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The Rationale Behind *Live* Documents

When you invest resources authoring a business plan with a review date for 6 or 12 months into the future… what happens if one month later a direct competitor opens next door? Or you have only half the available finances you thought were there… or double the finances?

As Boring as Bat Shit

Do you pretend the environmental change didn’t happen (the osterich strategy)? Do you react from the seat of your pants (the John Wayne strategy)? Or do you manage *live* strategic documents that guide your business toward profit and sustainable enterprise (the sensible strategy)? Before you answer that question, I’ll add that the answer should continue to be correct over the long-term.

There is no way around the fact that business can be mundane and boring. I agree. While corporate strategies may have a certain theoretical coolness, the areas of finance, accounting, statistics, law and general reporting are on the short list for uncoolest thing to talk about at the bar on Friday nights.

A good example: the reputation of the humble business plan is as likely to clear a room as throwing a wounded skunk through the door. Strategic marketing documents fare little better. Accounting forecasts seem to have invisible duck fat all over them because nobody will even pick them up.

So I get it. I do. Most of what business is about is boring and you got into it to be your own boss, follow a passion and take surfing holidays in the Philippines.

Get Excited about Live Documents

But here’s the rub… you should be excited to open your business plans and marketing plans because that’s where you’re going to identify new opportunities and threats ahead of your competition.

Given that the person who knows more and is finding out about the market environment has the first chance to respond… who do you think is going to win from a standing start? You will. Your business will have a constantly updated dossier on everything that comes past your corporate ears – your competitors’ pricing, their suppliers, their major customers. This is how you manage to sell your goods and services to the right people at the right price in the right place using the right promotion and employing the right people who will develop ongoing customer / supplier relationships.

This is how you know when to purchase a new asset or to rent it. Or to diversify into new directions or to divest non-core business units and regroup. The marketplace is dynamic… it’s not a static world you push into your drawer for 12 months and review with a yawn over a coffee. These are the business trenches.

Because you want to figure out who and why those customers go to the competitor with their money… and when you understand the answer you have a chance to poach that customer with a more targeted offering.

Live strategic documents are about the vibrancy of being in business. And they are about the business determination to survive in the marketplace over the long-term.

And I don’t care who you are… to defy those general rules you’re either a brilliant exception or a lucky exception.

What it Means to Manage Live Documents

Yes, I know that it all sounds like hard work but I have one suggestion. Just as a good accountant will make you more money than they cost, so will a good manager. Hire a manager to at least help you author the original documents.

From that point you’re not necessarily looking at a large time investment. A live document is simply one that you update whenever there is a change. If, for some reason, IKEA opens a superstore near your local airport and you sell bookcases then you’re going to lose a great deal of your market. It needs to go into the marketing plan.

It’s that simple. Over time live documents not only allow you to better explain your business data points (successes and failures), they also improve your ability to predict and pro-actively adapt to upcoming challenges and opportunities in the environment.

I would also ask you to consider this: if you find a live document about your business is uninteresting then perhaps you’re in the wrong business. If you like the work then get a job… if you like the business of that work then put on a suit and start managing it like a professional.

That sounds harsh but in a shrinking world of hyper-competitive markets you have to make a tactical decision: sink or swim?

Businesses that refuse to plan mostly sink. In the short-term. Because of a wave that everybody who maintains a set of live documents saw coming six months earlier.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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