Two out of three isn’t that bad. 37 Signals is a success, too. So I was curious when I saw “Advice for entrepreneurs: Throw out that five-year plan, build something now, and don’t take any money” on the 37 Signals blog.

It links to “Follow Your Dream” in Best Life magazine, with some good advice about starting your new business. It quotes experts including Scott Shane (author of Illusions of Entrepreneurship) and Greg Gianforte (author of Bootstrapping Your Business). I particularly like (and agree with) the emphasis on getting real, bootstrapping, as implied in the 37 signals blog post title.

Gianforte says:

The secret is to stop sweating your five-year plan and start moving the product from Day One. If your business idea requires more money than you have at hand, then shrink the idea.

That’s great advice. Frankly, I don’t like the plan bashing–that’s why I said two out of three in my first paragraph–but it’s still great advice. Ironically, I don’t like the plan bashing, but it’s not too different from what I’ve been saying about planning in my plan-as-you-go work: Get started, get going, use your planning from the first day. The plan bashing here is about the plan as an excuse for doing nothing. Some people use the plan like politicians use committees, as excuses to do more study.

The article itself has a sidebar on how to go and when to go, which includes four steps to take, called “Look Before You Leap.” The steps are 1) SCORE free advice 2) Find the unmet need 3) Make a plan and 4) Know when to go. For Make a Plan, it says:

Make a plan. Research shows that writing a formal business plan significantly enhances your chance of success. The folks at SCORE can help you do it right. Just remember that most investors won’t think much of your fancy hypothetical numbers until they see some real-life revenue.

For Know When to Go, more good advice, maybe:

Know when to go. Are your wife, kids and boss all crying out for attention while your sideline project morphs into a grasping mistress? You can try to juggle a job, a family and a thriving new business, but you will eventually drop a ball. So if your new venture has built up a solid client base, it may be time to take the plunge and make it your day job.

I say “maybe” because that’s good advice only if the new business succeeds. If it fails, it’s very bad advice. And we don’t get to know that until later.

Which is why I go back to fundamentals: Make a plan. Reduce your uncertainty. Don’t make a five-year plan that’s just an excuse to do nothing: Make a real plan, and do some real planning.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.