Fort Nez Perces Trading 1841″ by Joseph Drayton (1795-1856) Business Development in 1841.

Meredith and I had an interesting and wide ranging discussion the other day about business development. We started out by trying to define it.  Now, Wikipedia has the definition as

Business development comprises a number of tasks and processes generally aiming at developing and implementing growth opportunities within and between organizations.

It’s a great definition – if you are an academic – but I came up with a far simpler definition which really clarifies what it is:

Business development is transforming an idea based on a need or want into a product or service that a customer will pay you for.

Business Development = Business Plans or Not?

And when you are discussing business development, the question of business plans always comes up. Do you develop a “traditional” business plan – 25-30 pages demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of the your company; the industry; customers; competitors; how you will market; operations planning, management; and financial projection with supplemental materials in appendices. Is a 10-slide PowerPoint deck good enough – or do you go with a one page business plan – or no business plan. Do you develop a minimum viable product as espoused by the Lean Startup or use the iterative development techniques of agile product development?

Me2 Solutions does help clients develop business plans – but we are not wedded to a particular type of business plan as listed above – although we did develop our own template for the “traditional” business plan because we couldn’t find any template that explained what to put into the business plan – some templates are as simple as a brief outline listing what each section covers. They’re not helpful. Ours is. We tailor our efforts to the needs of the client – we have developed one page to 30 page business pages as well as PowerPoint decks. We’ll discuss when and why to use different types or skip the business plan entirely in a later post.

Why “traditional”

Now you might be wondering why I put “traditional” in quotes when I coupled it with business plan. Well, a little research identified that the “traditional” business plan arose with the creation of venture funding – basically in the early part of the 20th century. Tim Berry used Google’s ngram to plot – a word search on the appearance of the phrase “business plan” in books, compared to “venture capital” and “entrepreneurship” – and found that they were correlated with a few mentions starting in 1900 and rapidly rising in the 1960’s to the present day. So we could say that the “traditional” business plan is 100-120 years old.

Where did Business Development come from?

This raised the question of “What did people use for business development before 1900?” Did the East India Trading Company start with a business plan? It was the Walmart of its day – how did they develop a global corporation without a business plan? They were definitely engaged in business development!

Business development is a fundamental human activity – there isn’t a society, culture or group that doesn’t engage in business development as I defined it above. The payment may be in gold, silver,  copper coins, furs; spices; wood or even stones or characterized by bartering – but exchanging goods – stuff – that you have for what someone else has is older than recorded history.

So Meredith and I have decided that we are going to identify what ancient civilizations and societies did for business development and trace how we got to the present day methods and techniques used in board rooms and by one person endeavors today. We will travel the world – visiting Asia, Africa, the Middle East and America – and through time – stopping in feudal Japan, renaissance Europe, pre-European Africa, the pharaoh’s Egypt, Caesar’s Rome, and colonial America. We’ll talk with some of history’s most famous figures as well as common people. And we’ll look at how their business development efforts affected not only their lives, but us here in the present day.

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If you have any thoughts on or experience with business development, please share them in the comment section below.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.