Bob Bly’s Dirty Little Secret

April 12th, 2007 by Bob Bly

My dirty little secret — at least as far as business is concerned — is that I’ve never had a business plan.

Not for my copywriting, book writing, corporate training, or Internet marketing business.

There. I’ve confessed. May God have mercy on my soul….

Most how-to books on small business prattle endlessly about the importance of writing a business plan.

Most marketing consultants I talk with tell me they charge clients thousands of bucks to write “marketing plans” for them.

At the end of the day, a lot of their clients have formal, well written, impressive business plans — with lots of graphs in the appendix designed using PowerPoint — in slick GBC style binders.

Only problem is, they have no new leads … no new customers … no new sales … and no new business.

I think the whole idea of “write a business plan” is, frankly, overrated.

Your time and money would be better spent actually selling … rather than blathering in a plan document on ways you THINK you should sell.

Do you find yourself nodding in agreement with me that the whole “hire me to write your business/marketing plan” is, in many respects, a con game? Perhaps the last refuge of the “those who can do, those who can’t write about it” school of marketing poseurs?

Or are you seeing red, and thinking that, at long last, you know why Bly is such a miserable failure: because he is a fool who doesn’t believe in, or write, business plans.

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33 responses about “Bob Bly’s Dirty Little Secret”

  1. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Amen, Bob!
    And let’s add mission statements to the pyre.
    Morty

  2. Jim Logan said:

    I think formal business plans are overrated. I don’t write them or consult with clients about them.

    I’ve worked with companies who took great pride in their multi-day offsite meetings to write their beautifully presented plan, but can’t think of a single one who could attribute their success to having done it.

    That said…being thoughtful, aware, and consciously competent are worthy of time and at least a few notes to get things straight in your mind and guide your activities.

  3. Sean Woodruff said:

    The success isn’t in the writing of a plan. It is in the planning of the business. I’d bet you do that in everything you do, Bob.

    I agree with, “Your time and money would be better spent actually selling … rather than blathering in a plan document on ways you THINK you should sell.” However, you better THINK about how you can sell in order for your time to produce any sales. Writing it down sometimes helps in getting it clear.

  4. Joel Heffner said:

    The only “business plan” I’ve ever used (or needed) as a writer is the to do list I write out on an index card in the morning. It also doubles nicely as a place to jot down ideas that may pop into my head during the day.

    Joel

  5. copywriting services said:

    Hi Bob,

    You are forgiven, you poor soul. ;)

    But Bob, don’t you need some kind of a plan to know where you are going and to track the milestones you set?

    How do you do that?

    Sincerely,
    Edward Santosh,

  6. kristen said:

    i agree bob. i’ve never done one either…i know my goals in my head and i know how to set and achieve small goals. i go with the flow!

  7. Bob Bly’s Dirty Little Secret: Ditch the Business Plan | Andy Wibbels said:

    [...] Bob Bly’s Dirty Little Secret: Ditch the Business Plan Bob Bly confesses: My dirty little secret — at least as far as business is concerned — is that I’ve never had a business plan. I think the whole idea of “write a business plan” is, frankly, overrated. Your time and money would be better spent actually selling … rather than blathering in a plan document on ways you THINK you should sell. [...]

  8. Bob Bly said:

    Edward: I maintain that you don’t. I have never had a plan — and a further confession, I have never had or set any goals. I was always, and still am, driven by the writing: ideas for books, promotions, and articles I want to write come to me unbidden, I write them, and make millions doing so. It won’t make me Carlos Slim rich. But I am happy and we have all that we need.

  9. Chris Lake said:

    I think I distinguish between a business plan, with budgets and profit goals, and a to-do list. My accounting system will tell me what I’m earning and who owes me money; my personal checking account will tell me if I’m making enough money. If not, I’d better work harder, find better clients, etc. My to-do list helps me keep track of not just what is due today and tomorrow but the big ideas that I want to work on for my own business.

    Part of the fun of freelancing is the flying by the seat of our pants. :)

  10. Tim Summers said:

    I am glad to hear someone say this; however, in the tech industry, which I am in, you cannot try to get funding without an overrated business plan.

  11. Bob Bly said:

    Tim: I maintain that the only reason for one of these overblown plans is to convince venture capitalists, banks, and others to give you funding, which is why I prefer businesses that can be grown and funded through sales revenues and do not require borrowing.

  12. Juho Tunkelo said:

    Bob’s right on the money. These big, bold, graphics-laden business plans are mostly to convince others that there’s a plan. Not so much to actually follow it.

    I’ve yet to see a startup that fulfilled their plans in any significant way. The curse of ‘free money’ will do that to anyone.

  13. Suzanne Ryan said:

    I am delighted to hear this confession. I am waaay too right-brained to organize a business plan and stick to it. The idea of doing that makes me feel boxed in.

    I think the only time a business plan is truly necessary is before you start a business and you need a business loan from a bank or a gift from a venture capitalist.

    If I could find one of those angels to fund my business, however, ….I’d write myself up a business plan in a heartbeat! :-)

  14. Phil Christe said:

    Business plans are like mission statements. Useless. Why would my prospects care one wit about my “plans?”

  15. govind said:

    Well you may not call it s business plan but I’m sure you had in mind an idea of where you wanted to get and some plan of how to get there – or was it all instinctive?

    But yes,sadly, having a formal business plan does NOT guarantee having a good ‘map’.

    But it helps you to articulate your map to yourself, don’t you thnk?

    Govind

  16. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    I love planning. I can happily while away the hours sipping a Starbucks and scratching out my dreams on paper.

    But if a plan doesn’t become action, quickly, then it’s useless.

    I think all too often planning is just hesitation — or worse, procrastination — in disguise. There’s something to be said for Nike’s motto.

    The most effective plan I make is the one where I decide what I’m going to do TODAY… and then do it.

  17. Joseph Ratliff said:

    Bob,

    Business plans are like meetings…

    If you have to have one…make it short, sweet, and to the point.

    9 times out of 10 though, you could just be taking action on a quick daily, weekly, monthly plan.

    Guess the banks need one though.

    Joseph Ratliff

  18. Janice said:

    Every minute spent in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.

  19. Bob Bly said:

    Or, Janice: every day spent “planning” means another day you are TALKING about making money rather than actually making it.

  20. Zach said:

    Bob,

    I thought you were going to say you had some little secret weapon after I read your headline.

    I haven’t been around your blog long enough to know if you’ve talked at all about Glyphius (click my name to read about it.

    There’s more details inside the blog at http://www.jamesbrausch.com but the jist is it’s based on a statistical analysis of tens of thousands of ads/websites to see what words are “profitable”.

    Even though I’ve spent money on Carlton’s packages, even some AWAI goodies and studied Halbert, Collier et al…this thing surprised the heck out of me.

    For instance some of our favorite, “power words”… free, now, you…are some of the LEAST profitable words we could put on a page. Who knew?

    Doesn’t it make you wonder if we should even bother studying the masters?

  21. Bob Bly said:

    Zach: I have decades of testing results that show “free” and “you” DO work. Therefore I view the research you cite with great skepticism, to say the least. Sorry.

  22. Cynthia Wyant said:

    Bob,

    I too, am glad you said this. I have trouble making plans, and see no reason to waste time on them. The important thing is working on my writing, and getting paid.

    Cynthia

  23. Bob Bly said:

    Actually, I Bob I think you DO business planning. But you don’t see it that way.

    For example, you’ve written numerous books (65+ now?). I’m sure that you can answer the following questions for most of your books:

    What’s the concept?
    Who is it for?
    What do I want to say? Why is this idea unique?
    What’s the takeaway?
    How will I sell and market it?
    How big is the market etc?
    How long will it be?
    Where am I getting my sources?
    How much time and I willing invest?
    What’s the return I expect?

    These questions sure seem like business planning questions to me.

    After writing so many books, I think you’ve got the planning process down to the point it’s automatic.

    As a CEO of a fast growing company, I’ve found that it’s most productive to do planning only to the extent that the idea is refined enough for me (and others involved) to take productive action. There’s no such thing as a perfect plan anyway.

    From there, you need to review your plan frequently and make any needed adjustments based on results. It’s not about the plan. The point of the plan is the results.

    So I agree with you. I think the traditional view of planning is overrated too.

  24. Peter A. Schaible said:

    The reason most copywriters don’t have or need a business plan is that they’re NOT running a business.

    Most of us are simply technicians — wordsmiths –cranking out copy.

    If we had to work hard to sell our own services; organize a workforce of subordinates; develop, manufacture and market new products with the input and assistance of many other people; etc., etc., we would need a business plan to keep us organized, measure and report achievements, manage, etc.

    I dare say, many of us are attracted to this craft of copywriting because we’re not good at — or interested in — running a real business.

    That’s my 2 cents…

  25. douglas yul holt said:

    I agree. I’m to busy getting things done to waste time to check on whether I’m ahead or behind. This I do know –when I’m done with this project. I have time for the next one and it’s better if it isn’t confined or restricted by to too many rules and regulations such as a business plan.

    I don’t know where exactly I am in the business world, but in the last three years, I’ve received at least 6 invitation to be put in a national and international who’s who and I’m not even a millionaire, yet.

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