From Battle Plans to Business Plans
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
Well, the results are in – Veterans are entrepreneurial. Whether or not we know it, and whether or not we do anything to confirm it, is another matter – but you can ‘rest easy’ knowing you’re more likely to succeed as a small business owner than your counterpart in the general population, one with no military experience.
Notice I didn’t say anything about guaranteed success. As I’ve said in this blog’s space before, small business is risky. I’ve always thought, though, that it’s what we’ve been through – from the adversity, to the training, to the opportunities to lead, to the expectations that we’ll be flexible and adaptable – those are some of the intangibles that stack the entrepreneurial deck in our favor, even if just a little bit.
Another one of those intangibles, a really important one that’s hard to measure, is our ability (and susceptibility) to plan – to plan for the best and worst cases, to plan for contingencies, and to plan for second- and third-order effects. From battle plans to business plans – our background in the military community makes us more likely to succeed because we’re more likely to plan.
President and former Soldier Dwight Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” It could be argued that truer words have never been spoken, because it’s what we discover (or uncover) during the planning process that can make all the difference. But with as much planning as you, the small business owner, might engage in, keep in mind that you’ll need to be ready to adjust fire just as soon as things go sideways.
We have plenty of advocates in the civilian sector that want to help us succeed in small business, and most of them that I’ve spoken with over the years agree that we, collectively, have what it takes. Case in point #1: a colleague of mine that works for the Small Business Development Center system has worked with hundreds of clients and reviewed countless business plans. When advising prospective entrepreneurs, he doles out his own words of advice, such as those in an earlier post we titled, “Six Tips to a Top-Shelf Business Plan” (https://militaryconnection.com/blog/top-shelf-business-plan/). When business planning, he recommends beginning with the end in mind, being wary of search engine results, being specific in your statement of purpose, and backing up your plan with robust action. Keep in mind that, as far as business plans go, there is no magic format or layout, and research is the key to a solid plan.
Case in point #2: a franchise consultant I know, one that regularly presents at transition workshops, tells me that there’s a general consensus among the franchise industry that Veterans make great franchisees (in other words, as small business owners). In an article found on our blog at https://militaryconnection.com/blog/vets-make-good-franchisees/, he offers up his take on why U.S. Census Bureau data suggests that approximately 2.5 million businesses – nearly 9.1% – are Veteran-owned, and why nearly one in seven U.S. franchises is owned by a Veteran. He touches on how proper planning is the foundation for so many other success factors that franchisors seek: quality training, risk management, discipline, and the ability to work under pressure. I second that assessment, and add a few more of my own tips for the ‘would-be’ entrepreneur…things that become second nature with constant and consistent planning.
What are those extra tips that might help you plan your next business venture, you ask? Well, they include defining success (success isn’t always measured in dollars and cents, but without spending time and energy in the planning process, that may be hard to nail down; figuring out your comfort level with risk (with proper planning, you can identify where your risk lies and determine the best way to mitigate that risk); building your team (as in, surrounding yourself with good people…professionals who have skillsets that you don’t (but need); and managing your brand (be your own brand ambassador for your small business…clean up your online image if you need to, then walk the walk.)
So, at the end of the day (or at the beginning of your next venture), just remember how valuable the planning process will be and embrace it accordingly. A few more words from someone more famous than I would be, “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Many successful small business owners can also attest that, “no business plan survives first contact with the customer.” But in the process of planning, with what you’ve learned along the way, you’ll adapt and you’ll adjust…it’s what we do. And more often than not, we’ll succeed…
Until next time…