Not too long ago I went freelance. It was always part of my plan; the one major flaw being that this was where my plan started and, until pretty recently, ended.
Sure, I had an idea of what needed to be done to start a business. But beyond those first tentative steps into self-employment? A business plan? I hadn’t given it a whole load of thought, to be honest with you. Planning for the long term isn’t something my generation are overly familiar with.
And as it turns out, I found myself in good company. Some 47% of UK small businesses have never bothered to put together a formal or recorded business plan, while 23% chug along without any kind of strategy at all. Why? They don’t say. But after learning that a business plan can double your chances of success, I got the ball rolling with my own business plan. Why wouldn’t I?
Perfect your pitch.
To start, I outlined my core business proposition. What is it that I do? How does it benefit customers? What sets me apart from the million other content writers out there? Keep it short, simple and ego-free. If you can’t explain it to yourself in a sentence or two, you’ll find it tricky selling it to clients.
Do your homework.
Next up, time for some background research. I took a long look at my competitors. What is it they do to be successful? Where do they fall short? Make things a little easier for yourself and put together a quick SWOT analysis of your closest competitors, individuals and even companies you aspire to emulate.
Get an idea of competitor prices and average day rates. Whether you sell products or a service, you should forecast the amount of work you need and how much to charge from the very start. Too high, and you’ll struggle for business. Too low, you’ll lose out. Do your homework and hit your pricing sweet spot.
Take a look around.
I did a little industry analysis too. Whether it’s content, design or coding, you want to have your finger on the pulse. Stay on top of news and trends, and make sure you’re an expert in whatever you do. After all, experts are paid better. The more research I carried out, the clearer my business proposition got. It’s funny how quickly you spot where the opportunities lie, and where they really don’t. Research justifies everything you do. It’s proof of what works and what doesn’t.
Create a plan of action.
With research done, I jotted down everything that needed completing in ‘Sprint 1’. From building a website and fiddling with logos, to business development and dumping data on Excel sheets, I’d created one big and intimidatingly long list. Put off, fed up and tired out, I shut my laptop and took a walk. One thing I learnt is that a business plan can’t be done in an afternoon. Certainly not in my case, anyway.
But a few hours, some fresh air and two coffees later, I revisited it – breaking the list down into manageable chunks, or ‘Sprints’. I rejigged the list and ordered everything by urgency, creating an activity plan with a flexible timeline. I stuck rough estimates alongside each activity. How long will it take? Do I need any apps, software or help to do it? When does it need to be done by? How much will it cost? Do this for general business admin, right through to your marketing plan and business development.
Keep it flexible.
Keep your activity plan and your business plan as flexible as possible. The beauty of running your own business means you can change the direction it’s heading in whenever you like. What matters is having at least some sense of direction to begin with.
Of course, there will always be a risk involved when you start a business. Quite simply, uncertainty is unavoidable. So make your business plan realistic. It could take a while for the till to start ringing, so the last thing you need is the added disappointment of falling short of unrealistic targets. Make any objectives you set SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
Short and sweet does the job.
The general advice on business plans is to keep them concise. This isn’t a dissertation, so don’t spend for ever on it. It’s a brief document to guide you, refer back to in times of crisis, track progress or to help secure business loans and investment.
And sure, business planning might not be the most enjoyable part of starting up. But in the early days, can you really argue against anything that might double your chances of success? I don’t think I need to answer that one…
Benedict Smith, Founder, Levo London | @benedictmsmith | www.levo.london