Here’s the deal, we all need some kind of a plan for our business, and we all need to be updating it every so often. It should definitely be at least once per year, although I’ve heard some people do this exercise every six months or even every quarter (three cheers for them!). I on the other hand have always felt overwhelmed doing a business plan for my business. This is silly in a lot of ways because I have been on business development teams throughout my years in the corporate world and I’ve written business plans for my clients. There just never seems to be enough time to do one for myself…
Why is a business plan important you ask? Especially since you’ve heard of a slew of businesses that don’t ever bother doing one and are just fine? This is my theory: planning and organizing keep you accountable and focused, so that when you get those little voices in your head that tell you to just go ahead and buy that new laptop or spend $1000 on print advertising in the back of that glitzy magazine’s classified section, or $8,000 going to that trade show, you can tell them it’s just not part of the strategy this year. Business plans also help you understand your business and what you’re selling, and trust me, sometimes that’s easier said than done. And if you want or need funding, 95% of the time you’re going to have to show the bank, angel investor, or VC you’ve thought things through–on paper.
This year, in an effort to help me with the task of setting out a plan for my consulting business as well as both of my book brands I joined an “Incubator” through Ladies Who Launch (www.ladieswholaunch.com). A lot of great things came out of this Incubator: I met some cool like-minded women, which made me feel like I wasn’t crazy or alone in my quest of being a business owner; I got some great insight about things I didn’t know I needed to know; I felt like I got four therapy sessions for the price of one (and in a town like L.A. that means a lot); and I finally figured out how to write a business plan that will work for me.
One of our homework assignments was to keep track of our forward progress each day. The theory being that we do more than we often give ourselves credit for (which is so true). On one such day I was staring at the pile of folders I had pulled out to write all of my “business plans” and thought, wouldn’t it be great to just do a super condensed two-page, or even five-page plan, that would only take a couple hours to finish, maybe three, but not the three months I was dreading? And then it hit me: yes, it was possible, and I was already kinda doing it.
I call this my “Pocket Plan”, and today, for the first time ever, I am testing the template I have created; a combination of the business plan formula I’ve worked with in the past, things I’ve learned from my Incubator sessions, and observations I’ve made about myself and the things that matter most as a business owner. I’m going to do this plan for my consulting business, right here, right now, and see how long it takes to finish.
1. What is your Vision? As entrepreneurs, we need to dream big. That’s what got us excited about starting a business in the first place. When you write this, don’t be humble about where you see your business in the future.
Dorota’s Business Vision:
As a content consultant I have several steady, long-term, well-paying clients that include start-ups, small to medium sized companies, and even a few heavy-hitters like Volkswagen and Warner Brothers. I work with clients two days out of the week, and am able to delegate any additional responsibilities to my assistant or one of the two amazing copywriters that work for me. I spend the rest of my time working on my books, blogs, writing articles and making appearances.
2. What products and/or services are you selling? What products or services do you want to be selling? Include everything, your hourly rate, packages, product lines, pricing, and that thing that you heard about or saw your competitor doing and thought–I need to be doing that!
Dorota’s products and services:
A. Technical Writer & Content Consultant: hourly rate between $50 and $75 per hour depending on the scope of the project.
B. “Pro Bono” work–when I know I’ll make a great connection out of it, it’s something new that I want to gain some experience in, or it sounds like just plain ‘ol fun.
No products just yet. However I’ve been hearing a lot of “consultants” talk about packages and e-books…I feel I might need to go in this direction.
3. Who is your target market? I often find people give very general or vague answers to this question, whether it’s being described in a business plan or not. I went to a seminar in December about website marketing and I think the speaker summed it up best. Your target market should be defined so narrowly that you can visualize the actual person in your head.
Dorota’s target market for consulting work:
Her name is Janet (or John), she’s cool and confident and looks to be in her late 30’s or early 40’s. She’s growing a business and is busy negotiating contracts, reeling in clients, and figuring out what events she has time for. She doesn’t have the time to write all the content for her website and newsletter, or research her competition, or write a company profile. She needs someone professional and efficient that she can trust to get the job done right.
4. What are the symbols, slogans, colors, and experiences being associated with your business? Describe your brand. If you don’t know whether you have one yet, look around your office space and describe what you see, look at your product and describe the attributes that make people buy it, think about how you present yourself in public, with clients, and on the Internet. Does everything capture what you are trying to sell?
- Light, inspiring, stable, sincere.
- Professional, efficient, valuable service.
- Inviting, creative, conversation.
- Helping you communicate every aspect of your business.
- Helping you refine your content.
- Saving you time and energy.
5. What’s your pitch? I gotta tell ya, I had problems with this up until I took my Incubator course this month. Anytime someone would ask me what I did for a living I stumbled around: Well…I’m a technical writer, I write technical papers, but I also write fiction…I’m a consultant…and a publisher…I can do this, that, well, anything!
Umm, yeah, that wasn’t good. I think back now to a lot of potential clients I lost. Here is what I learned. A pitch needs to describe what you do in one sentence, describe the value of your product or service in the second sentence (a.k.a. the “wow” factor), describe what’s in it for them in the third sentence, and close with a way to keep the conversation going.
My name is Dorota and I’m a technical writer and content consultant. I help business owners communicate every aspect of their business, whether its a company profile, press releases, web content, or employee handbook. I save business owners the time and energy it takes to organize, research, write, and publish professional content. Here is my business card; if you ever need a copywriter, or any of your clients ever need a copywriter, I am happy to give a free one-hour project consultation to see how we can work together.
6. How are you reaching your customers? This is all about your marketing efforts. Think about what you’re doing now, what’s working, and what’s not.
Dorota’s current marketing efforts:
- Facebook, LinkedIn.
- Business networking events and groups: Ladies Who Launch, Ladies Lotto.
- Word of mouth.
- Craigslist, Monster.com.
What’s working and what’s not:
I’m glad I have websites and social networking sites but I need to change how I’m utilizing them. I need all these things I’ve set up on the Internet to start working for me; draw customer’s in, get them to participate, and buy. I also want to start pitching my copywriting skills to clients in my target market, rather than just applying for projects I see posted on the Internet that thousands of other people are also applying for.
7. What do you need help with? I know, it’s hard for us to admit we’re not superhero’s, that we can’t do it all, and that sometimes we need an expert to step in and just take care of something. But think of this as your wish list, so that you can actually take a weekend off every now and then.
I will always need my web designer in one form or another–even though we’re transitioning to a content management system for all of my websites. He’s really smart when it comes to technical stuff, and even though I can manage my way through a lot, I just don’t want to be an expert on HTML or configuring for mobile devices.
I would still really love to find someone (and at this point it would probably have to be an intern) who really knows their way around the web. Someone who knows how to reach specific target markets on the various social networking sites, someone who understands viral marketing, someone familiar with publicity, someone who can come up with events that are low-cost yet really high ROI, someone who really understands my brand. Sigh…
8. How much money do you need to finance your business? How much money do you want to make? A place to start is by looking at your last year’s taxes. How much did you spend on your business, and what was your adjusted gross income? What additional products are you planning on launching this year? What additional staff or contractor’s are you planning on hiring? If you need additional funding, what are your options?
Dorota’s quick and dirty method for figuring out how much money she needs to bring home the bacon:
A. Last year’s income: $_______ minus, last year’s expenses: $________=How much money I really made.
B. This year’s projected expenses: $_______plus, my salary (oh yeah, this year I’m gettting paid): $________=How much money I really want to make this year.
9. What are your goals? I don’t know about you, but for me, the days, weeks, and months fly by like a snap of a finger. Sometimes the goals I write for myself in the first week of the first month of the year, still do not have a check mark by the time December rolls around. My approach is this: stay cool, and do not overwhelm yourself (the goals for your business are different from your weekly to-do lists). Push yourself, but be realistic. Decide when the next time will be that you will re-visit this Pocket Plan. For me, I’m going to look at all this again 8 months from now, which puts me in August. I am going to set some broad goals for my business that address everything from my vision to my finances, and that I believe I can reach by August.
Dorota’s Business Goals:
- Get four new clients; and not just through craigslist, I want to get two via direct pitching.
- Publish an e-book.
- Transition into a content management system for my websites.
- Figure out how to use the power of social networking to sell, sell, sell.
- Take at least one more business development and writing seminar/course.
OK folks. Pencil’s down. That was 153 minutes (or thereabouts). Not bad for a business plan.
As always, I am happy to answer any questions through my website: www.aohwrite.com.