You know what they say: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In the freelance world, it’s more likely to be littered with half-finished, slightly crumpled business plans. But why do we shy away from what could make all the difference to our business’ success?

 Take a bunch of successful entrepreneurs and ask them what the golden rules are of their good fortune. Almost without exception they’ll say that there are three: knowing how to sell yourself confidently; smart money management; and having a plan. And we’re not talking about the written-on-the-back-of-a-receipt-in-the-pub kind of a plan. Nor is it about how to spend that first million. No, no, no, this is (drumroll, please), the business plan, the marketing strategy, the sales target, the service contract, the mission statement. You can hide behind calling it whatever you like but when it comes down to it, only 1 in 3 startups actually make it into a second year of trading: and you can bet your last Rolo that they have one of these golden documents and that it isn’t quietly rotting in a drawer: it’s being reviewed, tinkered with and monitored constantly.

 Basically, your business plan is painfully simple: where you are now, where you want to be in, typically, three year’s time and how you’ll get there. It’s fact-driven, totally objective and hard-hitting. It will make you cringe when you see how teeny tiny your numbers really are (to start off with) but check this out: a plan done well will almost certainly see you joining the illustrious 1 in 3 Club.

 Here’s how to Plan the Plan

 1. Get it done

This isn’t a time for pride, just get this plan done. Without going too New Age beardy weirdy on you, although it’s the process of getting the plan done that’s important, if you feel you can’t do it well enough by yourself to impress future investors, then buy in some help. Layout, grammar and overall presentation are just as important as what is in the plan itself: get experts in if you need to as doing it properly demonstrates to investors and future execs that you have taken it seriously, thought it through and are ready for action.

2. Take your time

Don’t rush this. Take at least two weeks. Get all your facts and check them, alone and then with anyone who might be helping you. Then check them again.

 3. Don’t hide from the truth

Make sure that your financial projections are realistic. Err on the expensive side and plan for minimum sales. Anything else will end in tears. Plan for losses and for not having money when you most need it. Ouch.

 4. Remember the double-double rule

Think about how long you expect something to take, double it and double it again. If you achieve your goal within the time frame, you’ll have done very well indeed.

 5. Remember the basics

Less is more with business planning. Here is the basic format.

The company (its legal formation, history and ownership).

What it sells or does.

The market (including size, growth and trends).

The management team and who they are.

Financial analysis (cash flow – not profits – month by month, profitability, returns).

 The Plan itself (sales forecasts, marketing plans, who does what and when and how). This is the most important part of the plan and is typically the bit that leads to much teeth gnashing and head-in-the-hands frustration. Just remember that you are making a literal road map for your business here in this part: by building in specific milestones, responsibilities and deadlines, you are giving yourself markers with which to measure your business’ performance.

6. SWOT like mad

Most of the crème of business plans follow the MBA fundamental of SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. If your business plan can face and address these competently and realistically, you’ll be on the road to Bill Gates-dom in no time at all.

Nikki

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