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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 April 8, 2019

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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  1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
  2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
  3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
  4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
  5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
  6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
  7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
  8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
  9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
  10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
  11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
  12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
  13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
  14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
  15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
  16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
  17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
  18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
  19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
  20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
  21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
  22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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