The short answer, which I found out to my own detriment over the years, is “Yes!”.
However, it doesn’t have to follow the rules you probably inwardly groaned about when you saw the title of this post, nor is it something that you need to have done before you start any activity in your business.
I worked for many years on my blog and copywriting business without a business plan, because I didn’t really consider that what I was doing was a business. I wasn’t making much money and it all just seemed too hard. Then in 2012 I joined the NEIS program and as part of that I enrolled in the Certificate IV in Small Business Management.
The course basically revolves around writing a Business Plan, so by the end of it, I had one in my hot little hand. I found the process enlightening and was grateful for the learning that writing a Business Plan gave me. Even though nothing that was covered was new and I had learnt it all in my coaching programs, it felt really good to bring it all together and see what my actual business would look and feel like. It also gave me a framework for operations for the first 12 months.
And that’s about how long my business plan lasted. I soon realised that copywriting alone was not my jam and that I was much happier in a coaching/digital marketing role. I didn’t however revise my Business Plan accordingly and operated blindly, flying by the seat of my pants for many years. I would get an idea, run with it, give up on it, get another idea, run with that, then give up on that, and so on and so forth. I didn’t even have any financial goals, just responded to individual clients and hoped for the best.
Not only did this not get me very far financially, it also led to me feeling lost and confused. What the hell was I doing? What was my business all about? What was I trying to achieve? I had no idea.
So at the end of last year, I finally sat down to write a business plan. I took an A4 piece of paper and a pencil, and began jotting down some things I gleaned from someone else’s business planning webinar.
I didn’t even follow my own template, which you can download below, I just wrote whatever came to mind, focusing on my clients. Here is what I ended up with:
It’s not perfect, but it’s more than what I had before.
What should my business plan look like?
You can use this template from Small Business Victoria, which is something I would recommend if you need a Business Plan for a bank loan, or another official purpose and is similar to the template I used in my course. Alternatively, you can make a mindmap, you can write it out in your journal, or use this one page template which I have designed. Just enter your details below and it will be emailed to you.
Then there is this resource, developed by for right brained, creative types. The author is an artist and knows that business planning can be tricky and boring for those of you with a more creative bent. I highly recommend the book, which you can get here.
Your business plan should cover your:
- overarching WHY – why are you setting out to do what you are?
- WHAT? – what products and services will you be delivering?
- WHO? – who are your ideal clients?
- Competitors – who are your competitors? How point of difference will you offer?
- Finances – what costs will you incur in setting up and running your business? How will you cover them?
- Goals – what do you plan to achieve by when? These could be financial or sales goals.
- Marketing – what marketing strategies will you use to achieve your goals?
- Review – how and when will you review your Business Plan?
In addition, when I was creating my one page business plan I wrote about my business values, how I wanted my customers to feel when they dealt with me and what it was that I was giving them, in terms of benefits. You can include a combination of all of these in your Business Plan.
When Mary came to me, she had already been working in her business for a number years, running workshops on self-worth for women from her home. She wanted to build on that experience and move her work online, as well as solidify her off-line presence in the local community. She also wanted to learn about business basics and feel like she had a legitimate business, rather than a hobby.
Mary’s head was full of ideas and she already had a beautiful website. We spent our time getting to know each other and I converted all her ideas, her “brain dump”, into a 12 month Action Plan. Without clear timelines, Mary had felt overwhelmed by all her ideas and didn’t know where to start.
Initially, Mary stuck to her Action Plan, and was making great progress, but after a couple of months I noticed that she began diverging into other projects which grabbed her attention along the way, while the items on her Action Plan remained unfinished. By our fourth session, I realised that Mary was suffering from the “shiny object syndrome”, grabbing onto new ideas as they came into her head, or were mentioned by friends and charging ahead with them, instead of persevering with the things already on her plate.
It was time to bring out the big guns. I reflected to Mary what I was seeing and she agreed. She also told that she was beginning to feel overwhelmed again, not only with her business projects, but with some family issues. It was definitely time to take a step back.
I showed Mary my one page Business Plan template and almost immediately her equilibrium returned. She saw that the Business Plan would give her the big picture she needed to make decisions on a daily basis, about what projects to work on and which ones to park for the future. She told me she felt relieved that she didn’t have to keep going with all the new ventures she had committed herself to in her head and that all she needed to do was complete her Business Plan and keep going with her Action Plan, which would now become part of her Business Plan.
How to make your Business Plan work for you
- Make it a living document, something you use and review on a weekly, if not, daily basis.
- Use it to make decisions about projects to get involved in and projects to set aside, either for the future, or for ever. It’s a great tool for managing the “shiny object syndrome”. Some things will fit within your current goals and some won’t. Maybe take them on next year, or pass them on to someone who’s more suited to take them on.
- Constantly check whether the people requesting your services, are your ideal clients. I know that sometimes, when money is tight we don’t have a choice and we work with anyone who comes our way, but believe me, work is so much easier when you know exactly who your ideal client is and when you choose to only work with them.
- Don’t be afraid to change it. Add, delete and edit as you need to, because your business is a growing, living thing, just as you are. We learn and grow every day and we shouldn’t let our Business Plans limit us.
I trust that I convinced you that you really do need a Business Plan when you are in any kind of Business and that it can take any form you like. I do recommend that you do take it out of your head and write it down in some shape or form, because the process of writing it down makes it not only more real, but also more doable.
A Business Plan doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. It can be as unique as you are and the only important thing is that it should useful.
Have fun creating yours!