Jim Duffy: Bin business plan for more realistic option

One thing is for sure, folks, the Holy Bible has passed the test of time.

Jim Duffy says the Bible, unlike many business plans, takes human nature into account. Picture: Ian Howarth
Jim Duffy says the Bible, unlike many business plans, takes human nature into account. Picture: Ian Howarth
Jim Duffy says the Bible, unlike many business plans, takes human nature into account. Picture: Ian Howarth

There are so many versions of it out there for sale, but it is safe to say that thousands of years after all the books were put together in the Old Testament and the New Testament, it is still a bestseller.

Why? Well, there are great stories that point us to wisdom. There are some adaptations of history. And of course, for many there is the strong emotional attachment to God and his son, Jesus. It is this emotional attachment that is very powerful.

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And, oddly, it made me think the other day about many of the business plans I have read and still do. Why are they so dull, lifeless and lacking in emotional creativity? Why did they not connect and land well with others?

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Perhaps they ought to be a bit more biblical in nature… A business plan is a bit like an MOT for your car. It’s only as good as the day it was written or passed the test. But, business plans are still relevant. A good plan will highlight how the business is going to reach its customers.

I spoke with an entrepreneur only last week, who told me he needed my help to write a business plan. Tell me about your new venture, I said.

He then proceeded to tell me all about his product and how he would take it to market. His “go to market” strategy was really sound. It was straightforward — common sense that I felt would work.

He then talked me through his pricing and how he would build his team. All going well, I thought. Finally, he talked about his numbers and how he would use his cash in year one and how he would monitor it. He planned to breakeven by the end of the year and then he would go out and seek some investment to ramp things up. I could feel his passion and emotion as he eagerly talked me through it all. So, why do you need a business plan, I asked. Because I’ve been told I do…

Don’t get me wrong, a business plan focuses the mind and for lending institutions, it allows them to tick off risk mitigation and, more importantly, how they will get their money back. But, all the work that goes into a business plan I feel gets wasted because as soon as the plan is put into action it will fall down.

It’s 2D in a 3D world. That is why the Bible still works for so many. It takes into account human nature, frailties, treachery, bad management and leadership. It covers people falling out and having big fights. Whereas the humble business plan takes no cognisance of this side of life.

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What the entrepreneur who pitched his business to me did not mention was the human stuff that would happen along the way to him breaking even. And this is also something that you cannot contextualise in a business plan.

For example, you can have a pretty solid plan in place for partnerships with others and then when it comes to the crunch, the partner disappears. You’ve based your business plan on a large percentage of sales coming from this partner and now they have gone kaput.

Then there is that first hire you bring on. Trust me, I’ve been there and so have so many business builders. The first class, spot on, just the person you are looking for, rocks up on the Friday for interview and you hire them. But, for some strange reason when they turn up for work on the Monday, it’s a different person. And by the end of the week, you just know, they will have to go.

I’ve seen it so many times. It’s not easy… But, this is not accounted for in the business plan, which by now is in a bottom drawer starting to gather dust.

I wonder if there is a better way to tell a more meaningful story than a business plan with all that it really and truly misses out. I have no doubt that it will remain relevant for some time to come.

As I said, it’s a box to be ticked. But, what if we could re-imagine it and come up with a better format that has more utility for the user and takes more account of what life starting a business is really like…?

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark