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Plan to Plan

The idea of crafting a business plan often gives new business owners a sense of dread, even impending doom. But it’s necessary.

Michele Chiappetta
September 28, 2019

So, you’ve started a business. Perhaps it’s a side hustle you do in your spare time. Maybe it’s a hobby that has grown into something more profitable. Perhaps it’s a full-fledged business you want to grow. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve positioned yourself to be as effective as you can be.

Success happens only if you have a plan. A business plan.

Did you feel a shiver run down your spine? That’s no surprise. The idea of crafting a business plan often gives new business owners a sense of dread, even impending doom. Doing strategic planning isn’t high on many people’s lists. But it’s necessary.

Yes, you read that right. These days, it may be common to hear people say business plans are out of date, old school, or unneeded. Others say you only need a business plan if you’re looking for a loan or investor funding. But there are plenty of other advantages to writing down your vision, setting some goals, and establishing strategies that can help you move forward in business.

Here’s a look at some of those advantages, and how you can use them to help your small business soar in the coming year.

What exactly is a business plan, anyway?
A business plan is an overview of where you’re going. It’s something you put in writing, spelling out your business goals, the methods you plan to use to reach those goals, and the time frame you’re giving yourself to accomplish those goals. There are several forms this type of strategic plan can take. You can make it lengthy and detailed, or big picture and limit it to one page.

The point, though, is to make it tangible by putting it on paper in some form. In a sense, it’s a lot like an entrepreneurial application of the adage, “Write the vision and make it plain so that people can pursue it.” If you make it clear to yourself and those who work for you what you’re doing, how and when, it’s more likely you’ll arrive at your destination — or recognize when you’ve gone off-road and need to backtrack.

Think of it as a roadmap
Have you seen Pirates of the Caribbean? As soon as someone invokes the rules of parlay, the pirate captain reminds everyone, “It’s more of a guideline than a rule.” This isn’t just true of sailing the Seven Seas; it’s also true of your business plan. Those notes you make on paper are meant not to lead you every step of the way, but rather to help you cast a vision so you’ll have a sense of where you want to go.

Like any map, you may realize the route you planned to take has roadblocks or perhaps fails to take you someplace you wanted to visit. Business plans aren’t set in stone. You can always change your goals, adapt to the needs of the marketplace, or pivot to ensure you stay profitable.

Use it to stay on track
The day-to-day business grind can be rough. Deadlines, client meetings, questions from employees, supplier problems, and a whole lot more can easily distract you. Even personal stuff, like a family emergency or car problems, can derail you and get you off-track. Keep gathering those molehills, and you end up with a mountain to climb, right?

This is why a business plan comes in handy. You can always look to it and use it to help you recognize when you’re at risk of failing to meet your revenue goals. So, don’t just write it down. Review it regularly, too, so you can assess how well you’re doing and where to make tweaks. Those little corrections, over time, keep you heading in the right direction so you can achieve long-term goals.

Let it clarify your marketing strategy
Your business plan looks at who you are, how you compare to your competitors, how you stand out, and where you’d like to be in the next five to 10 years. The old, “where do you see yourself in five years” question doesn’t just happen in job interviews. It occurs in entrepreneurship too.

The point is, to get where you want to be in five years, you have to be able to articulate what you do, who you serve, what makes you unique, and how you can beat your competition. It helps to do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). And you can use all this information to craft your elevator pitch so you can effectively connect to potential clients.

Let it keep you accountable
If you own a small business, its success or failure mainly lies in your own hands. Mentors and coaches are great, and so are spouses, friends, and business partners. But accountability to your business goals is something that is ultimately up to you. When you have something in writing that you’re heading toward, and you check in regularly to see how you’re doing, it’s a lot easier to recognize when you’re not keeping your word to yourself to be successful.

After all, you’re in business to be a success. Why not equip yourself to be as productive and effective as possible? Use your business plan to remind yourself, when the going gets tough, that your goals matter and your success is waiting for you.