Can you picture yourself starting a business you can be proud of?

You have a business idea. You start your business. Make lots of money. Sell your business, and live happily ever after. What will it take for you to get there?

Do you ever wonder about what specific steps you need to take to succeed?

There are many ways you can get ahead in the business world, steps you can take to make your business a major success.

Is writing an elaborate business plan one of the necessary steps?

A lot of people, especially academics, would argue that one of the steps to success is to create a business plan. If you are in college, a business plan might be the right thing as a learning tool.

Will a business plan help you succeed as an entrepreneur?

There is nothing wrong with creating an elaborate business plan except that it is largely a waste of your time. Think of a business plan as a book that is outdated on the day it was published. Your business will move too fast and change too frequently to be run by a book that you wrote way back when on how things might be sometime in the future.

Making a business plan is no guarantee of success and there are plenty of people who make successes of themselves without one, just as there are people who make business plans and still fail.

Here are some common alternatives to using a business plan:

  • Business success outline – keep it to one or two pages if you can. Don’t think of it as a business plan but as a strategy summary. It will help you stay on track but it will not drown you in paperwork.
  • Your favorite project management application – like Trello. Much of what it takes to succeed in business is staying accountable and the ability to track what happens in your business. Your favorite project or task management application will keep you on track.
  • Google Calendar – To meet your goals you must stick to deadlines. I love Google Calendar because it works great with gmail, but you can use your favorite calendar solution.
  • Spreadsheet – Use a simple Google spreadsheet to list your goals, objectives, deadlines, etc. Writing your goals down and tracking them is what separates entrepreneurs from wantrepreneurs.

The best way to succeed in business if you don’t have a plan is to stay ahead of the game and think on your feet. If you can’t think on your feet with confidence then you’re going to have trouble in business anyway. Think on your feet, stay one step ahead of the competition, and make the business the best it can be by avoiding a plan and reacting to current events.

There are skills you can develop to think on your feet more effectively:

  • Relax – We tend to tense up under pressure, but the opposite is needed. Staying relaxed enables your brain to function better.
  • Listen – Don’t jump to conclusions. Observe the situation. Listening allows you to fully understand the problem at hand.
  • Buy time – Sometimes you just need to give yourself a bit more time before making a decision. Run your mind through the question at hand. Repeat the question if there is one you need to answer. It gives you time to think. Ask for clarification.
  • Silence – You don’t have to talk while you are thinking about a possible solution. Get comfortable with silence. Pausing to collect your thoughts creates clarity.

The lack of a business plan helps you to avoid overthinking your challenges.

Here are ways to minimize overthinking:

  • Timer – Set a time limit in minutes not days or hours. The time limit forces you to make a decision without kicking the problem down the road.
  • Reduce your options – The less options you give yourself the easier it is to make a decision. Face it, most decisions come down to a few options, two or three. Work hard to reduce your options to three or less.
  • Use your gut – If your final two options are very similar go with your gut feeling.

When it comes to succeeding in business on any level you need to keep track of where you are and where you’re going.

You have to keep your emotions in check and stay on top of your business. Keep track of your cash flow and respond appropriately when it changes and you end up with less or more money than you expect.

There are some great tools to help you keep track of your cashflow:

Freshbook – Excellent with invoicing clients. It is a simple small business accounting tool that is simple, perfect for non-accountants.
Mintbills (formerly Check) – A free app that helps you stay on top of your bills and money.
Pulse – Use this app to keep track and forecast the cashflow in your business.
Expensify – Having trouble keeping track of your expenses? Use Expensify to take the pain out of expense tracking.

The advice of people around you is going to be useful too. Unless they advise you to get a business plan of course. There’s a lot of good advice out there and it’s not hard to do a bit of research yourself. Find people who succeeded without a business plan and see what worked for them. It’s also important to keep in mind what didn’t work for them. Don’t repeat the mistakes of others.

There are several effective ways to get great business advice:

  • Network – You can network in person or online. There are many ways to do it from using Twitter to sending an old fashioned email. The key is to reach out and make connections.
  • Mindshare – Form a group of entrepreneurs or join an existing one. The combined power of your mindshare group will be much greater than that of an individual. Mindshare groups are a great way to learn about business and get moral support from your peers.
  • Events –  Attending events is a great way to get out of the office while building your business. You will learn new things and meet new people. Once you are out of your daily routine you will see and think differently and it will help you to be more creative about your business.

One major step that doesn’t involve business plans is, as mentioned before, to keep track of absolutely everything and manage your numbers properly. Respond to the way numbers work, understand your financials and your customers.  There’s a lot more to numbers than just profit and cash flow. If you have less customers then you have to ask yourself what’s gone wrong and respond to it to get new customers, or bring back the old ones.

Any successful business has many moving parts. If you are going to be successful, it is because you have mastered what it takes to keep your eyes on the many moving parts not because you write good business plans.

Business plans can actually do a lot more harm to you than good. You do need to plan and stick to your plans, but not in a formal business school sense. As soon as your business takes off keep track of your numbers and emotions and you can find your way to the top without a plan.

photo credit: IMG_8674

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George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.

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