This essay is one of three (including the introduction) I wrote for the Enough book (Enough: Unlock a life of abundance starting right where you are). For more information about the book and my fellow authors (and to buy your copy), go to enoughthebook.co

Time for a bit of a think

Nov 1, 2021 | Essays

"Get a cup of tea, sit down and have a bit of a think." Jodi Taylor
When I set up Planning for Life, a financial life planning consultancy, in 1996, I didn’t know what I was doing. Eventually, I learnt how important it was to step back and think about how the business could provide me, my clients and my team with enough of what we wanted. Later, I compiled all these thought processes into a comprehensive business blueprint, an essential tool for creating a business to meet my definition of successful.

I knew what I wanted Planning for Life to provide: control of my life, happiness and fun, a return to my rural roots, a decent and secure income. And, most importantly, in the deeper parts of myself, I was longing for meaning. So in 1996, I wanted to build a business that would bring meaning into my life by making a difference to others.

In all these, I was successful – in the end. However, it was slow and steady progress. Arguably, this was for several reasons, not least because my values, aspirations and priorities were changing as my interest swung towards my clients as individuals and away from their money. I realised that if I wanted to lead a life that was enough for me and help my clients do the same, I had to stop running and start thinking.

As I did, I found myself drawn more towards the coaching and support that my clients wanted. Yes, financial product advice was necessary, but the real value came from helping clients develop and achieve their aspirations. So, dealing with their money became a process of structuring clients’ finances to support their aspirations.

I also began to realise the value of ongoing professional development. However, every time I learnt a new and exciting way of running a business, I would implement it in Planning for Life, leaving it looking like a dog’s breakfast rather than a professional, coherent and structured business.

It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

For instance, I recall a consultant coming up with the idea of creating different services for different markets and writing a set of service standards for each. His advice would have worked, except I designed the services around a poorly defined set of audiences that differentiated each service by my offering rather than the market need. As a result, both I and my prospects were left confused.

My charging structure also evolved from commission to a fee-only service. Surprisingly, I had no difficulty in transferring existing clients onto a complete fee structure. Indeed, they found the certainty reassuring, and I wished I had done it earlier.

At one point, I went into partnership with another planner. Unfortunately, it did not last long. One of the reasons was that neither of us had a clear idea of what we wanted the business to look like – or if we did, we never spent any time reconciling our ideas developing a shared vision.

And this, I think, was the heart of the dog’s breakfast. I did not have a clear vision of what Planning for Life should look like or where it should be. Instead, it reminded me of the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat (1):

Alice: ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
The Cheshire Cat: ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.’
Alice: ‘I don’t much care where—’
The Cheshire Cat: ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.’
Alice: ‘-so long as I get SOMEWHERE.’
The Cheshire Cat: ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.’

Given how many changes I made, I remain surprised at how my clients stuck with me. They were long-suffering and understanding, for which I am grateful.

Stop doing and instead, have a bit of a think.

I still hear the enthusiasm of new entrepreneurs mixed with frustration that it’s not working. I found the answer to this puzzle brilliantly articulated by Dr Madeline Maxwell, head of the fictional History Department at St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. St Mary’s, created by author Jodi Taylor, is where Dr Maxwell leads a team of time travellers. Sorry, I mean leads a team who investigate major historical events in contemporary time. They are also disaster magnets who often find themselves in deep trouble. But, with all her experience, Dr Maxwell has learnt not to panic or do the first thing that comes into her head.

Instead, she ‘makes a cup of tea, sits down and has a bit of a think.’ (2)

Even before I read Taylor, I had begun to apply the mantra, and it worked well for me in one particular aspect of my Planning for Life business. I realised it is pretty difficult for anyone to come in cold and buy your main product for what could be a significant amount of money. So instead, I sought some help, had a bit of a think with pen and paper, and designed and built a set of product steps for clients. The bottom step was simply a set of free material, blog posts, articles etc., to allow prospects to find out about us and how we worked.

My next step involved productising my initial discovery meeting. At the time, financial planners usually provided a free, unstructured interview, so I gave it some thought and turned mine into a structured product with three price/service levels. Next, I gave it a name (The Planning for Life Mapmaker) and a tag line (Plan your route to integrity and freedom). Finally, I designed a structure and delivery process to end with a sales conversation around my main product.

Amazingly, it worked. Although I got slightly fewer meetings, my conversion rate rose significantly and entirely justified the time I had taken to have a bit of a think.

Think it all through in a blueprint

I learnt this lesson well, and as I started to build my new business, Crazy for Change, I did a lot of thinking and encapsulated everything into a single blueprint for a business that would meet my aspirations.

My blueprint incorporates all my experience, research, professional development and the wisdom of others. It ensures that, like a jigsaw, everything fits together and works seamlessly to achieve my personal and business goals.

My blueprint is not a plan. That comes as a natural consequence of a well-defined blueprint. Think of building a house. The architect will design the building, creating a blueprint describing how every part of the building looks. This blueprint will include all the utilities and connections to achieve what it is supposed to.

It ensures, for instance, that the building will be structurally sound. It includes details such as providing enough electric sockets in each room in the right place and doors that open without colliding with other doors. It incorporates building regulations making sure, for instance, that there are two doors at least between food preparation areas and bathrooms.

It is then up to the builders to plan for constructing the building from the blueprint.

My blueprint ended up with six sections.

1 Backstory

You are your business, and its primary purpose is to define what is enough for you and overcome the scarcity in your life. I recall a talk given by Michael Gerber of E-myth fame. Gerber told us that ‘your primary role as a business owner is to create more time for yourself’. Therefore, it should be no surprise that your blueprint starts with you, your story, values, and vision.

Never forget the words of Stephen Covey: ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ Write down what the end looks like to you.

2 Strategy

Record the strategies that you intend to follow to give you a competitive advantage. For example, are you going to go for cost leadership, niche targeting, convenience or innovation?

Opting for cost leadership should raise a red flag. This strategy requires enormous resources and can be undermined by your competitor. Furthermore, it leaves you with only one string to your bow. If a competitor undercuts you, you immediately lose your advantage, which is why there can only be one cost leader in a sector.

3 Your audience

A resilient, long term business will focus on helping clients achieve their aspirations. However, they may need to resolve short term problems in the first place. These could be your way in, as well as providing you with a stepped portfolio of products running from problem to aspiration.

4 Products

Productise everything, even services and marketing assets. It’s easier to describe and sell a product than a service.

Think in terms of client commitment as you design your steps, starting with minimal commitment (a little time only) to total commitment (money, time and energy)

5 Marketing, sales and onboarding

You are now nearly there, and you should be able to join everything together to develop messages, problem and solution trademark phrases, pitches, product packaging, onboarding processes, value propositions, launch runways and publicity.

You should be able to extract these from the work you have done in your blueprint. The marvellous thing about the blueprint is that you can make sure everything fits together correctly before going live.

6 Structure and resources

Describe the corporate structure of your business. For example, will you run as a sole trader, a limited company or a limited liability partnership?

Design your exit or succession strategy, and develop a ‘business will’ to take effect in the event of your premature death or incapacity.

Think about money and design initial and projected cash flow and balance sheets.

Think about the team you will need to implement your blueprint. You will need to cover marketing, operations and resources at the very least. Paint a picture of how the positions and the people who fill them look. Then draw up position contracts for the roles, and draft employment contracts.

7 The finishing touches

Remember that this is an important document. Someone who gets hold of it could easily use it to set up a rival business. After all, it’s all there. So, ensure it is copyrighted, marked confidential and make clear that distribution and copying are restricted.

Your blueprint will evolve. However, it should remain a coherent, structured and complete model of your business which will guide your implementation.

It is an iterative process and is never really ‘finished’. The art is to keep going around until everything fits. You will probably start to test markets and messages early on, and as the results come through, you will find it necessary to adjust your blueprint.Taking time out to ‘have a bit of a think’ is an essential part of knowing what enough means to you and how you achieve it. Your blueprint is an ideal vehicle for this, so compile it, keep it always at hand and use it as your definitive guide for getting the life you want.

 

References

  1. Carrol, L (1865). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Macmillan, London
  2. Taylor, J (2013). The Chronicles of St Mary’s (12 books and 15 short stories). Headline, London. Along with ‘And the world went white’, this is one of Maxwell’s key catchphrases, appearing in many instances in a slightly different form.

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so share your thoughts in the comments box below, and thank you for your time and generosity.

What do you think?

Your views are important, and your fellow readers would love to hear your opinion, so share your thoughts in the comments box below, and thank you for your time and generosity.

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