Crossing a river by feeling for the stones

Running a software business is like crossing a river by feeling for the stones. You take one pace, and then a second, and then you search around with your toes for the next stone. You lean on it gently, testing its smoothness and seeing if it wobbles. It it’s a good stone, you slowly shift your weight across and then seek the next step. If it isn’t, you search elsewhere.

You always have your eye on the far bank of the river, but your path zigs and zags, you hit dead ends and you back track, but eventually – hopefully – you make it across.

If this metaphor holds – and I think it does – then what’s the point of a business plan? First of all, here’s one thing a business plan does not do:

A business plan does not give you a precise set of instructions for how to cross the river. It does not tell you where each stone lies, and how to move from one to the next. It does not give you a mechanism for tracking your actual progress against your plan.

Instead, the point of a business plan is to answer a handful of fundamentally important questions:

Can the river theoretically be crossed? How fast does it seem to be flowing and how wide does it look? Would even tempting a crossing just be a dumb-ass thing to do?

Is it worth crossing? What’s on the other side? Do you really want to get there?

Where are the crocodiles? If you slip, will your feet get wet, or eaten?

Are you crossing it from the correct point? Or should you move a few hundred yards downstream? Maybe somebody’s already built a bridge there.

Where is the first stepping stone? And can you reach it, and will it bear your weight?

Of course, all these are essentially calls of judgement. Do your best to answer them, then reach out your foot, open your eyes and make that first step.

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