One Piece of Paper, Four Simple Questions: Business Plans 101

I offered to help a family member with a business plan. I was so excited when he took me up on the offer, I dashed off a note saying, “Here’s where you start.”

Back when I was in b-school, entrepreneurship professor Wendell Dunn had us write one page venture papers.

Yes, we might have world beating business ideas, but we needed to be able to describe them on one piece of paper.

He also assigned us approximately 10 pounds of reading. I derived the 4 questions from one of these articles. I have to admit that there was a brown-nosing, toady-ish, element to my derivation of the questions. I was thinking, “How can I get my idea across in one page, and have the result meet the professor’s approval?”

Oh yeah, I’ll look at what he assigned us to read.

I’m looking for the article, so I can cite it here. But today, a serious number of years later, these questions have become so part of my DNA that I was able to spin them out in a 2 minute email between meetings during the workday. (That is good teaching. Thank you, Wendell.)

  • What is the opportunity?
  • Why am I the person to bring this opportunity to life?
  • What resources will I need?
  • How will I get them?

In the following posts, I’ll explore each of these questions, and also talk about business planning software (I’m against it) and some good books to read.

But if you want to write a business plan — whether you’re a yoga teacher or massage therapist who works on your own, or you’ve invented something better than TiVo, or you want to grow your existing business into a new arena — where do you start?

One piece of paper.

You’re Fired!

If you’ve had the TV on at all in the last couple of years, it would have been difficult to escape the sight of Donald Trump firing people. (I haven’t watched the show, but the ads were always there!)

David Koeppel, writing in the NY Times, offers cogent and practical advice about firing people, making the key point that you should treat people with dignity. Seems commonsensical, more than even conscious!

(And related reading, I’m in the middle of The Manager’s Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Build Great Companies, by Steve Harrison. He links treating people well with building a culture of ethical behavior in your firm, among other benefits.)

Koeppel points out that treating people with respect may help small firms to avoid lawsuits. I’ve also read that doctors who apologize when medical errors are made are less likely to be sued.

Unless you’re Donald Trump, you don’t want to be sued. For one thing, it is expensive. Many large firms make a business decision to avoid the cost of litigation; when employees sue, they settle.

Paying someone you’ve fired hits your bottom line hard. Even more critical, you will never get back the energy spent dealing with even the threat of a lawsuit.

More often than not — in large and small firms — faulty hiring decisions lead to these sorts of bad endings.

The truly incompetent employee is pretty rare: there are mainly hiring managers who haven’t asked the right questions.

What are the basic responsibilities and competencies of the job? What is the culture of your company, and what are the characteristics of the people who fit in?

You need to know the right questions to ask to test for competency and “fit”…and even more important, how to ask these questions.

The Times article is worth printing for future reference, in the unfortunate event that you do need to let go of an employee.

And stay tuned for more thoughts and resources on how to make good hiring decisions.