Going Forth Without a Plan

I went to a small business workshop recently and a lot of emphasis was placed on having a business plan. Many small businesses fail, but of those that succeed, they are more likely to have a business plan in place. A modern scientific thinker will conclude from this that everyone with a business needs a business plan, and most small business training and coaching is based on this logic. Despite this, for myself, I feel it is too early to have a highly structured plan.

When I left my paid job last year, I did not have a clear idea of what I was going to do after I returned from overseas. I did have in mind the possibility of opening a consultancy however it was in the area where I had already been working, business process analysis or university administration. It wasn’t until I gave myself some distance from what I had been doing, and time and space to think, that other ideas began to emerge and I become interested in blogging and professional organising. While I was exploring those areas, other directions have also evolved such as a renewed interest in photography and a new curiosity about antiques and collectables.

I like to think of the process I am going through as action research. The professional organising business is in the early stages, and I am gathering information and experiences that can inform a more structured plan if I feel the need of one later on. The photography business is also evolving, and I have been exploring ideas, finding out what works and what doesn’t.

I think there are two main approaches to starting a venture. The first is the Research>Plan>Act> Review model, which is taught in small business training. The second is the Start>Observe>Adjust model, which I am following, and which appeals to many people engaged in creative pursuits. I think both are valid approaches, for different circumstances.

If I was planning to borrow money from the bank to buy into an established franchise, rent premises, buy large quantities of stock and hire staff, I would want a  good business plan. In that case, the shape of much of what I needed to do would be pre-determined as there are many givens. I would need to be clear about my financial expectations for the business to attract investment and to take on the risk of a high capital outlay.

My situation is different, because the ventures I am exploring require a very low capital outlay, which I can supply from my savings. I don’t need to rent premises or hire staff. I don’t need to go into debt. The main risk is that I will spend my savings and not achieve the outcome I had hoped for. Thats a personal risk that I am willing to take.

I was watching an episode of the UK program Grand Designs presented Kevin McCloud last night. The episode featured a family who were aiming to build their own home from sustainable and pre-used materials to a visionary design that the man had in his head. Of course Kevin asked the usual questions, Do you have a plan? Do you have a budget? Do you have a schedule? An the answer was no, not in detail. Of course this made them appear foolish and unprepared because the questions were based on the Research>Plan>Act> Review model, rather than the paradigm on which this couple was operating.

What they had was a creative design, skill in creating custom structures from available materials, a commitment to quality and enjoying the process, a desire to create the details of the design while building, an intention to spend time to do it right, a willingness to invest in the project. This is not a project without a plan; the plan was to engage in a process and adopt a  variety of adaptive behaviours to work towards a vision.

I felt grateful for that episode because it was good to see a model of a more flexible and creative way of approaching life that is similar to what I am trying to do. I could see how the conventional questions and expectations of the outsider did not fit easily with this couple whose approach to life did not fit in with popular wisdom on what constitutes competence and success.

The house that was emerging by the end of the episode of Grand Designs was beautiful, unique and charming. It wasn’t finished by the end of filming, but they were OK with that. The outcome was the embodiment of a vision, although many of the details had emerged during building, in response to the specifics of the process it unfolded. It would not have been the same building if it had been planned out in detail from the outset.

If you know what you want, and a model already exists, it makes sense to go after it. However when it comes to constructing a lifestyle, I would rather go for the handcrafted version. I don’t want a franchise life.

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