Predicting the future is impossible, especially in the very early stages.
But this is no excuse to avoid putting a plan together for the upcoming year.
Startup “gurus” and “experts” tend to push back on the idea of putting together a business plan when you’re in the very early stages. They preach that you should instead build things according to what the market wants, test them, then move on.
That’s actually great advice, but it’s misconstrued.
What’s right about it is that it’s impossible to predict the future. We’re going to pivot, and we’re going to adapt, and our idea is going to look different after it gets beat up over and over again by the market.
What’s wrong about it is that people use that as an excuse to not have an approach. It has become an excuse to wing it.
There’s a better way.
Vision, plan, and approach.
There’s a lot of advice out there about why planning is so important.
Lots of business “coaches” and “thought leaders” will tell you about the power of having a super clear vision, concretely set goals, then plan the steps you need to take to get there. These can be good things, and you should follow that advice if it really works for you.
However, I think there’s a flaw with that idea: goals change.
And it’s perfect that they do. We’re exposed to more info, more people, more things, and that reshapes what we want to achieve. That’s how it’s supposed to work, but none of the same people who are telling you to create super clear plans aren’t telling you that’s completely fine for things to change.
For early stage startups, too much is changing to have long term plans.
So instead of long-term plans, I only create short-term plans that build up to a long-term vision. And that is my approach.
The long-term vision comes first.
I think in terms of 12 months out. The vision is something that could happen. It’s realistic, and it’s subject to change.
The reason it’s so important for me to think 12 months out is because it gives me direction. I personally value direction over destination, especially when things change as rapidly as they do in a startup business.
Think about what your product or service could look like in 12 months. Think about what you could be known for by that time. And think about what problem you’re solving by that point.
Next, we’ll think about the next 30 days.
The next 30 days are now your top priority.
Time to put a tactical plan together for the short-term.
The concept is simple: write out the specific things you need to do over the next 30 days in order to start bringing your vision to life.
Be realistic. We’re not trying to be superheroes. We’re not trying to puff our chests out and feel good about creating a huge to-do list. Instead, this list needs to be pretty compact because to-do lists never get shorter in a startup. They only expand.
So think about the exact things you need, and then figure out how to get those things done.
But what if things change?
Things are supposed to change, especially if the market is telling you to change. Change isn’t failure; change is a result of an experiment. That’s exactly what we’re hunting for when we’re just starting out.
If things change, then readjust your vision for 12 months out. If things don’t go according to your 30-day plan, then make your adjustments.
A word of caution: this is the point at which a lot of people throw the baby out with the bath water.
They’ll see that things didn’t go exactly as they planned, so they assumed that the planning didn’t work. Don’t make that mistake. If you choose not to have an approach that involves a long-term vision and a short-term plan, then you won’t have any direction at all. You won’t know what worked and what didn’t. You won’t know what to double down on. You’ll struggle to communicate your vision.
Long-term vision, short-term plan, both are flexible.
This is just one approach: my approach.
I’m not giving you a step-by-step guide, and I can’t promise that this is exactly what you need.
It’s not like every successful startup has used that system. But every incredible entrepreneur who I know has had an approach similar to this, even if it was just in their head.
They had a long-term vision, they thought about what they had to do next, then they readjusted things when the situation called for it.
Take the time now to get direction, and you’ll put yourself in the best position to win in 2017.
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Photo: Flickr/Yudis Asnar