For while now I've used the Business Model Canvas, created by Alexander Osterwalder of Strategyzer, as a base to recreate the canvas for different contexts.
The Business Model Canvas is often described as a one-page business plan. It consists of nine components that make up the basic building blocks of any business.
The Nonprofit version has proven to be successful so far. I've spoken with lots of consultants, practitioners, and CxOs on how to use it to their advantage. I've also been coaching people 1-on-1 on how to fill it out as quickly as possible, and then teach it to their clients.
Countless downloads, emails, and consultations (in-person and online) later, I've picked up some notable trends about how people were treating the the nonprofit version, and the Business Model Canvas in general.
Here's a partial snapshot of what I've learned:
1. Not knowing how to fill out the canvas
This is a big one. The Business Model Canvas is the quickest way to visualize all nine parts of any business or organization. Even if you're a bootstrapped solo business owner where it's just you running the show, you can use the canvas on yourself to see where most of your time, energy, and money is really going.
I noticed that true beginners who are just now getting into visual planning and design thinking, still need to take it slow.
Do this: Fill out Customer Segments first. Then fill out the products and services in your Value Proposition second. Finally, fill out Revenue Streams third. If you have freebies and other free things you give away, list those in your Revenue Streams too. Note, if you're a nonprofit, also consider your mission metrics aka Outcome Streams.
2. Not involving teams
Preferably, a team should include the CEO (problem owner), some department heads, one creative "outsider," and preferably an objective facilitator.
I'm not really a fan of canvases generated online. I always highly recommend that you do one or two prototypes, but then you had better take it out of the laptop for everyone to see.
Print a larger version if you can. Whip out the Post-its and markers. Why? Airy ceilings, spacious rooms, natural lighting, big whiteboards along with sticky notes, printouts, diagrams, and other visual cues, is almost magical, as Tim Brown of IDEO notes in his book Change by Design:
The simultaneous visibility of these project materials helps us identify patterns and encourages creative synthesis to occur much more readily than when these resources are hidden away in file folders, notebooks, or PowerPoint decks.
It's hard to disagree.
3. Explaining the Canvas with 1 Question (at first)
This is more for the consultant side of things and people who are designing workshops. People often get caught up with gobbledygook and granular explanations that everyone starts to get lost.
This can get tricky, so I've resorted to a different way. Ask one main question, then only elaborate when asked. This isn't entirely original. Other practitioners have done it as opposed to vomiting an essay explaining each block.
You have nine components. That's still a lot of territory to cover. It's easy to butcher the crap out of the explanations. So ask one question each. You want to explain briefly what each block is for, add some quick examples, and then move on.
For example, when it comes to customer segments, just ask "Who do you help?" Read the context in the room: If they're aching for more elaboration, either tell them not to overthink it, or give them fast examples they can understand.
4. Keep the language simple
The canvas excels as a one-pager tool because it literally puts everyone on the same page (ba-dum tss). Simplicity is the medium. That's the point.
If the canvas gives teams a shared common language for a topic as complex as the business model, then simple sentences (or just concrete nouns) on a sticky note will suffice.
It's not uncommon to see everyone get lost as they struggle to explain their business model together using just words. Put them in front of a bunch of sharks, and they're still going to get devoured.
5. You think after one canvas, you're done.
Wrong. A canvas is just a hypothesis. It won't be entirely accurate after the first try. Remember, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Creating a series of canvases can is like storyboarding.
Pete Docter, American film director, animator, screenwriter, and key Pixar collaborator, said that it took 178,128 storyboards (maybe more) when creating the film "Inside Out."
Thankfully, you don't need to have thousands of prototypes.
You have many options as to what to do next. With a completed canvas, you can do a few things:
Set up a new strategy meet where your team rapidly prototypes many future states. What's your ideal business model?
You can also do what innovation journalist and author of "A More Beautiful Question" Warren Berger calls "question-storming" (as opposed to brainstorming). Examine the blocks that may be rife with assumptions. Use positive open-ended questions like "What if..." and "How might we..." It's a great way to discover blind spots.
What's my plan now?
Are you in the Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and general Hampton Roads area?
I'm holding a workshop called "Design Your Business Model on One Page" on June 14, 6:30PM at the 1701 Coworking Space, just blocks away from the beach. I'll go deeper on the insights here, how to fill it out, and much more.
Get your tickets here. 1701 members get a discount. Message me for the code. Or head over to the private Facebook group.
What will you learn?
- Where your time, money, and energy is really going (and your blind spots)
- What to fix, keep, improve, or transform in your business model
- Other essential tools/tactics, either hidden or not found, in the original book
Startups, current business owners, corporate innovators, students, and consultants. It’s also for anyone looking to see how design thinking tools can be applied to real-world strategic problems.
What if you're not local?
It's OK. I'm absolutely releasing a virtual version of this. There are so many things you can do in addition to the canvas — before and after — that simply can't be explained in one post (or one sitting). The quickest way to stay updated is to subscribe to my newsletter. You'll be the first to know.
What are your thoughts?
Positive open-ended questioning and visual planning feels awkward for some. Who the heck plans like this any way? You'd be surprised.
You can spend months thinking and debating and getting lost with words. Or, you can spend one day (a week at most) and have a blueprint and "schematic" that's good enough to execute. Simply adjust along the way.
Feel free to comment below.