Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Mature Business Plan (Tradecraft)

"So if you don't have an updated business plan, do you just look at the previous year and try to do better?"

"Well, ahh, yeah."

I had a business plan when I first started and it saved my life. My mantra was stick to the plan. As the business continued to prosper and evolve, the plan was always in the back of my mind, but eventually it became an artifact of our history, rather than a living document. It's so old, at the time I didn't even have the name of the store sorted out:

This is not to say I don't do businessy plan things. Every year I write an annual report for stockholders that does an industry analysis, looks at threats and opportunities, and includes those wonky financial reports that I've grown to love and hate. I handed those to a business broker this week who encouraged me to write a new plan.

Note they didn't say update my plan, because if it hasn't been updated in 14 years, I essentially don't have a plan. I don't intend to sell the business, but having a plan is integral to any sort of hand off, including if something were to happen to me along this journey. I also know no experienced retailer will ever believe their business is marketable, so they're all reading this with skepticism right now. I would have to actually sell before they believed it was possible.

When I first realized I needed a plan, there was quite a bit of pride and a tinge of resentment. I just wrote a damn book about the trade, and keeping my ego in check was never a strong suit. I fantasized my first paragraph would start:

Look here bitches....

A new business plan for a new store is a lot of research, industry analysis, a mission statement and financials that are more wishful thinking than likely outcomes. It's an endearing attempt to show you did your homework, and might be useful to convince a friend or close relative to invest. But an established business plan?

That challenges every aspect of my knowledge of the industry and my business. Where do I think the industry is going? What's likely to happen in the next five years with our current location? How do I truly feel about my management team? Or our ability (or inability) to manage? How do I handle marketing when social media, our primary method, is in turmoil? And those financials... How optimistic should I be and should I base it on past performance even though we're in new waters? Most importantly, and this has certainly changed along the way: What is my mission? I think all the anxiety surrounds that last question, because I'm certain I'm off course when it comes to my mission.

When I was in high school I spent half a semester in "bonehead english" due to a scheduling conflict. We had ridiculous writing assignments like: Describe the changes you would make if you were king of the world. I would go to town and draw on my D&D fantasies and write an elaborate treatise about how things would be if I were king. The other kids would kick back and pace themselves on this joke of an assignment. The meta of this, the point of the exercise, was to keep us busy while the wrestling coach read his magazines.* Who was the bonehead here?

An established business plan needs to keep the meta in mind, the point of the exercise. You have a business that's profitable, so no need to posture. Just describe how you'll make it better and more successful for the foreseeable future, for anyone who decides to become a stakeholder. Who knows, maybe the plan will become a guide. Maybe the mission will present itself, if you choose to accept it.

* Eventually I got moved to a regular english class and the teacher would publicly praise me for my adequate work, much to the irritation of my friends who knew I wasn't a (complete) bonehead. 

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