Planning For Success

I had the immense privilege this week of spending a day with 50 excited, keen and passionate new business owners; all of them were about to start on the adventure of starting-up a new company. My task for the day was to help them create an effective business plan as they begin a year long programme of tailored support (if you are in the West Midlands of England check the BSEEN programme out).

Throughout the day I was fascinated by the range of business ideas in the room, the types of organisational models being developed and the depth of knowledge from these start-up leaders. From this diversity, two common questions did emerge:

  1. Do I really need a business plan?

  2. Where do I start with my plans?

Good questions; any start-up entrepreneur knows how they use their time is vital so defining why something should be done and then how best to start makes sense. So, for those that may be asking similar questions I’ve shared my answers below as food for thought:

Question: Do I really need a business plan?

The answer is ‘No’… and it is also ‘Yes’. No-one has to write a plan, it is not compulsory for starting a business. It all depends on context. A couple of people in my LinkedIn network shared their views on this recently:

“Didn’t have a business plan - grew organically for the first couple of years but then realised I was being pulled in too many directions so at that point did do a plan. The key thing for me is that’s it’s a live document that needs to flex and adapt to changing circumstances.”

“Forget them at the start! Find something you are truly passionate about. And START. The BP will develop naturally. Usually from about Month 3 or 4 (after tonnes of focus on sales and meeting people from the industry etc).”

I appreciated their honesty but the interesting point was that both business owners moved quite quickly to writing a plan. I understand why we do not like them. Plans sound very formal, they can feel staid and unexciting. Plus the business idea is dynamic, evolving in our minds all the time at the start and not easy to put into a words let alone a linear, page by page structure.

This constantly evolving and changing situation is precisely the reason for a plan being of value. The first one you write should be different to the one you have after 6 months. The first one you write will most likely not be the only one. By moving thoughts and ideas from your mind you begin to create a structure for your ideas to be tested and refined. Often what we think something should be can be deceptive; our minds can easily twist reality or tweak expectation; it is easy to build something with a blindspot that later on costs us money.

When you write ideas out you can test them, review them and refine them. You as the business owner need to spot the flaws in advance and seize the opportunities around your ideas to best effect. As you lay out your plans you can pivot the business to a better option or stop a line of thought as you realise it does not stand up to financial scrutiny.

Another big factor in why you might write a business plan is connected to what you need to invest and / or risk to start a business. For instance, if you need to borrow £100k from the bank a sound, detailed and costed plan is necessary. If you need just £5 from your pocket and 2 hours of your time to start, you might not write down too much. So, if you have external agents to bring into the business in some way (such as a partner, investor, funder, key supplier, etc.) a plan helps you show credibility and gives you substance for negotiations.

Finally, the style of plan is also flexible. If you like pictures, trying using symbols and imagery as you compile your plan. Not all plans have to be 50 page text documents with complex spreadsheets. They need to suit you and the audience they are written for, so they become interactive as you update them and improve your thoughts.

Now, lets look at the second question.

Question: Where do I start with my plans?

One reason business plans do not get written is start-up owners can feel daunted by the prospect. Well, a measure of a person’s readiness to run a business can be seen in their response to such a challenge.

Why? Well, running a business is daunting; so if writing a plan is too hard right now, an honest question to ask yourself is are you reallt ready to build, sustain and grow a business? It is a crucial question. Business ownership brings lots of choice, options and decisions (plus paperwork!). If the challenge of describing your idea is too great, it may be an indicator that this is not the right time (or right business idea) for you.

The way to approach this question is to recognise that the contents of a business plan are interconnected. Decisions on product affect marketing, decisions on marketing affect finance, decisions on finance affect the timing of actions, and so. By writing and refining one aspect of your plan you may be required to review all others.

Therefore, my advice is start somewhere. Anywhere actually. If starting at the beginning suits you, start there. Put down your thoughts and build on them. If making a spreadsheet is the easiest place for you to start, do that first. If you are most comfortable describing potential customers begin there and move on. Start somewhere, as every part will need to be edited, reviewed, improved and connected as you progress.

As a practical way to start a plan, we recommend using the Business Model Canvas as it is a visual ‘map’ that can help you collect your initial thoughts and then construct a document thereafter. It can be constructed from bullet points, post-it notes and lots of paper; then you can begin to write out the detail. This is just one of many types of planning tools now available online so try some searching so you choose a format that best suits you and your business.

Therefore, in summary as there is much more I could write, the essence of my answers are:

  • Yes you will do well to write a plan; and,

  • Start with the part you know best and build from there.

If you want further advice we (the Know+Do team) have a 1 page business plan template that we can share. Call me on 0161 2804567 or email and I can forward you a copy.

The Art of Great Delegation

This week I had the privilege of making a presentation to fellow members of the Institute of Directors in Manchester, UK. I was asked to share how Directors could approach delegation in their business to be more effective in their role.

What fascinates me about working as a leadership coach and trainer is that despite everyone in the room being a Director, each person came with a different expectation of what they needed to explore around delegation. My professional challenge - and the fun part of our work - was to take my prepared presentation and weave the audience’s expectations into the hour. I managed to reference the legal issues, leadership styles, change management, making time, devolving authority, sharing responsibility, harnessing technology and dealing with growth; all the questions they were interested in!

Underlying, the techniques I shared to improve daily delegation I referenced two guiding principles. This was because having access to a technique to use is only one part of effectively deploying a skill; knowing the principles behind it allow you as a leader to adapt, develop and contextualize the technique. The two principles behind great delegation are:

  1. Know the purpose. Delegation deals with the ‘What’ of business, the things that need to get done. However, starting with the what is not a leadership perspective it is fulfilling a management duty. Leaders need to be clear on ‘Why’ something is happening and ‘How’ it is delivered. So, if a Director were to ask me or my Know+Do colleagues to help them solve a problem around delegation we’d want to know the purpose of the business, its mission, its key targets, its values. Those why factors that drive behaviour, decision making and define success. Then we check out the how of a company - its key strategies and processes, its ways of organising itself and its 'internal ‘rules’. This is so we can place the delegation issue in context and how we solve that must reference why the business exists and connect with how it operates.

  2. Leadership is a daily practice not a one time event. By this we mean everyday the people in, or connected to your business, will need you to lead them. People are not static, they change, evolve and grow. Businesses are dynamic, new sales arrive, the economy changes, the competition gets better. Delegation is therefore not something we do once and forget about; it is something we do and repeat. Finding ways to ensure we have sufficient energy, the right attitude and sustained motivation is crucial to leading a team, whatever its size or context.

In the presentation a great deal more was shared. Techniques on quick planning for delegation. Principles to measure a delegation strategy. Language in differentiating delegation levels. How to ask questions in the right format. But the principles to great delegation underpinned the practice: Know why your business exists and work hard on your skills as a leader. After all, as a Managing Director I know well shared with me just last week:

“Delegation only works well, if the one delegating works!”

For both principles I shared a template to map and assess the business and the leader. If you want to find out about these contact me on and I can share the templates with you.

Avoid Small Talk in Sales

Avoid Small Talk in Sales

A sales professional has recognisable traits that differentiate them from the sales person. One of these is how to focus on the business at hand and the avoidance of small talk - defined as Polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions. Read on to see how to focus on sales talk not small talk.

Teaching Sales to a Sales business

Teaching Sales to a Sales business

I recently ran a sales workshop for a Know and Do client who runs a sales business providing outsourced sales for other businesses. I was sharing this with a friend who asked “Why does a sales business need sales training - surely they should know this stuff?”. The answer is that we all need to be life-long learners.

This short post explores how businesses engage with sales and sales training.

Are you a sales person or a sales professional?

For the last 5 years I’ve had the pleasure of delivering regular sales masterclasses for GC Business Growth Hub aimed at Greater Manchester SME’s wanting to grow their businesses. Around 12 different businesses participate in each masterclass.

One of the key learning objectives is to help each business owner understand how ‘sales’ is viewed and more importantly, used within their business. I always start by asking a simple question “Do you like, love or loath sales?” An overwhelming majority admit to loathing sales and the sales process. One participant recently described how they viewed sales as “a bit grubby”. A statement that many others agreed with.

Further questioning reveals that as these owners describe 'sales' they tend to focus in on examples where they, or someone they know, has experienced some form of dodgy sales practice. For example: They’ve been overpromised and under delivered. The stated price had risen dramatically with additional add-ons. They been trapped in a pressured sales environment or pestered constantly with unsolicited telephone calls. This is the domain of what I call the sales person.

These less than honest or trustworthy practices sit in stark contrast to the domain of the sales professional. Here, the sales professional takes pride in their undertaking and engaging with customers to discover and serve their needs in a way which makes repeat business highly likely. The sales professional works hard at their craft and is always learning and developing their skills.

When I started my first proper sales role (selling facsimile machines) my business card carried the title - Sales Executive. The two brothers who owned the firm and trained me were described by those who met them as ‘natural born sales people’. They looked and acted the part to me as a naïve sales novice. Suited, booted and driving nice cars they seemed to have the gift of the gab and fulfilled a stereotype of what I thought sales was. However, during my 6 week long sales induction programme I realised that these two were anything but natural born sales people. They were sales professionals with a clear plan. Like good magicians or actors they worked hard at their craft behind the scenes and thus, when they performed they made it seem natural.

Every time I was with them they had a book, magazine or audio on the go. They recommended different books across a wide range of subjects to me to read in order to develop my sales skills. I learnt some important basic concepts from them about sales and the need to develop my skills, knowledge and attitude towards sales. Sales, they taught should always be a win-win situation if you want sustained customers. Sales was a worthy profession if done right and they believed in doing it right.

They taught me that profitable sales are the key to a successful business. Figuring out the difference between ‘a profitable sale’ and just ‘a sale’ required a little more effort and a different pitch. A sales professional doesn’t look for the short cut but will help the client understand their needs and wants and put a proposal in that suits the client and themselves.

When I teach sales, I ask business owners to think about building sales practices that reflect a professional approach to sales. This goes right across the business from developing and training the right skills, knowledge and sales attitude. Without this you’ll likely have sales people and not sales professionals in your business.

A knock on impact of people not loving sales is that they tend to avoid reading books or attending courses on sales. This further compounds their issue with sales as if they don’t develop their skills and knowledge they won’t be very good at the subject.  Sales is a broad subject with a huge array of books available some useful some not so. Many attendees simply don’t know where to start their sales skills journey.

Reframing ‘sales’ as a positive and core component of a business helps attendees to shift their thinking about sales. From this new perspective, it’s much easier for people to reengage with sales and develop their specific knowledge to understand how to serve their clients better. Employing professional sales practices and developing a new sales strategy helps owners and staff to love sales and enjoy a more profitable business.

I’m passionate about good sales practices and helping customers to buy the right product as often as they need. Professional sales practices will help you and your business stand out in a crowd of sales amateurs. Profitable sales helps to sustain your business and serve your clients more effectively.

If you want to develop the sales skills in your business contact Know+Do today and ask for our advice.

I’d welcome your thoughts or comments on this important area.