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A better business plan


I have no business plan. I have no spreadsheet with five years of projected earnings. There are two reasons: Most business plans never come to fruition, and five-year sales projections are about as accurate as political polls.

Oh, there is another reason: The people you prepare a business plan for never read them, unless you put a one-page executive summary at the front.

THIS IS WHAT I RECOMMEND: Prepare a one-page executive summary. Then create a forecast of what you believe sales will be over the next 100 days, and the next 12 months. Nothing more. Beyond that it’s a wild guess.

The reason to make a 100-day plan is to ensure that in the short term, everything is much more intense, and your blue-sky effort has a deadline. I sincerely apologize if I have burst your bubble. But in the long run I have just saved you 100 hours of work, a huge consulting fee (charged by people who use boilerplate, cookie-cutter material), and the mental letdown of not achieving that plan anyway.

If your banker insists on a business plan, try this: Go online, download a business plan template, insert your name and logo, and in five minutes you will have a document your banker will never read anyway.

OK, that’s a joke suggestion. (Or is it?)

Here is the serious suggestion: Call a limousine service and rent a van. In the van, place your banker, any potential investors, some of your key executives and your best salespeople. Create a road trip that touches five of your biggest customers in four hours. Start at 8 a.m. at the first customer’s business, bring coffee and talk to the people who actually buy from you. Find out why they love you, talk to their CEO, tell them what your game plan is for the next 12 months – maybe have it prearranged so that they give you an order right on the spot – thank them for their business, their support and their loyalty, and then go to the next customer.

It is important that you bring a recording device (I recommend a Flip camera), so that you’re making a visual record.

Each time you visit a customer, go through the same process. Talk to the people who use your product or service, talk to the CEO, pick up an order, tell them your 12-month plan and record the entire process.

MAKE CERTAIN YOU DO THIS: Get testimonials from each of the five customers you visit. Ask them why they buy from you. Get their history of doing business with you. Ask why they would refer you. And get a call to action from them. That information can be used separately on your website, in your proposals, in CD-ROM or DVD format in sales presentations, as part of your social media presence and in follow-ups.

After you have visited the last customer, take everyone to lunch. Nothing fancy, but not fast food. A local restaurant will work best. Make certain that the restaurant is prepared for you. Have a book or a small gift sitting by each person’s plate. Have a general discussion about what just happened.

Record the luncheon. Record everyone’s comments. Keep in mind that your Flip video has only about two hours’ worth of storage, and you will be on a five-hour trip, so bring two cameras and make certain that you have someplace to download the video during the morning if necessary.

Spend the afternoon editing the video with help from a professional. Make it real, but make it spectacular. Edit the entire thing down to 30 minutes or less. What you end up with will be a business plan, a marketing plan, loyal customers, excited bankers and investors, and a real-world look at your business and the relationships you have with your customers.

Or, you can write a fairy tale. Er, I mean a business plan.

Jeffrey Gitomer can be reached by phone at (704) 333-1112 or by e-mail at salesman@gitomer.com. © 2010 Jeffrey H. Gitomer

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