The startup world seems to be obsessed with creating business plans. Everyone seems to want one, they are seen as an essential part of the process, and there are tons of resources out there to help founders to build one. Search Google for ‘startup business plan’ and you get more than half a million hits.
Search results will change daily but today’s sample across the first dozen hits on the opening page showed ten different sets of ‘how-to’ instructions, and almost the same number of templates or examples.
With all their best intentions acknowledged, my concern is that they are typically too big, too detailed, and rather formulaic to be truly useful. In the middle ground that they occupy, they can’t support individual needs well enough. How can the same template fit a craft business producing bath bombs, and an AI developer working on a healthcare trend analysis app?
This where experience and guidance come in to help the entrepreneur to find a suitable path. I have spent a lot of my time urging colleagues and clients to strip their situations right back, to condense their plan to a single page. Those that have worked with me will be very familiar with the PoaP (Plan on a Page) acronym.
Among the first things I ask are the basic questions around purpose, product, market, and intent. No surprises there, and all the ‘how-to’ guides will cover these topics, but many will do so as part of a bigger and more complicated process to produce a definitive 20-30 page document they refer to as the business plan. My preference in the early days is for something lighter, simpler, and more agile.
An alternate path
My guidance is to forget about the conventional business plan, and get the overall thinking right before diving into too much detail. For an early-stage startup, there are three reasons for this:
- You probably don’t know enough yet to write a detailed plan with confidence
- Things will change, probably quite quickly, as early development or market testing proves or challenges your thinking
- Time is short, both for the writer and the potential readers, so make sure that what you do produce is solid and useful
The PoaP still takes some effort to produce, because it challenges the conventional structured and extensive approach. Whilst the detail may be limited, the structure remains. It is simplified to the most important parts, and arranged so they make sense together, because the visual representation on one page forces a ‘big picture’ view.
Real value, condensed
It should be concise and accessible, arresting, and easy to understand. The last point is key, because it forces the writer to challenge their own thinking and expression. If it can’t be nailed down here, how can the business value be properly and consistently expressed in the first thirty seconds of a customer meeting, or in a pitch deck or proposal?
The PoaP is a foundation tool. It underpins the more detailed documents that will still follow as the business grows, and when it is right, you can go out with confidence (and a single piece of go-to paper folded in your pocket).
If you have used PoaP approaches in your business, please let me know and share your experiences. If you would like to know more about it and how to use it, again, please get in touch.