For the past few months, I’ve been creating a business plan for our start-up by working with the advice of the leading book on writing business plans. (See sections of the business plan listed in the book below) It is a large, oversize book that is praised by top VCs of Silicon Valley. I’ve reached about 45 pages now as my start-up company moves into their first project without this being written into the business plan. It’s an interesting idea that would offer a unique service of our start-up company to an industry.
But this first project of the company simply doesn’t not want to wait for the completion of the business plan and the presentation to VCs and others for more money to go on. In other words, my company has started doing a project in the real world before completion of the business plan I’m writing. This happens sometimes. Whatever happens with the project, I attempt to run ahead of the company a little with mt focus on the Marketing section of the business plan.
The first sections of the business plan continued on with the speed of maple syrup in the winter. It was the middle of winter in my state. As I worked on them every day while the rest of the partners in the company were involved with setting up company operations. From the very start, I believed in the axiom of knowing your weaknesses and strengths within a business context. Both your personal weaknesses and strengths and those of the company as a whole against industry competition.
In fact, this seemed to be the real strength of a new start-up business for me: the ability to understand your internal and external strengths and weaknesses in the world. The ability to not let one’s ego overcome their overall perspective on the world, like it often does. This ability to perceive this overall context of the world is an important business ability.
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It seems to involve the dynamics of a number of egos placed within the context of a particular business or some endeavor, where everyone is attempting to march together towards some common goal that will be rewarded to the group. In the end, perhaps. How else does one describe a modern start-up business? This start-up into an industry that is on fire right now.
Within this context, the most important thing to me seems to be creating a type of strength and weakness chart with each person in the company working with me on writing the part of a business plan they consider their strength. In this way, the business plan is written by one person with the input of his/her business partners.
Among the five partners in our business, the real lacking part of the business plan was that (rather large) section towards the back of the plan called Financials. We had three lawyers in the company, an MBA and two scientists. But no one good at Financials.
* * *
This doesn’t seem to matter at this particular time as the company really has no Financials to speak of. The overall perception of the industry we are going in has changed over the past year from one of a “goldrush” image to the reality of an over-supplied industry. It’s the industry our company is entering.
With the current first project, we attempt to dip our feet into a niche of industry space. A section on that great industry trade show or supermarket, a section on their “shelf space” so to speak. It is not what our company wants to ultimately do. We have much larger plans. But unfortunately, the market our ideas envision is maybe a few years away and we are intent on experimenting and learning and progressing in a steady manner, at first. There is so much risk in this industry which still has a boom mentality, despite the setbacks of last year.
In all of this, there is little doubt in my mind that my greatest strength is focusing on the Marketing section of the business plan. I wonder: perhaps a business plan is really about placing one’s particular strength (or the combined strength of the partners in a start-up) before a particular audience. A business or consumer audience. Or a LinkedIn or FaceBook or other social media audience. A film audience on YouTube or Vimeo. A podcast audience also.
Just as one attempts to highlight one’s talents within a particular enterprise, perhaps there is a better way of writing business plans. It does not involve changing any of the big elements of a start-up business described in the big business plan book. Rather, it involves the focus on one element of the business plan as the real competitive strength of the particular business. This particular (index, ratio, definition) strength of partners in our start-up is the real core of this new type of business plan being suggested.
I realized my real strength is attached to my lifelong love for writing. I realized that writing has always been placed in the service of my various marketing positions through a career in marketing. A number of published and unpublished manuscripts and books written on subjects that interest me like symbols and symbolism and media and advertising. And movies and film as I grew up in Los Angeles and my parents knew a number of the famous actors in Hollywood of the 40s and 50s.
The challenge for me, at this particular time in my life, seemed to be most effectively using my writing talent today. It sure as hell was not in sending articles and essays to the fading literary or general magazines. Rather, it was publishing via my website and social media sites. And, the most effective potential return on my writing abilities seemed to be placing them in the context of writing about our start-up company.
Should modern business plans focus on one aspect of the elements (sections) in a business plan where the real strength of the start-up resides?
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The real challenge and innovation in modern writing might not be in inventing new narrative perspectives or genres, but rather, in the application of writing to other aspects of life and culture. For example, writing has always been focused on areas like teaching, journalism, books, articles, magazines and newspapers.
What about its contemporary escape to screenplays for films? Or, screenplays for business start-ups. Like the one my business plan is moving towards these days.
This seems a promising new territory for business plans to explore. And also, for screenwriters to explore.
* * *
The ultimate value of a new type of modern business plan might be in its screen story more than its product idea. The product is an actor in the screen story. One leading author and marketer argues that the customers (not their product) are the real heroes in the product story a company tells. Everyone talks about the business story these days. But few attempt to put it into practice within the context of a new start-up business.
This is one thing that I felt more drawn to trying. I really felt it much from the start. It all went back to that night in the downtown courtyard with the group. The end of September at the wedding of my fellow partner and stepson in this start-up business.
We all talked about starting this business. I told them that a modern business start-up relates strongly to screenplay or script for a series. In many ways, this represents a huge new industry for dramatists and screenwriters today.
* * *
All of this, it seems to me, requires screenwriters looking at business start-ups as a new target market for their screenplays. Perhaps a new type of screenplay will (should) feature key parts of a business plan? Perhaps the modern business plan will gain a new type of drama to it so that it can compete with all the rest of the loud social media out there attempting to gain attention today.
Such a challenge for one, intent on creating a screenplay for a particular start-up business or enterprise. A bold attempt to free a group of people from working for a corporation or for the government. Something “off the grid” from the lives of so many others out there. Someone involved with a business start-up, that attempt to break away from the regular business grid out there so to speak
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the two contexts of big business and government. The purpose of any start-up is to break away from this. In this sense, they are all really heroes or heroines.
Estes Park, CO
Heroes and heroines come and go and the scenery of the film continues to change. Some parts of the business plan seem to operate in a thick type of fluid and change each with the slow steadiness of oil in old Lava Lamps. In effect, some parts of standard business plans seem to have little dynamics while others, seem wildly dynamic canvasses splashed with ideas.
This new stir in that narrative genre called business plans seems necessary to make the genre relevant to modern business models for millennials. A new way is needed so that ideas from young entrepreneurs can be most effectively expressed to the modern business world. Creating a screenplay of the business idea might be the most effective manner for the business idea, not necessarily the screenplay.
The business plan for our company continues to grow. The idea of creating a hybrid business plan/screenplay is on my mind. This is what I see our business plan as morphing into as part of a form of natural evolution of the business plan for the modern world.
* * *
Perhaps one key challenge today is not chasing all the bright lights of culture and trying to discover or create something new. This is always being done it seems. Much rarer, and more important, it seems to me, is in establishing new, powerful connection between the “something news” already out there in life. The connection between the leading method for creating a screenplay today with the leading with the elements of the leading business plan start-up guide. The two methods are presented in the two forms below.
It seems that the new type of screenplay business plan needs to take the elements of Abrams business plan into account. And too, it seems that Abrams’ business plan method (and all major methods of creating modern business plans) need to experience right now a critical review of their effectiveness in the modern world they exist within.
Might positioning a company via a dramatic form like a screenplay, offer the most effective positioning for start-up companies today? At the very least, it seems important that the connection between business plans and screenplays be much more explored than in the past.
In addition, might the key story within the screenplay of the start-up business be wise to focus on the strength of the start-up business rather than anything suggesting a weakness. All of this done, though, with full knowledge of the author of the business plan understanding the true strengths and weaknesses of the start-up business.
Events continue to develop each day and projects overtake my ability to write about them. In the background, perhaps, the screenplay about our start-up business continues to develop.
One of the biggest ideas in contemporary business is that businesses have their own stories and these stories might be the most important thing to discover and utilize in building the business. Certainly, businesses have other things like marketing and operational plans as well as pitch decks and business plans. But finding the interface between elements of a business and its key story might create that important sense of drama to a business allowing for a new supercharged type of communication that quickly separates it from the pack.
A good-sized cottage industry of business story gurus (BSGs) and books has grown in the last decade. These new BSGs come from both the business and story worlds and the result is that creating a business story has become a valuable buzz word in modern business that finds reference in numerous articles on business. It seems something to be included or at least given a nod to in modern business. It seems to be an important element to most businesses by CEOs and companies need to attach themselves to it somewhat like the word “organic.”
Yet, in spite of numerous articles, seminars and books on creating business stories, the real potential still remains elusive. This is so because there has hardly been any interface between the greatest structural form for creating modern stories called screenplays. Some have attempted a partial interface. One of the most successful attempts are the seminars and the Building a Story Brand system of Donald Miller. Not surprisingly, Miller borrows much from screenplay structure. His seven step process mirrors many of the key parts of a screenplay. Yet in the end, Miller is more concerned about the business brand rather than the business story.
A few of the major “beach-head” connections between story and business is the connection between those the business devices called business plans and pitchdecks and screenplays. In this respect, it makes sense to compare the elements of business plans and pitchdecks to the elements of a screenplay. For this comparison, it is good to use the leading structures for business plans and screenplays. The leading book for creating business plans is Rhonda Abrams Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies, 7thEdition. And, the leading book on screenplay structure is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.
The extension of the screenplay techniques of Save the Cat have already been extended to the writing of novels with the book Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody (Ten Speed Press, 2018). The form follows the Save the Cat! screenplay form with additional information for novelists.
Screenplay techniques need to be extended to creating pitchdecks but this is another article altogether. The pitchdeck is a true hybrid between a the literary genre called a business plan and a film genre of the slide presentation. Usually, pitch decks contain 10-15 slides and start out – like a screenplay – with a Problem and an Opportunity. Pitch decks need to be created out of the overall business story.
It is time for the screenplay form to interface with business plan form to create a new type of business plan more relevant to the modern world. Below are the leading business plan and screenplay structures mentioned above as well as the elements of Don Millers Building a Brand Story and Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel.
The key correspondence needs to be discovered between screenplays and business plans and it needs to be tested within the context of a new type of business plan and new type of business created from this business plan.
1.Major Business Plan Structure
From Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies, 7th Edition.
Form of Business
Trademarks, Copyrights & Other Legal Issues
Products or Services
Location and Geographical Information
Milestones Achieved to Date
Specialty Business Information
Industry Size & Analysis
Size & Growth of Industry
Sensitivity to Economic Cycles
Supply & Distribution
Anticipated Changes and Trends in Industry
Global Industry Concerns
Lifestyle and Psychographics
Market Size and Trends
Market Share & Distribution
Barriers to Entry
Strategic Position & Risk Assessment
Definition of Strategic Position
Marketing Plan & Sales Strategy
Online Marketing Tactics
Sales Force & Structure
Plant & Facilities
Equipment & Furniture
Supply & Distribution
Order Fulfillment & Customer Service
Research & Development
Other Operational Concerns
Technology Goals & Position
Internet Goals & Plan
Technology Personnel Needs
Management & Organization
Compensation & Incentives
Board of Directors/Advisory Committee
Management to be Added
Management Style/Corporate Culture
Social Responsibility & Sustainability
Social Responsibility Goals
Social Responsibility Certifications
Development, Milestones & Exit Plan
Long-Term Growth Goals
Cash Flow Projections
Sources & Use of Funds
2.Major Screenplay Structure
From Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!
Save The Cat Structure
Opening Image – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
The Promise of the Premise – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
Midpoint – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
Bad Guys Close In – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
All is Lost – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
Dark Night of the Soul – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
Finale – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
Final Image – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.
3.Building Story Brands
(Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller)
- The Character
Your customer is the hero of the story, not your brand a) define who your customer is b) what he/she wants and c) the one thing that helps him/her to survive or thrive.
- The Problem
Draw your customers deeper into the story by a) identifying the villain between them
and their desires and b) offering a solution that addresses their problems at 3
- The Guide
The heroes in stories start out with self-doubts and problems they can’t solve on their
own. They need a guide who has “been there, done that.” The company is the guide (but don’t
compete with your customer to be the hero). Be the guide they’re looking for. If you
focus on your customers’ success, your own success will follow.
- The Plan
Customers will only trust a guide with a plan. To get customers to commit to a
purchase, you can present 2 types of plan–a process plan and an agreement plan–to
show them what to do and remove any possible fears of doing business with you.
- Calls to Action
Customers won’t take action unless they’re challenged to do so. Learn to use 2 types
of calls to action the a) direct call and the b) transitional call to close the sale.
- Avoid Failure
Everyone wants to avoid a tragic ending. Define what’s at stake so your potential
customers feel motivated to take action. Specifically, you can highlight a) potential
losses or b) bad outcomes if they don’t use your product or service.
- Attain Success
This is where you give customers the happy ending to their story. Tell people exactly
how you can improve their lives; don’t assume they know.
4.Application of Save the Cat Method to Novels
(Save the Cat Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody)
Act 1 / The Beginning
- Opening Image (0% to 1%) – A single scene beat that shows a “before” snapshot of the protagonist and the flawed world that he or she lives in.
- Theme Stated (5%) – A single scene beat in which a statement is made by someone (other than the protagonist) that hints at what the protagonist will learn before the end of the story.
- Setup (1% to 10%) – A multi-scene beat in which the reader gets to see what the protagonist’s life and the world are like–flaws and all. It’s also where important supporting characters and the protagonist’s initial goal (or the thing the protagonist thinks will fix his or her life) is introduced.
- Catalyst (10%) – A single scene beat in which a life-changing event happens to the protagonist and catapults him or her into a new world or a new way of thinking. In other words, after this moment, there’s no going back to the “normal world” introduced in the setup.
- Debate (10% to 20%) – A multi-scene beat where the protagonist debates what he or she will do next. Usually, there is some kind of question haunting them like, “should I do this?” or “should I do that?” The purpose of this beat is to show that the protagonist is reluctant to change for one reason or another.
- Break Into Two (20%) – A single scene beat in which the protagonist decides to accept the call to adventure, leave their comfort zone, try something new, or to venture into a new world or way of thinking. It’s the bridge between the beginning (Act 1) and middle (Act 2) of the story.
Act 2A / The Middle (Part 1)
- B Story (22%) – A single scene beat that introduces a new character or characters who will ultimately serve to help the hero learn the theme (or lesson) of the story. This character could be a love interest, a nemesis, a mentor, a family member, a friend, etc.
- Fun and Games (20% to 50%) – A multi-scene beat where the reader gets to see the protagonist either shinning or floundering in their new world. In other words, they are either loving their new world or hating it.
- Midpoint (50%) – A single scene beat where the fun and games section either culminates in a “false victory” (if your protagonist has been succeeding thus far) or a “false defeat” (if your protagonist has been floundering thus far) or a. In romance novels, this could be a kiss (or more), a declaration of love, or a marriage proposal. In a mystery or thriller, this could be a game-changing plot twist or a sudden ticking clock that ups the ante. This could even be a celebration or the first big public outing where the protagonist officially declares themselves a part of their new world. Whatever happens during this beat, it should raise the stakes and push the protagonist toward making a real change before moving forward.
Act 2B / The Middle (Part 2)
- Bad Guys Close In (50% to 75%) – If the protagonist had a “false victory” at the Midpoint, this multi-scene beat would be a downward path where things get worse and worse for him or her. On the other hand, if the Midpoint was a “false defeat,” this section will be an upward path where things get better and better. Regardless of the path your protagonist takes during this multi-scene beat, his or her deep-rooted fear or false-belief (their internal bad guys) and the antagonist (external bad guys) are closing in.
- All is Lost (75%) – A single scene beat where something happens, that when combined with the threat of the bad guys closing in, pushes your protagonist to their lowest point.
- Dark Night of the Soul (75% to 80%) – A multi-scene beat in which the protagonist takes time to process everything that’s happened so far. This is his or her darkest hour—the moment right before he or she figures out the solution to their big problem and learns the theme or life lesson of the story.
- Break Into Three (80%) – A single scene beat where the protagonist realizes what he or she must do to fix not only the external story problems but more importantly, their internal problems as well.
Act 3 / The End
- Finale (80% to 99%) – A multi-scene beat where the protagonist proves they have learned the story’s theme and acts on the plan he or she made in the Break Into Three scene. A great finale has five parts:
- Gathering the Team – The protagonist rounds up his or her friends, and gathers the tools, weapons, and supplies needed to execute the plan.
- Executing the Plan – The protagonist (and his or her crew) execute the plan. Sometimes secondary characters are sacrificed here in order to force the protagonist to continue forward on their own.
- The High Tower Surprise – The protagonist faces a twist or a surprise that forces him or her to prove their worth.
- Dig Deep Down – With no backup plan, the protagonist has to dig deep inside themselves to find the most important weapon of them all—the strength and courage to overcome their fear or false belief (internal antagonist) and face the antagonist or antagonistic force (external antagonist).
- Execution of New Plan – After the protagonist overcomes their fear or false belief (internal antagonist), he or she takes action against the antagonist or antagonistic force (external antagonist) and is successful. (If you’re writing a story where the protagonist isn’t successful, make sure there’s a point to their failure.)