Small Business and Startups: Thinking About Business Plans (again)

I am thinking about starting a new business and beginning to focus on planning, financing, marketing, launching, and operating the thing.

I have already done a fair amount of market research and determined that there is a demand for it, created a spreadsheet with financial projections that I am confident in, put together a bunch of notes on how I will market it, and given some serious consideration to the human capital needed to make it run.

Now it’s time for me to set up some meetings with a few bankers and possible investors to get the funds in place so I can really get going.

Just kidding. crowdSPRING takes up way too much of my capacity and is still too much fun to even consider (for the moment) a new venture.

But, I have been thinking a lot about what I would do differently and that would start with the business plan itself.

When Ross and I launched cS we created a business plan that ran over 80 pages and a slide deck that included more than 40 slides. It worked well for us, both in process and outcome.

The process of writing and re-writing the plan and the constant revisions to the Powerpoint helped us to strengthen the original idea and define for ourselves how we would operate the business. The outcome was also positive, and we were able to complete our funding in a relatively short amount of time and with a high conversion rate of potential investors.

So what would I do differently? Well to start, these 5 things:

1. Kill the 80-page plan.

I want something that can be read in under 10 minutes, and supported with other materials which I will create.

My business “plan” will be the equivalent of an executive summary: short, digestible, and very high level.

It will contain around 10 paragraphs and be structured like an easy to read essay, with an introductory paragraph including my thesis of why this business will succeed, 3-5 supporting paragraphs (containing specifics on the market, the revenue model, the existing and future competition and any barriers to entry, the financial projections, the marketing plan, and operational objectives), and a summary re-stating the original business proposition.

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2. Put the slide deck on my iPad.

The people I will be pitching are busy bankers, investors, and potential teammates and I want to save the bulk of my allotted 30-40 minutes on answering their questions, defending my assumptions, and making my bid for their support.

The 6 or 7 paragraphs included in the business plan document can serve as the outline for my slides, but they need to be as simple as possible. The visuals can not be cluttered and a no-bullet-point rule will be in effect.

Slides are meant to backup the words the presenter is speaking rather than being read aloud to the audience. They should be designed for the small screen, on the assumption that there is no time or space for a projector and to make the entire experience intimate and personal.

This is not to say that I won’t find myself in a room of 6 or 12 people listening to the pitch with a projector attached, but the assumption is that mostly it will be one-to-one.

3. Start a blog.

It is never to early to get your thoughts down on paper and establishing thought leadership in your new market will send a signal to potential stakeholders that you are serious and authoritative.

The conversations you will be having can be comfortable places and if you can say to the person, “Hey, I wrote a post about that just a few weeks ago” and point them to your blog, your credibility will increase on the spot.

4.Set up the SM now.

You may not have a name for your venture and you may have a good reason for staying under the radar, but it is never to early to start following and sharing and building the network you will need when you do launch.

Find the best minds in the new space and listen closely to what they say and pay attention to what they read.

Build relationships through retweets and by sharing your own articles, resources, ideas, and content before you launch, and by the time you do so having this network in place will provide a great advantage.

Start making phone calls.

The common wisdom holds that finding a job is about leveraging networks, and the same applies to starting a new business. If you have ever run a business before chances are good that your circle includes lawyers, bankers, technologists, and marketers.

Even if you have never owned or managed a company, chances are good that you know (or can be introduced to) tons of people like these. Use them to maximum advantage.

The point is that the path of least resistance in getting your new business off the ground will lead directly through your address book.

So, pick up the phone, send an email, leave a message on Facebook, or contact them on LinkedIn and get that venture launched!

Photo: Steve Jurvetson


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