Fun with Lean Planning

If YOU don’t know what you’re offering, how the hell are your CLIENTS going to know?
— Keith Holtaway, Business Advisor

It was a simple enough exercise. I sat in Keith's business planning workshop with other aspiring small business owners, people that had big ideas for gluten-free bakeries, skeleton-themed artwork, inventions hatched in garages late at night just itching to pitch them to Shark Tank. I wanted to help people tell their stories better so that they could make social change. The tricky part was whether these things were actually a viable business model. So we all flocked to Keith, an advisor who has helped hundreds of start-ups get on their feet. Originally from Jersey, he's no-bullshit, to the point, and also happens to be a 3rd degree black belt. If I was going into the fire, this was the guy to tell me how hot it was about to get.

Keith walked us through what's called a lean planning canvas, a simple tool that prompts the business owner to get clarity on what they are trying to introduce to the world. I found the traditional business plan templates available through SCORE and government entities confusing, overwhelming, and far from actionable. The lean canvas is where it's at for people just getting started.


Here are the categories:

  • Problem (List the top 1-3 problems your business seeks to solve)
  • Solution (Outline a possible solution for each problem)
  • Key Metrics (List the key numbers that tell you how your business is doing)
  • Unique Value Proposition (Single, clear, compelling message that states why you are different and worth paying attention)
  • Unfair Advantage (Something that can not easily be bought or copied)
  • Channels (List your path to customers)
  • Customer Segments (List your target customers and users, early adopters + ideal clients)
  • Cost Structure (List your fixed and variable costs)
  • Revenue Streams (List revenue sources)

The lean planning canvas should take no more than 4 minutes per section when you first jot your ideas. It's a magnifying glass on the areas you weren't thinking about at all (hello existential crisis - "What makes me special, ohgawd?") and a galvanizer around areas you can bring forward as a strength ("Oh, I could name several ideal customers right now.")

This foundational document can then be used to write out a vision statement, which Keith provided a great mad lib for: 

VISION STATEMENT - What am I building?

Within the next 3 years, grow ________ (name of business)

Into a successful  __________________ (local, regional, national) ________ (type of business)

providing _______________ (description of product/service) to __________ (target market)

With annual gross sales of $____________ (save room for zeros!) and net profit margin of ____%

From there, you can outline your objectives and action plan towards that vision. And then you get the hell to work, because wow, now you are staring down a dream that's tangible and all you have to do is everything. Keith's full guide to lean planning is here.