I’d bet that most creative entrepreneurs dismiss the idea of creating a business plan before jumping into starting their new venture. Why do I think this? Because that was me. My first business venture, Paper Cut Industries was all luck & against all odds. I ran that business for a steady 5 years before I decided to call it quits. That could have been avoided if I had drawn up a business plan in the beginning.
With Paper Cut Industries, I remember starting a business plan for Paper Cut Industries. Writing that first paragraph, “Executive Summary” & then … stopping. I don’t think I ever finished it. How could I write a synopsis of my business if I hadn’t even thought anything out yet? It felt overwhelming and let’s face it, not fun.
But, that definitely worked against me in the end. I didn’t have a plan or idea of where the business was going or growing. So, the business didn’t.
When attacking your business plan, you should really have a clear mind of focus. Take the time to really think about the sections, and hey, step away if you have to. But, being an entrepreneur, a successful one, means asking some hard questions.
WHAT IS A BUSINESS PLAN, REALLY?
A written business plan is your game plan. It guides the business you in the direction you want to take it and displays how things are going to work. You can make it look as pretty as you want, but it must be a very legible document. Cover page & other details are all up to you, but it doesn’t need to be fancy. I like to stick to my branding with colors and fonts & I like using Apple Pages because I can control the look more than in Word. And guess what? You can change this up in any way you want. There is no right or wrong way to write a business plan. Just try & include some of these main points:
THE BASIC ELEMENTS OF A BUSINESS PLAN
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY – This is the briefing of what the entire business plan is about. This can be about a one or two pages long. In my Executive Summary, I included these sections:
- Slogan / Motto
- Description of the business
- Mission Statement
- Keys to Success
2. BUSINESS & STRUCTURE – Here you can discuss the company & ownership. Sole-proprietor, LLC or partnership? Where will the business operate from? What is the purpose of the business? Who are the owners? What will the business provide? Discuss products and/or services.
3. START-UP SUMMARY – I’m all about charts. I like to have a bullet point list of all the start-up costs ranging from website development to office supplies. Seems daunting? Well, all these costs add up & if you keep track, will help at tax time. Don’t get me STARTED on taxes! (we’ll talk later.) After I list everything out, I create a two-column chart breaking down all the costs. Even if you are starting from $0, things cost. This will break it down so you can keep track of cash flow from the beginning. Some might call this the financial summary too. Go crazy.
4. SALES & MARKETING – This is a doozey. For this section, you will definitely have to do some research. This is how I broke it down:
- Services: Discuss the exact services you will be offering. Talk about pricing whether it’s hourly or set.
- Market Analysis Summary: This section contains market segmentation (who are your clients?)
- Market Analysis Chart: Based on a 5-year plan, how many clients in the market you foresee having? For example, Year 1 – 15, Year 2 – 30, etc.
- Target Market Segment Strategy: Who is your ideal client & where do you find them?
- Service Business Analysis: What is the industry like right now? Are there lots of businesses just like yours or you in a niche?
- Competition & Buying Patterns: List out maybe three of your competitors. Think outside the box here. You might think Sally Sue is your direct competitor, but what about ETSY?
- Strategy & Forecast: What is the plan to take to get these clients? How long into into the future before you really start booking clients (not profiting per se? What do you foresee per month based on your forecast? Again, having a bar graph here adds a great visual! Then, maybe a chart showing growth per year. Another chart for total sales of each market per year.
- Milestones: What major milestones will the business accomplish and when? A chart showing beginning and end dates is a great visual.
- Competitive Edge: What sets you apart from your competition?
- Web Site Plan:
- Website Marketing Strategy: The most important tool in your arsenal is your website. How will it work for you?
5. MANAGEMENT SUMMARY – Who is on your team? What is their experience and how can it benefit the company? Why did you decide to start this business? Will you be hiring employees in the future? Maybe by year 2 or year 3? I like to have a chart here to show salary/pay per employee. Yes, include yourself! You want to get paid right?!
First, tackle each section one at a time. I think it took me a good 2 weeks to write my business plan for Margaux Design Studio. I set aside some time each night to really focus & knock it out. This really helps taking the stress out of it all.
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Use your own voice.
No need to be uber professional here. You are a creative professional after all. Let it shine.
Nothing is set in stone.
Businesses grow and change and so will your business plan. It should be fluid enough that you can make changes based on the new direction your business might go in.
You did all that work, now use it! This document will become a valuable tool not only for your business but for you to talk about your business. It is the script to your play. The bible to your religion. The recipe to your entree.
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