There's an old proverb in Yiddish, often translated as "We plan, God laughs." The idea is that regardless of what plans we mortals make, there's no guarantee that things will work out the way we hope. In the business world, this translates to always having a Plan B, and knowing how to implement it. If Plan A works – great! But if not, you need to be ready.
Manage your stress
The hardest part about creating Plan B is accepting that something could go wrong with Plan A. No entrepreneur decides to start a business because they think their idea is prone to failure, has a critical flaw, or chooses a location that is about to succumb to a natural disaster. And yet these things happen every day, and can cause businesses to fail.
So the first and most important step in handling Plan B well is accepting that needing Plan B doesn't meant that you're giving up on your business concept, or that you're dooming yourself to failure. In fact, choosing to create Plan B and being ready to implement it if necessary may give you the realistic approach necessary to make Plan A work.
- What is the most important piece to me about being in business? What drives me to success? This will help you understand the bigger picture of your ambition.
- What about this particular idea compels me? How can I make sure to preserve this kernel of passion, even if I have to move towards Plan B with my business?
- How would I feel if my business actually failed? How much am I allowing fear of failure to motivate my decisions?
While some of the reasons people start businesses are similar - more control, more flexibility in hours worked, greater income potential - there are also highly personal reasons for entrepreneurs to take the steps necessary to open their own companies. When you understand your own feelings about this, you will be less likely to feel afraid of potential failure, and more inspired to succeed.
Start with your biggest risks
When you begin to create your Plan B for business, it's a good idea to begin with a risk assessment. Sometimes life can throw too much at you, keeping you stuck in a rut. A business located on the Gulf Coast of Florida has a different set of natural disaster concerns than a business located in the heart of New England, for example.
Similarly, a business that mostly operates online and offers a service will need a different plan to get back on its feet than a company which only advertises online, and sells products through a brick and mortar store.
Businesses may also overly focus on natural disasters and forget to consider what would happen if a key employee either left the business or was absent on a crucial day. A risk assessment can help a business understand what risks they have under control and which risks are still under managed.
Some key questions to ask:
- If my business were closed due to natural disaster, how would I communicate with my customers? What are the factors that would keep me from communicating, and can they be mitigated?
- Is my business itself, as well as any physical equipment or location, properly insured? How would that insurance be claimed if necessary?
- How secure is my relationship with my ISP? If my website needed to be transferred to a new provider, do I have an available backup to make the process seamless?
- Is my business protected against digital threats, such as viruses, malware, and hackers?
- Are all processes documented, so that key personnel could be replaced if necessary?
While this list is far from exhaustive, it will help you get started with understanding the risks your business might currently face.
Be flexible in implementation
Sometimes, Plan B isn't about managing a disaster; Plan B can be about realizing that your original idea was not quite as brilliant as you thought. Take Twitter, for example. The social media service used by primarily Millennials and GenXers was an outgrowth of a service that no one outside of business geeks has ever heard of.
The team that eventually developed Twitter was working on a project called Odeo. Their concept involved broadcasting podcasts, but they had run out of creative energy. They created a platform that would allow the team to communicate in short bursts, forcing them to condense their ideas to just 140 characters. And then they realized that they had created something much more interesting than their original concept.
When an entrepreneur is mired in the hard work of implementation, it can be difficult to decide whether you have legitimately uncovered a better idea, or you've just found a more compelling idea because you don't have to implement it - yet.
One reason the Odeo-to-Twitter story works is that the team wasn't just intrigued by the idea of this new platform; they had already created it, and they found that it was exactly what they wanted to move forward.
If you're facing down a new or competing idea in the middle of implementation, ask yourself:
- What intrigues me about this new idea? What makes it more compelling than what I'm already working on?
- Is this new idea more time sensitive than my current project?
- Does my new concept have a more compelling market niche or brand story than what I'm currently working on?
- Would this new idea work as a secondary or tangent business to what I'm currently developing?
It can be helpful to put it all down in writing, with bullet points and explanations, to get a clear idea of whether you are just trying to get out of doing the hard work of implementation, or you have really and truly found a better concept for your business moving forward.
In the modern world, with uncertain markets and dramatic and swift changes to weather patterns, no business that plans to succeed can do so without considering what-ifs and Plan Bs. For a business to be successful, it needs to make both short term plans about how to get through day to day operations, and long term plans, which include what happens if the market turns, customers flee, or there is a natural disaster.
When entrepreneurs approach Plan B planning as a keystone of creating a strong and healthy business, they will encounter less resistance from other employees, and be more likely to create a strong plan that can be well implemented.
What do you think is the most important piece of business Plan B that often gets missed?
Hear the full Twitter story with Cofounder Biz Stone & Josh Elman