Millennials modern approach in business. Young team sitting on floor, using graphs and latest devices. Startup management.
By Mary Juetten
You can read the previous post in the series here.
In a field as complicated and as risky as startups, there’s an understandable urge towards fastidious planning. And planning is a necessary part of any business; there’s not a lot that would get done if you woke up every day and simply did what came to your mind at the moment (although it might be fun for a while!) Planning helps to guide our actions and serves to mitigate a lot of potential pitfalls, and it acts as a way to reduce a lot of undue stress in an already stressful field.
Planning can be a double-edged sword if we’re not careful, however. The startup world in particular demands flexibility and the ability to pivot your focus and your goals as needs require, but plans, as they sit on paper or in a word document, are immune to these pressures and stay rigid and unchanging so long as they remain fixed to the page. That’s not to say that if you don’t write down your plans and goals you won’t be accountable to meet them; rather, the point is that your goals should be guideposts that can be moved, rather than guard rails that prevent you from deviating from the road you’re on regardless of circumstance.
Finding the right business plan to work for you takes time and effort and some trial and error. Here are a few steps to help the process along.
Focus on contingencies. It’s easy to plan for everything going according to plan. Your path to success looks like a straight line, and at the outset of your startup journey that can be alluring. And the idea of failures or setbacks as you’re just starting your business, when optimism is sky-high, can seem unfathomable. But “no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” as the old military wisdom goes, and the world at large has different ideas for your company than you do. Having some idea of how you want to approach things as complications happen and first- or second-choices fall through will allow you to keep moving forward rather than being thrown for a loop by inevitable setbacks. Asking yourself the proverbial ‘what if?’ can work out well.
Reevaluate periodically. Plans are made in the moment, with the perspective and information we had on hand at the time we devised them. If we were all beholden to the first and only versions of plans, we’d have quite a few failed astronauts and athletes and others hamstrung by goals set way too early and never adjusted. There are a lot of things we learn in business along the way, lessons that can only be gained by experience. And those plans made at the outset can start to look outdated rather quickly once things are actually set in motion. Taking the opportunity to sit down and reevaluate what you want to do and how you want to do it will allow you to formulate a plan that’s aligned with both your goals and the real-life situation you’re operating in.
Don’t focus on details you don’t need to. Details are important — they’re the fine margins that can determine your ultimate success or failure. And as a founder, you need to be concerned with the details, or you run the risk that no one else will. But details can be tricky to incorporate into business plans as something to hold yourself accountable and to show to others. If startups are a journey, your goals lie along the road far ahead; you can see the shape, the outline, maybe even the color, but the finer details are beyond your vision. Your specificity in developing a business plan should match your certainty; it’s no help to project confidence with bold and hyper-specific targets only to eventually fail to meet those projections.
The importance of planning shouldn’t be diminished; every business that hopes to succeed needs a solid plan if it hopes to make it through the unforgiving startup world onto the more stable ground of medium to long-term viability and growth. But how those plans are used, and what they look like, are as important as their existence.
A poor plan, no matter how well executed, won’t provide for much greater success than little to no planning. Likewise, a plan is only as good as its utility at the moment; the rosiest projections serve no purpose when things have deviated too far from the original assumptions for it to be useful. The best-laid plans are smart, flexible, and suited to the goals you hope to achieve. #onwards.