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Wednesday, 27 August 2008

No excuse to forgo business and marketing plans


My original and only business plan for my company was based on a Dr. Suess book.  I wish I were kidding.

Owning up to my liberal arts major and rebellious roots, I didn't think I needed a "real" plan.  And, for the most part, I did fine for a decade, securing lots of clients and making a good living.

But honestly, I think that I was just not thinking about business planning the right way.  I imagined reams of paper, onerous spreadsheets and carefully crafted mission statements.  Yuck.

Now, Tim Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software and prolific blogger about all things startup, has come out with a new book called the Plan as You Go Business Plan.  Even though his company makes business planning software, Tim felt a bit frustrated by the perceived hurdle new entrepreneurs attributed to business plans.  When I asked him why most people didn't write them, he said:

"What people normally give me, Pam, is “Yes, I’m going to tomorrow,” or “next month,” or “six months from now.”  And then there’s the variant on that: “Yes, I really agree it’s stupid that we don’t have a plan in this business and so-and-so has been promising to write it for years.”  So they the pass the buck.  It’s funny because the drag, what we’re fighting is they have in their mind this huge marathon-like PhD thesis-like thing. I don’t blame them sometimes for thinking, “No, I’m too busy.  I don’t have time for that. I’ve got to run my business.” 

Instead of this perspective, Tim encourages you to think of business planning as a fun and critical part of your entrepreneurial journey.  He says:

“Planning isn’t about writing some ponderous homework assignment or dull business memo; it’s about envisioning the business that you want to create.  It should be fascinating to you.  What do people want, how are you going to get it to them, how are you different and what do you do better than anyone else?”

I interviewed Tim on this topic for my book, but he was generous enough to let me share the conversation as a podcast.  It is about 37 minutes and can be found here.


Before I leave this blog post to get back to writing my own book, I also wanted to share a related story:  The new collaboration between Tim's company Palo Alto Software and John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing.

Back story:  a few months ago, John came to Phoenix for a speaking gig.  Since we had never met in person, I offered to meet him at the hotel before his presentation.  When I got there, he asked if we could hop in the car and go across town where he had another meeting.  We cruised through Phoenix, and with his iPhone, he had a better sense of direction than I did, even thought he lives in Kansas City and I have been here for four years. Embarrassing!

On the ride, he told me the story of his own company Duct Tape Marketing, which he started over 24 years ago, working with small business clients to help them grow their business.  After doing that for a few years with success, he wanted to scale his business, so organized his thoughts into the Duct Tape Marketing process.  This led to the Duct Tape Marketing blog (currently 216k readers, holy cow!)  Duct Tape Marketing Coaches, then the Duct Tape Marketing book.  And finally, he worked with Tim to integrate this process into Marketing Plan Pro, so small business owners could integrate a practical marketing approach with their business plan.

Isn't that cool?  I loved hearing the story first-hand, realizing that many well-established brands begin just like yours and mine, as a crazy idea in the head of an unknown wannabe entrepreneur.   Throw in a couple decades of hard work, and you get some formidable companies that really serve their markets well.

The software is not available yet for the Mac so I can't test it, but I will as soon as it is available in 2009.

You can read Tim's perspective on the collaboration here, John's perspective here, and get the feature highlights here.

Having gotten to know both Tim and John personally in the last couple of years, I will say that you couldn't ask for a better partnership.  Both have very down-to-earth personalities which understate their significant experience.  I hope the software sales do really well.

After the Escape from Cubicle Nation book is finished, my next step is not software, but action figures.  Do you think we could convince Archie McPhee that I am a good partner for his cubicle set?


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John Jantsch

Hey Pam, thanks for the kind word, but I've got to tell you, I'm going straight to Duct Tape Marketing - the movie.

I'm thinking Bill Murray to play me.


I personally think people should consider writing a marketing plan before a business plan, and before going into business for that matter.

Before a marketing plan can be written, a feasibility study and competition analysis is completed. This helps ensure you are not deluding yourself.

Only after a marketing plan is written (which in a way has some elements of the business plan) should you proceed with a business plan.

Tim Berry

Thanks Pam, I appreciate it; and now I'm looking forward to the action figure to follow.

Or you can take John's lead, and do the action movie instead.

Tim Berry

And on a more serious note, Tom's comment, that's good advice. I've never seen a decent business plan that didn't include a marketing plan. I think of the marketing plan as pretty much a subset. One key difference is that a business plan covers the full cash-flow-driven financials, and broader management issues, where the marketing plan is focused on marketing and sales. Some people aren't responsible for the full cash flow, but just marketing.

Alexis (Acsmo)

I think it's not even that most businesses put off having a business plan, as stated above, I think most just plan on not planning. A sad reality that this blog (http://www.actioncoach.com/blog_display_all.php#80%25+of+Small+Business+without+a+Business+Plan+will+fail) points out is that 80% of businesses are even more likely to fail without a business plan. It took me forever to convince my sister that she even needed a business plan .... now, she admits she does need one but she still doesn't have one. She also didn't have any idea of who her repeat customers were, didn't have a marketing plan, and so forth. Now, I have your podcast to share with her! By the way, the Duct Tape Marketing guy (I believe) is going to be one of the guest speakers for ActionCOACH Reggie Shropshire's "Turning Social Media from Sociable to Profitable" seminar (http://takingyourbusinesstothenextlevel.eventbrite.com/). Looking forward to that as well.

Kelly Parkinson

Hi Pam, This sounds SO COOL! I can't wait to try it out. You actually can test it on your Mac before it's available for Macs. You just need to get one of the crossover programs that will run Windows on Mac. I haven't actually bought one yet for mine, but I've heard VMWare Fusion is one option.

I tried the One-Page Business Plan and feel like I have to keep changing it on a weekly basis. I like the idea of integrating it with a longer marketing plan & a timeline. I'll listen to your podcast & learn more...


Thanks for the pointer! I've been in something of a planning vs. doing fog, and this could be just what I need.


Pam, thank you so much for this suggestion. I recently quit my job in pursuit of changing my life to pursue my passions, and had every intention of getting a business plan written. Problem is, I've filled my schedule well beyond what I can achieve on my own, and the business plan seems to have been the first thing to slip. This is just what I needed. Thanks.


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Francis Wade

On a slightly different note, I happen to be reading a chapter a day from Byron Katie's book "A Thousand Names for Joy."

She says there is no need for plans,and that the key is to tune oneself with reality every day, and to take cues on what to do from there.

Also, I read a book called Goal-Free Living which also made an interesting case for not making specific goals.

It as made me think that planning is useful because it frees the mind to focus on the present with more clarity, and that is its greatest gift.

I find myself someplace in the middle... of all the new and traditional ideas

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