Your business, your way! how to plan for success
Updated: Aug 15, 2020
Starting your own business or adding new divisions or products is an extremely exciting time for any entrepreneur. And planning for your own success is a vital element, as you will know.
Adding new services or brands to your business should be thought through with care if you want to ensure they fit with the overall brand and message you already share. Some tweaking might be necessary to the original business now that we're blinking in the daylight, 'restarting' and for many, soldiering on.
Updated business plans are as important now than they ever were and can give you a chance to refocus and incorporate any ideas or revisions you've made over the first half of 2020. But these plans don't have to be 'dry' and formal. They need to be living and breathing statements of your actual intent and not a 'tick box' exercise!
If you are starting your business from scratch, this can be the result of many different factors.
Perhaps your employment has been curtailed unexpectedly, or maybe a hobby which has developed as word of mouth has brought people to your doorstep? Or perhaps you’ve made a deliberate decision to earn money doing something completely different to your usual job and ‘start afresh’? Perhaps you’ve decided you want to ‘be your own person’ and not answer to a boss anymore, or perhaps you’ve seen a niche which you are excited to explore. I imagine that many new businesses will be started in the wake of coronavirus.
Some of these routes into self employment mean that you perhaps don’t feel the need to ‘plan your way to success’ as it’s already happening. You might even be able to start it while in employment so as to limit the risk to your income.
However, there usually comes a point in the life of any business, where a long hard look at what’s going on is required. If there’s an opportunity for this ‘thinking time’ before you launch you’ve got a better chance of starting on a path which has a simple decision making structure, which then helps to keep you focused.
But if you’re reviewing things, as many are doing right now, now is as good a time as any to really think about what has worked best, regardless of how long you’ve been in business. A chance to consider where the ‘perfect clients’ are and how to bring more of them to your business, for when you are up and running, or your new offering is ready to share with the world.
So bearing that in mind, here’s a simple and practical set of questions to consider. These questions look at the overall structure and plan for the business and might highlight some areas where you feel you could tighten up a bit.
This plan assumes that you’ve got some money saved to start your business with, and it does not require a big injection of finance. If you however do need investment, please add a section on finance and how you plan to raise it.
First of all, think about these questions to get yourself in the right head space, then consider the 10 questions below.
· What is your business offering?
· Who are the target customers?
· Where will you find them/How will they find you?
What makes you different to other people offering the same sort of service?
1.Who am I/What is my business?
Defining your business is very important. And having a name which is unique and representative is vital.
· Consider what words you will want to reinforce, words which you want to be associated with. Have fun with this, brain storm yourself or with your business partner if you have one. It will form the basis of your whole business and the message you send out to potential clients.
· Try to have the same name across all your social media, email and website accounts so that customers will know where to find you.
· Do you have a ‘slogan’ or phrase which people can associate with your business? Something which explains is as few words as possible what you’re about and gives a clear message about your values and approach to business.
Here’s an example for an accountancy practice ‘The Smart Solution for Small Businesses’
And one from a training business ‘your solutions focused business coach’
· If you don’t have a slogan, don’t worry about it yet, it’s something we can work on. Just bear it in mind and note down any ideas which pop into your consciousness. This method of gentle brainstorming can bring the best ideas ‘out of the blue’ so make sure you record /write them down in some way!
It’s helpful to have a few sentences up your sleeve to describe your business in a factual way too.
· what you do
· where you do it
· who it’s for
· why you do it
· if you can add something that makes it ‘unusual’ or ‘unique’ all the better
The Accountancy Practice is a well established independent family run accountancy practice specialising in start ups and small business. Formed in 1998 by John Froggett, with his son David as Managing Director, it now operates out of offices in the High Street of Royston, Herts with seven out of the ten strong team from the Froggett family.
2. Where do you position yourself?
This helps you construct or consider your ‘elevator pitch’ – the fifty or so words you would use to describe what you do, in the most appealing way, which might attract new clients to try you.
It explains clearly what you are aiming for in terms of size and the scope of the business. It gives people a feel for where you’re at and builds their confidence in you as someone who has a clear vision, however simple. People like to pigeon hole, so let’s give them the info they need to think ‘computer says yes!’
I realise that sounds really salesy ‘the elevator pitch’ but it does describe pretty well what we are talking about. Something short and sweet, which you can say to anyone who asks ‘what do you do’. It happens surprisingly often doesn’t it? So being able to comfortably and confidently say what you do is a helpful thing to have ‘off pat’.
It is particularly helpful for the 60 second introductions you will be asked to give in networking groups, whether virtual or face to face (presuming at some point they recommence?).
3. Geographical range
Where you are operating from and the catchment area you are hoping for is relevant here.
Whether that’s a radius from your office or a distance from your home you are prepared to travel to, it helps to have a clear idea.
So when you are thinking of your marketing strategies and plans, and your spend or targeted ads on social media, you know where to focus on.
4. Your Goals
It helps to have a clear idea of where you as a business want to be over a specific timescale. This is difficult to plan for obviously in the current climate but most people have a vague idea of what they are hoping to achieve. It gives a valuable focus and helps clarify actions for making the many decisions you will be required to make.
For example, this might be a certain level of income per month, or over a year.
It might be to do with expertise and reputation – wanting to be seen as the best in the area.
It might be to have a business which stimulates you/your clients but does not take up ALL your available time.
It might be to spread peace love and happiness and improve the lives of those you help.
There’s loads of reasons. And they will be personal to you. There’s no ‘wrong’ answers here, it’s personal preference.
Once you know (and have admitted to yourself) what you are doing it for – your why – the rest generally falls into place.
Working randomly, generating work from here there and everywhere, sporadically even, is fine. But there might come a point where it might be better for you to manage your workflow to work around your needs as well as those of your clients.
Having goals also helps you make the day to day decisions that crop up. How much stock to buy, whether to invest in a new service, whether to learn new skills to benefit your clients, whether to take on an assistant, whether to expand.
There’s a lot of pressure on the self employed to ‘grow the business’ and this has a negative knock on effect for some who actually wants to remain a sole trader with a simple business model.
If that’s what you want, embrace it. And enjoy that feeling of knowing you don’t want to expand. For others there might be a vision to offer a range of services and become a force to be reckoned with in their locality. Neither is wrong, but you need to be honest with yourself and plan accordingly.
And it’s ok to change too. Things change. We change. Our circumstances change. And we need to be open to making changes as the external environment changes. Having a plan and sticking to it has an air of consistency and security about it, but it should not be a millstone around your neck.
It’s there to serve you, not be the rod you’ve created for your own back.
I’ve found it really helpful in life to realise that ‘that decision worked for then, with those set of circumstances but now things are different I need to refocus and decide what’s right for me and the people who are around me’.
Liberate yourself, decide what you want and you will find what you need will present itself.
You then need to be take action and not let procrastination take hold.
Little tip here – if you are finding it difficult to make a decision, consider this. You perhaps don’t have enough / the right information to make a decision. What else do you need to know to make your decision? Is there a way you can be tentative and start your idea and see if it’s got potential?
Your business plan is a living breathing thing. Something to review when you want to refocus, or just double check you’re on track.
Just get a fresh piece of paper (or document in word) and start answering the questions again. Simple. It really can be. But you need to be brave and decide to think ‘out of the box’, to use an old fashioned (but very pertinent) expression.
There’s no limit to how many goals you have. It might be one, two or three. It might be more, but I find that three is enough for most people to be going on with!
For example, here’s three goals from an accountancy practice.
It helps if the goals are simple, but as specific as possible, otherwise how will you know whether you are on the right path for meeting /attaining them?
5. Values and philosophy
Your business will flow better if your personal values are in alignment with whatever you are doing as a business. Or are able to be incorporated into the way you conduct your business. It’s not always easy to be clear about your own values (there’s so many other elements of life competing for your attention!) so it’s a good time to consider what’s important to you, now.
It’s possible you’ve done this exercise in the past, and if that’s the case it’s even more important you do this again now. Values can change as we get older, as we reflect on our lives and what’s worked for us/felt productive and enriching.
Sometimes we’ve not put our values into words but if you can pick words which reflect you and your ethos, these will be a vital part of your message and help with your marketing and promotional activities. It can be quite an interesting exercise and certainly is a very useful one for your business. It might relate to your clients, your staff, the wider community or all three. It’s whatever you want it to be.
You may be familiar with the expression ‘mission statement’. Now it’s more likely to be called a philosophy. But either way, it’s a useful activity to consider what it would be for you and your business, it helps guide and inform. If you can incorporate your values into your philosophy, you will find it easier to get to your goals, quicker.
6. Roles and responsibilities
It really helps to have a clear idea of what you are going to be doing on a day to day basis and if you are employing staff or working with colleagues, that every knows what ‘s expected of them. Saves so many misunderstandings and inevitably, time and energy!
If your business is going to be run by you exclusively to start with, please consider
· When you are planning to deliver your service/make your product
· When you will respond to enquiries – phone and email
· How you will invoice your customers and raise the relevant paperwork
· When you will be updating your records of what you’ve spent on the business and what you’ve earned (simple bookkeeping)
· When you will order stock
· When you will consider how to get more clients so you have a steady workflow
If you can develop a simple routine, whether on a daily or weekly basis (or both) you will find it much easier to avoid fire fighting. It’s so easy with a small business to find yourself being pulled into different directions and rushed off your feet. And that’s quite stressful.
If you’ve got a plan (which can be deviated from if necessary of course) you’ve got a thread which will take you through the days, weeks months and years ahead. Everything should flow.
7. Ethics and communication. How you treat each other/ communicate
If you have others who work with you, who represent your brand/business, it’s helpful if you can agree a ‘code of conduct’ from the outset.
Knowing what to expect in terms of communication styles or simply how soon someone is expected to respond to a phone call or message, is extremely helpful and limits anxiety.
It can be helpful to consider what you feel are reasonable ‘house rules’ and discuss them with everyone involved.
Don’t feel you’ve got to follow someone else’s plan of what’s appropriate. It’s your business. Consider what’s important to you and why. Even if it seems a ‘small point’ – someone turning up later than you feel is right, it’s vital that you realise, acknowledge it to yourself, consider why you think it’s important and then convey it to your team/colleague.
Having these things ‘set in stone’ in a document or a statement really helps take the personal element of criticism out of the equation and lets you both get on with the business of providing your service.
Your values might come into play here.
8. Breakdown of anticipated services
What exactly are you going to be doing to earn money for your business/what are you going to delivering?
What are you going to charge for the various services?
Are you under charging (if already established? Is it time to review your prices?)
If you’re just starting out, check out the competition and what they are offering especially the price range for similar services in your area to get an idea of the market rate. No point in being wildly outside the usual costs unless you’ve got something really unique to justify a difference.
Some businesses offer a range of services and it helps to be clear about which you want to focus on in what order, or you can end up ‘headless chickening’ it. Have a plan of a product or service roll out which makes sense to you and try to stick to it even if the interest is ‘all over the place’. Or reframe your plan. But don’t just react to all and every request or it will send you mad!
Consider how much of the time you want to be spending on one area/making one product. Guard against optimism. You need to be realistic! What will be your lead time, how soon will you be able to deliver from point of order? That might determine your pricing too. Will you have different levels of service?
You could plan in terms of hours or percentage of time, whatever suits you.
This information will also inform where you place the emphasis in your marketing and what you talk about when you are asked about your business.
What you focus on will be attracted to you.
It helps to know
· which services you enjoy / are excited about delivering most
· which bring you the most profit
· which draw people to you but are ‘loss leaders’ – trendy but low profit
· which generate the most repeat business....
And I am sure there’s other aspects you can think of. Having a good clear think about this can help you prioritise the elements you need to focus on, to have the business you have envisaged.
9. Your marketing plan - how your business will generate the income to meet your goals
You might want to re list your goals and for each one state how they will be achieved. Using the SMART framework can be really helpful here
Keeping your name in front of those who you would like to become customers is a good idea!
Nothing novel about that. So what routes do you have available to you ? ideally ‘free’ or low cost for a small business.
There’s various ‘channels’ to consider:
And it will depend on what you want to achieve with your business.
If you wanted to be the leading local expert in your field, you might want to consider talking on local and community radio shows and getting in local magazines.
Here’s some other ideas which you could think about:
· encouraging existing customers to refer their friends
· network with local business groups
· write articles on your pet subjects in local print and online magazines
· hook up with your key suppliers and see what marketing they are doing for their customers – you might be able to provide a case story or insight into their wonderful product!
· go to free industry exhibitions and talk to the visitors
· link up with a local charity and show your compassionate side
· write up local interest stories about your business which the local paper might publish – charity things are good!
· make short videos – either tutorials or other helpful recordings for your clients. Start a youtube channel
· entering business awards
Marketing is interesting in that it’s not usually ONE thing that brings you business, but a mix. It may be that someone has to hear your business name/see your logo a few times before they take the plunge and call/book you. Most people are cautious. And also they are easily distracted.
Think about the last things you bought. You might have thought about it for weeks but then someone distracted you before you actually placed the order.
Don’t be disheartened if one form of marketing doesn’t appear to be generating anything, As long as it’s not a hugely expensive investment, carry on as it’s part of the mix.
As part of your ‘presence’ you will want to set up a facebook page, perhaps twitter, LinkedIn and a website, even if basic, is quite important as a ‘calling card’ if people are looking you up. If you’ve not got to this stage yet, you might want to read the article on ‘owning a name’ and also ‘branding’.
Put testimonials on there (get in the habit of asking clients to write down how they feel about a product/your service if you know they are happy). Other people’s opinions have more clout than your own views of your business!
It is also helpful (and can be done cheaply if you look online) to create some physical marketing materials:
· A business card
· A5 flyers
· A brochure, perhaps tri fold, about your services
· A pull up banner is helpful (and now extraordinarily cheap) for your office or zoom meeting backdrop (and can be used at exhibitions too)
· You might want to consider promotional products which relate to your business – pens, bottle openers, note pads, sweets. Whatever takes your fancy really and which you 1) have the budget for and 2) which you think your customers will use!
This section assumes that you’ve got a logo, a colour scheme – a brand which is synonymous with you and your business.
10. Your one/three/five year plan (whatever suits you best)
This is fairly self explanatory. But I would reiterate, don’t feel you are wedded to your plan here. It’s to guide you right now. It might not be relevant in six months, or two years time. It doesn’t matter. We can’t see into the future. It’s a statement of intent, it’s relevant now and it’s the now that matters.
Please try to bear in mind the SMART formula from point 9 above. It helps to consider the detail of what and when so you’ve got a coherent vision of the future upon which to make your day to day business decisions.
Are there any other factors you want to consider/add?
Something unique to your business?
Perhaps there’s a note you want to make to yourself.
Something you want to investigate over the next few weeks?
Or a date for revision of the plan.
Perhaps you want to consider recruiting a ‘buddy’ to help keep you on track. Someone you can talk to once a month for example. Some of my clients find it helpful to have someone objective, who they don’t know personally, to ask the ‘difficult’ questions. Of course, it can be a friend, someone you trust to have your best interests at heart. Up to you. But do consider your support network. Running a small business can be a lonely path, rewarding but some people find it’s nice to talk things over with someone outside your immediate family.
I hope this has helped guide you through a ‘modern’ business plan in a way that has not freaked you out! I’ve tried to make it as logical and straight talking as possible.
There is no mystique to it. It should all be logical and make sense. If there’s anything within this document – or any questions that it raises for you- for which you’d like my input, feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, I know we’re all inundated with ‘content’ to digest!
Yours, Helen Froggett-Thomson Helen@thomsontraining.com