In all my work with clients whose businesses are struggling and are not where they want them to be, one of the most common missing components is a solid business plan.
It seems that there’s something about business planning which scares many people off…
It’s almost as if having something written down makes a commitment to something you’re not sure you want. Or perhaps you’re afraid you won’t get it. Or maybe you’re not sure whether it’s the “right” thing to be aiming for.
Is it simply the thought of having to sit down and write a long-winded document that then just sits there gathering dust and never again sees the light of day, that stops you from completing an all-important activity which just might be the very reason your business is not where you want to be?
There was a time when I wouldn’t contemplate starting a new business venture without building complex business models in excel, drafting a 30-page business plan and dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s.
That was then, this is now – and these days I create nothing more than a single page plan for every project I start.
Why You Need A Business Plan At All
Like any exciting adventure, it’s useful to have some sort of plan in mind – even if the plan is “Let’s make some money first, head to Guatemala & live off beans and rice for 6 months”. It’s a plan, a goal even…something basic to guide you along the way,
While some people declare themselves to be “anti” goals – arguing that it encourages you to live too much in the future not enjoying the here & now or that you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you don’t reach them and instead achieve something else – I believe goals are vital to setting up, running and growing a business – location independent or not.
Call them aims, a vision, guidelines or whatever you want, but consider this: if you don’t know where you want to go, how will you ever know if you’ve got there?
The Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland said it best:
“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.”
So What Makes A Good Business Plan?
At the very least, a business plan should contain the following:
The overall mission of your project – a guiding statement which keeps you on track and which ultimately determines everything that follows.
Example: Our mission is to spread the concept of location independence to those who would benefit from it and provide everything they need to become location independent.
What you need to do to get there – the key things you’ll need to do to get you to your ultimate objective; a useful question to ask yourself is whether a particular activity will take you closer to your mission or not.
Example: In order to achieve our mission, we must do the following
- Offer inspiration & insights into the location independent lifestyle
- Provide a comprehensive range of tools, services & products
- Spread the concept of location independence to an ever-increasing audience
How you’re planning to get there - there are always multiple ways to achieve the same thing; you need to define which ways you’ll be trying even if these change over time.
Example: In order to achieve our mission, we choose to focus on the following:
- We will write, edit & manage a range of blogs which provide articles, inspiring interviews and more for free to our audience. This will include sites for Location Independent Professionals, Parents and more…
- We will provide a range of free tools.
- We will provide the following premium products: A range of high quality, value-packed digital guides covering all the subjects somebody would need to be location independent.
- We will create marketing and promotion campaigns both online and offline to obvious and not-so-obvious audiences.
Note for all the above, there are multiple things we could have chosen to achieve each of our aims; but this part is about deciding exactly how you want to achieve each aim and making some specific, more detailed decisions.
When you’ll be aiming to get there – it’s always useful to set some deadlines and milestones along the way; how else will you know whether you’re on track or not? These can be based upon time or achieving specific results along the way – they can be fixed or fluid, you decide what works best for you.
- We have a blog posting schedule which is usually planned out 2-3 months in advance.
- We have a planned schedule for launching new sites throughout 2010 and beyond – including 2 new blog-based sites and 2 other types of site.
- We have a planned schedule for launching 2-3 new guides throughout 2010.
- We have a range of other dashboards with specific goals & milestones to keep us on track for the whole project.
You don’t have to write pages and pages for each section, some bullet points will do. And it doesn’t have to be written with perfect spelling, punctuation or grammar either – no-one’s really going to see it except you – which is why the following secret may also help…
The Secret You Should Know About Business Plans
Let’s cut to the chase, the secret about a good business plan is this: It doesn’t actually matter what’s in the plan. It’s likely to change constantly and it’s not set in stone.
The chances are, you’ll pull up your business plan a few months from now, possibly even weeks, and much of it is no longer relevant. Things may have changed so much that the environment you thought you were operating in or the things you thought you wanted to do no longer apply.
The important thing about writing a business plan is the process you go through to create it.
By simply putting yourself through the exercise of creating a business plan and spending time and energy on the important questions of why, what, how and when, you’ll be saving yourself from the to-ing, fro-ing and decision-making pains from which so many entrepreneurs suffer on a daily basis.
Without a basic business plan, this is often what happens:
- You lose sight of your original goal
- You may not know when you’re “there”
- Even simple decisions become painful, long and arduous to make
- Your business flounders at every hurdle
- Important crossroads become major obstacles
Business strategy & planning is not some mystical or cerebral activity that only those of us who have worked in corporate strategy can take part in – it’s a simple, often exciting exercise in which you get to decide where you want your business to go, what you want it to do and you begin to think about how you might get there.
So if you haven’t done it already, why not grab a pen & paper or open up a new document on your screen and have a bash at setting out your strategy for the coming year and even beyond?