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Confessions about my business plan

07 March 2011

As I reflect on my business life I laugh at the seemingly chaotic route I have taken. I head up my own speaking | training | coaching company, have a small group of staff and have survived global recessions, axing of the training guarantee scheme and got through the global financial crisis. How? By being adaptable and reading customer needs and trends and moving into new markets, with my business plan closely beside me. Oops, I lie. I have no business plan. Oh no! Now you know. I keep reading on how I must have one. How I won't succeed without one, and what a mess I'll end up in if it's not constantly by my side.

Instead, as I look back I see I have had another even more important business strategy - adaptation and flexibility. Maybe reinvention is the best word to describe my core business strategy. I reinvent myself and my business as I see new trends and needs emerging. I see other businesses fail as they hold rigidly to one idea, one type of business and a set plan.

Let me give you just three examples of how my business has evolved without a plan.

First example. I am in Melbourne stranded by an airline strike. Five days later I finally leave Melbourne on the Indian Pacific, the only way I can get home. The train is full. I am allocated a dining table with the same three people for the whole trip - a businessman, a clairvoyant, and a professor of social work! Quite a mix. Out of that journey I gain a new business partner. Was I looking for one? No. If I had been, would I have searched for a professor in social work? No. Did my work with him take my business in a good and new direction? Absolutely. No planning would have taken me there. I learnt heaps, I made new contacts, and we developed great training courses together.

Second example. I go to a book launch. A friend had written a book and wanted me to go to his celebration. I enter a huge oval full of people, none of whom I know. I see my friend sitting at a table signing his books and surrounded by a queue of people. I stand not knowing what to do and feeling dreadfully awkward, stupid and shy. After 20 minutes I leave. Networking is not my thing.

That night the phone rang. It was my friend berating me for not staying. I explained how bad I felt to which he replied, \"Call yourself a communication specialist and you can't even do small talk?\" Good point I thought. For the next two years or so I taught myself small talk and networking skills.

Then one day I wondered whether anyone else found small talk and conversations difficult. I contacted UWA Extension for whom I was already working and said, \"Do you think anyone would be interested in attending a course on small talk and conversation skills?\" There was only a little enthusiasm to find out. \"Let's put on a course at Summer School and find out if we get any enrolments,\" I said. The course was advertised. It filled. Not only that, but we ran three courses immediately as we had so many enrolments.

Those steps changed the course of my business. For the next ten years I provided conversation and networking courses for UWA Extension. We produced CDs on it, I train corporate executives in it, and my latest DVD is on \"Business networking\" recorded live at the CCI. it is a core part of my business, I love the work and I do it really well. Would I ever have got there with a business plan? I think not.

My final example relates to a client. I provide 1-1 coaching in presentation skills and one day a university academic came for coaching. She had booked in for presentation skills and I was expecting her to be giving a speech at a conference, but she asked me to help her become a better master of ceremonies. I hadn't done this before but the session went well. Afterwards I collated all the ideas and thought, \"Why don't I write an E-book on this?\". So I did. It's our best selling product and has sold in over 40 countries world-wide, and still sells on an almost daily basis.

My core strategy is to listen to what people want and are asking for, and to stay open to opportunities as they present themselves. No business plan!

Do we need business plans as much as we are told or can they limit us? Would I have done even better with one? Tell me your thoughts and experiences.