Success

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 bernard@knowanddo.com and I can forward you a copy.

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.

Does 'Why' Really Matter?

I came across the above diagram in Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders East Last. It is a very simple picture but one that helps me explain to leaders the importance of having a ‘Why’ in their business. When my colleagues and I at Know+Do are asked to work on a problem a client has in their business - whether that is about the performance of people or their processes or strategies - we often get puzzled looks when we ask a question like:

  • Tell me about the vision of the business, what is it aiming to achieve?

  • What is the purpose of the company and why does it exist?

  • How do your values help you achieve your mission?

The normal response is along the lines of, ‘that is not important right now, so can we get back to looking at the problem?’ However, our interest in the ‘why’ is because it is usually the best starting point to solving the problem.

In his book, Simon Sinek is referencing the challenge of bringing others with you and expanding the capacity of a business. If too few people have the authority to make the right decisions at the right time, performance will suffer; customer satisfaction will drop; employee motivation and confidence cannot rise, and so on. But if the leader sets out a vision and articulates why the company exists, they can share authority with those who are closest to the daily information in its context; they can expand their influence and empower their people within the framework of a vision.

That is why if a company has a senior management team that is not functioning as well as it should, we ask about the mission, vision and values of the business. These terms set the tone for how the business operates and provide the guide to what makes a decision appropriate or not. Knowing these gives an objective perspective to reference, which is needed to re-set a team’s goals and behaviour.

When a business is struggling to organise its key processes effectively, we ask about the core purpose of the company to ascertain what should be the common thread of motivation for all systems and procedures. Then when we look at the detail of a process, the blocks present or missing steps, we can focus everyone upon the task of achieving the bigger purpose. This puts the everyday challenges into the right perspective and gives a common language everyone can use to work together.

If a leader feels they need to micromanage their team because things are never done right or to their standards, we’d check how the leader is using the company’s goals and values to develop their team. Are they sharing and promoting a mission that enables others to deliver on the company’s goals or are they just trying to make subordinates act in their own image? The values give descriptions for behaviour and mindset that can go beyond one leader and be embraced by all if the conditions are correctly set.

Even when we run training courses and open events for leaders we start with the purpose. Get the purpose clear and a high performing business can follow. To help frame this thinking we have a tried and tested tool we use with leaders to map their company purpose and confirm how it influences their planning and performance.

This is the reason that ‘why’ does really matter. It is the foundation upon which a business can build success. Thus, to solve a problem it always starts with the question, ‘Why?’

So, my question to a business leader reading this post today is: What is your organisation’s purpose and how does it drive performance? If you know what it is that is great, well done; now try looking at how you are using it every day. Do you see the values explicitly expressed by people? If you are not sure about the purpose, then it is time to start searching for one. Either way, Know+Do enjoy sharing ideas and inspiration so contact us today to ask how we can ensure your why really does matter!

What advice would you give to a new business owner?

Our company is in its tenth year of existence and when I open my old note book from those very early development days, which started way back in 2009, I find it hard to remember all the feelings around starting-up a business venture. Looking through the frayed pages it seems we were obsessed with a name and logo, with so many variations being drawn and discarded. I am very proud we chose ‘Know and Do’, it still says exactly what our business is about – ‘helping leaders learn to solve their problems by effectively applying the knowledge’ – but I’d probably not focus as much time on these things next time round.

My trip down memory lane came from a recent discussion I was invited to join with Tech Manchester as part of the UK Fast webinar series. Talking with some passionate, clever and insightful colleagues from around Greater Manchester we discussed the wide array of support and advice to start-up businesses.

You can access the video of the whole conversation and others in the series here 

If I was re-starting a business today, I’d share the advice we give to many new or emerging companies. Essentially, there are a few core factors that in my view make a huge difference to a new business idea moving from paper to become a thriving company:

  1. What is your purpose? Setting out your mission for starting the business helps you look to create a strategy and culture to the business that is consistent and coordinated. It can draw investors, partners and employees to your business as they buy-in to your purpose. (Check out our tips on strategy here).

  2. Is there a demand for the product or service? Without this you may only ever sell to yourself! A great idea is nice (and great ideas are needed). However, it is only commercially viable if it is wanted by others.

  3. Is there a profit in the product or service? The price you can charge customers has nothing to do with the cost of production, but you do need a profit margin in it. The value a customer places on what you are selling determines if the market will sustain your new business. A business needs that profit buffer and to know if it is (or is not) there (as we share here).

  4. Never loose site of the cash. If you are the owner, you need to understand the money. If you run out of cash your bank account will not clear payments on good will. Even when you grow, it is easy to let costs rise and your cashflow suffer.

  5. Focus on the marketing and sales. Great ideas rarely sell themselves; they will still need mechanisms to share and promote their value. These processes need constant attention, assessment and energy (we have some ideas on this).

I know there is much more to a business than the five points alone. Things like structure, premises, people, equipment, legalities, suppliers, and so on matter. However, if you have a clear purpose, products and services that people be sold at a profit, manage your cash well and market the idea you have the engine of a business.

If it sounds like hard work, that is because it is. According to my maths (from reading reports) less than 1 in 10 people start a business and only around 25% of them create a company that can employ someone other than themselves. So, if you have the desire to try, then we’d love to talk with you and help you focus that motivation to be successful