Business Planning

Writing a business plan? Be guided by these essential tips.

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So it’s been a while since my last blog post, thanks to a busy November. You see, whilst all my clients are winding down at the end of the year, I get busy updating my business plan for the coming year. The entire process sometimes makes me nervous, often leaves me excited, but always leaves me with little time for doing anything else until its finished.

And today is that day. After endless hours of meticulous thinking, hundreds of scribbled post it notes and brain-ache from staring at the screen for too long, I have finalised ‘My 2015 Plan’. It’s ambitious without being unrealistic and I feel confident stepping into 2015 that I can achieve my goals. But part of me  is sitting here wondering whether it is all worth it. Do we sometimes spend too much time making plans? Should we consider instead setting some high level goals and relying on our intuition, creativity and business acumen to hit them?

Now I’m no business expert, so I did some research on what the real brains think of this topic. And the overwhelming consensus is that all the planning is most definitely worth it. So if you’re currently putting together your business plan for the coming year, especially if you’re a small business owner like myself, these tips might be a useful reference point to help you plan your year in an effective way:

1. If you haven’t put together a business plan before, use a template. There are lots of free templates available on the internet (try as a starter). Essentially, your plan should include information on your company, your product, your clients (and potential clients), your competitors, your people, your marketing, your operations and your finances.

2. Ask yourself why you are writing a business plan. Is it to secure funding from the bank or an investor? Or to give yourself some goals and motivation? It’s always a good idea to have your audience in mind when writing the plan, to make sure you include the right amount of detail. And if you are writing it for someone else, why not ask them directly what information they want to see included? This will save you a lot of time later in the process.

3. Have a clear vision. Before you get into the nitty gritty of profit projections and detailed research, take a step back and ask yourself what it is you are trying to achieve. What are your key priorities for the coming year? Once you have this vision set, you can prepare your business plan with this goal always in mind.

4. Make use of good market research. This can be as simple as gleaning information from the internet on what your competitors offer (and do well), or asking your existing clients about what they need from you going forward. You may be surprised that this is entirely different to what you think!

5. Check that your maths stand up to scrutiny. Are your cost and revenue projections accurate, and have you built in sufficient contingency? Do you know how much money you need to make over the year / each month / each week to break even? Are you sure that you have included all your costs?

6. Get another opinion. Even if you are writing your business plan just for yourself, it always helps to have someone else look at it. Preferably someone who’s opinion you respect and who will be honest in their feedback. They should be more objective, as they are a bit more removed from your business and will find it easier to spot the weaknesses that you have overlooked.

7. Make sure your plan is flexible enough to adapt to unexpected changes. For example, how will you stay above water if a key client leaves you? How will you handle additional workload if you get more clients than expected? How will you adapt if one of your key employees quits? Although it’s sometimes difficult to think about these scenarios, you need to make sure you’ve thought about how your business would change if they materialise.

8. Review your plan regularly, and don’t worry if you need to tweak it. We’re not clairvoyants, and sometimes things simply just don’t go according to plan. That’s fine, as long as you’re continually missing targets, in which case you might need to re-evaluate your business idea. What’s more important is that you’re not burying your head in the sand, and you are checking your progress regularly. If anything, it’s a huge motivational boost when you hit, or even punch through, your targets! The first year I set up my business, I printed out an empty progress chart and pinned it on the wall behind my screen. Each invoice that got paid got added to the total on that progress chart and I found it so rewarding to see the total tally up throughout the year.

I think this last tip is particularly key. Especially if, like me, you spend ages creating plans. If you don’t revisit your plan on a regular basis and check your progress, what’s the point of spending all that time planning in the first place? Hopefully the other tips are useful reading for you too, and help set you on the right path for a successful (and well-planned) 2015!