Start at the End

“If you don't know where you’re going, you probably won't get there.”

- Yogi Berra, Start at the End, page 1

This statement reflects Dave Lavinsky’s philosophy around business growth based on the concept of where you want to go, writing it down, and referring to it on a regular basis. The book is aimed at new or existing entrepreneurs without formal MBA training who, despite having strong motivation to keep their businesses successful, invariably become bogged down in day to day managerial issues, and forget about their long term aspirations that originally inspired them to start a business.

The book is loosely based around Covey’s second habit from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the end in mind.” Instead of a theoretical discussion, Lavinsky’s book gives a clear set of instructions, templates, and action steps to implement within your business. These steps are clear, simple, and easy to implement. In business it is imperative to have a vision of where you want to go, if you focus on plans of achieving those end goals as opposed to focusing on short term problems your business will flourish, Lavinsky gives us the tools to achieve this. The key is to start at the end: figure out where you want to go, and reverse engineer the process to get there.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Documenting your Plan

"If your business can’t operate without you, it's not a business, instead it's a job and possibly a miserable one."
- Start at the End, page 206

This book is designed primarily to generate your strategic plan. This is your road map for the future. He theorizes that the process of generating your plan and then reading and addressing it regularly will get your subconscious mind used to the fact that it can be accomplished, plus it eliminates any confusion, gives clarity to any employees and allows outsiders to assess the business quickly. The strategic plan includes your long term vision and aspirations, while planning is restricted to a twelve month period. This gives business sufficient time to allow constant analysis and measurements of actuals versus expected results.

There are ten key areas with a strategic plan:

  1. Executive summary: this is simply a summary of the most important parts of your strategy, what your business does, and what market it serves. It must also include your unique success factors, which are 4 to 7 reasons why your business will succeed.
  2. Company vision statements: Most readers will be familiar with vision and mission statements. What sets Lavinsky’s concept apart is the idea of both an old school customer focused vision, and a business focused vision including future sale price, expected EDITDA’s (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) and revenues that will get you there.
  3. Opportunities to pursue: What you choose to pursue in the way of opportunities this year and your “why.” For example, moving your business online or opening in a new site.
  4. Goals and milestones: Documentations of expected financial metrics and business assets over five years, one year, quarterly and monthly financials.
  5. Financial metrics and KPI’s (key performance indicators): Documentation of tracked KPI’s historically, their expected values in the future and any new KPI’s to be measured.
  6. Business Assets: Documentation of business assets you need to develop in the coming year and the individual projects. This includes team training, new services, more customers, etc.
  7. Systematization Plan: Documentation of ongoing system development priorities and the team member responsible for implementation.
  8. Marketing plan: Documentation of your marketing plan, how you get new customers, improve lead generation, conversion rates, optimize transaction value and maximize lifetime customer value.
  9. Human resources plan: Identify new employees that you need to hire this year and  outline any training for key team members to ensure the business model is adhered to.
  10. Financial projections: Identify ways the company generates income, whether you need to borrow money for new projects, only include key financial projections and break it down into monthly budgets.

The implementation and generation of a strategic plan was relatively easy for my own business using the downloadable templates. Potential investors were very impressed—a good enough reason to purchase the book alone.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Simple Extras

"In giving you these ideas, I not only wanted you to receive immediate gains, but I wanted to show you that you can always be making incremental improvements to your business."
- Start at the End, page 204

Some of the best strategies are left towards the end of the book as extras to include in your thinking, and include the following ideas:

Do more of what works. Lavinsky tells a story that describes an engineer who decided to start his own consulting business after working in another company for 20 years. He built up the firm over 30 years to be relatively successful and generated over several million in revenue. He died at the age of 72 and left his wife the business. His wife had never run a business before, however after 12 months profits had doubled.

Her strategy was simple: she liaised with management and told them to do two things;

  1. Make a list of the five things that worked the best in the last 12 months and
  2. Make a list of things that worked the least in the last 12 months.

She then instructed the team to do more of the things that worked and stop doing the five things that didn’t. So simple, and yet, so effective. Stick to strategies that work and stop trying fix things that don’t.

Advisory Board. Another easy strategy is to develop an advisory board. Choose successful people whom you respect to use as mentors/advisors. The cost is minimal and advisors can act as sounding boards, generate practical ideas, set goals and give access to valuable connections. Quarterly or monthly meetings are ideal.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"The fact is this: Delegating tasks to others can save you a great deal of time and allow you to focus that time on the highest value-added tasks."
- Start at the End, page 161

It is critical to delegate effectively. Lavinsky discusses 6 steps to improve your skills in  delegating.

  1. Identify the correct person: the right person should have the requisite skills to do the task.
  2. Clearly define the project: this includes your why, completion date and clarity around the purpose.
  3. Discuss the plan of action: give specifics about how the person can complete the task, pay attention to details, and treat the work as a process (rather than a task), ideally documenting the process for future use.
  4. Have them repeat back the plan: repeat until they get the process right.
  5. Monitor progress and provide feedback: check in and provide feedback to monitor progress at previously identified time schedules.
  6. Evaluate Performance: a very important step that is often missed for several reasons. If they do an average job and there is no feedback, then that average job will become the norm. Explain why they did a great job and explain if there is room for improvement, using concrete examples.

Effective delegation makes you replaceable, which is a good thing.

Start at the End is full of inspirational ideas to take your business to the next level, and the tools available make it an invaluable asset to any business. Planning your business with your end goals in mind will help you stay on track, and avoid getting bogged down in day to day details.

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Peter Taylor

ABOUT Peter Taylor

I have owned and managed a veterinary based business on the west coast of Australia for 18 years. No one at Veterinary school gives us any clues about running a business and it is only in the last few years that I have started to study business and management...
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