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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 16, 2018

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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The power of habit

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to make a reminder works for you

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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