Simplify: A Beginner’s Guide to Business Planning

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Today we have a fantastic post from our planning & strategy expert partner: Megan Gallagher from Method & Madness.

One of the biggest hurdles I hear about from creative entrepreneurs is the building of the dreaded business plan.  Some of you are daunted by the process, others are overwhelmed by tons of information, and some of you feel like that you don’t have the time to get it done.   Today, we’re going to work through a quick, simple process to get you started on your business plan.   

The first thing I want to do before we dive in is debunk a few “myths” that you may have heard about business planning & start us off on the right foot.  Shall we?

  1. The business plan is a concrete document that I have to follow to the letter.  Absolutely not.  Your business plan should provide you with a framework that is flexible to the evolution of your business, especially when you’re still in the start-up stages.
  2. It must be an epic, hundred-page report that takes me 2 weeks to complete.   No way, man.  Once you get a process down, you can knock it out in an hour or two.   And probably on a page or less. 
  3. There is only one right way to build a business plan.  Every business is different, therefore every plan is different.  Also, every owner is different, therefore every plan is different.   You need to find a structure that fits you & your goals. 

Let’s talk about what a good business plan does do.  As we already said, it provides you with a framework from which you can grow your business.  It also pushes you to really get to know what makes the business tick—while your short-term goal may be to have a plan to work from, your long-term objective is to get to know your business so well that you become a proactive business owner instead of a reactive one. That is to say that you anticipate & act on changes in your business before they even happen.  Wouldn’t that be great? 

Now that I’ve got you fully enraptured with the process of building your business plan (you’ve all got your pencils sharpened & ready, right?), let’s agree on one thing before we go on.  I’ve only got one rule in regards to business plans, and that’s a quote I’m borrowing from Henry David Thoreau:

“Simplify, simplify, simplify.”

As we’ll talk about soon, creating manageable habits is a huge part of successful planning.  Consistency is key.  In order for it to work for you, your business plan has to seamlessly integrate into your workdays and not detract from all the other work you’ve got going on.  It’s also got to be quick & easy enough so that you’re able to knock it out without stressing out.   Enter our new business plan framework. 

Truthfully, it was a little challenging for me to figure out how to talk about business plans in a short blog post.  It’s also equally hard because all of your businesses are so different that what works specifically for one may not work for another.  I decided instead to give you a 4-step beginning process that you can build on to suit your individual needs.   I’m calling it “WHAT!” (It’s so easy to remember, right?  I love acronyms.) 

Write it down.

Build Habits.

Take Action.

Test & Track.

As you can see, I want to focus on the starting points here.  We’re not going to go in to marketing or social media or operations at this point (although we may later, so stay tuned.)—if you’re at the very beginning of setting your business plan, it’s more important to me that you become comfortable with an easy, daily process that helps you see what drives your business.  That’s where we want to start; even the greatest business plan in the world won’t help you if don’t know where the business comes from.  It’s like trying to use a GPS without a starting point.  

Let’s break down the WHAT! process & help you get it in motion.

  • Write it down.  You can use either a hand-written calendar or an online format (like Google calendar), whatever you are more comfortable with.  Use a month-view so you can see the whole thing in one glance & not have to flip pages.  Then, start breaking down goals by week.  I’m going to assume that you’ve got some sales coming in now, so use that as your starting point.  If you’ve been consistent hitting the same sales for a while, start scaling up.  Add 10% to your first two weeks and try 15% the last two.  Get your calculators out and see how much you’d need to do to hit +20%. It might be less than you think!  Also, look for things that will have an effect on your business & take that into account when planning sales---is your business very seasonal? Do you have a new product launching?  Or a special promotion coming up?  Get it a dollar amount written for each week on your calendar—once you’ve got it down, it should take you about an hour.  You can totally handle that.  
  • Build Habits.  I can’t stress enough the importance of consistency when you’re working on a sales strategy.  It has to be something that you look at each day.  It will take you 5 minutes each morning to look at where your sales are for the week—do it at the start of the day before you get going.  Start looking for patterns.  What days give you the most sales—does that correlate to a spike in web traffic or a promotion you did?  Make notes.  Are you driving more on weekdays or weekends?  Did someone write about your products & send traffic your way?  The objective is to start looking for what’s working really well for you vs. what’s not.   
  • Take Action.  Now that you’ve started to see some patterns in your business, it’s time to start taking action.  First of all, make sure you note each week whether you made your goal or not.  If you made it, awesome!  What did you do that can be repeated next week to get that goal, too?  If you didn’t make it, let’s troubleshoot.  What can you do differently next week? 
  • Test & Track.Do not be afraid to trysomething new.  I’m going to repeat that for good measure.  Donot be afraid to trysomething new.  As you move through weeks, and become more observant, you should start to see what’s making business happen for you.  Maybe it’s a special deal, or a particular product, or your really spectacular blog.  Take it to the next level—try a different deal, or maybe a new color or style of your product, or go guest-blog for some colleagues.  What happens?  Conversely, if things aren’t going so well, figure out why & try it again.  Don’t forget to track your results.  It’s only failure when you don’t learn anything in the process.

Finally, just keep going.  Once you’ve done a month, sit down & work out a whole quarter.  Keep moving through the WHAT! process and stay consistent.  Building knowledge about your business is the best way to nurture its growth.  You can do it. Don’t forget:

“Simplify, simplify, simplify.”

And I would like to help: Method & Madness has a great offer for Build a Little Biz readers!  Take 25% off of your purchase ofMethodlite, the latest digital guide in their library of tools & strategies for the creative indiepreneur.  It's a beginner's business planning guide designed to help you you build a profitable business framework with minimum stress and maximum fun. Head on overtoday--the deal only lasts until August 13th!

Megan Gallagher is small-business strategist working with creative indiepreneurs over at Method & Madness.  She’s currently working on The Down & Dirty Project, a contest where one lucky indiepreneur’s business becomes a real-life community coaching lab.  She works with a diverse creative clientele through one-on-one strategy sessions, small group workshops, and the DIY guides now available on her website.  You can also see Megan’s work at Meylah and Create Hype.   Megan lives in Philadelphia, PA where she is an avid runner & foodie, and works with a number of non-profit and volunteer projects.