The beauty (and importance) of the 1-page business plan

The beauty (and importance) of the 1-page business plan
7 July 2021

Business plans are serious documents. Without one, you can’t create and grow a business. A proper business plan runs to many pages and probably takes weeks (or even months) to write. Business plans must be long to be good. At least, that’s conventional wisdom.

There is another way to go about planning a business. For some of you, this alternative route will prove much more effective than spending a lot of time on producing a lengthy document.

Here is the why and the how of the one-page business plan.

What triggered this article

I recently read the annual investor letter from Chamath Palihapitiya, the Canadian-American self-made billionaire, venture capitalist and self-promoting jack-of-all-trades.

Chamath described the treacherous and incalculable journey of creating a company:

After ten years in business, we have realized some existential truths. The first is that … technology companies have unpredictable paths. Some start with the most ambitious of missions but then turn out to be duds. Others start humbly and become behemoths. The point is that no matter how a company is started, the only guarantee is a lot of volatility and unpredictability. The second truth is that to be successful in this kind of market, we need to be resilient, open minded and focus on survival above all else. If we survive, have a process we trust and get enough shots on goal, the results will eventually speak for themselves.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that founders have no effing idea how their businesses will develop.

Mental flexibility and an ability to stay in the game until something sticks are key. It ties in with the old saying from military planners: “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

However, the other military rule is also true: “By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail.

How do you strike the right balance between these extremes? How can first-time founders and cash-strapped ventures excel at planning in an effective way?

It’s simple. Keep it all to a single page!

A plan that works for YOU

I have written my fair share of business plans, and I’ve contributed to all sorts of other “strategic documents” such as fundraising and marketing plans. Writing is one of my passions in life, which is why I like to take on such challenges. It is a powerful way for getting your thoughts in order and improving your odds of success.

Lengthy documents inevitably get filed away.

Equally, I am the first to confirm that no such plan ever gets used on a daily basis. Lengthy documents inevitably get filed away. At best, you may get them out on a quarterly or annual basis to do a review, only to file them away again.

Funders, regulators and other influential stakeholders require extensive business plans as part of their tick box exercises. If you work with any such stakeholder, you won’t get around producing a voluminous plan.

However, for your own sake (even if you have outside stakeholders), you should consider creating a one-page version – a map in your mind about where you want to go and how you intend to get there. Having such a document will focus your mind on achieving the higher-level goals that you put onto that one page.

If you have such a one-page business plan, you will actually manage to look at it regularly. Simply keep a copy of it on your desk. It won’t distract you, but you’ll occasionally glance at it and a few new connections will form in your brain as a result. If this document on your desk were 50 pages in length, it would just collect dust and you’d feel shit about not having looked at it in ages.

All of this is really just common sense. However, a key thing is that you create such a document in the right format. Lucky for you, someone has already done the groundwork.

Enter “The One Page Business Plan“, a little-known 2009 book that you can still purchase from out-of-print online bookshops.

The one page business plan book cover

A manual to guide you to simplicity

The template provided by “The One Page Business Plan” makes you create a business plan with five sections:

  1. Vision: how you visualise your business in the future
  2. Mission: why the business exists for the customer
  3. Objectives: what must be achieved for the business to be successful
  4. Strategies: how the business will achieve the above
  5. Plans: the specific time-based actions the company will take.

Just don’t think you’ll get this done quickly and easily because it’s merely one page. Distilling something down to short and concise is often more difficult than writing long-form. You may know the old saying, “Apologies for writing you a long letter, I didn’t have the time to write a short one.

Sample business plan

I like how this approach takes you back to simple values and simple truths. The modern world makes a lot of things way more complicated than they are.

The resulting one-page document won’t make bankers lend you money, but it can become a powerful catalyst for your ideas. It will help you to clarify your thinking, and it will enable you to think fast and move fast.

If you want a business plan that is focussed on moving your business forward, then getting yourself a copy of “The One Page Business Plan” could be the best USD 20 you have spent in a while. Its author, Jim Horan, passed away in 2019 but his colleagues have picked up the ball and run as a consulting service for anyone looking for help with a one-page business plan; and they have also published several other specialised and updated versions of the book, such as versions for different industries (non-profits, financial services).

I like how this approach takes you back to simple values and simple truths. The modern world makes a lot of things way more complicated than they are.

RIP Jim Horan – who contributed a fine piece of inspiration to humanity’s library! His work also nicely ties in with a piece of wisdom that a self-made billionaire once shared with me. When I asked him for his ONE rule in life, he said: “Keep it simple. Anything that is complicated will not work.

What could be simpler to execute than a one-page plan? It’s getting to this distillation that is the difficulty!

If you enjoyed this article, you might also find the following useful:

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