My original and only business plan for my company was based on a Dr. Suess book. I wish I were kidding.
Owning up to my liberal arts major and rebellious roots, I didn’t think I needed a "real" plan. And, for the most part, I did fine for a decade, securing lots of clients and making a good living.
But honestly, I think that I was just not thinking about business planning the right way. I imagined reams of paper, onerous spreadsheets and carefully crafted mission statements. Yuck.
Now, Tim Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software and prolific blogger about all things startup, has come out with a new book called the Plan as You Go Business Plan. Even though his company makes business planning software, Tim felt a bit frustrated by the perceived hurdle new entrepreneurs attributed to business plans. When I asked him why most people didn’t write them, he said:
"What people normally give me, Pam, is “Yes, I’m going to tomorrow,” or “next month,” or “six months from now.” And then there’s the variant on that: “Yes, I really agree it’s stupid that we don’t have a plan in this business and so-and-so has been promising to write it for years.” So they the pass the buck. It’s funny because the drag, what we’re fighting is they have in their mind this huge marathon-like PhD thesis-like thing. I don’t blame them sometimes for thinking, “No, I’m too busy. I don’t have time for that. I’ve got to run my business.”
Instead of this perspective, Tim encourages you to think of business planning as a fun and critical part of your entrepreneurial journey. He says:
“Planning isn’t about writing some ponderous homework assignment or dull business memo; it’s about envisioning the business that you want to create. It should be fascinating to you. What do people want, how are you going to get it to them, how are you different and what do you do better than anyone else?”
I interviewed Tim on this topic for my book, but he was generous enough to let me share the conversation as a podcast. It is about 37 minutes and can be found here.
Before I leave this blog post to get back to writing my own book, I also wanted to share a related story: The new collaboration between Tim’s company Palo Alto Software and John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing.
Back story: a few months ago, John came to Phoenix for a speaking gig. Since we had never met in person, I offered to meet him at the hotel before his presentation. When I got there, he asked if we could hop in the car and go across town where he had another meeting. We cruised through Phoenix, and with his iPhone, he had a better sense of direction than I did, even thought he lives in Kansas City and I have been here for four years. Embarrassing!
On the ride, he told me the story of his own company Duct Tape Marketing, which he started over 24 years ago, working with small business clients to help them grow their business. After doing that for a few years with success, he wanted to scale his business, so organized his thoughts into the Duct Tape Marketing process. This led to the Duct Tape Marketing blog (currently 216k readers, holy cow!) Duct Tape Marketing Coaches, then the Duct Tape Marketing book. And finally, he worked with Tim to integrate this process into Marketing Plan Pro, so small business owners could integrate a practical marketing approach with their business plan.
Isn’t that cool? I loved hearing the story first-hand, realizing that many well-established brands begin just like yours and mine, as a crazy idea in the head of an unknown wannabe entrepreneur. Throw in a couple decades of hard work, and you get some formidable companies that really serve their markets well.
The software is not available yet for the Mac so I can’t test it, but I will as soon as it is available in 2009.
Having gotten to know both Tim and John personally in the last couple of years, I will say that you couldn’t ask for a better partnership. Both have very down-to-earth personalities which understate their significant experience. I hope the software sales do really well.
After the Escape from Cubicle Nation book is finished, my next step is not software, but action figures. Do you think we could convince Archie McPhee that I am a good partner for his cubicle set?