One of the side benefits of completely uprooting my financial stability and Starting Over is that it requires a fair amount of introspection and long-term planning. Obviously, something wasn't quite right with the prior setup, or Starting Over wouldn't even have been a consideration. Deciding what to replace the status quo with was a more difficult endeavor.
Some of the desired personal changes were easy. Everyone wants more flexibility, of location and of schedule. Everyone wants more agency — an ability to directly influence and direct the course of one's life. And everyone wants what I like to call "scalability", meaning the capacity to incrementally turn the dial back and forth between work and rest-of-life. Full-time, salaried positions come in one discrete chunk. Correct or not, the tantalizing dream of entrepreneurship promises the permission to incrementally tweak work/life balance as needed.
Some of the other desired changes were more specific. Two years ago I took a more substantial role with my prior employer while simultaneously buying a house with a longer commute. And turning 30. #YOLO2015. I also completed my first 50-mile "race". Like countless others, I quickly let added work commitments and commute times absorb my training schedule. While my health was never at risk, I never prioritized training over my new commitments and am now closer to 5K than 50 mile. Wrapped in the elimination of my commute and regaining control of my schedule is the dream of renewed training, health, and youthful vigor.
Nestled in these idyllic dreams of spare time and a return to a semi-pastoral lifestyle is also a fair amount of nonsense. I know this already. Unfortunately, it's difficult to distinguish the plausible life improvements from fantasy land.
So that's all great. But none of it helps pay Mr. Mortgage (who I like to think of as Mr. Market's shady Italian uncle), which means a business plan of some sort is in order.
Traditional business plans may be great for getting a bank loan, but they seem like a poor return on time invested for a new venture that will probably change dramatically in the first few months of operation.
Still, there is value in goal setting and introspection. Rather than endlessly researching the optimal planning strategy, I opted for the "Prosperity Plan" approach as described by Mike Michalowicz in The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. Yes, the financial well-being of myself and my spouse now depends on a plan created using a book with a title equal parts descriptive and toilet humor.
The Prosperity Plan ditches detailed outlooks in favor of an introspective goal-setting approach. Who are you, the entrepreneur, as a person? What are your goals? How does the business fit in? What are your values, and which values will you emphasize as a business? To drive these concepts to action, the Prosperity Plan includes a set of quarterly business goals and metrics to clarify if you are progressing toward or retreating from the personal goals identified earlier.
Why this approach? First, despite being extraordinarily corny, it actually fits well with a venture whose only employee now and for the foreseeable future is yours truly. If nothing else, it is personalized.
And secondly, I already knew the approach. It was available. I read the book over a year ago and still have my Kindle highlights. Proximity is generally a bad decision making criterion, but my biggest risk right now is wasting time on pedantic items when I could be tracking down a paying customer.
A few hours later, and I had a working draft. One of the benefits of the goal-focused approach was that it helped solidify the personality of Cottonwood Analytics which has made creating a marketing plan and copy substantially easier. In particular, the "Immutable Laws" section helped me get my "why" out of my head and onto paper so that I could refine the message. I'm not sure they will ever be finalized, but stay tuned for more detail on the first pass Immutable Laws in an upcoming post.
So while I don't have a detailed, voluminous business plan, I do have a much clearer vision of what Cottonwood Analytics should be. I still don't have any clue how we will get there, but at least I have a destination in mind.