A Business Plan Will Not Make You More Successful

Palo Alto Software, which makes business planning software, just did a survey to their own users to show that those who completed business plans that they started with Palo Alto were nearly twice as likely to successfully grow their businesses or obtain capital as those who didn’t finish.

This research is a classic example of “there are lies, damnable lies, and statistics” (stolen from Twain who got it from someone else). An even more reasonable conclusion – people who DO SOMETHING and follow through on it are twice as likely to successfully grow their business.

My second book (to be published in December 2010) is titled “Bad Plans Carried Out Violently” and promotes the idea that DOING SOMETHING trumps pre-planning almost without exception. I’ve talked with hundreds of successful business owners and asked them two questions:

  1. Did you do a business plan before you started your business?
  2. If you did, how well did it project what actually happened over 1 yr, 3 yrs and 5 yrs?

The number of successful business owners who do a business plan before starting their business is statistically insignificant – well less than 1%. The only reason the small minority gave for doing one is because they had to in order to get money from a bank or investor (almost no one does one just for themselves). That should tell you something about the classic “pre-planning” Business Plan we’re all taught is so important.

Of those very few that did do a Business Plan before starting, virtually none of them say their Business Plan projected accurately what actually happened in the next 12 months, or 3yrs or 5 yrs. To the contrary most said their Business Plan was wildly off from what actually happened in the real world.

The conclusion is that successful business owners don’t do a classic Business Plan unless banks or investors are involved, and that they never look at it after that. So it has real value for getting a loan, but not for running a business.

Stop planning and get moving! Do a simple 2-page Strategic Plan and revise it every month with the input your business gives you – you’ll be better off.

“Committed Movement in a Purposeful Direction” and “Implement Now. Perfect as You Go.” – two concepts from my next book – are much more instructive to success than pre-planning. Knowing the end goal is extremely important – knowing beforehand the path for how you will get there is fortune-telling.

See the new book from 37Signals called Rework for others affirming this as well.

Why Bad Plans Will Make You More Money Than Good Plans

Good plans, aren’t.

The Marine Motto.

When I was on the Marine soccer team many years ago, our team action plan was:
“Bad plans carried out violently many times yield good results. Do something.”

We weren’t the most talented team. We played a Brazilian team that was like watching a Monet get painted, or poetry in motion. The ball stuck to their feet like velcro and they passed and controlled beautifully. When we were lucky enough to get in the way, we would kick the ball as far down the field as we could, run under it and hope we got there first.

It was a bad plan, but we carried it out with commitment, and more often than not, our bad plan worked better than their good plan, because we were more committed to our plan than they were to their good one. We didn’t win the league, but we went far beyond our collective skill set, and made it to the finals. Not bad for a bad plan.

Good business works just like our Marine soccer team. Somebody did a study of sales people who make over $250,000 and found out that the #1 reason for their success was SPEED OF EXECUTION. It wasn’t how smart they were, or how much better their product was than they next guy, and it certainly wasn’t that their plan was better then somebody elses. When something came along that would help their business, they moved on it faster and made more money.

Did you ever really come up with a good plan anyway? How many business plans have held up for more than a few weeks before they begin to change because they came in contact with the real world? What you thought was a good plan was just a bad plan that you spent way too much time on before you implemented it. If you would have exposed it to the light earlier, you could have perfected it much more quickly.

Really. Speed of Execution is the #1 indicator of success in business. Get there before the next guy. There was a book written a while back that sums it up in the title “It’s not the big who eat the small, it’s the quick who eat the slow.” I never read it because the title gave it all away.

Execute Now. Perfect As You Go. I’m not advocating you run your business on bad plans. I’m advocating that you perfect every plan by getting it into practice as quickly as possible, so that the real world will inform you as to what has to change to perfect it. The key to success in planning:

  1. Get the plan into production at the very earliest opportunity.
  2. Carry it out violently. (or in business terms, with complete commitment). It’s better than the plan you didn’t have before. If you just fool around with it, don’t expect to win.
  3. Perfect as you go. The problem is that we either a) think about the plan forever and don’t do it, or b) implement it immediately and then never learn and improve. The whole point of contact with the real world is to give you a better chance of turning your bad plan into a great one. Entrepreneurs love to role out bad plans quickly – it’s a great strength. They also get bored easily and rarely perfect the plan they’ve rolled out. It’s a great weakness.

Bad plans carried out violently sometimes yield good results. The number one indicator of success is SPEED OF EXECUTION. Time kills deals, and it kills businesses. Figure out the essentials and get moving. Then focus intently on constantly improving the bad plan until it runs itself.

Most businesses are stuck in Survival. The idea is to move through profitable Success to Significance. We don’t get there largely because we want to get it right before we do anything that would actually help us get it right. Get a bad plan and carry it out with commitment and watch your business grow. This will also help get you off the treadmill and back to the passion that brought you into business in the first place.

Carpe diem and all that stuff. Like the Chinese proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.” Stop thinking about it, go dig a hole, and plant something that will help you grow your business. What bad plan have you been thinking about too long? Get moving on it.