Before getting engaged, you first fall in love with the future possibilities, then seek advice from others, and finally make the decision to go for it. Married folk will attest to what invariably happens next. You transition from "Eek! I'm engaged" to "Oh my god, I have to plan a wedding." This shift happens quickly and it can turn something novel and exciting into a feeling of being overwhelmed and not sure what to do next. When starting a business, the pattern is the same--you get excited about the future, make the big decision to do it, and then, ugh. You immediately subject yourself to all kinds of planning.
Writing a business plan is necessary. Or is it? Traditional business plans are lengthy and rigid. It's often unclear who is going to ever read them and what purpose they serve. Yet, they're taken as a prerequisite to creating or selling anything.
Unfortunately, I suspect this immediate hurdle to drafting a business plan prevents a lot of people from starting something important. This is because would-be business starters can get overwhelmed with the planning process itself and don't yet know a lot of the answers they think are needed. There are many people caught in a business planning loop that they're never able to escape and actually start selling something. It's a shame.
There's a better way. It starts with making the plan itself more like the new business--small and agile. Creating a business plan in short, day-long phases makes the process more manageable. Tasks take as long as you give them and business planning is no exception. The key to getting it done so that you can get on we creating your business is to give it a deadline- the close of business today.
First, understand the purpose of your business plan is to get you clear on what you need to do. You're the audience. Keep this in mind to keep fussing over word choice and editing to a minimum.
Second, done is better than good. This is one of my favorite quotes from Elizabeth Gilbert and I apply it often to many different aspects of my life. Business planning should be no exception. The worst business plan is one that goes unwritten and prevents someone from starting what they were supposed to start and sell. Don't fall into that trap.
Third, the single question that you need to answer in your business plan is this:
How am I going to make $5,000?
This specific number is important whether you're planning to sell donuts, web development services, or luxury vacations. No matter how big you intend to be in the future, selling $5,000 worth of something requires that you define your product, identify your market, get paid, and gather feedback.
In the next iteration of your business plan, double this to $10,000. In the third iteration, the target is doubled again to $20,000 and so on. Initiate the next phase of your plan just before you're about to hit your first target. With each iteration, you have to rethink your product, market, payment processes, and feedback--but you're doing so in a way that is precisely aligned with where you are now and where you're going next.
Lastly, your business plan should be on two pages or less. Here's one adorable example from a kid with a dream for a dog walking business.. Don't bother drafting any filler content in an introduction or even on the background--unless it's directly relevant to how you're going to make that first $5,000.
Planning is important but someone else's idea of what a business plan should be shouldn't stand in your way of starting something important. Go for it.