A business plan is important because it gives you a road map for your business, so that you know exactly what to do and where you’re going. I waited two years to write one and definitely wish I had done it sooner.
Here’s why they’re important:
- They help you visualize your future business. It’s kind of like writing a script for a third act in a play, and your business is the star. What role do you want it to play?
- Validate your concept
- Set realistic expectations about your resources and your budget
- Give you a clear picture of how you will market your business and get to the next level
- See the exact steps you need to take in your business so you can accomplish your goals
- Foresee future challenges so that you can plan ahead for them
- Develop repeatable processes for your business and your brand
- Set a benchmark to analyze and evaluate your growth
- See gaps in your business model and refine your strategy
There’s a lot in this list and it may seem overwhelming at first and that’s okay. Take your time as you go through each step and have fun with it.
What I do when I’m working on a business plan is give myself a time frame to work on it, and what gets done is what gets done. Kind of like saying This window is open right now. At 5pm it’s going to shut and it’s not going to open again. Great way to make sure you don’t get stuck in planning mode too long. The thing that will stop you from achieving success faster than anything else is NOT STARTING, so give yourself a cut-off to get it done and move on.
Here are the steps to creating an amazing business plan:
1) Create a document for your business plan.
A business plan is a fluid thing, so the first thing you want to do is to create a document in your favorite computer program. Two important things to point out here:
- You want that you can modify the document throughout the year as you learn more about your biz, your goals, and your audience. You’re going to view your business plan every 3 months, because that’s how you’re going to work your goals and track your progress. So every 3 months you’re editing, tweaking, and updating your goals and steps.
- You definitely want to keep the doc somewhere you can easily get to it, like Evernote or Google Docs. Don’t tuck it away where you can’t find it again!
To make it extra easy for you, I’ve created a business plan template you can customize for your biz! Just click the button below to grab it.
PLEASE NOTE: In order to be able to edit and customize it yourself, when you’re viewing the template go to File and Make a copy, or you can simply download it as a Word doc or copy and paste it to your favorite program!
2) Client Summary
One of the hardest things can be identifying your one ideal customer. Everyone from solopreneurs to the biggest brands and corporations struggle with this one.
I think what makes it hard is fear:
- Fear that if you focus on one ideal customer, you may actually lose business
- If you let go of trying to be all things to all people, you’re going to wind up being one thing to no one
- The customers you really want won’t want to work with you
But in reality, the exact opposite is true. When you zero in on your ideal customer, you naturally become a magnet for them. They know right away that you’re a good fit for them and start seeking you out vs you hunting them down.
You probably have a good idea who your target audience is. Most of my clients can say things like, “I’m targeting professional high income women with children.”
What do you do with that? You say it. Write it down on paper. Make a mental note of it when you need clarity. And then you completely forget about it. Because it doesn’t really MEAN anything.
If you’re going to catch the attention of your ideal customers, you have to be besties with them. That’s just the way it works. Beyond their age, title, gender and all the basic stuff, you have to know things like:
- The way they see themselves
- Issues they struggle with
- Problems they have
- How they feel
- What their average day looks like
- Things they want to achieve
For help with your one person, check out this video.
Need help with this? I’ve got a free template right here that will walk you through exactly how to get clear on your ideal customer and the true value you provide!
3) Brand Summary
Now that you’ve gotten clear on your ideal customer, it’s time to create a summary of your business. You’re going to want to create two “statements”:
A vision statement (the long term vision you have your business)
A mission statement (how you plan to achieve it)
The vision statement is part of your strategic plan and it’s just for you. This is where you dream big. Where do you see your business going? What difference will you make for your customers and for your own life? Make it passionate and emotional. Visualize your success, what your day looks like, what car you’re driving, what kind of customers you have, all of it.
Here’s what mine looks like: My vision is to create a clear and direct path for business owners and entrepreneurs to build a profitable online business.
The mission statement is about how you’re going to achieve your vision statement. Here’s where you want to document why your business exists, meaning:
- What specifically do you do?
- How do you do it?
- Who do you do it for?
- What value are you providing?
My mission statement looks like this: I support this by providing education and training about growing an online brand, supplemented by creative and marketing support to achieve it.
In case you want to know, your next step from here is to take these two statements and create a value proposition. Think of it like this: your mission and vision statements are for you. The value prop is for your customers. It’s your 30-second pitch and the message that gives people a reason to choose you over a competitor. If you need help with this, check out this post.
Here’s something I need to point out because it’s easy to get stuck when you’re writing brand statements:
Vision and mission statements will get you absolutely nowhere without the right product/market fit, which we’ll cover later on. People have to want what you have, period. What I mean by this is that your business will be shaped more by how people perceive it, not by how you perceive it. So until you test the waters, you won’t know if your vision aligns with what they want or need. Or you may realize that you have to adjust how you deliver your vision.
Point is, don’t spend too much time perfecting “statements” until you validate your concept.
Brand look and feel
All strong brands are consistent and strategic with their visual identity. So think about how you want readers and customers to feel on your site. What do you want your brand to say about you? What voice do you want to write in? What will you show people? What types of pictures will you use? What graphic elements or fonts will you use? Take all those notes and turn them into a brand style guide, so people will recognize your brand. All your brand elements should have a cohesive look everywhere – blog, website, email, signatures, business card, sales pages, social — all of it.
4) Validate your idea and your market
Two things you need to dig into here:
Market size: The market you’re targeting must be large enough to sustain your revenue goals.
Product/market fit: There needs to be a sufficient demand within that market for what you do.
When you can place a check next to both of these, you’ve got market validation. If you can’t, save yourself the headache and move on to a different market. I’ll give you an example:
For my design business, I was all set to target health clubs. Since there’s literally a gym on every corner where I live, it seemed like a no brainer. The problem? Turns out that gyms don’t care so much about marketing. For whatever reason, it’s just a not a priority for them. So it would have taken me a ton of work to get even one gym customer. And since the market didn’t inherently value my services, I wouldn’t be able to charge enough to meet my revenue goals. What this means for gyms is:
Size of the market: Check.
Product/market fit: X.
You need to do the same for your business. Spend some time researching potential markets before you start going after them. You just need to know that there are enough of them that need what you have and are willing to pay for it, so that you can meet your revenue goals in a time frame that works for you.
5) Competitive analysis
I’ll make a note of this, but I’ll be honest, this one can pull you into a rabbit hole if you’re not careful! Like the brand statements I mentioned earlier, the problem with competitive analysis is that the focus is on competitors instead of your customers. What I’ve learned is that there are a ton of people out there doing a ton of things, and how you stand out is really a matter of how much (and how) you put yourself out there.
Still, you want to be aware of who else is in your space. Who do you like, who you don’t like? Don’t copy other people, but even the best artists take inspiration from other artists and then make it their own. That’s what you should do with competitor analysis.
Take a look at their pricing, their offers, their processes, how they move people from the “get to know you” stage to becoming a customer. You can use what you learn to model your own offers and services.
Be careful not to compare yourself to your competitors. You’re starting out and they’re probably halfway to the finish line. Just take a look so you have a better idea of where you fit in the market and how you want people to perceive your brand.
6) Business Goals
So now it’s time to move past the warm and fuzzy side of planning and get your hands a little dirty. If you’re going to be in business, you need to know what breakeven and profitability look like.
How much do you need to make right now, so that you can be in business at all, and how much do you want to make tomorrow, when you scale your business beyond startup?
To figure it out, first make a note of all your operating and overhead costs (rent, utilities, supplies, support, hosting fees, cost of goods, travel, payroll, marketing, and so on). Yes, you need a marketing budget – doesn’t have to be huge, but you need it.
Write down everything you can think of around maintaining your business. You’d be surprised at how costs can creep when you’re not looking! Make a note of variable costs vs fixed costs. It’s good to know where the floor is and how much wiggle room you have.
What you’re going for is to establish a breakeven point first, and then project how much profit you want to make in years 2, 5 and even 10.
How will you hit your goals?
Now that you know what your financial story is, you want to map out specific tasks to achieve your goals. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know there’s a big difference between saying I want to lose some weight and I want to lose 5 pounds in one month.
If you’re going to hit your goal, you need to reverse-engineer it. What specific tasks will help you achieve it? Hold yourself accountable and write down specific numbers. What exactly do you want to achieve and in what time frame? Do you want 20 subscribers? 100 Twitter followers? 3 new clients? In 2 months? One Year? You get the idea.
Click the button below to grab a copy of the business plan template so you can start reaching your goals!
7) Services and Products
Making money online is all about having sales funnels. And the best way to create sales funnels is to have some idea about the products you are going to offer, both today and tomorrow. Ideally, you want to manage the way people experience your products and services, AND how quickly you meet your revenue goals.
What services do you offer right now? What about down the road, do you have ideas for that? Will you sell products? Make a list of your current and future products. Your goal is to tie both your content and your process together into a sales process that lets people get to Know, Like and Trust you, and then Try and Buy. Basically, you want to create a process for how people will experience your products and services.
A good way to do this is by bundling them into packages. For example:
- Intro Package: Free Consultation, Strategy Call or Freebie. Your goal here is to introduce people to your brand with tons of free info.
- Trial Package: Low-Cost Analysis, Masterclass, Bootcamp, Ebook – get them to commit to an inexpensive transaction with you.
- Standard Packages: Basic, Premium & VIP based on scope, needs and budget
- Recurring Packages: Nothing beats guaranteed monthly revenue. What services/products can you offer on a recurring basis now and in the future?
Bottom line, different customers will have different needs, interests and budgets. A solopreneur or small business owner is not going to be able to afford the same price structure as a larger corporation. By lining up your packages ahead of time you can meet their needs and your goals at the same time.
If anyone knows how crucial pricing is, it’s yours truly! In the early days of my design business I was throwing estimates out there that were all over the place. Some were super low and some were outrageously high. What I did was start out with high pricing and then I’d just drop them for customers with smaller budgets.
There’s nothing wrong with this, except that I would deliver the same exact end product, regardless of whether my price was high or low. So most of the time I wound up doing way too much work for very little income. I didn’t think ahead for different price points and budgets.
Part of this comes from needing customers. There’s a tendency to do whatever it takes to make a sale, and when you’re on the spot a lot of times it can come down to price. Which is why you need those packages.
Each package reflects a different scope of work. Basic and premium packages will require less work than a VIP package and should be priced accordingly. Fewer people will have the budget for VIP and that’s okay. At higher price points, it’s not a volume play. What you don’t want to do is sell customers a basic and deliver a VIP.
Make sure you price each package so that it:
- Makes both you and your customers happy (not just one or the other)
- Accurately reflects the true value of what you’re providing
- Has a decent profit margin so you don’t hit burn out
- Provides you enough income to help meet your revenue goals
Another thing to keep in mind is how you’ll produce each package. Will you hire people or will you do it yourself? How long will it take to deliver and at what rate? What things will you outsource? What things will you do yourself? Factor those rates in to your pricing.
9) Marketing Plan
The universe wants you to succeed! People want and need new services and products like yours. So when you think about it, all you need is visibility so the universe knows you exist.
I stumbled on this quote the other day and it’s so simple, but sooooo true:
Startups don’t fail because they don’t have a product, they fail because they don’t have customers.
I’ve seen many people put time and effort into developing their brands, their products, throwing money at things like infrastructure, inventory, materials and staff, and then have absolutely no plan for sales and marketing. Just a few months ago a friend of mine closed her fashion design business after years of developing her line, getting line sheets together, working with printers, the whole nine. In all that time, what she never did was contact stores, send samples to bloggers, blog, dig into Pinterest or Instagram. Nothing.
This kind of thing is just sad to see, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Being an entrepreneur means becoming an expert at marketing. Period.
I’m not saying you have to become a full blown marketing expert or excel at every technique. But you do have to commit to rolling up your sleeves, testing out a few tactics, and then leaning on the ones that work. This post on 100 different ways to market your business will give you some great ideas to get started.
Think about how you’ll structure each day so that you carve out time for marketing and lead generation. Your mindset should be to split your time equally between product development/client work and marketing.
Quickest way to get customers today. How you can set yourself up for success today and in the long term? What will you do right now to spread the word about your brand? For example, you could email or call people you know, do local speaking events, connect with people on LinkedIn, join Facebook groups. Think about the easiest, fastest path to getting customers now. Write down every possible strategy you can think of, and then choose the least expensive, quickest path to test out.
Future growth. What else will you do in the next 6-12 months to spread the word out about your brand?
Social media/content strategy. Based on what you know about your ideal customer, what are the best channels to reach them? Write down what your strategy will be for each. For instance, you could write something like, “spend 10 minutes a day liking, interacting and comment on Pinterest and post at least 1 pin a day.” Look at how other brands are presenting their content and think about what types of content you’ll share. Do you notice some posts that stand out more than others? Write down how frequently you’ll blog and what you’ll write about. You should check out this post for some great ideas!
Your email list plan. If you don’t have a list, it’s time to start growing one! Start making a plan to grow your list. Think about things like content upgrades, webinars, email marketing providers. This post will help you get started with building your list.
Workflows, baby, that’s where it’s at. They’re such a time saver! With so many things to juggle, setting up systems and workflows will help you automate those tasks that you do over and over. You might be tempted to skip over this, but please don’t. It will save you pain and frustration down the road, plus it’ll make things run smoother, I promise!
Automating tasks. Think about things that you do over and over again, like email marketing, outreach, billing, presentations, proposals, blog title images, editing photos, social media, blog posts. Walk through your workflow for each of these. Can you create templates for your photos, proposals and presentations? How can you schedule your posts ahead of time? If you’re emailing prospects, what software can you use to automate it so that you can reach more people quicker?
Social media + blogging. Come up with a plan for blogging and posting on social media. How often will you post? What will you write about and how frequently. Consistency here is what’s going to make your readers trust you and help you build an audience.
Your process. Branding your processes is a huge time saver in the long run and ensures consistency. Take some time to write down each and every step of your different processes. Examples of processes include how you onboard a new client, and the exact steps you take with them from start to finish.
Your schedule. Consistency and taking action are really important for growing your business! Try to schedule your day so that you’re doing the same things each day so you get into a routine. For instance, schedule time for client work, time for marketing, blogging, and time to develop future products. Try to stick to it as closely as possible.
If you want, you can plan out your schedule using the Time Block Template I’ve created to make it super easy to get things done and reach your goals. Just click the image below to grab it!