Mentoring: Small Steps Make Business Planning Work

When someone announces they have an idea for a new business, the very next pronouncement is, “Where’s your plan?”  And that scares most newbies away from the entrepreneurial path.  

However, having a plan is an absolute necessity.  Otherwise, the planner will be like Don Quixote and “tilting at windmills.”  A business plan is a compass, a guide, an assist in staying focused on the objective – launching a small business.  And, it is not a static tool.  As one progresses through the initial steps of forming an enterprise change is an absolute since the environment in which the business is formed changes.  

According to Mark McKergow, author of “Change SIMPLE,” the action plan changes constantly.  So instead of focusing on action planning, focus on a plan that has far reaching goals, near-term objectives with small action steps that get you from one level of accomplishment to the next, and steps that can be taken today, measured and assessed. Then make adjustments and take another step. The steps are small and less costly than a full-out assault on the goals.  If the assessment indicates the action is taking you in the right direction, then take another step that takes you one step closer to your near-term goal(s).

McKergow goes on to highlight, “There are good reasons for the lack of success of the plan-and-do approach in complex environments. In any case, the small steps approach has the benefit of fast and effective targeted action, which gets things moving and boosts motivation, too.”  When we take small steps that are relatively easy to execute, the financial exposure is less and the ability to assess and then adjust is easier. 

David McLean, in a LinkedIn post, is a follower of McKergow and shares, “Focusing on solutions is fundamentally different from conventional approaches to problem solving that are based on the belief that focusing on problems (by analyzing, reacting to, and talking about them) is the best way to solve them. It sidesteps the often futile search for the causes of problems and heads straight for solutions.”

One of the key issues in planning the launch of a new business or nonprofit is FOCUS.  In the planning process, there are so many potential options that are generated, it is necessary to eliminate or at least “park” those that are not specifically germane or connected to the primary mission of the business or not-for-profit.  That is the value of using the Business Model Canvas ( because it creates focus and validation.  Using the nine blocks of BMC eliminates those ideas/opportunities that are in the mainstream of the entity. 

The OSKAR approach asks the planner to (1) Define the outcome.  What is it he/she wants to achieve?  (2) Scaling.  Where on a scale of 1-10 is the planner in the process of achieving the objective?  (3) Know-how.  What skills does the planning have now and what do they need to move the scale along the path to achievement? (4) Affirm and Action.  What is the current state and how to improve it?  (5) Review.  After sufficient time passes while the objective is being addressed, dedicate time to review where the planner is in the planning process and what steps need to be taken to get to the next stage.

Make the first step in your business plan a small step.  If you give your business idea a chance to grow from the inception to the idea using baby or small steps, you can make the adjustments that are necessary to make your idea, dream or vision come to fruition.  The first step is normally the hardest.  Most business planners wait until all the pieces are in place rather than creating a “minimum viable product” (Lean Startup). That means  launch, analyze, measure, adjust and try it again. 

Start the process by assessing where you are.  With the OSKAR approach, knowing where you are, what your near-term objectives are, and what resources are needed to get to the next step is just the beginning.  But you have to start.  When you act on your ideas, you are turning them into a reality that can be assessed and addressed.  When you act, the confidence in your business idea grows and leads to next step actions. And, additional actions create momentum.  These steps need to be regular.  Take the action, evaluate the outcome, make necessary adjustments, and then take the next step.  With every small step give you more information to plan the next step.  When you start small, the failures that you will almost certainly experience have low down-side risk.  So restarting after a failure becomes a learning and adjustment experience in the process of launching.   

We all make assumptions in creating the plan and sometimes the assumptions are correct and sometimes they are not.  When they are not, these are the learning experiences.  Michael Schrage, in his book “The Innovator’s Hypothesis,” refers to experimenting as a way for creators of small businesses to test their ideas for attacking the market differently.  The time to test these ideas and approaches is best during the planning cycle.   

Peter Johnson, a California-based marketing guru preaches “accuracy before momentum.”  His approach is slow and steady wins the race by (1) taking baby steps regularly, (2) going slowly and not growing too quickly, (3) making incremental changes over time, (4) not trying to do too much at one time, (5) making big leaps can end up in failure or disappointment, and (6) not being afraid to start small.  There is great wisdom in starting small and growing incrementally.

Contributed by Marc L. Goldberg, Certified Mentor, SCORE Cape Cod & the Islands.,, 508-775-4884.