Entrepreneurship – make a plan

January 23, 2009

“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” – Sir Winston Churchill

For those of you who do not know me, I have started, managed and sold two start up businesses.  My first was a restaurant which grew to about $4 million in revenue, was profitable and employed about forty people.  My second business was a computer services firm which grew to $1.5 million in revenue and ten employees.

I sold my restaurant when I was 24 years old and felt like I had the “midas touch”.  It was successful out of the gates, was very popular in our community and grew beyond my expectations.  That first success had me convinced that I could do it again without much effort.  Boy was I wrong.  I made a ton of mistakes in my second business and paid for them. 

While I could probably fill many blog posts just listing my mistakes, I think my fundamental error was not developing a well thought out plan.  I am convinced that, had I put some thoughts on paper before starting my second business, it’s doubtful that I would have ever founded it.  This is not because it was a bad business, but more because it was the wrong business for me and what I wanted to accomplish. 

More on my second business in another post.

I often tell budding entrepreneurs that, knowing what I know today, I wouldn’t have invested in myself when I started the second business.  Instead of researching a market, identifying a problem, designing a solution, understanding how I was going to make money and assembling the right team I just “went for it”.  I’m convinced I did this because I had already been successful once, why not a second time?

Since selling the last business I have come full circle and am now a fervent believer in planning.  A business plan doesn’t need to be complex, it just needs to answer a few fundamental questions:

(1)    What is the problem?

(2)    What is your solution?

(3)    How are you going to make money?

(4)    Who are you?

I decided to post on this topic because of a recent email exchange with my sister-in-law.  For sometime now she has been convinced that an opportunity exists for her to develop a patient advocacy consulting practice.  I won’t butcher her business concept here, but suffice it so say that I agree with her (and have recent experience to bolster my point of view) and think she should do it.  But, I don’t think she should do it without a plan.

In our most recent exchange she wrote that she was, “at an absolute standstill.”  She thought it was because she didn’t know how to market the concept (although there are two physicians who have already agreed she has an interesting business in mind and one specialist has gone so far to offer to help market her business through his web presence).  But, in my view, she’s at a standstill because she hasn’t answered the four questions appended above.

She’s going to write the plan and I have offered to act as her sounding board.  The hardest part of planning is getting the first words on the paper, so much like she plans to be a patient advocate, I will be her “planning advocate.”  I will post on her progress here and hope to be able to announce the launch of her business in the not-too-distant future!

6 Responses to “Entrepreneurship – make a plan”

  1. If there’s anything I can do to help your sis-in-law, let me know Mark. It’s the least I can do.

  2. I’ve always admired your business acumen Mark. I think chalking the success of your first business up to “luck” isn’t giving yourself enough credit.

  3. DTH Says:

    Excellent post Mark – thank you. I agree with Aaron, and Thomas Jefferson: I’m a great believer in luck, and the harder I work, the more I have.

    Anyway, if you’re looking for a challenge, Somalia needs a president and I think you might be the man for the job.


  4. Dave, only if you’ll take on the post of Finance Minister!

    I do like boats, so perhaps I’d hold the piracy portfolio just for kicks.

  5. Rich Says:

    Do you have any updates?

    • Hi Rich,

      Linda sent me the following update:

      “Tom Elliott has hired me to be a Diabetes Case Manager for his practice. I currently have 20 or so patients, with new ones being added weekly. I teach them how to count carbs, modulate their insulin dosages and oral medications, regulate their blood sugars and, generally, teach them how to live well with Diabetes. It’s kind of lifestyle coaching (minor medicine without the licence). Right now it is only part time. I do most of my work from home (phone and internet), but I do, from time to time, go in for clinic days and I make the odd house call. We began this journey 2 months ago. At the end of three months we are going to re-evaluate the situation. Tom has indicated to me that he really wants to work this into full time and I think it has that potential.

      I am also in direct contact with Medtronic now and am training people on the Guardian (continuous glucose monitor) and the Paradigm pump as well. There may be some potential for me to work for them in some capacity as well. Right now, I do trial work for Tom with a loaner monitor from Medtronic.

      I haven’t given up the idea of patient advocacy. In fact, my personal business card says I am a Diabetes Educator and Patient Advocate, but I haven’t had time to sit down and draw up a business plan as yet. I hope to be able to accomplish that by summers’ end.”

      Tom Elliott is a medical doctor who has also started an electronic medical records company (EMR) and is commercializing both a patient portal and a physician portal. I believe the plan is for them to be fully integrated (so all your physicians can see your files, as can your pharmacist and you).

      I’m not totally certain of his revenue model at this time, but check out http://www.thepatientclinic.ca and http://www.thedoctorclinic.ca for more information.

      I’m going to work with Linda over the course of the next couple of months to put a bit of a plan together. I think she has a track to starting her patient advocacy practice and she’s executing on it, which is excellent, but I’d like to see a very basic plan without great complexity.

      As I mentioned in my original post, I don’t think a basic plan needs to answer much more than these four questions:

      (1) What is the problem
      (2) What is your solution
      (3) Why are you going to be good at providing your solution
      (4) How are you going to make money.

      Business planning can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be if entrepreneurs focus on these four questions.

      Stay tuned!

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