Back in college I spent 100+ hours working on a full 50-page business plan for the Duke Startup Challenge. Everything was meticulously spelled out in painstaking detail with projections out to two decimal places. After submitting the plan I waited, and waited, only to hear back that I didn’t make it past the first round. Crushed.
Without third-party approval of my idea, Hannon Hill would never be successful. I needed external validation. I needed to be told that my idea would succeed. Not true. I didn’t need anyone’s approval. The only thing I needed was a customer. And that’s what I did — pushed forward with a failed business plan and focused on the customer. We signed up one customer, and then another, building one of the most important content management systems for higher education.
As an entrepreneur, I oscillate between planning and doing. Mentally, I know that working on the business is more important than working in the business, but I’m predisposed to getting stuff done — doing is my default. Of course, as the startup grows more time needs to be spent planning, and just as important, aligning the team and getting buy-in.
On the planning side, my favorite tool is the Simple Strategic Plan. Over the years I’ve tried a number of different worksheets and exercises but none are as comprehensive and easy to follow. The most important thing: implement a planning process and run the process on a regular basis (at least quarterly).
Entrepreneurs need to find a balance between planning and doing. Early days require more doing and later years require more planning. Recognize the need and act accordingly.