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Burn The Business Plan: Write a Book Instead

Burn The Business Plan: Write a Book Instead
Book

Writing is a process that distills thought. Corporate innovators are often asked to prepare detailed plans. Companies employ a variety of planning tools and they can be tremendous aids in working through the necessary thought processes. Every lone inventor seeking funding who has approached professional finance people to get a project financed is aware that he or she is expected to come with a written business plan. The thought process that goes into the writing is more important than the document itself. The fancy business plan with all its detailed financial projections becomes useless about five minutes after the business gets going, assuming it was any good to begin with. Things change and unless the plan is regularly rewritten or revised, it is very unlikely to match reality for long. It would be like having a football coach writing a detailed set of projections for an upcoming game then expecting the game to match the projections. It won’t happen but it can be quite beneficial to engage the thought processes.

This can be taken further by writing a book with a view toward possibly publishing it. The best way to learn about something is to be in a position to teach it well. Thinking about what would need to be written to communicate to a larger audience than one a business plan would normally be targeting takes the process to a higher level. Writing the business plan and also writing the book on the customer, the industry and the business requires a thorough understanding and generates additional material that can be reviewed and evaluated.

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Everyone has heard or read enough about the importance and need to listen to and understand customers. People tend to do a fairly good job of this aspect of knowing the business. There is much more to knowing one’s business than listening well to customers but that is a great place to start.

Listening to and understanding customers directly is usually although not always better than relying on second hand data in knowing one’s customer and industry. There are some areas where substantial business can be done without direct knowledge of the customer but that is not typically the norm. With few exceptions, listening to the customer is extremely useful and important.

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Listening to and understanding a competitor is also important. A goal of listening is to gather enough market intelligence to develop an accurate picture of the market, competitive landscape and one’s place in it.

But don’t just listen. Analyze the data and think it through. Learn 100 new things about the customer or prospective customer. Call it the Strategic 100. Do likewise for each of the competitors. If that wasn’t so hard, then rank and take the top 10 items from each list, and do a second round to obtain the original list and another 100 item list focused around the top 10 items. Call it the Focus 10/100.

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The real keeners who love this type of analysis can do it again and, as long as they don’t end up with analysis paralysis, will have a very good idea of where the customers are and what is the true competitive landscape. Although this is hard work, at the end of it, one will be able to answer the following questions and many others. “Could you tell me a hundred ways to identify your target market?” “What do customers love about your product?” “What do they love about the competitor’s product?” “What do they hate about yours?” “Theirs?” “What 10 things from each of your main competitors are you going to steal or copy?” This can be taken as far as is practical. Whether thinking in terms of copying best practices or stealing key employees and customers, there is a range of options. A market player can rest assured the best from among their competitors are doing similar things.

Written analysis is very important and can be quite time consuming. It is important to be careful to not get caught in the analysis paralysis trap. This is where one becomes so busy going around asking questions, learning stuff and writing that the actual business does not get done. Beginners often experience this. An effective way to go about it is to develop good intelligence gathering habits and systems as part of the marketing and sales process: Learning by doing, learning while doing and doing while learning. Efficiently rendering the intelligence into well organized and well written content can be hard work but the process should prove to be a worthwhile and rewarding one.

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Not all people write equally well, and while rendering intelligence into a useful document may be an easy task for one person; it could be a daunting one for someone else. Fortunately, there is nothing wrong with getting help. Most inventors, whether corporate or individual, do not write their own patent specifications and claims, leaving it to patent agents who are skilled in this type of specialized technical writing. Likewise, help can be brought in to prepare business plans, whitepapers, speeches, articles, books, etc. For many lone inventors, the costs of hiring outside help becomes a barrier, so by the time the patent writing has been paid for, there isn’t enough money to hire anyone to help write business plans and the myriad other written materials that are required in the process of bringing an invention to market. Learning how to write well enough to get the job done should become a priority for those who cannot recruit or hire others to do it.

Substantial market strategy and market research work should be done before any money is spent on technical development. The further along the technical processes, the harder and more costly it becomes to change course. Doing a solid and thorough job of the customer, industry and market strategy and research work up front makes it easier to direct the technical development in the optimum direction. Fewer course corrections can result in substantial performance improvement of the technical effort.

Knowing the business well enough to be able to write a book about it and then actually writing the book is a good way to overcome inventoritis. This should be done before any technical work is started. Well managed companies have processes for doing this while engineering-driven companies often do not and create products for which there is no customer and no sales. Applying substantial resources up front toward knowing the customer, industry and business well enough to publish a book on it is an excellent way to overcome inventoritis and navigate toward a successful innovation. Even if your business fails, you can still sell the book.

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis: Happy About® Not flushing Away Your Innovation Dollars now available.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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