The 5-Minute Business Plan (and a Confession About Ours)

23 January 2020 | 17 Comments

Way back in 2011, I sat down at my desk with a vision that had been forming over the last few months: I wanted to design a game and try to launch it on Kickstarter.

This is the point when many entrepreneurs compose their business plan. But I’m glad I didn’t, because I had no idea that a company would emerge from the Viticulture Kickstarter. I didn’t know that I would have a co-founder, and I wasn’t aware of our company values, principles, or purpose.

Basically, anything I would have written down would have been 99% irrelevant one year later.

I haven’t thought about business plans for years. The closest we have to one is our mission statement, which I think I originally composed in 2012 and have annually edited it ever since. I’ve also discussed future plans and projections with potential investors, but they’re grounded in a wealth of data about what Stonemaier Games already is.

But recently, several people have asked me for advice about business plans, so I wanted to share my story and thoughts here. I’ll start with my primary advice, followed by several other options to consider:

Don’t spend time making a detailed business plan before actually running your business, as you won’t know what your business is until then.

In other words, rather than spending a lot of time making grandiose plans about a hypothetical idea, make/do/start something. I talk about how Zappos did this here. There just is such a high chance they’ll change after you make/do/start your business.

You also might consider asking yourself: “Why haven’t I already started making/doing/starting this?” Perhaps this is more of a fleeting passion than a sustainable one?

I didn’t create any business plan for Stonemaier Games, but I understand why you might want to compose something. Perhaps it’ll help you focus or impact your decision; maybe you’re crafting a pitch to investors.

So here’s my recommendation: Copy and paste the following questions into a Word document (to make it very easy to edit later), set a timer for 5 minutes (spend your time making, not planning), and type at most 1-2 sentences per answer.

  1. What’s my idea? (i.e., what am I selling?)
  2. Why am I excited about this idea?
  3. Who will care about this (and why)?
  4. What’s my dream goal for this idea?
  5. How will I get my first sale?
  6. What’s my next step?

When you’re done, print it out and leave it by your desk so you can easily make notes on it in the coming weeks and months. When you accomplish the next step, open up the Word document to revise any answers that have changed and evolved (including creating a new next step).

Your “next step” can mean a number of different things. Sometimes it’s research; sometimes it’s execution. It will vary over time, and at some point it will involve creating a budget. But not right at the beginning.

This is purely my perspective; I’d love to hear yours. Did you write a business plan? What method worked (or didn’t work) for you?


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17 Comments on “The 5-Minute Business Plan (and a Confession About Ours)

  1. I think project manager is the profession of the future. It’s the only thing I can think of that incorporates almost all parts of the brain. Maybe aside from a product manager, which kinda means the same thing generally.
    It requires managerial skills, interpersonal skills, negotiation, leadership, creativity, problem solving, analytical thinking, number crunching and a deep understanding in marketing, development and business.

    If you’ve been following Martin from Wintergatan’s youtube channel, he tackles with this same problem in episode #57. Martin is a Swedish musician trying to build the world’s first engineered musical marble machine. Well, maybe not the first but definitely the most complicated to date. And somewhere along the line, he discovers that what he really lacks isn’t welding, woodworking, CAD designing or musical skills, but a project manager to help him tame the beast of a project that he has undertaken.

    For me, the aspect of being able to do so much within such a contained space is a blessing, and that’s why I love this blog post! Seeing the role of a crowd-funder as a project manager helps me feel at ease with my inner generalist, that doesn’t want to conform to liming myself to just one thing or skill.

  2. I really appreciate this advice. I tend to be very business minded and want to put the cart before the horse. I want to jump the gun and get all the business stuff set up, draft the articles for an LLC and just run run run before I even have a product to really sell. Slowing down and making sure you have the passion for the product and that it is shared before jumping the gun is a huge time and money saver.

  3. I love the questions Jamie. I agree business plans are difficult to nail down and can be dynamic at first. However, like in most long term commitments, a strategy is required to avoid costly course corrections, which all experienced business owners have experienced. This is one of the things I like most about your games and others like them. You have to develop a basic strategy and adapt as things develop, but still stick with your initial course.

    I think the initial business plan is also about the journey. Having to develop something exposes you to some of the concepts and ideas you may never had considered. I own and operate a successful multi-million dollar small business in another industry and have for the last two years planned on entering the this industry as my next evolution. One important thing to note is there is a vast difference between being a creative person who enjoys and perhaps can even design games, loves the hobby, etc. and a person who is smart at running a business. Having read many of your posts and witnessing your success, I’m confident you know what I mean.

    I’ve known many small business owners who don’t realize the amount of time and effort working on “the business“ rather than what the product or service the business provides. For example, you may be a fantastic engineer or doctor, but this does not equate to being able to understand the implications to changes in your quarterly financials (P&L, BS, etc.) or cash flow (small business killer) and what you need to do to avoid common pitfalls (cash flow is king here). Having this knowledge, or recognizing you don’t have it and hiring it, is all the more important before you bring on your first employee. Now people are relying on you. If you aren’t interested in working hard outside your comfort zone and relying on others, it will be challenging to be successful without a plan.

    I don’t mean to sound discouraging to anyone considering this path. Running a successful business can be one of the most satisfying things I can imagine. I love intricate problems and there are plenty of those. I’ve just noticed a surge lately in failed small businesses around me and people just need to walk in eye wide open.

    If you’re running a one man show and have another source of income that allows you some free time… go for it. I’ve learned more from my failures than successes.

  4. Its so easy to plan but so hard to execute those plans (says the 7 year business owner about to sell his company). I think the question of “How will you make your first sale” is the most important one of all! Without that, the philosophy and excitement of your business idea is merely good feelings. It all goes back to your prior posts which paraphrased say “Just do something, anything tangible to get started on your game design (or business). Take it out of the idea realm into the physical one. That one action can completely change your thoughts about the idea.” Sage advice for any entrepreneur, good sir.

  5. As a retired mathematician I am more interested in propagating math knowledge than making money from games, but I had an idea that required complex calculations to generate players’ parameters after their moves, which are then displayed on a game board as location, speed and direction). Are there business models that include a dedicated calculator as part of a board game?

  6. A key element of your non-plan plan is that it was cheap to start. You did’t mortgage your house, quit your day job, move to China, and take millions of dollars from investors.

  7. I absolutely agree with this perspective. There are so many things that are okay or even good to have but not central the success of what you’re doing that people choose to spend hours over rather than working on the matter at hand. Its often little more than procrastination. A business plan is good to have, but not if it puts off the actual making and doing of the business by more than a few minutes. I personally have similar feelings about people who put off the launch of a perfectly good and complete game on Kickstarter for sometimes years so that they can perfect their social media campaign or mailing list, in the end more launched campaigns without them fund than unlaunched ones with.

  8. Good Stuff Jamey! I couldn’t agree more. I have always been a person of this mentality, I go for it, build it, test it, then look back and clean up…. :) Not always the best choice but that’s just how I roll and what is my norm. Another book to check out is (Ready Fire Aim) the title alone makes sense. I am at the point now where I need to build a audience of some kind to launch to, in order to have any kind of success with Kickstarter. Well, at least I think thats what I need. We have built an amazing game which is truly a lot of fun, but bringing in backers to blow this thing up is where I am a little lost.. Don’t want to mess up my chances without the correct plan.
    This is Chunk from FB aka Country M. in real life!
    – Peddler

  9. I’m a huge proponent of this, and it is just as true for marketing plans. You need to remain open to change as you try things out. Eventually, you find that one or two things that really catch on and give you a meaningful jump when focused upon.

    Even in an established board game business, it’s important to remain open to change… like using Kickstarter to raise a few million dollars, and then swapping to a distribution model to raise 20 million more :)

  10. That’s one of the benefits a company has when starting as a start up. Doesn’t need to hassle with business plans or board meetings taking their own time, we can just do things.

    I do however value re-evaluation and planning within reasonable time frames but without letting it get in the way of execution.

  11. This has been my mantra recently, so it’s incredibly empowering to see someone with your experience say this Jamey. I have a tendency to overplan things, which always leads to getting bogged down and paralyzed by the details. I’ve recently been reading Start by Jon Acuff, which has really drawn into sharper focus what I’ve been doing to myself and how I just need to forge ahead with a guiding focus, but not everything in stone.

    Since then, I registered for Protospiel MN and made a to do list to help guide creating my first prototype, all culminating in getting my blog site up and running last night. Instead of fixating on details with all of these things, I just made it, knowing full well I can change any of it. And boy, it feels really good to finally be progressing instead of thinking (and overthinking) about it.

    To the questions you created – would it make sense to include a piece in this activity about identifying where you’ll need the most help and who might be interested? Does it make sense early on to point out the areas of difficulty so you are proactive in approaching them and determining where you can get help with those pieces?

    1. Thanks Joe! I appreciate the book recommendation.

      That’s a good question about where you’ll need the most help and who might be interested. I could see that falling in the “next step” category, though it could be an added question for ongoing self-reflection too.

  12. I think this is spot on. I would add, however, whenever possible, to infuse a strong customer focus in your questions you write out. What I mean by that is beyond why YOU are excited and why it’s YOUR dream idea, make sure you ask, “Why will other people care about this?”, “What is different about this game from what is out there?” “What are the five or ten most closely related games?” “Will customers understand why this game is fundamentally unique?”

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