There’s a famous scene in the cult-classic 1999 movie “Office Space“ where the main character, Peter, is confronted by his boss, Bill. Amidst the dull hum of white-collar cubicle bliss, Bill passive-aggressively asks Peter if he got the memo about putting cover sheets on all “TPS Reports” (if you’ve seen it, you’re probably already chuckling).
Apparently, Peter neglected to include a cover sheet on his most recent TPS report, and Bill wants to make sure he got the memo so he can rectify this moving forward. Note that he’s not even directly asking Peter to make sure he includes a cover in the future. He wants to know if he got the memo. Bill leaves, saying he’ll make sure he sends another copy of the memo to Peter.
The anti-drama is painfully relatable to anyone who has ever held a desk job in a large, corporate bureaucracy. The takeaway from the scene is clear. The cover sheets, the TPS reports—they’re not important. Neither are even difficult to complete. And yet, these minor interruptions and annoyances from his boss form the cadence of Peter’s day. His week. His life. His miserable, soul-sucking life.
All these things are a hassle. These hassles pile up so high that they make him dread going to work every day. They make him feel like a useless cog in a wheel (in truth, he is). And the fact that they are so small and minor individually is what makes them even more infuriating. What literally haunts his dreams are not big things like salary or responsibilities or key projects. No, his nightmares are filled with these daily hassles—with Bill “just checking in” about that latest memo.
If you’re coming up with a business plan for a new venture, there’s a good chance you can relate to this scene. Perhaps it represents what drove you to become an entrepreneur in the first place. Now that you’ve managed to escape Peter’s situation, make sure you don’t replace it with an entirely new set of hassles that you can’t do anything about.
Business planning reduces hassles and friction
There are many reasons to write a business plan, but one of the primary goals is to reduce friction as you build your venture. Friction is anything you rub up against you that creates tension and slows you down. By creating a “low-friction plan,” you can avoid or at least mitigate problems down the road—plus, it’s what potential lenders or investors expect when you approach them for funding.
A good business plan can reduce the hassle in many ways.
Align on a mission statement that ensures all partners understand what you want to accomplish and what is outside of that core. Embrace your financial plan—financial assessments give you a clearer vision of cash flow and what resources might be needed.
Accounting for risk is one of the best ways to reduce friction in the long term. Doing a SWOT analysis is a great way to assess your internal (weaknesses) and external (threats) risks, in addition to strengths and opportunities. When you do an honest, thorough analysis, seeking diverse input, it can illuminate a wide array of risks, giving you the opportunity to explore and mitigate them as you work through your plan.
When humans are involved, hassles follow
As the scene from “Office Space” demonstrates, though, it’s not always traditional business risks that plague a venture. It’s the daily hassles that can stifle progress and suck away your drive to succeed. Hassles are the inevitable human cost of any venture. Hassle encompasses all the stress and unpleasantness that can come along with a project. Like risks, they’re not necessarily bad—just something to be managed.
Risk is about outcomes. Hassle is the human element. Both can overwhelm you if there isn’t a plan.
Managing hassle may take the form of putting your reputation on the line to get someone to partner with you. It may creep up in the form of a family member who is hurt that you didn’t ask them to help you with a certain project. It could be a small investor who calls you ten times more than your primary funder. Or worse, it might be a business partner who is directly complaining to one of your investors without your knowledge.
In the research for our upcoming book “Fruition: How Great Ideas Come to Life,” we found that the hassle (human) side of your low-friction plan is just as important as the risk (outcome) focus.
The conventional wisdom is to put these hassles in the bucket of small stuff you shouldn’t sweat. But many hassles don’t stay small for long. Hassles can fester day-in-day-out and become a major liability.
That primary investor may tolerate financial risks if the venture is interesting, fun, and potentially rewarding. But if it becomes a hassle? If it creates everyday annoyances? You’ll hear about it. You need to “budget” for these human costs just as you would financial costs, and show others that you’re on top of it.
That’s because hassles can swim around your head as you try to fall asleep at night and fill your mornings with anxiety and dread. Dread is an insidious emotion. It’s not pain—but rather, the anticipation of pain. Research has shown that the dread of pain fires up the same regions of the brain as the pain itself. Yikes.
Techniques to overcome hassles and friction
The most important remedy we’ve effectively already taken care of: being aware of the problems that hassles can create, and being on the lookout as you progress. Consider this your “The More You Know” moment.
Ideally, though, you should anticipate potential hassles like any of the other risks—and take proactive steps to mitigate and plan for them. Like everything else in your business plan, the whole point is to reduce friction. Here are some techniques to guide you.
1. Create your “who inventory”
The “who inventory” lists and briefly describes all the potential players involved with your venture as you progress from the current world to the better, future world that you envision. Take time to catalog everyone with whom you may intersect. Where possible, be specific with names.
Some will be obvious: investors, consumers, business partners, employees.
But let your mind wander through your vision for your business, and you will inevitably come up with many, many more:
- New suppliers if you expand in year two
- Government bureaucracies for obtaining permits
- Compliance professionals with lending institutions
- Family members (those can be the trickiest of all!)
When you reach a critical mass, earmark and detail potential hassles with anyone on the list. This is a place to be brutally honest (and perhaps keep your conclusions private). Consider personalities and personal histories. Where you have questions or unknowns, reach out to others for their opinions and experiences—a business mentor can be helpful here.
It may be helpful to categorize your list and/or diagram it out over the steps it will take to build and sustain your venture. What’s important is that you spend the time thinking through this and documenting it. Include others to get their input and suggestions. Update it as you go. The final inventory may be somewhat messy, but a mess you can see is better than a mess you are blind to.
2. Go beyond user or buyer personas
Personas are a deep dive into the profile of various players involved in your venture—their actions, motivations, needs, thoughts, daily life, and more. The goal is to develop a deep knowledge of what makes them tick and what to expect when interacting with them.
Each persona will allow you to play out what to expect and identify potential hassles. After completing the who inventory, choose only the most important to expand on.
Buyer or user personas—fictional representations of your ideal customers based on their demographics and other characteristics—have been used successfully for many years in industries like software development, and you can find many resources and templates online. Typically, they are a more generic profile—such as “angel investor” or “premium consumer”—but you may also find it necessary to hone in on specific individuals.
The primary personas are traditionally created for end users/consumers of your business—your target market. It’s just as important to understand who you are targeting as it is to know who you are not targeting or working with. Many ventures fail because they try to have an appeal that is too broad. They end up lacking focus and never find their place in the market.
As the name suggests, the personas should feel personal. Give each a name and a stock photo. Make them part of your team. Ask questions like, “Would Sandra complain about having to wait 10 minutes for confirmation, given her tight schedule?” Or, “Will Luis call at the first sign of bad news?”
Use these personas to conceptualize the potential hassles you might encounter. Create scenarios and let them play out in your head. Then, plan accordingly.
3. Do a SWOT analysis
A SWOT analysis is a typical part of preparing any business plan, and you may even include it in the main body.
As discussed above, the tendency is to focus only on more “functional” risks like finances or competition. But, don’t forget to consider the human element—the hassles. Use this awareness and the other techniques to bring this part to life and create a more comprehensive analysis.
Tie it all together
How you take what you’ve learned about your potential hassles and formally integrate it into your business plan will depend on your specific situation. As with any risks you’ve outlined, you likely won’t have a section titled “Hassles”; the learnings should permeate various parts of the plan. Outputs from some of the techniques above may make sense to include in an appendix, and you will at least want to document everything for your own use.
As always, know your audience and focus on what will be most beneficial for them. Investors will want to know that you’ve anticipated what might become a hassle for them (and you) and that you have a plan. You can give your credibility a major boost by showing you’re on top of this part of building your business.
With some foresight and a little healthy paranoia, you can be much better prepared for the journey toward a successful future. Ideally, it’s a future that keeps to a minimum the hassles, friction, and memos about TPS cover sheets.