9 tips to make a simple but useful business plan

The thought of preparing a business plan makes most small business owners go cold all over. It seems like a good idea but just not something you ever really have the time to do – until now that is. Let me offer you a simple way to prepare a plan which will grow and develop with your business.

But first, does having a business plan really make any difference to how successful your business is likely to be? Yes it certainly does.

Imagine deciding to take a road trip holiday. If you just randomly turn corners with no plan you could end up back at home within a few hours or just going round in big circles seeing the same places and not experiencing anything new.

Now imagine running a business where you randomly make decisions about what to sell and who to sell it to. Those same stupid circles are likely to appear or you will find yourself selling stuff and not really knowing why.

But if you have a simple business plan which gives you a direction to move toward and some strategies to make it possible to get there you will have a much better chance of having a great road trip or successful business.

The trick is to make it easy to prepare but valuable to use when decisions have to be made and money spent.

So with this in mind let me cover my 9 tips.

1. Write it down

I know you have thought through lots of ideas about your business and where you want it to go but if you are trying to keep all these ideas in your head you are taking the easy but crazy path. Your brain will focus on some of the ideas and let the others go. And they might well have been your best ideas but now you will never know.

Finding the words to explain your ideas will help you to clarify them and give you a chance to remember them later. Writing these clarified ideas down in a simple business plan will ensure that nothing is lost as the busyness takes over.

But, I am not advocating too much writing – just the basics you need to make decisions and stay focused and no more. As your plan is going to be flexible and change as you develop your business you don’t want to spend too much time writing.

Writing it down also allows you to make changes whenever you decide to. Going back over your ideas once you have more information will allow you to improve them and enhance them. And those kinds of changes will be essential for your business success.

And finally, seeing it in black and white certainly aids motivation and commitment. Having your business plan in front of you reminds you that you have goals to reach and steps to take now. That kind of vision will make a huge difference to your motivation and your performance.

2. Now double it down

When you prepare a business plan you want to also prepare an action plan right beside it. Make the steps smaller than you first think and easier to get underway. The reason for this is that a plan is just a dream until you take action to make it real. And every part of your plan will involve a bunch of things you have to do so writing the action plan beside it ensures you don’t miss too many of the important steps out.

The action plan is also great for writing down the things that you don’t know answers to. Like tax requirements maybe or whether you need any special licenses or approvals. Once you know what you are unsure about you can create the time to check out the answers to all your questions.

So a combination of what you need to do next and what you need to find out next is an ideal plan to create the energy you need to make things happen. That’s why writing a business plan with an action plan makes so much sense.

3. Make it as simple as possible

Often the best plans are created on a single page. One example is the Lean Canvas which divides the plan into 9 boxes. If you would like to learn more about it here’s a link to an article by the author The Lean Canvas

By reducing the amount you write you focus on your most important ideas and ensure that you are able to state them really clearly.

You can also change this type of business plan easily as you learn more about your customers, market and costs. And, it helps you to avoid making too many assumptions too early on because you don’t have much room to list them.

There are many different types of one page business plans so check them out online and find the one that you feel will work best for you. But remember, if you are preparing a plan to present to others you will need more than one page as they will need to see more detailed financial and marketing plans.

4. Hang it on the wall

If you really want to stay motivated and focused then having your business plan hung on your wall or written on a whiteboard hung on the wall is a great idea.

It is easily accessible for you to make changes and it will act as a constant reminder of what you want to do with your business and how you intend to achieve that.

It will also challenge you every day to make progress. Especially on the days when you would prefer to forget about the lunatic idea you had to start your own business or the days when you are not sure if you will have time to fit sleep in before tomorrow.

A business plan needs to be front and centre so you never forget to spend some time thinking about your business rather than just working too hard in your business.

5. Make it easy to adapt

As you have probably guessed by now I believe that a business plan is a constantly evolving view of how your business will meet changing times and markets.

Covid 19 has shown us that we need to be flexible, really flexible and that business success is about dealing daily and weekly to the different ways that customers want to buy from us.

The businesses which can handle flexibility and bend to suit but never break are the ones that will make the most of these difficult times.

For that reason you need to be continually finding better ways to respond to customer’s needs and a business plan which easily allows for changes will be one you are much more likely to follow.

So don’t set a plan and forget it – use it every week and month to find ways to achieve your goals and stay challenged.

6. Do the easy bits first

When you are writing a plan you will find that there are some parts which you are confident in committing to writing and other parts which you still have lots of questions about.

Start with what you are comfortable with first. That way you will actually make a start rather than putting it off until you have more ideas.

And, once you get started you will find that some further ideas will form and it will get easier. But, if there are sections that you find you really can’t complete then record what you need to find out and make time to do so.

Don’t give up because you don’t yet know everything that you want to put in your business plan but work on it by researching, talking to others and giving it a go. It is amazing what asking for help from others will produce and how trial and error can be a fun way of learning.

Just avoid trying to make it perfect and thinking that you have to know all the answers before you take action. Sometimes the answers will only turn up once you have actually started and you discover what works and what doesn’t.

7. A business plan needs simple language

The best plans are written simply with honest and simple ideas. They are not examples of superb copywriting – that’s for your marketing.

Anyone should be able to read your plan and immediately know what you mean and what you intend to achieve. It should be clear and written in the way you talk.

The biggest advantage of using simple language and ideas is that it takes away another excuse for not getting started on it because it won’t feel like a big task that will interfere with your ability to get on and do the work.

You also need to be completely honest with yourself when you write it and avoid putting down strategies that you know you will never follow or target markets that are going to be too difficult to attract at this time.

If you haven’t got all the answers yet – write that down and what you will do to get the information you need – and add both to your action plan at the same time.

Keeping a business plan simple is another reason that I recommend one-page plans – it is much easier to keep it simple and honest when you restrict yourself to one page. Somehow the urge to write too much waffle disappears when you know you only have one page to get it all down.

8. Make measuring a big part of it

It’s impossible to know how you are progressing if you don’t know your starting point or have a way of checking on your improvements. Your business plan needs to have very specific things you can measure regularly.

And, these need to be realistic markers of how your actions are making changes such as how many new customers you gained this month and how many existing customers bought again. You also need to know how the new customers found out about your business so you don’t waste time and money promoting your business in the wrong places.

Another important area to measure is actual costs and sales. It is so important to make sure that your business is profitable as soon as it can possibly be so you can work toward achieving your goals. Understanding profitability is covered in this article Increasing your profitability in easy to follow steps

If you don’t make measuring (called metrics in the Lean Canvas) an important part of your plan then you won’t be able to repeat successful actions because you won’t know which of them are successful.

9. Understand everything that’s in the plan

Don’t kid yourself that you can fake it until you make it when it comes to planning how to have a successful, profitable business. You need to understand everything that’s in your plan.

So, no catch-phrases or jargon you’ve read about but don’t actually understand. Instead you want to fill it up with down-to-earth facts and honesty about what you are trying to achieve, why it matters and how you think you can make it work.

Don’t include any figures or measurements that you can’t explain without your accountant helping you out. This plan is going to help you achieve your business goals so you have to be able to read it and action it in every part of your business.

And if there are things you want to include but don’t yet fully understand then spend some time finding out what it all means before you actually put it in writing. The internet is full of wonderful information and on Youtube someone will demonstrate it for you in hopefully, easy steps.

Make this business plan yours and write it in the language you understand and in the way that will support you to put it into action.

So those are the tips I recommend to make a simple but useful business plan and how I believe you should use it in your successful small business – what do you think?

© 2020 Robyn Forryan BBS

The Biz Coach NZ

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