I’ve noticed there’s one piece of advice that’s common to almost any material aimed at the fledgling entrepreneur: “You must write a business plan.”
And it’s true, you should. But I get the sense that a lot of people look at them with a mixture of apprehension and consternation. It seems so foreign and daunting, such a big task for someone who is just starting out. If you’re in that boat, and I know I was, I’d like to make a couple of points that might help:
(1) Writing a plan will help get you in motion.
Starting a business, even a small one, is a pretty big undertaking. There are so many aspects to consider that, if you’re anything like me, you will have a hard time knowing how to begin. A business plan gives you structure, it tells you how to begin and what you need to research to get moving. It’s a great first step because it allows you to synthesize all those thoughts rattling around in your head into a concrete, actionable, straightforward plan of attack.
(2) A plan will remind you of your big dream.
It will also help you stay on the right track. If you have big dreams and goals for your business, you might feel there is no way you would ever waver from them. But when reality sets in, it’s easy to be deterred and lose sight. At that point, you need something to go back to, a reminder of what this was all about in the first place. A business plan can actually be that inspirational reminder.
(3) Your business plan can be whatever you want it to be.
When you think “business plan,” you might think of some dry, lengthy report with bar graphs, an executive summary, and all that jazz. That’s one format, and if you’re sharing your business plan in an attempt to, say, get a loan from a bank… then that’s probably the sort of business plan you’ll have to write. But if you’re writing it to flesh out the logistics for your own use, it can really be whatever is helpful for you.
SCORE has a helpful, downloadable template for writing a basic business plan. Content-wise, I wouldn’t suggest cutting out any of the information they recommend. After all, the fact that it’s forcing you to think about things like market size, competition, and strategy is really what makes it helpful. But you should feel free to change the format, make sections shorter or longer, include illustrations, and do whatever else is helpful for you. It’s your plan. My own business plan included a lot bulleted lists, and I added additional sections that I thought would be useful. I didn’t use much formal business language, and though I did a lot of research, I kept the plan pretty short so it would be easy for me to skim in the future to see if I’m on track.
So yes, write a business plan. But don’t think of it as a dry exercise that’s stopping you from diving into the creative work. Think of it as a challenging but creative exercise, and a living document of your dream that will be with you for years to come.