Every day I become more aware of the importance of stories as the drivers of business planning and business success. There is no better way to understand and communicate strategy, vision, and milestones. Too often we think of business planning as full of arcane details, but the details mean nothing without the core stories. Here are three stories a business should never do without.
- The ultimate moment: There’s a story in every purchase. Somebody in the world wants something, or feels a need, looks around, finds out (or already knows) about your business, goes where you are (brick and mortar or web or telephone) and buys something from you. That’s the ultimate moment around which you build a business. Tell that story well and you know who that person is, what she is looking for, how he finds you, and what she buys. And why you? What other options are out there?
- The pot of gold: Dream. Imagine your business future. Where is it, what is it, how big, and what’s it doing? This is the story of success for you as a business owner. Are you in the office every day working? Do you have assistants working for you? Are you the boss of all you see or are you focusing on your favorite parts of it, like speaking, or product development, or finance? Are you free to take vacations and coach your kids’ soccer teams? Are you a famous success story?
- The steps: Tell yourself the story of how you got from where you are today, in your business, to where you are in that dream. Imagine the key steps along the way. What had to go right? Can you set out some important milestones, like the launch or the opening or the big campaign, the new product, the new store? Try to break the way down into specific events you can use to set dates and milestones you can track.
These three stories have between them the core of a business plan to drive growth or establish a new business.
In the first, you have the essential strategy of target market, business offering, and your special identity. If you need to convince others, such as bankers or investors, tell the story first and then add convincing detail like market numbers, demographics, competitive cases. If you are just driving your own business, and (if and only if) you’re sure you know enough about the market to make good decisions, then leave the numbers for later.
The second story establishes your long-term vision. You’re defining success. You establish the direction you want to go, and the business you want to become.
The third story is a collection of specific objectives along the way. Think of stairwells you pass as you climb a stairway of a tall building, or view points on a highway, or stops along a trail. You establish the direction you want to go.
I don’t think you can tell yourself these three stories without having the core content of a good business plan. What’s left is fleshing out the details, especially the basic numbers including sales, costs, expenses, and cash flow.