Remember when you first became a mom? Every mother who blazed that path before you probably shared a “must have” baby item idea with you. As a newer mother, I’ve already sung the praises of the Boppy pillow – my must-have goodie – to my pregnant friends.
Conceptually, it’s great to learn what’s useful from those who have already been in the trenches. But if you had listened to everyone’s advice, where would you be? I’d have two different bathtubs, no baby carrier (which I love!), a bunch of different pacifier brands my daughter won’t touch, and swaddle blankets she won’t, well, stay swaddled in.
Business advice often works the same way. Thoughts of business phone lines and commercial bank accounts don’t exactly make you swoon the way tiny shoes and monkey mobiles do, but they are equally important for an work at home mom. You’ve probably narrowed down the list of people you trust for business advice to a handful, and hopefully that list includes an experienced mentor and a business coach. There’s a good chance that someone on that list recommends you bite the bullet and go through the paces of putting together a complete business plan, while someone else doesn’t think the plan is worth your while.
So Which Is It?
Most online resources will tell you a business plan is essential. Then why do many entrepreneurs, according to this New York Times blogger, forego it? Most likely, they relate to one of these reasons provided by Mike Michalowicz, author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, on Why You Don’t Need A Business Plan. If you want to be like Mike, and you’re already pretty confident that you aren’t going to go through the motions of a plan, read his article and take comfort in your newfound business-plan-less esprit de corps.
However, if you still feel like a business plan is the responsible thing to do, or your instincts are telling you that it just makes sense to flesh out your concept and vision on paper, continue reading.
A Plan with a Purpose
Consider these questions:
- Do you want an action plan to sell your idea?
- Do you need a marketing plan for your business?
- Do you need a financial loan?
- Will you need personnel in the foreseeable future?
- Have you already started a business that you’d like to run better, faster, or more profitably?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then a business plan is almost certainly a good idea. Business plans can serve different purposes for different people. To ensure you feel good about investing time and other resources into putting together a plan, tailor it so that it fits your needs and serves a purpose in the trajectory of your burgeoning business.
Keep in mind that your idea, although undoubtedly a great one, may not be completely new. There’s a good chance someone out there has already tried and even succeeded in providing a good or service that is similar, if not nearly identical, to what you plan to offer. But that’s okay. A business succeeds because of the person who runs it and the time, resources, determination, decision-making, and problem-solving skills they bring to the table, not because of the initial idea.
A business plan, then, is a no-brainer if you need investors or loans, but it is not the trump card in your deck. You are the key to your winning hand, and any investor is going to be more interested in you than your concept. They need to believe you can make your concept work, and the thought process that creating a business plan requires, can help them visualize your success.
Yes, I Need a Plan
Smart choice. Although I just suggested three paragraphs ago that business plans should uniquely cater to your needs, there are a few things every business plan should contain – see this list of ten essentials you can use as a checklist.
Aside from those ten essentials, a business plan should reflect its owner.
For example, a right-brained entrepreneur who loathes the idea of watching that cursor slowly advance word by word across a page might consider a visual business plan. For ideas and services in that vein, visit The Right-Brained Business Plan.
The entrepreneur who isn’t seeking external funding and is focused on trialing their ideas before they can even visualize where they might go should consider a mini business plan, a 2-3 page plan that introduces the concept without going into the marketing and competitor analyses that a more comprehensive plan would contain.
Whatever you do, DON’T be unrealistic. Dream, but give your dream a storyline and a plot that the reader can buy into. While we’re at it, Yahoo!’s Small Business Advisor has a pretty concise list of other don’ts for your plan.
What’s Already Out There
The resources you gravitate toward will likely be determined by how you like to learn and produce work.
Learn best online?
Take a look at this online business plan course.
Got ideas, need a writer?
Several providers on Elance can assist with the writing piece of your plan. Give them your ideas, and they can help with the formatting and style issues that may be slowing you down.
Prefer to get advice from a living, breathing person?
Just want to browse (free) ideas?
Want to stick with online help, but crave a more interactive tool?
Check out The Funding Roadmap, an interactive platform that takes you step-by-step through the planning process. Instead of starting from scratch with a blank screen, users can answer questions and let the platform do a lot of the work, resulting in a sharable, online product.
Want to see some samples?
Bplans.com contains a large collection of free sample business plans online.