Do solopreneurs always need a business plan?
Until recently I used to deliver regular workshops for a business start-up initiative. I love nothing more than helping highly motivated new business owners launch their ideas. But one of the things I learned with startups is that not everyone finds writing a business plan very motivating. And consequently some people never finish theirs. So on the course the question would invariably pop up whether you always need a business plan.
Why so much theoretical thinking and planning? Could you not start without a formal plan? Especially when you’re eager to get going as quickly as possible?
These are all valid questions!
I recognise the impatience to get going, as I started (and grew) my first business without having a traditional business or marketing plan.
However… I knew that my own success story wasn’t just down to luck! I did have some goals, a very simple business model and a proven outsourcing strategy.
Also, my key strength was having a deep understanding of the market and my customers. They happened to love my service too (how I delivered was different to the competition) and kept wanting more.
Everything I needed was in place.
But then something went wrong. The dot-com crash started to affect my business and I wasn’t sure how to deal with major changes like losing customers.
I started to lose focus. Running my business was quickly becoming confusing and stressful!
I realised that keeping things in my head stopped me from gaining the clarity I so desperately needed.
What I learned was that it doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting up or are experiencing sudden change (or growth) in an existing business — you always need to double-check regularly that you still have the right ‘product’ and understand your customer and market, along with all its opportunities and threats.
It really helps to commit this information to paper. Spotting potential mistakes in your thinking then becomes much easier too.
For example, sometimes the ‘fit’ isn’t quite right between what you offer and what your customer currently needs. In that case, relying purely on passion, grit and positive thinking often means that you’re taking unnecessary risks and could be delaying your success.
In sixteen years of mentoring I have seen too many businesses like this that run the owner, rather than the other way round. And then some of them experience stressful periods of ‘feast and famine’ too and wonder why.
The best way to get from A to B
How about looking at it this way: If you were a pilot you would have to study maps and gather all sorts of other data in order to create a flight plan for every trip. You would then consult this throughout the flight.
So why not look at the business plan in a similar way? After all, you want to have a clear destination and an outline of the best way to get there!
That way, if you happen to see what appears to be a tempting shortcut to your goal, you can make sure it doesn’t turn into a diversion that ends up costing you valuable time and money.
Simplicity is key
Here are a few more tips:
- Keep your plan quite simple. In some cases a brief document with a few key bullets (incl. your vision and key goals, the customer, the product, competitors etc) can be quite effective. A simple plan is also much easier and more motivating to review regularly and keep up-to-date.
- To make it easier still, you could also just focus on the next 90 days or six months rather than a whole year or more.
- Don’t be afraid to tweak or rewrite an existing plan that is either too complex or seems unrealistic.
However small your micro-business, having a plan means having a satellite navigation system that takes you not only in the right direction, it keeps you in touch with the bigger picture and manages your journey efficiently too.
So if your planning ever feels too theoretical or tedious and you wonder what’s happened to the passion you had for your idea, just remember that you’re only preparing for a long journey. A journey that will be easier, more enjoyable, more focused and less stressful when you travel with a map.
As Brian Tracy says, “Action without planning is the cause of all failure. Action with planning is the cause of all success.”
About the author: Hi, my name is Ute Wieczorek-King and I’m an experienced business start-up/ growth mentor, trainer and blogger. I specialise in helping passionate midlife women to be visible online and offline, to simplify and stay focused on what matters most.
Want to take your small venture from good to great? Download my free “Passion to Profit ebook here.
(The above post is an updated version of an article that was first published on ‘Success Network Recipes’ in March 2010.)