Planning, Startups, Stories


Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

Planning Is Telling Stories and Making Them Come True 1

You could call this synchronicity. A few years ago I was reading Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars at about the same time that I caught Harvey Cox talking about the power of stories as truth telling in all major religions. I paused to think about the importance of stories in so many different modes of thinking and communicating; and of course, me being obsessed with business planning, I started thinking of stories as building blocks of planning.

Fast forward to this month and I’ve been getting a lot of warm fuzzies for Let Your ‘Story’ Frame Your Business Plan, my most recent column at entrepreneur.com. This is moving forward with my sense of planning and stories as closely related:

Suspend your image of a business plan as a document, for a while, and think of it as a collection of stories combined with concrete specifics or goals that aim to make those stories come true.

Just to give you the idea, think of your marketing strategy as a story about how a specific kind of buyer solves a problem or gets something he or she wants by encountering your business. What did she want? How did he find you? What made you different? These are all stories.

A sales forecast tells a story. An expense budget tells a story. So does a set of starting costs, and a balance sheet, and a cash flow projection. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think through these numbers without imagining the purchase decision, the channel, the process, and the scale of units, prices, and costs, assets we need, debts we accumulate, and so on. I can’t be the only one who sees stories in numbers. I hope. Maybe this is what happens when former lit majors fall in love with business analysis, but I’m hoping you agree.

The best way to talk about goals is a story:

Think about your long-term objectives story. Are you looking for wealth and fame, or to do what you like? What does success look like to you? Is it getting financed and making millions, or taking off at 4 p.m. to coach your kids’ soccer team?

And the planning specifics take those stories and break them into specifics required to make them come true:

As you imagine what those stories are, break them down into meaningful, trackable parts. Set tasks associated with those stories, assign tasks to people and give them dates.

The Seth Godin book carries the subtitle: the power of telling authentic stories. I say we go it one step further: we tell authentic stories and make them come true. And that’s a really good path to better business planning.