What typically comes to mind when you read or hear the phrase "business plan"?
For many people, the mental image is a big boring formal document. It's like a high-school term paper or a university thesis, a daunting task to be finished with a huge sigh of relief, then stored away in a drawer and quickly forgotten.
That's why many young people say, "Don't bother to plan." And if you ask successful entrepreneurs whether they had a business plan to start, many will say they didn't simply because it's cool to say no. It's sort of like asking people whether they studied in high school.
But probe further, and you'll find that many people who suggest bypassing a business plan will recommend that you set strategy, goals and priorities and follow up with frequent course corrections. Which, of course, is business planning. It just doesn't sound like the popular image of a business plan.
Smart entrepreneurs develop a streamlined plan--straight to the point, but built to be managed and changed. Form should follow function. If you don't need to show a document to investors, bankers or other outsiders, why even bother to print anything out? Keep the plan simple and easy to deal with--an electronic PDF that you review and revise at least once a month. It should set forth your strategic focus, target market and point of differentiation, as well as specific steps to implement your strategy, including assumptions, tasks, milestones, responsibilities, dates, deadlines and key measurements.
Now that we've laid out what to do, we ought to find a better way to refer to the planning needed to start, run and expand a business. Should we call it "business management" maybe? Or even better, how about "Steering the business"? I've asked about this wording problem on Twitter and in my blog, but I'm afraid nobody has come up with a suggestion that grabs me.
I have been playing off a post on Amex OPEN forum by Ivana Taylor, under the title, A New And Improved Goal Setting Process For Your Business (And Life). She's writing about business planning, and I think she gets it right with the idea of establishing goals. So instead of "business planning," maybe "goal management"? Or "goal keeping"?