I love the attached article. It’s witty, I instantly relate to it and most importantly, it speaks common sense. The sort of common sense my friends, my team and I have had to apply countless times to the ideas that we’ve had in the past – and still have. Some of them, I’ll be honest, are completely hare-brained. And more than one or two have had to be shelved because while after a G&T or two, they sounded absolutely brilliant and world-changing, in the stark light of the morning and with a hefty dash of realism applied, it was all too evident that they were destined for ‘floppery’ before we’d even pass go.
But you have to dare to dream, right? You have to permit yourself to bounce around the impossible ideas, because within those electric sessions when everything in the world seems possible, the seeds of something that could be, just might be, the next big thing shake out. Elon Musk is a fantastic source of inspirational quotes on this topic. Barely a day goes by when at least one from him doesn’t come across my twitter feed. But there’s one that really sticks in my mind every time I see it – and I think it’s worth remembering: ‘if something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it’. You have to feel a passion to want to do this. Without that passion, you’re going to find it hard enough to motivate yourself in the months of slog ahead, let alone to persuade others to join you and believe in this vision. As Deliveroo’s co-founder, Will Shu, shared at our recent media launch event: ‘don’t set out to create etsy for pets (Petsy?!), if you don’t like animals…’. You’re likely doomed to fail!
So is there a magic formula for knowing whether you’re on to a great thing? Sadly, I think there isn’t. Or at least, we haven’t found it yet and neither have the many entrepreneurs with whom we regularly bounce ideas and discuss learnings. Everyone finds their own way in the end.
But there are a number of things that you can sensibly do to give yourself the best prospects of success. Starting with a great plan is vital. This is often one of the least comfortable parts – and it’s right up-front, just when you’re still riding a bit of creative euphoria and you don’t want to come down, let alone dissect and dismember your great idea before you’ve even got started. If you’re serious about making this thing work though, you absolutely need to come through this and make sure that you’re not at risk of believing your own ‘guff’. It’s a good foundation for future ‘interrogations’ by others, including potential investors, for whom you need to be prepared. They’ll expect you to know what customer pain-point you’re resolving and whether there are real prospects of sales attached to what you propose. So make sure your idea has solid foundations. Only then, when someone tells you you’re crazy (as most innovators (large and small) have been told at some point early on in their business development process), can you allow yourself that wry smile and permission to shrug it off with the confidence that it doesn’t matter, because you’re in the ‘start-up club’ now and you know you’re on to a good thing.
There’s tons of advice available on how to write the best plan and what it should contain and truthfully – speaking as someone who has recently gone through this exercise once more - it can be a bit overwhelming. The 15 questions below are a great start to warm you up. After that, success is more about testing and recording something thoroughly (which doesn’t mean writing a treatise!) as it is about using a particular format or formula. A good plan will cover a number of key topics, from what you’ll sell and how you’ll produce it – including who may be helping you to get it to market – to how you’ll protect your creativity and ensure that what makes you different stays within your control and prevents copycats as far as possible.
One really good way to start structuring a business plan is to work backwards – and I know this sounds a bit perverse, but it works for me and it will really help you to examine your idea through the right lens. Imagine that you’ve had your first order placed and you need to spring into action to fulfil it. Working backwards from your happy client who is in receipt of your wonderful efforts, create a detailed time-line by re-tracing every action and activity that you or your product/service has undergone to get to that end goal. This requires proper attention to detail. Don’t forget who helped you, how they helped you, what their relationship was to you, how you established that relationship and what arrangements or expectations underpin it – they might be an employee, a distributor or an agent, a supplier, a landlord – maybe even a local authority or regulator responsible for necessary business licenses or other permissions affecting your business premises. The more detail you can add to this timeline, the more likely you are to cover everything essential in your plan.
This is because once you’ve completed your reverse time-line, you can start focusing on the detail of each of the elements you’ve identified and put them in the right order.
At each stage, start asking yourself what do I need to make this stage successful? What are the risks of me not getting it right or of someone letting me down? How do I take sensible steps to avoid that? What’s it going to cost me at this stage? Am I going to have to make payments up-front or could I get them on account? How do I want to take or make delivery of things and what is my ideal position on length of time for this stage. You can cover all the attached questions as part of this process.
Once you’ve completed it, test it by starting from the beginning of your idea through to your successful sale and check you haven’t missed anything obvious out.
Don’t worry – you don’t need all the answers, you don’t need fancy desk-top publishing skills and you don’t need to write a lot. Just getting this far means you’re on a great course to putting in place a robust business plan and making your big idea a great business prospect. To see a working illustration of the reverse time-line method that I use and for more info on business planning and all the sorts of considerations that you should ideally include when you’re starting out, take a look at our free guide to Getting Started
Best of luck. Dream big.
Here are 15 questions to ask before you waste time, money and blab about how great it is going to be to all your friends. 1. Do You Solve a Problem? It's been said that necessity is the mother of invention. If that's true, then it's the nursemaid of entrepreneurialism. Riddle yourself this: How does your allegedly great idea make somebody's life easier? How does it save people time and/or money? If your business idea doesn't solve a problem, then it's already got a strike against it.