How to Write (and Execute) a Simple but Powerful Business Plan

The plan is nothing, planning is everything.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower

Everyone has an opinion on it.

Should you or shouldn’t you write a business plan? Are they a total waste of time, or a necessary vehicle on the path to online entrepreneurial glory?

What if there were a third way to think through and write a business plan for an online business, a much simpler way?

If you’re awake and breathing, it’s obvious we’re living in an unprecedented time of innovation and distributive power. Depending on the type of business or marketing you run, good planning may be smarter than making a plan.

When you get a chance, take a listen and see what we mean.

In this episode Brian and I discuss:

  • Why Brian has never written a business plan
  • The single key that can determine whether your business succeeds or fails
  • How and where to find your best customers and evangelists
  • Why it can be a blessing that you have no idea what to sell
  • The drop-dead simple (and effective) business execution strategy

Hit the flash player below to listen now:

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About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

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  1. Robert:

    I’m happy your guys are covering business plans today.

    For those in the US, you can look up either Small Business Development Center or SCORE on Google. They give free advice and help on doing business plans – among other things.

    There’s different opinions on business plans – take writers, for example. I’m seen some writers of books recommend them and others not recommend them.

    But you do give good perspective in today’s episode from the standpoint of marketing, etc.

    Randy

    • I personally found the resources at SBA and SCORE to be wildly unhelpful when I was working on the transition from employee to business owner. But obviously it depends on what kind of business you’re starting. If I had been looking to open a retail store or a light manufacturing business, it would have been more helpful.

      • Sonia:

        Much depends on shopping around. In SCORE, for example, I have been disappointed with my consultations in person. However:

        1. I have found good advice from SCORE, if I use their online service. This way I can check their qualifications and pick someone to answer a question by email.

        2. they have brought in some good local resources to teach seminars – most were free.

        Many small business development centers are run out of universities. Some are out of community colleges. I would say to put in your zip code and see what happens. For example, in my area:

        1. The person heading the Harper College branch is a marketing expert and has her own Internet business. I consult with her about marketing direction.

        2. The person heading the College of DuPage branch used to be a geologist, then became a business consultant for many years. He’s good at business plans.

        3. The person heading the Elgin Community College branch is a CPA. He’s good at tax and legal issues.

        4. The Jewish Vocational Service is an excellent resource for those in the city of Chicago. They also teach a free entrepreneur course, based upon Core Four. I’ve also heard the same is true for the University of Illinois.

        Shop Around!!!

        Let me just add some commentary to my earlier comment on writers. If I go to Amazon and type in writing business, you will find books by Lucy Parker and Peter Bowerman – among others. Lucy believes in writing a business plan but Peter doesn’t.

        Randy

        • For those interested in good writers about breaking into the writing or copywriting business, look for books by Peter Bowerman, Bob Bly, Steve Slaunwhite, Kelly James-Enger and Lucy Parker.

        • I have to chime in with Sonia; I’ve had interactions with many of the local, government-sponsored entrepreneurship assistance organizations, ranging from business planning to entrepreneurship training, and have been uniformly disappointed. Even though there are people at the organizations that sometimes have useful expertise, the bureaucracy makes it so that you aren’t likely to get enough of their time to get more than generic advice anyway. I realize that this varies from place to place, but I’d warn prospective entrepreneurs about expecting too much from this sort of organization.

          • You need to learn to “move in the shadows.” This means learning how to navigate the system. If I decide to get advice, some allow me to just schedule an appointment and call them. Then I can ask the questions I want. Others insist I see them in person. I learn the idiosyncrasies of each office and use it to my advantage.

            On another front, an entrepreneur I call Jerry will be teaching some entrepreneur bootstrapping courses free, at the local Illinois Institute of Technology campus. I’ve signed up. But I know that 20 years ago, Jerry was making $150 K as an IBM sales rep – before he became a successful entrepreneur. I also know he has connections with different government officials around the world. So I’m not going there to learn, as to get to know Jerry and his connection network.

    • SCORE is a well kept secret for those seeking to learn small business from experts. In my experience, the people that teach in SCORE are retired business owners who have “learned the ropes” and are very willing to share what they know – at little or no cost, I might add. To find a local SCORE near you, point your browser to score.org and and enter your zip code. One of the best uses of tax dollars that I have seen!

      • SCORE usually works with the Small Business Development Centers. The Fox Valley chapter in Illinois has offices in the Small Business Development Centers of the College of DuPage and Walbonsee Community College. The Small Business Development Center website is asbdc-us dot org and Score is score dot org.

        Perhaps there is some concern by commentators that if people use the free services of these groups, there is no need for paid services. This is NOT true! In fact, at the Walbonsee center is a volunteer who services business clients.

        1. If you come into the Walbonsee center and meet with her, she will discuss a business plan with you – but you do the work.
        2. If you want her to do the work, she can meet with you via her private consulting business – for a fee.

        The other is to digger deeper into offerings. The JVS (Jewish Vocational Services) in Chicago might first appear to be ONLY for Jewish people – this is not true. Their services are free for both Jewish and gentile alike.

  2. There is one important thing about businessplans that you didn´t talk much about. I totaly agree about the fact that businessplans are mandatory if you need financial aid from banks and inverstors etc.. I have never needed that, but I still write businessplans. I write then because they are a great control tool when building a business. I am a creative soul and I allways gets a lot of ideas after I have began the prosess of building a business. Without my businessplan I tend to step out of my path and get lost in the businessforest. The businessplans that I write is for me a roadmap to sucess and by following it I stay on course.

  3. While I can’t say much about SCORE, my local SBA was quite helpful to me when I was just starting out. I also sought the advice of chamber of commerce chapters and attended free classes that were offered. Some were indeed a waste of time, but overall, these efforts were helpful in framing my thinking and mindset as a business owner.

    Business plans don’t need to be elaborate in my opinion, though it does depend on whether you’re trying to attract VC funding or getting a bank loan. As long as it keeps you on an even keel towards your short-term and long-term business objectives, it’s pretty much doing its job.

    There are great ways to build your business plan online and most of them are actually free. The ones that I’ve seen so far are the following:

    http://www.bizgym.com – great place to do business plans, elevator pitches, and financial models for free. Comprehensive enough for VC-chasing startups, but simple enough for entrepreneur moms and kids.

    http://plancruncher.com – simplifies your business plan into a one-page pdf. Needs a bit more polishing in my opinion.

    http://www.fundingroadmap.com – very comprehensive business plan app. I’m probably not its target market, but it’s too much of an overkill for my needs.

  4. Very cool.

    I’m totally with you on the fact that now, with something that demands almost no monetary investment, there’s no need for your typical, long, boring business plan.

    Yes, painfully obvious enough, is the need to have plans for your business. You do a good job of making the distinction here and explaining what a business plan applies to.

    Further (yes I just said further), I think that fundamentally, you’re totally on with the fact that being where your identified customer is, and then ensuring your content grabs their faces, is key. I spend a lot of time in the Warrior Forum and I’ve gotten a lot of people to notice both who I am, and what I’m doing, resulting in subscribers, loyal followers and even sales on products.

    What makes that interaction so cool is that it’s also a trade of sorts. Some of the people that come to my blog (as newborn as it is), have very awesome content and products themselves which I’ll gladly check out and in many cases, promote.

    In summation (I don’t really talk like this in real life), this audio clip was a super definitive explanation of some of the most important aspects of marketing on the net.

    Ryan

  5. Business Plan or Feasibility Report requires the business owner to plan ahead since planning is a process that never ends for business. It is extremely important in the early stages of any venture when the entrepreneur will need to prepare a preliminary business plan. Check for some useful info on why its important and how to write a good one. http://www.entrepreneurshipsecret.com/why-do-you-need-a-business-plan

  6. Agreed with Ryan. Your conventional business plan building spiel has you focus on the externals. Which is OK if you need to borrow money. I wasted a lot of energy on setting up all sorts of systems that I did not really need for starters.

    Having a plan for your business is different. It includes finding out what product/service you are going to offer, and to whom. It involves planning to learn marketing. And it involves planning to put plans into action, developing a habit of leaning by doing.

  7. Brian had a business plan. Back in early 2007, I remember asking him “What’s your plan for making money?”

    He said, “I’m going to build a list, and then I’m going to sell them stuff.”

    Well Brian, it seems it worked. :-)

  8. Just to restate, for those who want a simple “not really a plan” fill-in-the-blanks plan, there’s one included with the Internet Marketing for Smart People course. :)

    This show reminds me of one of my favorite business quotes, taken from Dwight Eisenhower (about war, as it happens): “The plan is nothing, planning is everything.”

  9. Forget business plans. Partnering For Profits Templates FTW!

  10. My business mentor, Charles Bahr, who turns around failing businesses says, “The objective is to get someone to send you cash.” A business plan is an organic document that is pruned and fertilized as you find success in getting people to send you cash.

    We are in launch mode of an online start-up, frontpageshopping.com. The Lean Start-Up philosophy of Eric Ries http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/ has been very helpful. Get your first iteration to market, listen to what the market tells you, and pivot.

    Here are two other helpful resources: Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigeur and The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development which is based on the work of Steven Blank at Stanford.

    Gillian Muessig, the entrepreneurial force behind SEOMoz, does a weekly show on webmaster radio. Gillian advises to fail fast and pivot.

  11. Fresh podcast. Yay! Can’t wait to listen. Gotta confess guys, I’ve been listening to some of these more than once. They’re just that good.

    So Brian. Got a question. You guys have a new Facebook page, but you’re not actively promoting it on Copyblogger like you are Twitter. Why? Considering the company is spending more emotional time on the Facebook page than on the Twitter account, I find that to be *very* interesting.

    I’m sure there’s a smart answer to this, no?

  12. Planning involves lots of research.
    But how do you decide when you’ve done enough or too little research?

  13. I just wanted to publicly thank Brian, Sonia and Robert for producing pure marketing gold dust, with IMfSP.

    Easily the best marketing audio resource out there right now.

  14. I’ve had 2 businesses. One we wrote a huge business plan for that didn’t work out and one that we had a 2 page business pan that is working out great. I am not saying that you shouldn’t write a business plan because for many they are a brilliant idea and crucial but in my own opinion they change and the goal posts move so much that you end up ripping them up and starting again anyway. I’d be a much bigger fan of having nice monthly or quarterly goals and setting the picture that way!

  15. If you’re interested in a practical way to develop a new idea or business, checkout The Core Value Proposition on amazon.

  16. This one saved me a lot of time of surfing and searching the web. Thanks a lot and keep up the good work!

  17. I usually just scribble some stuff I feel could work on a white board and start executing.

  18. I’m a strong believer that the strength of your business plan can be assessed by how succinctly you can say what it is you do and why. I spoke to a head of an massive insurance company and he says the entire company works off of a positioning statement of 5 lines and it’s something they always have in the front of their mind for all aspects of their business.