A Business Plan Isn’t About the Document

Most organisations I’ve worked in and worked with, begrudge business planning.  Not because they don’t know how, but because it didn’t add a lot of value last time they did it.

But why doesn’t it add value?  The problem lies in the lack of direction it contains and how it’s used once it’s created.

“The value of a map comes from the direction you take from it

— Matthew Dunstan

Instead of a document, we need a roadmap.  Something that guides the evolution of the business, gives us concrete milestones and acts as a filter for every day decisions and actions.


When we crossed the Atlantic, we didn’t just point the boat east and start sailing.  We planned a route with a number of major waypoints along the way. Even when circumstances would force us off course, the overall plan still held true.  Our goal was clear.  Our route, chosen for all the right reasons, was still valid. Our waypoints still gave us a short term focus, helping us break the endeavour down into manageable pieces.


I believe business plans need this same approach.  A destination, a broad plan describing how you’re going to get there and a series of waypoints to guide you day to day.  You can document this in a number of ways, but my favourite is to show it in a Gantt chart or flow chart format.  It allows you to capture the direction, strategy and sequence on a single page that is easy to communicate and review.

[we’re running a Business Planning Masterclass in July to help leaders and entrepreneurs craft better business plans]


Of course crafting the plan is just the start.  Nothing happens without execution and this is the second challenge for business plans and those responsible for them.

Instead of regarding it as a job done, the business plan should drive the agenda of your management meetings.  To illustrate, here’s a sample of a standing management meeting agenda I use with clients.  We start every management meeting with these 3 items:

  1. Touch base with the overall plan
    • Where we’re headed & why we care (vision, mission, goals)
    • Our plan to get there (strategy, roadmap, & immediate milestones)
  2. Progress against the immediate milestone
    • Report on action items from each stakeholder
  3. New opportunities or threats to the business.
    • Validate against the plan


Starting the meeting ‘with the end in mind’ (Covey), is a great way to keep everyone on the same page and most importantly, align the actions and initiatives of the team to your plan for the business.  It helps keep the focus at a strategic level and acts as a useful filter against which you can review actions, ideas and opportunities:

  • If they contribute to or accelerate the plan, they’re in.
  • If they relate to a milestone further down the track, they’re parked.
  • If they’re not aligned to the plan, they’re out.

[Further reading: Entrepreneur’s Shiny Ball Syndrome]

With a clear direction and roadmap a business plan can act as a valuable tool guiding the day to day operations of the business.  So dust it off, reduce it to a flow chart and get it onto the management meeting agenda.

Strategic oversight and consistent implementation will focus your resources and drive your business faster than anything else.

[Rising Tide Ventures will be holding a series of Business Planning Masterclasses during July.  You can find out more or register here]


Why Your Marketing Doesn’t Work

If marketing has been around since the 1960’s, why is it still so hard to get it right?

For decades a lot of very smart people have been trying to work out how to market a business.  And yet despite all that work, we’re still no clearer.  Our efforts are no more effective. Results and return on investment are still out of reach for the majority of business owners.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

— John Wanamaker


In my experience the problem lies in the fact that we think of marketing like speed dating – we try something, it doesn’t work.  We try something else – that doesn’t work either…and so on.

Like speed dating, you might stumble across someone interesting (but if you do, it will be by accident).  Like speed dating, it might lead somewhere…but probably won’t!

Instead of trying to find a partner through a series of one night stands, we need to plan a courtship and to do that, we need to think broader than the stand alone marketing activities that most businesses engage in.


We all have our favourite marketing tactics and that’s ok.  For some it’s events, for others it’s adwords.  Networking and social media are other popular tactics at the moment.

The common mistake however, is that these tactics stand alone like an island at sea.  There’s no bridge to, or from them.  And this is the problem with most marketing plans.  It’s not that the tactics are bad – it’s just that they lack something upstream to feed them and something downstream to follow them.  In most marketing plans this doesn’t exist.


The opportunity is to design a marketing pipeline that sits above your sales pipeline.  One that engages your target market and takes them on a journey before you start a sales conversation.

It might sound harder or less direct than a calendar of stand-alone marketing tactics but there are a number of advantages to doing it this way:

  1. Clarity: In defining your marketing waterfall, you’re defining the demand generation model for your business. Once you know what it is, you know how to grow the business.
  2. Efficiency: Now that you’re not switching from one tactic to another, you can focus your budget and efforts for best effect.  Your marketing becomes a streamlined set of connected activities rather than a children’s lucky dip.
  3. A healthier pipeline. By focusing your efforts in the right places and at the right times, the results start to flow in a more consistent manner. Done well, you end up with a pipeline of prospects who are prequalified and presold.
  4. Return on Investment:  With a designed marketing waterfall in place, you’re now able to track the key metrics of acquisition and conversion at each stage.  This allows you to make informed decisions about which tactics are working, which need to be rethought and a measure of your marketing ROI.


One of the great things I love about this approach is that it can be right sized to all businesses.  I used this model at Microsoft when I ran a team of marketing managers, but I’ve also implemented it for sole-operators. It works at a scale of one, but the sophistication can grow with the resources available in the organisation.

(Marketing Waterfall design is a core component of our “Strategies for Growth” Workshops – a popular series we run for leadership teams, entrepreneurs and marketing managers – you can read more about them here).

So take a fresh look at your marketing efforts.  Are you courting your prospects or are you trying to sleep with them on the first date?  Is your marketing producing results or like most, are you randomly engaging the market and hoping that if you make enough noise it will pay off?

For most, there’s a great opportunity to design a better growth strategy. One which is easier to implement, is a better experience for your prospects and which has a more positive and direct impact on your bottom line.