Nobody’s perfect, myself included. One of the things that I’ve resisted the most is writing a business plan. I had it all in my head and I didn’t have the time to write it down.
So what’s the big deal? Well, because I didn’t have an official plan, every new thing that came along would send me into a shiny-object spiral.
Having a specific business plan can help safeguard against shiny-object syndrome and keep you on track to meet your goals.
When it comes to business plans, they vary in their complexity. Depending on your situation you may just want to follow a very basic business plan outline.
I stuck with a basic plan and I’m glad that I did. I added things as I needed, but it wasn’t as intimidating to start.
Regardless, the process of sitting down, creating a business plan outline, and writing a business plan is one of the most valuable exercises you will do. Once I did, it was a lot easier to keep track of what goals I was working toward.
Basic Business Plan Outline
List your business credentials
Why are you qualified to start this business and sell your products and services?
Do you have any certifications, degrees, or extra trainings? If you’re in the health field, there’s a huge emphasis on having the correct accreditations so if you have any type of training, make it clear on your website and author bio box.
If you don’t have any formal training, what makes you eligible to create a business around your chosen topic? Maybe you have an interesting story that helped you gain the skills needed that could benefit others.
List your staff
Is it going to be just yourself, or do you have a definite plan in terms of when you are going to hire sales, technical, or administrative staff?
Most people will start as solopreneurs. Next, they’ll add a virtual assistant to help with some of the tasks that they like best.
One of the biggest impacts on my business was learning to hire out some of the tasks that aren’t my strong suit. I’m not a huge fan of creating graphics, so having someone help create the graphics for my business has been amazing!
If your time is worth $50 an hour consulting, but you have limited time to consult because you’re working on marketing, wouldn’t it be smarter to hire someone at $30 an hour to take over the marketing? You’re still coming out ahead and that’s one less thing for you to worry about.
I use a tool called Toggle to keep track of my time. It helps me see how much time I’m actually spending on each task so I can decide if it’s worth it or not to hire out.
Will you be selling services, products, or a combination of both?
The fastest way to become profitable is to sell services. They are typically worth a lot more than a digital product, but they require you to spend your time fulfilling your contract.
Products aren’t worth as much initially, but they are great for passive income. They are easier to scale, but they aren’t exactly a get rich quick type of thing.
How much revenue will come from products? How much profit will come from products?
When it comes to products, you need to consider how much it will cost you to make a product. If it’s digital, consider how much time it will take you to write the eBook. Did you need to hire a graphic designer to design the eCover?
If you need to purchase hosting space (like getting a business account on Dropbox or more space on Google Drive) then you must factor that in. If you subscribe to Canva Pro or a premium stock photo website to create worksheets and printables, then that counts as well.
How much revenue will come from services? How much profit will come from services?
With services, the largest expense is your time. Your time is worth a lot. If it takes you 20 hours to complete a project that you charged $100 for, then you just got paid $5 per hour.
In that case, you’d want to evaluate what other people in your niche are charging and consider if that service is profitable for you. Are there any ways you could become more efficient?
Sometimes you can use templates, automations, or other business tips to do more in less time. It might make the difference between a successful business and one that lasts for a week.
Sales and marketing plan
Outline your major sales and marketing activities - the things that you're going to do to bring in key, sweet spot clients.
There are marketing activities online as well as offline that can help you bring in clients.
In terms of online, there’s social media marketing, network marketing, content marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and many more.
Offline, there’s network marketing, going to events, putting up fliers, or selling products in brick and mortar stores.
Think about what you’ll need to do every day, week and month.
For each activity, you’ll want to track how much time you think it’s going to take up and how much money you think it’s going to cost to execute. Then you’ll want to see how close your estimates are.
I like to put these numbers in an Excel file so I can have them for comparison later.
Where will you be located? Home office or rented space?
If you’re going to be working from home, make sure that you have a dedicated space. Remember, this is your business so you need to be honest about your own ability to work from home.
If you cannot work from home, then there are other places to consider. Think in terms of local coffee shops (I’m a fan of Starbucks), public libraries, or even co-working spaces!
If you’re in the service business, you’ll need to consider how you will be working with clients.
For local clients, how will you get to your clients' places of business? Personal car or leased vehicle? Will you need to rent facilities from time to time for meetings, seminars, or other events?
If you’re meeting with someone online, what software will you use to talk to them? Is it widely available? What if you have technical difficulties?
Providing services means that you need to be sure you can get in touch with clients multiple ways and vice versa. They are a crucial part of your business so you always want to be sure you can communicate.
What capital do you need to start? Where will you get this capital? Where will you get additional capital during your first year in business?
It’s easy to think that you’ll be able to start a business online easily without much start-up capital. That’s why it’s so important to sit down and figure out exactly how much it’s going to cost.
You'll need to think of things like how much it will cost you to have your website setup. Even if you go the DIY route you'll still need hosting at a domain.
You're going to need office supplies, business cards, and the necessary software to run your business. How are you going to keep track of your books? You may need to pay for software to do that.
Do you know how to market yourself? There may be costs associated with that. There’s also the cost of taking classes if you want to DIY it yourself.
When it comes to products and services, remember that there is a cost to collecting credit card information online. Most processors will take a fee and you'll have to consider that. If you're using a marketplace like Etsy for example, you'll need to factor in the listing fees just to get your products out there.
Sit down and make a list of all the possible expenses that you can think up. Come back the next day and review it. Chances are you've missed a few.
There's no such thing as a free lunch just as there's no such thing as a free online business. If you're serious about starting a business for yourself online, you need to invest in it.
Salary and Payroll
What are your expectations for your personal salary or drawings. Do you have to pay staff as well?
It’s common to try to do everything yourself when you’re first starting out. However, eventually you’ll want to bring on help.
The best thing I’ve ever done for my business was outsource the tasks that don’t bring me joy. Instead, I hire someone who does them much more efficiently than I can so I can focus on doing the things that only I can do.
You’ll want to make sure that you have a separate bank account for your business. Most likely you’ll want to pay yourself from that account, so it’s important to know how much you’re going to pay yourself, and how much you’re going to invest back into your business.
Expertise of principals
What makes you and/or your partners qualified? What kind of skills and experience do you bring to the table that will be of valuable to this business venture and valuable to the clients you want to pursue?
You have to have some level of expertise. If you know nothing about iguana farming, then you should not start an iguana Farm. It's that simple.
That being said however, you do have a lot of skills that I bet you don't give yourself credit for. Taking the time to write down all of the skills that you have that are valuable to your business is essential.
Do you have fantastic time management skills? Then that something to write down. Do you work effectively with other people? That's something else that will help you with your business. If nothing else, this list will help remind you of your strengths, and show you areas to potentially work on in the future.
The Bottom Line on Business Plan Outlines
Business plan outlines can be as detailed as you want. The most important aspect is that your business plan outline covers off the basics. Make sure the business plan outline you adopt allows you to answer the five W's and provides you with a plan for how you will start and operate your business.
It's always a great idea to review your business plan at least once a month to make sure that you're following up on your goals, and that you're headed in the right track. It should just become second nature to you.