Like a lot of entrepreneurs, Michael Turner started his own company after growing disillusioned with working for somebody else. As he remembers: “There were meetings galore, lots of PowerPoint slide shows, big buzzwords that meant nothing—all resulting in very little productivity, but costing millions of dollars.” After 10 years, Turner decided to head out on his own.
In 2006, he started Marketing Max, with the goal of providing companies with marketing, PR, and design services. With business plan in hand, he and his wife relocated from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Florida, hired an employee, and landed several large clients.
Despite his strong belief in the power of a planning, says Michael, “nothing prepared us for what happened a few years later. In 2009, when the U.S. economy tanked like most of us have never seen, every one of our larger clients almost instantly laid people off and cut back on marketing spend.”
This had a tremendous effect on Marketing Max’s business. “I knew I needed to target more small businesses that, while also affected by the economy, still needed pros to help them market their businesses to survive.” So, rather than cutting back like so many others were doing, Michael instead changed gears.
“Later that year, I revived an old name that I had used for a popular small business community website back in the early 1990s called CriticalBiz. I shifted focus a bit and extended the services that we offered at Marketing Max, but on a much more simplified level with very clear terms. Instead of the intimidating “big marketing firm” persona that was Marketing Max, I decided to get more personal.”
CriticalBiz now offers services ranging from document creation, employee recruiting, graphic design and copywriting, to sales, public relations, and even Web design and development. Michael brings more than 20 years of business experience to the table, and enlists a team of consultants who are experts in a variety of fields to assist. The idea behind CriticalBiz is that they can provide services that go beyond typical “virtual assistant” tasks but that aren’t needed often enough to justify hiring a full–time employee. As the website says, “working with CriticalBiz means you can focus on other things that may be more important to your business.”
Before he ever struck out on his own, Michael armed himself with a plan. “Before leaving [his previous position]… I put a ton of time and energy into writing the business plan for Marketing Max. I utilized Business Plan Pro, as it forced me to stay on track and organized. I was not seeking outside capital, but did enlist a former colleague to review the plan. This forced me to write as if I were in fact presenting the plan—it helps to keep things honest and realistic.” That planning helped him weather the economic downturn, and helped him figure out what the next logical steps for his business should be.
Michael is a true believer in planning. He feels that a business plan is not just a static document that you write up and stick in a drawer. “I believe that a business plan is a living document that needs to act as a guide to success,” he says, rather than a document created as part of a one-time process that a business owner goes through.
Think like a football coach
Michael sets aside a full day every quarter to review and refine both his marketing plan and his business plan. “Far too many of those that do create business plans, simply do so by going through the motions,” says Michael. “Once it’s written, it goes into a file cabinet, never to be seen again. If more people would use their business plans like a football coach uses his playbook — to strategically manage the game — fewer businesses would fail.”
In fact, according to Michael, some of the biggest mistakes made by entrepreneurs are caused by a failure to plan. “I would be willing to bet that most small–business owners spend more time planning a vacation than they do planning for their businesses,” he says, noting “if more small businesses would stop to create a detailed business plan, including all of the market research and number crunching that they should be doing,” they would be better off.
Speaking of crunching numbers, Michael echoes what a lot of folks say when asked about the toughest part of writing a business plan. “The hardest part is the financials. This section of the plan requires you to be completely honest with yourself. Business Plan Pro made the number crunching much easier for me because it forced me to answer the tough questions. The math doesn’t lie, and making sure you put all of the right numbers in is critical. You have to keep things real!”
As Michael sees it, the value of the plan is lost if you don’t remember that you’re not fantasizing or imagining best–case scenarios. You’re doing your best to project into the future. “Those who do plan, and are honest with themselves throughout the process, will be able to cope with critical issues much, much easier when they do arise… and they will. Planning ahead of time always makes for a more predictable, successful outcome,” he says.