startRegular readers of Merge will know that I wrestle mightily with this question. I fully acknowledge how much of a buzz kill the planning process can be to the energy and momentum of a start-up concept. This sentiment is well stated in the comment I received after my last “…business plan?” post, by Josh from Cubicle Ninjas:

“I think business plans are a stalling mechanism. Instead of finding one more client, or making one customer extra happy, they’re an excuse to delay what should be done today.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to Josh’s comment. Planning, if undertaken at the wrong time, in the wrong way, and with the wrong purpose can do more harm than good. With that said, I believe that if you strive to build a business with an ambitious vision—one that builds from idea to business to company to movement (as Jim Collins maps out in the INC. Magazine interview I profiled last month)—then you will need to have conversations with people outside your existing network. In order to have those conversations, you need to document your idea, and that document is your plan—in whatever form it takes.

I’ve been rereading Guy Kawasaki’s outstanding The Art of the Start (a must-read for creative entrepreneurs) in which the author takes a refreshing approach to the early stages of business development. “The hardest thing about getting started is getting started,” he states, “no one ever achieved success by planning for gold.”

Instead of laying out a rigid mandate for early business planning, Guy Kawasaki suggests some key questions that you must answer about your business model, most importantly:
Who has your money in their pockets?
How are you going to get it into your pockets?

Ironically, the answers to these questions are integral to any business plan, so I think Kawasaki is—in a rather sneaky way—getting us to begin business planning without getting psyched out about it.

Perhaps the most resonant line regarding planning from The Art of the Start is “good enough is good enough.” Kawasaki insists that there will be “plenty of time for refinement later.” For me, the tension between activating and planning is the pivotal and fascinating issue for creative entrepreneurs…to be continued.

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Picture 3In a follow up to the Firebelly podcast from last week…
I caught an interesting sidebar in the Minneapolis StarTribune this morning about BrandLab, a spin off of Minneapolis agency Olson with a mission to increase the abysmally low levels of kids from diverse cultural/social/economic backgrounds entering the design and ad biz. BrandLab is a non-profit that partners with Minneapolis high schools to bring industry pros into the classroom to connect with this vital student population. I’ll follow up with more on BrandLab in the future—it seems like a Merge kinda concept.