Business Plans don't have to be the first step

Hi future entrepreneurs! I encourage you to read my “About” page to understand the purpose of this web site and a little about me. This is my first post so wish me luck :).

Over past 5 years of small business counseling, I’ve seen a lot of enthusiastic people come into the office with visions of starting a business and making a living being their own boss. In the early days, our first advice was to build a business plan. We would explain all of the required and optional components, show all of the accounting that would be required, discuss marketing, financing and other complexities. As they began to glaze over, and the fear became evident, we’d say “Come back next week and we’ll get started!”.   Of course, we’d rarely see them again.

So as mentors, we began to listen better to understand the skill level of the individual and their needs. We would alter the information and pace of advice.  This has lowered the fear factor and has kept more entrepreneurs motivated.  I have been amazed by the variety of people who come in and how you can never predict what is in their minds.  I absolutely love doing this volunteer work!

So our new methods involve understanding the products and/or services that the entrepreneur wants to sell and get answers to some basic questions:

What problem are you solving?
What is your definition of success?

Knowing what problem is being solved provides insight into how big of a problem is being solved, how many would benefit from the solution, and how much they would be willing to pay.

Knowing the entrepreneur’s definition of success helps us to determine their goals and provides insight into their motivation and what drives them. Some are in it for the money, some for the satisfaction of helping others, and some for both. Some want to grow to a 50 million dollar company and some want to make just enough to live off themselves.

As was the case when I taught Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, I rarely teach something that the student doesn’t know but I give them tools to organize that knowledge and effectively incorporate it into their plans.

In the posts to follow, I will share some of those tools, insights and experiences.


Dan Gillingham is a retired executive, business owner and is currently volunteering as a small business counselor and mentor with SCORE

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