Why It’s Time To Burn Your Business Plan

I once heard that planning is actually just guessing in disguise, and it’s stuck with me since.

I mean think about it: You don’t plan to have a brilliant idea—rather, it hits you as you go about living your life. That’s exactly what the term “lightbulb moment” describes, and it happens completely spontaneously. Planning is more so predicting, and it doesn’t leave much room for improvement or improvisation. Writing a business plan for a business you have yet to start can be limiting because it’s using the past and external influences to make decisions about your future. Setting business goals is one thing, but a pre-written business plan will rarely unfold as outlined—and that’s probably a very good thing!

Business plans often distract you from noticing and paying attention to things you didn’t see coming—things that could help or could harm your business. You become so focused on “sticking to the plan” that it becomes easy to miss or ignore opportunities you didn’t foresee. And, often, anything that deviates from the plan is seen as a no-no when it could be the best thing for your business.

What’s worse is that planning makes you feel in control of things that are often out of your hands, which is a scary place to put yourself. Learning, adjusting as you go and being open to feedback is more important than stressing out over staying the course.

To put it plainly, if you asked an expectant mother to write a plan for raising her child and checked back in with her a years later to see how her plan was going, she’d likely laugh and tell you she used it as a stand-in napkin for baby barf. You simply can’t plan for everything, including (and maybe especially ) your business.

I’m not saying “to hell with business plans!” per se, I’m rather encouraging you to see them for what they are: loose and totally non-precious predictions. There’s nothing wrong with being organized and having a loose notion of the future, but don’t make a long-term plan your bible.

Give yourself some credit; you’re likely smarter and savvier than a stapled document. So rather than wasting time writing a lengthy, typed-out plan for the next decade, make short-term scribbled guesses. Seek feedback, research, and focus on smaller goals. And if you’re a natural planner, just make them bite-sized plans of action you can test and tweak. Learn as you go! Embrace the unknown! What’s worse than the chaos of living and learning? Following a dated map, blindfolded.

This article appeared and was published in Computer Arts Magazine, Issue #237

4 comments
  1. Writing a business plan was the best thing I ever did for my business, without one I wouldn’t have been so driven. My business more than doubled in size after I wrote a plan, and it continues to grow every day since. It’s because I spent time looking at my business as it is now, where I want to take it in the future, and the steps I need to take in order to achieve that.

    If you’re talking about financial forecasts, yeah, it’s a guessing game – we don’t really know whether we are going to increase our profits or grow out business by a certain percentage, it’s all just guesswork. But having a clearly defined path (even if we choose to leave it during the process) means we concentrate on taking crucial steps to improve our business.

    Without a business plan (or some kind of analysis) we can find ourselves drifting along, not really doing much but seeing where our business takes us.

    1. Hey Sophie! That’s awesome, and yes, I think business plan when taken loosely can be a thing of beauty, and congrats on your business! That’s awesome. I agree a plan is a good bouncing off point, but I’m talking about following it down to every word. For me, creating more frequent mini-plans was a far better use of my time than anytime I set out to craft a big kahuna, 500-pager. It always led me, personally, to focus more on my plan and the logistics rather than what’s happening day to day and using intuition. I think a better word for it would be a business reminder or check-point rather than set-in-stone plan. 🙂

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