The Importance of Preparation as Taught by Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Graham Bell

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.

– Alexander Graham Bell

I’ve recently seen some rather poor planning, and I want to take a moment to emphasize the value of preparation.

The initial preparation-based document of most businesses is the Business Plan. You know, that document that your angel investor, banker, spouse, partner, etc. wanted to see to make sure that you weren’t totally out of your mind when you told them you were going to start a business that did this, that and the other?

The point of that document was, in part, to prepare you for many of the issues that arise over the course of doing business. Do you need special permits or authorization? How much will your operating expenses be the first five years? When do you initially expect to turn a profit? What are your competitors’ barriers to entry or can anyone steal your idea?

See? These are questions of preparation. Despite Mr. Bell’s assertion, answering these questions does not guarantee your success, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Have you found that your business is flagging recently, that there’s a certain stagnation or that things aren’t headed in the direction you’d hoped? Perhaps things are going well, but you’re about to embark on a huge project.

Don’t just flail around grasping at straws and hoping for the best outcome. Do some preparation before you have a crisis and things move too fast for you to adequately prepare. I’ll invoke one of my 10 Ways not to Hire a Guy Like Me: leverage your business plan! That document is probably buried away in saved files – or maybe you put it together before the ubiquity of computers and it’s in your file cabinet, weathered and dusty.

Either way, pull it out!

Now make an effort to leverage it. What did you say you would do if things turned south? What were your contingency plans? Even if you’re not in this state, updating your business plan for posterity and ensuring that there is a plan in place should something happen to you and your ability to move the business forward is important.

Not sure where the business plan is, you don’t have one or it’s not proving helpful? It’s time to rethink your business plan, and use that as a means of preparing yourself to solve your problems before you have a crisis on your hands.

Remember the company that thought it was going to move from Minnesota to Orlando over the weekend? That was not preparation. We went in and got them adequately prepared for their move – and it was successful. In order to be successful yourself, I encourage you to spend more time preparing – before anything else.

Are you ready?

The Wonderful Ways of the White Board in Business, part 2

Last week we discussed the advantages of using a whiteboard in business timelines, and after the positive feedback I got, I wanted to share another anecdote.

The Set-up

Company A is in Orlando. Company B is in Minnesota.

Company A buys Company B.

The Plan

Company A decides to close down the factory of Company B and move its operations to Orlando – you know, to consolidate things.

Their plan was to shut down a factory in Minnesota, drive its equipment and operations to Orlando, set it back up in an inadequate space, train all the personnel in the new manufacturing process and be fully operational – without disrupting their supply line, output, customer service or other operations – over the course of a three day holiday weekend. I repeat: a three day holiday weekend.

As you can imagine, I told them they were crazy. Loony. Bonkers. No way. Oh, goodness.

The Problems

1. The most glaring problem (among many) that I saw was that Company A had no inventory built up to handle orders if the production line didn’t come up Monday morning. And as far as I was concerned there was no way that the production line was going to be up on Monday morning.

2. There was also no mind being paid to the fact that the assembly line personnel in Orlando couldn’t assemble what was being done in Minnesota. It wasn’t so far from their core competency, but it certainly required training and oversight. Their plan was to send one guy from MN to FL to teach people how to put the widget together in three hours. What if something happened to this guy? What if the entire crew didn’t pick this up in 3 hours?

3. The capacity in the Florida location was full! Where were they going to put all of their new equipment? There was no time to find a new location

The Solutions

My solution to this insanity was mapping out the process of moving and consolidating this business on the whiteboard as a 2 month timeline. By doing this, I could not only identify all of the steps necessary and include everyone’s responsibilities to make this happen efficiently and effectively but also I could show them why and how their initial 3-day plan was asinine.

1. I built them a 45-60 day plan during which time their primary goal was to build up inventory, running overtime at the Minnesota plant, so that when they closed the production line they had a full 30 days to get operational in Florida.

2. The Orlando crew needed to be properly trained. I suggested that they send the factory workers in Orlando to Minnesota to watch the process there for a few days. Company A complained about not having the $5000 to do this, but if their plan didn’t work they would lose millions! Penny wise and pound foolish, if there were ever an example.

3. With two months for this process to take place, there was now adequate time to find a suitable location at a reasonable price for the Minnesota factory to be relocated in Florida. Three days, I fear, would not have sufficed.

I’m pleased to say that ultimately Company A listened to me, and they were successful. Without the whiteboard, though, I would never have been able to make my case. I literally saw the aha-ing happen all over the faces of Company A’s execs when I drew up their plan and my plan on a whiteboard.

One thing I always do with my whiteboard is take a high resolution picture; I blow that up, print and study it so that I can re-explore my logic and see what I may have gotten wrong. I would love one of those white boards that digitizes your notes, but I guess that’s the next step!

What kinds of tools do you find most effective in allowing you to successfully manage your business responsibilities?