To start: focus on your business plan

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This article appeared in the 1 April, 2008 issue of CRN magazine.

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To start: focus on your business plan
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Last month I set the scene for this series of articles on business. In that piece, I used the metaphor of making sure all your tools are sharp before you use them and I talked a little about the pleasure of using them when they are truly sharp.

This month I want to begin the process of looking at each tool of the business in a bit more depth with the hope that you may be able to really sharpen each of your tools and get from them their true value to your business.

The obvious first tool, and the one that is the subject of this month’s article, is and should be the business plan tool as this is where it should all begin.

When I first arrived at Apple Computer Australia as the new marketing director, one of the first tasks assigned to me by the then managing director was to do the business plan for the coming fiscal year.

Where do I start, was the first question I asked myself. In a flash of brilliance I thought it might be a good idea to have a look at the business plan from the previous year as I felt that would give me an idea of what was expected.

I found it on a shelf in one of the marketing offices and literally dusted it off so I could have a read of it and from it draw some inspiration.

There were about 60 pages of the jolly thing, many of which had been required by head office in Cupertino, USA, as well as a lot of required spreadsheets for the financials.

As I read through it, I saw that a heck of a lot of very good work had been done to produce this treatise for the business and, as I asked people about each of the projects outlined therein, I found out that although they were written into the business plan they had never been implemented. What a shame. Some of the projects, I thought, were really very good and very innovative. Apple was a darned good company and in particular, the people at Apple were very innovative and creative.

I could go on and on about this but I won’t. I want to get to the lessons to be learnt from this exercise and see if they have some relevance to the way I think about the business plan tool today.

Lesson 1 – size does matter

No one is going to read and digest 60 pages of a business plan. Maybe even the creator won’t read it fully, having been the one to pull all the various pieces together.

If it is more than 10 pages plus a one-page business plan as an executive summary, it is probably going to be ineffective depending on the size of the business – ie BHP probably has a whopper but the individual business operating units may well have workable business plans that are a practical size for what they are trying to do.

I guess I would like to see a business plan that was succinct enough so that everyone in the team that is going to use it can read it, understand it and can go about implementing those parts of it that are relevant to them.
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