The Keys to Entrepreneurial Planning

In January 1995, I was invited to speak to the Planning Forum in Vancouver to talk about what I thought were the keys to entrepreneurial planning. These are my notes.

Entrepreneurial Planning: Experiences and Insights

Thank you very much for the invitation to come and talk to you. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I have learned and what I would advise. I have had the good fortune to successfully start two firms. Luck plays a large part in what happens but, as Woody Allen says, the trick is how to improve your chances.

I am making the assumption that I am talking to the following audiences

  • Would-be entrepreneurs-in-waiting who could be interested in exploring how to get started
  • Entrepreneurs who could be interested in exploring how to be more successful
  • Career professionals who could be interested in ideas, insights, and information that could be useful in personal or corporate enterprise, and
  • Planners who are interested in planning for creating the future

I am going to break my talk into four parts

  • How we went about starting Go Direct Marketing and what advice I would give about starting a business based on what I learned
  • What I have learned about how to plan in a small business environment and what advice I would give to a small business owner now
  • How we go about our business planning now at Go Direct Marketing and what I think is most important to successful planning regardless of the size or type of business, and
  • What I see coming, and what I think it means for how we plan for the future.

By way of introduction, my area of specialty in management consulting was strategic planning. Planning was my occupation. Planning is now my preoccupation. For me, there is only planning and doing.

My view of Planning

Planning is management. Not part of management. Not separate from management. Planning is determining what to do to influence an outcome, – to get more revenue, – to get better, – to get ready. And the resources available to plan with are your time, your resources, and people. People are not yours, – only to influence.

Part One: Starting Go Direct marketing

The question is why I started a new business. Why? I wanted to have more upside potential. I wanted to create some equity. I wanted more leverage. I wanted more ability to influence events. I wanted more freedom, – more fun, – and less risk.

My first step was to get clear on what I wanted. I began by defining my ideal business criteria. My criteria was based on what I had learned from my experience and what I knew about myself and my interests. I used this to select ideas and opportunities to explore as possibilities.

When the idea of what became Go Direct Marketing appeared, my new partners and I set out a five year business plan laying out what we would do, how we would do, when we would do, and what we imagined would happen. Does it hold water? Is it do-able? What is the risk? What do we do first? The most critical consideration was who we would need. What people would be most critical to our ability to make it happen?

When we thought we were ready, we laid out a one year plan with a fall back position, and opened the doors.

What would I advise anyone planning to start a business?

  1. Be clear on what you want.
  2. Paint the vision. There is a difference between starting a small business and starting a business small.
  3. Do what you like.
  4. Do what you are good at. Don’t go into someone else’s business
  5. Do the “what ifs”
  6. Know the downside and be sure you are up for the risk.
  7. Have a back door.
  8. Get in the game. Act

Part Two: What I have learned about how to plan in a small business environment.

1. Know what good business is

Take anything you can get at first but determine your criteria for good business early. What kind of business to do, who to do business for, how to do business, and who to do business with. Do the business case and stop and reappraise every six months at a minimum to ensure you feel good about the business you are doing.

Our criteria for good business

  • Work only for clients we believe we can make successful
  • Work for clients with a possibility for long term relationship
  • Work for clients with a threshold minimum value with upside potential
  • Work for clients who are fun to work with and who we want to make successful
  • Do business we feel good about doing
2. Plan for success

If it isn’t likely, don’t try it
Go for short term rewards
Don’t work with square pegs and sow’s ears
Manage your own expectations

3. Invest in Relationships

It is all about people; customers, suppliers, employees, partners.
Relationships are everyone’s most valuable asset
Relationships give you the ability to influence what happens
Nurture and protect your relationships
Add value to your relationships

4. Be true to your values

A deal is a deal; no surprises
If you wouldn’t do it, don’t recommend it
If you wouldn’t buy it, don’t sell it
Honest, integrity, morality
Fair exchange
Good value for money

5. Have a long term view

Focus on what you can be; the corporate dream
Never look the money in the eye
Don’t worry about your competition; let them worry about you
Have a long term view BUT focus on the short term

6. Create a safe environment

Get everyone involved; the best plans are collaborative
Almost everything you need to know is in the shop

7. Never miss an opportunity to learn

Learn why something went wrong. Would you do it the same way?
Forget the big new ideas. Steal the ideas that are out there and do them better

On a personal note

1. Don’t take it personal

Your own business is a personal thing; watch your ego

2. Cherish time

Time is our most valuable resource; non-renewable
Increase its value; maximize leverage

3. Learn how to trust your gut

You don’t have the time; you don’t have the resources
It’s visceral; how does it feel; go with your gut

Part Three: How do we go about our business planning now?

1. It is all we do

It is our preoccupation
Everyone is a planner
Personal plans; planning time, planning actions, planning influence
Everyone is a manager

2. All meetings are planning meetings

Regular weekly meetings
Regular monthly meetings
Regular quarterly meetings
Ad hoc meetings
One exception

3. Always outcomes; only outcomes

One to two pages
Immediate to short term

4. Objectives clear

Get more revenue
Get better
Get ready

5. How are we doing?

Feel good
Feel concerned
Scale of 1 to 10

Part Four: What I see coming and what I think it means.

Changes I see
  • Paradigm shifts
  • Seller to buyer
  • Paper to electronic
  • Knowledge is the commodity
  • Relationships are the asset
  • Business of the value add; what do you contribute that others don’t
Advice I am taking
1. Keep a long view and a wide view

Nurture the dream
Be aware of the possibilities

2. Be prepared for the possibilities

What if?

3. Pay attention

Watch trends: read everything
Stay alert for opportunities
Believe in serendipity; synchronicity; be open

4. Concentrate on keeping your customers and increasing their value
5. Invest in relationships
6. Stay lean; concentrate on value added
7. Keep a loose ship
8. Be prepared to abandon ship
9. Bill early and often


What I have learned and what I would advise now.

What I see more clearly now is that we are all entrepreneurs. We are all engaged in our own personal enterprise, – in our own creative enterprise, – in creating our life, – in creating our possibilities, – in creating our story.

What I see more clearly now is that we can become more successful in our individual enterprises and in the enterprises we are contributing to creating by learning the art of creative entrepreneurship, – the art of creating possibilities with our experience, with our creative interests, and with the story we are creating.

Creative entrepreneurship begins by imagining and articulating the story we want to create, – the story of what we are doing and how what we are doing and what we are creating contributes to the interests of others, – the story we want to create with others around interests we have in common.

Learning the art of creative entrepreneurship is

  • learning the art of creating with our experience
  • learning the art of creating community around the interests of the enterprises we are part of, involved in, and contributing to creating
  • learning the art of creating the story we are imagining for ourselves
  • learning the art of exciting creative entrepreneurship, – the art of creative leadership

Creative connections

Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship
Centre for Creative Enterprise
Centre for Creative Leadership
Creative Community Enterprise