“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man” Jeffrey Lebowski 

If you have read my previous post “Origin Story” you will know I started my first company reluctantly and without any sort of preparation or business plan. I looked at some books on how to start a company the week after I started it and, without intention, went on to completely ignore all the instructions I had read. So, 2 years after founding that very company, I found myself in a position of needing both a business partner and capital to facilitate the size of the impending projects that were coming in the door, I was advised to reflect on the modicum of business knowledge I had absorbed and write a business plan. The process led me to the perfectly rational conclusion that I had run the company successfully for the 2 years on a solid, and ultimately successful, Old Approach strategy of winging it. And without fear or compunction, I continued to wing it with great success for the next 12 years until my exit.

I have never consciously set any goals or developed any metrics to measure the progress or success of any companies I have founded, certainly none that I wrote down in any semblance of a plan. Success, to me, was always going to be self-evident. My goal in starting any company was to make money (there was an element of work-life balance but really you start a company to make money). And the reality was that any financial goal or performance objective I set would have been pulled right from my arse anyway as I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I had so many hours in the day that I could potentially work and that I could invoice those hours at an industry-acceptable rate. The worst-case scenario was that I would fall flat on my face and make no money at all, but since my first company was started because I had just been laid off, I was flat on my face making no money already. The only way to go was up. 

I am not anti-business plan; I am just rigidly opposed to inflexibility, and I would argue being flexible and being able to roll with the punches is one of the keys to success in any venture, particularly a small business one. I once heard that working toward and attaining an MBA forces you to think inside the box and this is how I feel about business plans, they force you to think inside the box. When I started my first company, I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew how to perform the work but the rest I was making up as I went along, I had no idea about marketing and sales strategies, competitive and market analysis, or performance tracking criteria. I knew nothing about any of those things and I figured I didn’t need a plan for things I didn’t know, so I didn’t spend any time developing one. A plan at that point in my company’s development would be nothing more than a document that clearly points out how completely out of my depth I really was. The fact is, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, so by not creating a document that memorialized my ineptness I allowed myself the misplaced confidence to succeed.  

Adhering to the conventional business strategies of refining your concept with metrics and goals, cultivating your marketing and expansion plans, researching competitive advantages, conducting market analysis, and developing performance-tracking criteria and financial analytics makes perfect sense when looking for funding or investors, but for me, it would only have served to keep me busy, confuse me, freak me out and divert me from the real work of generating revenue. 

Developing performance-tracking criteria or conducting market and competitive analysis research sounds like a really important thing to do, and maybe it is, I have never done it so I really don’t know. To me, it means you have either grown your company to the point that you have the time to do that sort of thing, or you are distracted from the core revenue-generating actions your company needs to survive. If you have the time or have prioritized these tasks, it’s probably a sign that you don’t have enough revenue-generating work on your plate. And if that is indeed the case what the hell is your performance tracking criteria and competitive analysis going to show you except that you need to stop wasting your time on developing said criteria and go generate some more revenue.  

Now I am not saying that there aren’t some aspects to starting a business that need a little bit of planning. A company name and branding for instance is something I always put some thought into. I kept a list of names on my phone for a week before deciding on one and I doodled on a notepad for a bit before finalizing a logo. And that was it, I now had a name and a logo under which to operate, time to get to work, and also tell my wife what I was doing. I know of a colleague who, 6 years ago, spent 3 months working on which 2 colors looked best on her unfinished logo. I feel like she may be still working on it. (If you’re reading this Leanne, stop the nonsense and just go with blue and green)

The thought of developing and adhering to a business plan never truly entered my mind, winging it without one did. My unwritten business plan has always been to “Operate in a way that will generate clients and money.”

As an owner, particularly if you are a sole proprietor, you will be involved in every aspect of the company’s operations by default, and that will give you all the data points you need to know if things are going well or not. That and your bank account balance at the end of each month.