To succeed in business, think like a journalist

With vaccination rates increasing and pandemic restrictions easing, commercial activity is picking up and more would-be entrepreneurs and small-business owners are wondering if now is the time to take that leap of faith and strike out on their own.

But before they do, they may want to take a page from the news media as they make their plans.

When a reporter sits down to write a story, it is the last step in process that begins with a series of questions: Who, what, when, where and why. It’s the same for business owners and entrepreneurs when thy write a business plan. Or at least it should be.

Most people have heard the old business adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” And while having a solid business plan in hand is a key to success, asking the right questions is fundamental to developing a successful plan.

A reporter asks the Five Ws to produce a well-rounded article that answers the most pressing questions about the subject or issue. Getting that basic information provides the framework, context and credibility of the story that follows. And it is no different for entrepreneurs and small-business owners as they write the story of their business plans.

The “Who” is the people involved in the venture. Is it to be a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a small operation with a few employees? How big is this company now and how big can it become?

The “What” takes a hard look at the nature of the business and the products or services to be offered. Keeping a tight focus on what the business has to offer and what need it fills is a crucial step in putting all the pieces together for success.

The “When” is an often overlooked question but deals directly with the logistics of when to launch the enterprise as well as more basic details including operating hours and availability. That information is crucial because it is the base point for the business timeline.

The “Where” addresses several locational issues, including whether or not the business will have a physical presence or if the business is to be virtual. From there, the type of digital platform and web presence are questions that need answers.

The “Why” may be the most important question of all. Is this an attempt to take a hobby to the next level or is it a good idea that has been sitting on the back burner? Is there a need for this product or service that isn’t being addressed by the market? Or is this the beginning of a new chapter in a career? Revenues and profits are certainly important, but there are a lot of ways to make a living and prospective entrepreneurs need to be honest about why they are willing to take the necessary risks and put in the time to pursue their idea.

Following this model may not win any prizes or even guarantee success. But answering the questions accurately and honestly makes the next step, and the ones that follow, a little easier to navigate. And it could well make for another success story in our growing business community.