In our first installment, we discussed how to decide whether to accept your company’s invitation to build a new business line. Today, we cover what happens next, after you’ve accepted the challenge. Making a smart decision to take on the development of a new service offering is undeniably important, but what happens after you make the decision can be outcome-determinative. Too many intrapreneurs fail because they don’t act decisively in the early stages of the initiative. I believe that success can be driven by three concepts —Conceptualization, Communication, and Creation — during the business planning phase.
The work you did in evaluating the opportunity will be helpful here. My first rule of business is to create a 3–4 page narrative that outlines the business concept and the potential benefit to the company. This document is important because it becomes your charter, and when the business building process gets frenetic (and it will), you have a touchstone to remind yourself of the mission. At this early stage, the goal is to get the ball rolling. Limiting the narrative to 3–4 pages is enough to have substance without overloading it with details. In my experience, laboring over a complex document at an early stage is counterproductive. Overly detailed charter documents can constrain your thinking and make assumptions that later prove to be inaccurate. The charter will help give shape to your business plan.
Almost everyone that has attempted to build an intrapreneurial business has made the mistake of “walling” themselves off in a silo and working in the shadows. Doing that is a big mistake. People resent when a colleague is given an opportunity and then disappears. Someone always feels slighted, whether for rational or irrational reasons. Avoid any unpleasantness by being open and giving others a stake in your success. The best course of action is to share your plans with your peers in the organization and generate support for your work. Having your manager’s support is essential, but it’s not enough. Your peers become your emotional investors, your brand champions, and your mentors. This is where your 3–4 page charter document comes in handy. It becomes a basis for discussion and brainstorming.
You won’t have a lot of working capital when you start, and you’ll need your peers to lend you expertise, resources, and, at times, their sales teams. Cultivate and include them early in the process — don’t wait until you need something from them. If you do, you risk undergoing a period of prolonged lobbying to bring people up to speed and motivate them to help you.
Another benefit of bringing your peers up to speed early is that you can ask them to identify clients and other “friends of the firm” to help test your concept. One of the most positive experiences I had when I came into a company to build a new service line was having my colleagues introduce me to firm clients to test our thinking. We didn’t have sales meetings — we had concept and focus group discussions. Those conversations debunked some of the assumptions we made about the legal market and what clients would be inclined to buy. Based on the feedback, we found ways to restructure what we were bringing to market in a way that gave the client more potential buying options. Those conversations changed the arc of our development cycle.
Armed with all the good will you generated and the critical thinking you’ve amassed, you’re now well-positioned to create a business plan. From my experience, a more detailed business plan is the product of creating a concept document, ideating and sharing the concept internally and externally, and then synthesizing what you’ve learned into a cogent plan to enter the market. At large companies, the business planning process is long and intense. For lean intrapreneurs, business plans are an iterative guide for how to get from a plan to a service offering or product. In my plans, I typically include:
Business plans are living documents, and they’ll evolve as you build a team, start actively selling, and start delivering work. The purpose of an intrapreneurial business plan is to give you a path to do the job you were asked to do in a systemic way — not to tie your hands. A cautionary note on projections, however: Many intrapreneurs make the mistake of being overly aggressive with revenue projections. It’s very hard to backtrack when you put numbers out there that have no factual basis. Confidence is good, but until you get a sense of how customers are responding, it’ll be very difficult to have good data. Unlike a situation where you’re seeking financing from a bank or an investor group, you have some leverage when you agree to take on the business development initiative.
Come to a clear understanding as to the timeline to bring a service to market and to the fact that the projections and forecasts will become more detailed as the business gains data and an operating history. (This ties back to the opportunity evaluation process described in our first installment.)
In our next installment, we’ll discuss the challenges that come with selling and winning business, and how you survive that critical time when your business is growing, but your P&L isn’t ready to support adding more people.
This article was originally featured on Above The Law, November 30, 2017.