Do you go on vacation without a plan? Like, do you wake up one morning, throw some random stuff in the car, grab whatever family member is home and just drive in a direction until you feel like stopping? Do you then just get out of the car and hope for the best? No supplies, no place to stay, no one to watch the dog; just drive and go until you run out of gas. I hope, for the sake of your dog and that one kid that you left at home, that you don't ever do that. I also hope that this sounds crazy. I hope that you're saying things like "For a vacation, I need to plan! At the very least, we know where we're going, have somewhere to stay when we get there, and a general plan of what we're doing so we can pack what we need."
And I also hope that you realize that it's even crazier to go into business without a plan. You wouldn't get into the car and not know your destination, so you certainly shouldn't invest your time, money, and hard work into a project without being sure where it's headed.
The craziest part of this example? The fact that a lot of people don't think they need a business plan in order to execute their dream. I've spoken to numerous aspiring business owners who feel like a plan isn't needed. They're wrong.
Now before you get all sweaty, worrying about how you're going to write a 100+ page plan good enough to get any MBA student an A, I'm here to tell you that's not necessary. I'm also here to tell you that you probably already have A LOT of your business plan already floating around in your noggin. All you have to do it get it on paper.
I recently spoke about this topic at a Pittsburgh Women's Mastermind for Entrepreneurs event and wanted to share it here as well.
Below, you'll find some general notes and insight regarding business plan writing. After you've digested that, head on over to the accompanying post to see a business plan template.
Shut up and take my money!
The Frye meme is posted above for two reasons: 1) Futurama is awesome, and 2) it's great motivation when you're writing. Your business plan should be exciting! It should be convincing! It should be so intriguing that anyone who reads it gets so pumped about your product or service that they say "shut up and take my money"! Think about Frye when you're writing. If he's not thrusting a wad of cartoon dollars into your face when you read back what you've wrote, you need to think about how to better position your product or service to get your customers on board.
What does a business plan look like?
Useful. Maybe that's a crappy answer, but it's true! If you write a huge, detailed business plan and it sits on your shelf and gets dusty, what's the point? A well used business plan, even if it's written on a napkin is better than one that never gets opened. Most times, your plan will be a word document and accompanying financials with some visuals like marketing pieces or charts. If you're trying to write a comprehensive business plan for outside investors, or if your business has a lot of moving parts (employees, inventory, marketing considerations) aim for at least 20-30 pages or writing to make sure you're being thorough enough. Despite this, I've seen a perfectly useful, beautifully executed business plan for a solopreneur that was written on a white board.
How the heck do I write this thing?
Ok, so you get why to write a plan, what it looks like, and why it needs it be exciting. So, how do you do it? It's actually not that terrible. The first step is to just write. Just take all of the stuff that's floating in your brain and get it down on paper. You'll be surprised at how much you already know. After that, start looking into a template and plug in the stuff you have on paper into the categories. BAM! You've started writing your business plan.
After that, you just research the rest. Use current publications, market research, industry leaders, census information, your business knowledge and knowledge of the industry to fill in the blanks. Just because this process was easy to condense into a sentence, doesn't mean that it's going to be easy to achieve. It may take months to get the information you need. Take classes, watch tutorials, shadow current businesses, and read 'till your eyes hurt. The more you know about your industry and your business, the better off you'll be.
A note about financials:
I originally was planning to talk about financials here too, but it's a whole other beast that deserves a separate post. More on those next time.