Bernard Clarke

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.

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 bernard@knowanddo.com and I can share the templates with you.

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 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 questions 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 gives 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 everyday. 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!

A Leap of Faith

The phrase leap of faith came to mind recently on my walk along the canal path, a canal boat called leap of faith gently passed me by as I headed for my train to work. I’ve heard this phrase used frequently in business and often about start-ups, e.g. when someone takes that first step from whatever work they had before into founding a business; this is right, it is a leap of faith. However, I’m interested in this post to consider the future ‘leaps of faith’ we make as business leaders.

In our company we get to talk one-to-one with business leaders and these sessions often reveal fears, worries or concerns that leaders have. Our role is to work with that leader and leave them in a place where they have a plan to move beyond the concerns and can see the steps to success. One frequent fear for founders is that their company is getting too successful and as a consequence they worry about keeping pace with the business.

One young tech-entrepreneur shared this week that they realised after a few years that running a company they founded that had grown to nearly 200 people was boring. They did not want to develop it, they wanted to start another; so, they made a leap of faith and handed over to a CEO and developed a spin-off company from scratch once again. That was brave, leaving financial security yes but also recognising their limits and then pursuing their passion accordingly before they damaged their first business.

Another entrepreneur shared in the middle of a leadership course that she realised she must change to be the right type of leader her company now needed. She was nervous, uncertain and worried she could not do it in that moment but she saw that her business had changed and so she needed to stop being the ‘start-up’ leader and be a leader who had the skills to build a business and a management team around her.

Running a business is rarely a destination, it is a constantly evolving journey. Humans are a species that likes habit and routine; therefore, a leader can find it comfortable to rely on the skill-set that got them to where  they are now and no more. The thinking that a business needs to stay successful next year, is not necessarily what it needed last year. A courageous leader frequently re-assesses their strengths and weaknesses and how they set new goals to evolve. By definition the leader will have to initiate this change for themselves – no grown up is going to drop by and order it!

So, my takeaway question is:

When was the last time you took an objective look at your skills, knowledge, experience or influence on your business and set yourself the target to change once more?

If you want an idea on how to do this give me a call and I will share some tools we’d recommend. Supporting leaders to change is something my colleagues and I enjoy doing and sharing ways to achieve success if part of our reason for operating.

Have fun in your leap of faith and enjoy setting yourself a new challenge today!

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