The business plan, simplified
Serendipity – one of my favorite words. Doesn’t it sound like what it is — stumbling upon a chance event that will be life-changing and lead to undreamed of success or happiness? It’s happened to me more than once. One time a newspaper editor walked into my husband’s computer shop and ended up offering me, a rank stranger and novice writer, a job freelancing for her paper.
I guess most people can point to chance encounters that led to unsought opportunity. I’ve lived quite a lot of my life body surfing unexpected waves of events. I’m sure you’ve had them too, like turning a corner and bumping into a random stranger who makes a significant impression, one that leads you closer to that sweet spot in your life. Sometimes things just work that way. Too bad we can’t go looking for them, or be guaranteed we’ll find opportunities leading to transformation. Like accidentally finding an angel investor for your dream startup.
Drawing inspiration from your initial vision
It may have been serendipity that led to your vision of having your own business, but now it will require far more than vision to bring your dream to fruition. So what do you do? You take that vision, the inspiration, and build on it. What’s your vision, that picture in your mind’s eye of what you could do if only you could find the yellow-brick road?
Do you have a business idea but need seed money to make a good, strong go of it? Then take your vision and draw up a plan. If it’s lack of resources that’s holding you back, raid your savings, take on a second job and save for your start-up, invite family and friends (or other investors) to throw in their money, or apply for a conventional bank loan.
Writing down the basics – a business plan
Wherever you turn for start-up funding, most investors or lenders are going to want to know, or better yet, see in writing, see what your business plan looks like. So just what is a business plan, and how do you put one together? Although not everyone will do them in the same order or in quite the same way, you should plan on lots steps to go from idea to thriving business.
You might want to begin with a simplified business plan that includes several components, beginning with the big question: What’s your idea, your VISION of what is possible? You know – your picture of how your company will eventually look? Your vision is probably your starting point in bringing your business to life, but this is the time to also thinking about your MISSION.
So what's the difference between a mission and a vision?
Your mission statement is rooted in the here and now. It should include a snapshot of your business strategy. According to Patrick Hull, writing “Ten Essential Business Plan Components” in Forbes.com, a mission statement:
- Defines what you will do and how you do it.
- Sets out a picture of your target audience.
- States what value will your company will bring to your patrons.
Your vision statement is a picture of the future.
- Where you will be at each of the milestones you set.
- What your company will look like in one year, five years, ten? Do you want a simple cottage industry, a small brick-and-mortar, or a corporation destined to compete with the big guys?
Write it all down, because you can use it to guide your future decisions and actions. Now what are your considerations in writing the mission and vision statements? Of course you want them to be inspiring, but practically speaking, they should also inform your actions.
Taking a SMART approach
When writing your mission and vision statements (they can be separate or together), try taking the SMART approach:
- Specific: Describe your company’s reason for being, and exactly what it will do or produce. Keep it simple. No high-flown terminology or impossible dreams here.
- Measurable: Add some tangible markers to let you, your employees, and your investors know exactly what you’re going for (building on the specific) and when you’ve achieved it.
- Attainable: Aim high but ground it in what is probable. What is the single, most important purpose of your organization? Write it so that it’s believable and achievable to yourself and your investors.
- Relevant: Do your current goals and achievements carry you through to what you eventually hope to do? Maintain relevancy to both your mission and your vision.
- Time-bound: Set milestones with dates – what specifically you will have done and by when. Does the timing fit in with your overall business strategy? When exactly do you need to achieve a specific goal to attain your overall purpose?
Time to answer some tough questions
Now it's time to answer and write down these important questions:
- What are your products and services? Briefly describe them here.
- Who are your customers or clients? What will you do for them?
- Who is your competition? What do they offer? How can you make a place for yourself, to stand out above them? Can you offer something they don’t or can’t?
- How will you market your business?
- What resources so you need at start-up? Include staff, equipment, and funds.
- How much do you expect/need to make during your early years?
These are just a few of the recommended components of a business plan. But wait – you don’t have to write your plan from scratch!
Business plans described by the SBA
The Small Business Administration (SBA) describes two business plan types: the traditional plan and the lean startup. The lean startup is useful for those wanting to begin a business right away or those developing a simple business. That's basically what I used in setting up my writing business. The traditional plan can run into hundreds of pages and is especially useful when you’ll seek traditional loans. You can find more detailed explanations and examples here and write your own plan following their formats.
When I did a Google search of “easy small business plans” I found dozens of hits – and some with free business plan templates.
Still interested in starting your own business? Take the time to write out a basic plan, and then do the research to fill in the details.
Good luck to you. I look forward to seeing your business on the web!