Monday, January 25, 2010

the secret truth about business plans...

As an enterprise/business advisor (a graduate of 2 university degrees in business, a member of various professional bodies, and published by peer review on business support), I've had a lot of time to think about business plans.

And there's a lot of stuff about them out there: courses, books, templates, on-line tools and programmes, consultants offering to write yours for you...

However, there always seems to be an underlying assumption that whenever you start to talk about trading or doing business that the universe demands you create a business plan, or else yoru venture will automatically fail, you'll be subject to horrible plagues and the world will end... (OK, maybe I exaggerated those last points a bit).

But I have a rather unusual view as a business advisor - you don't always need a business plan.

In fact, I think that there will only ever be 3 reasons why creating a business plan would be a good use of your time (and if you identify with them, they can often help you to focus your thinking and efforts to make the process a lot easier too):

1) Paranoia - you've never created an enterprise before, or run a business, so how do you know you've not forgotten or missed something? Post-mortems on most failed businesses show that they failed because of seomthing that with hindsight could have been picked up sooner and fixed.

2) Time Capsule - at the outset, you've a clear idea as to how this thing will work, what it will generate and how everything fits neatly together. But the world is messy and full of surprises - if you're not careful, you end up taking on lots of new things which start to pull you away from your original hopes and aims. As such, you can suddenly find yourself not enjoying what you do, running an enterprise you don't recognise, and generally being unhappy - all of which is avoidable if you have the opportunity for a 'reality check' every so often: compare what's happening with what you thought and hoped would in your plan; if they don't match think carefully about what you might want to do about it to get things back on track.

3) Ambassador - if you are going to ask anyone for any type of money, you'll be asked for a business plan: something that explains with no prior knowledge on the part of the money person, who you are, what you're doing and why/how its going to work.

And because you can't always guarantee that you'll be there to present it in person, it should represent your character in some way too, so get creative with using pictures, language and so on - don't let it be another boring thing someone has to read...

And that's it.

If you don't think that any of the above apply, nor ever will, then spend your time doing something more enjoyable.

But if you think that you do need to do one... well, that's another blog on the easy way to write business plans...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Why we should include poetry in enterprise education

There is a school of thought that entrepreneurs are either born or can be 'taught'; either way, entrepreneurs tend to exhibit certain character traits - passion, imagination, seeking to direct their own lives and not be dictated to by others as to how they should work, seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary...

All traits that are also common amongst poets - poets who, over the centuries, have challenged our views of the world in ways that entrepreneurs do today and in doing so inspired us, changed the way we act and ultimately changed the way the world works.

Surely then there's a lot for today's entrepreneurs to gain from looking to this richer source of guidance, instruction, understanding and inspiration which just doesn't seem to be happening anywhere.

As an (initially) closing thought - consider this passage from William Blake's 'Jerusalem', first written in 1803:

"I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Mans;
I will not Reason and Compare; my business is to Create."

Monday, January 4, 2010

if we don't value our people more, social enterprise will be lost...

The recently published national Careers and Salary Survey 2009/10 (regeneration & renewal 09/21/09) makes for sobering reading for the social enterprise sector:

1) future career opportunities and prospects in social enterprise are felt to be more affected and limited by changes to funding regimes than in the private and public sector;

2) social enterprise (while it may 'punch above its weight') apparently pays its people less than is fair - typical sector salaries see directors of social enterprises being paid less than managers in the public and private sectors, and officer posts in social enterprise usually offer less pay than officer assistant posts in public and private sectors...

3) and perhaps most alarming of all is that more than 60% of people currently working in social enterprise don't expect to still be working in this sector in 5 years time!

But there is a glimmer of good news: it seems that the training that social enterprises offer their employees is felt by them as being more valuable and useful than that offered by the private and public sectors.

This is surely a serious wake-up call: there are various strategies and policies around how social enterprise is going to save the world, but in all the hype and excitement we must be careful to remember that we can only do so if our people feel valued in doing so, and we can retain them for the journey.