Guest blog: Rethink traditional business planning

Business coach and marketing expert Ian Sanders says it's time to ditch weighty business plans and get on with it.

If you're launching a small business, the notion that you must have a business plan is still very much prevalent. Browse the site here at Smarta and you'll find advice headed 'Why you need a business plan' and resources dedicated to just such planning. But it doesn't have to be this way. Sure, we need to set objectives, we need to monitor and track progress, but in a world where - more than ever - we cannot predict what's around the corner, I'm advocating a new approach.

It's time to rethink traditional planning and ditch the 'phone-book-size plans that sit gathering dust on desks and shelves around the country. It's time for entrepreneurs and start-ups to 'unplan' their businesses, and embrace these principles:

1. Take your idea to market rapidly. I've seen too many business owners sit on their ideas for months or years without the courage to actually launch them. Often the speed at which you take an idea to market will give you the edge over the competition.

2. Rethink planning. 'Unplanning' is not about being prescriptive but developing a currency of goal setting that works for you and your business. It's about identifying and articulating the business process from idea to market. A one-pager or a bunch of post-it notes visualising the route from product to consumer can be more powerful than a thick plan.

3. Prototype, experiment and test.
If you wanted to quickly test a business idea a decade ago, it wouldn't be very easy. But today with online tools you can test and adjust your ideas as you go. Much better to launch beta versions, so you can evaluate and tweak, rather than trying to perfect the model before you launch. You'll find real feedback from the marketplace is more valuable to an investor or partner than hypothetical models.

4. Be flexible. If the last 12 months have taught us anything it's that the business and economic landscape can change in a flash. What's the point of a rigid set-in-stone Five Year plan? Isn't it better to embrace a non-linear approach that allows for deviation, change and reinvention? If you spot a new opportunity, you don't have to check it's on the plan first - just go for it.

5. Use your instinct.
Too much analysis can kill a great idea. One of your best tools is instinct; you just need the courage to go with your gut. Trust your instincts - not your spreadsheet - in pursuing new options.

Unplanning isn't a radical left-field idea: it's being embraced and supported by many entrepreneurs and CEOs. Here's David Hieatt who co-founded the howies clothing company and who is curator of the 'Do Lectures':

"Really, a business plan is another way of saying 'guess', a strategy is another way of saying 'hunch'. The awful truth is that we don't know what will work. But it's hard to get funding for a guess. And it's hard to persuade a boardroom to back your hunch with their money. We need to adopt the idea of trying to fail faster. To try lots of new ways of doing something, to take risks, to experiment as if we don't know the answer. We just need to stop acting so smart."

To find out more, download the free guide 'Unplan Your Business'.

Ian Sanders runs The Ian Sanders Company, and is the author of
Leap! Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business & Set Yourself Freeand Juggle! Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life. He has 20 years experience in business, both in organisations and working for himself. Follow Ian on Twitter.

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