business startup as a sprint to launch whereas, in fact, it is more like the beginning of a marathon.
“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential” - Winston Churchill.
Once your business takes off, you will be busy doing your thing so the more you can prepare in advance (without investing all your budget before your ideas are tested) the better. Some things, like legal preparations, avoid problems down the line that might otherwise be costly distractions.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” - Abraham Lincoln.
The challenge for us self employed adventurers is to find planning processes and outputs that we enjoy engaging with and that we can use day-to-day. To get the positive benefits of planning without restricting our ability to go with our 'in the moment' wisdom and make the most of unforeseen opportunities that will enhance our vision. This is more about our relationship with our plans as the plans themselves.
“Spontaneity is one of the joys of existence, especially if you prepare for it in advance” - Alan Dean.