The Easiest Way to Plan Your Business

When I was first starting out as a freelance photographer, everyone I knew told me I needed to write a business plan. I had no idea what that meant - I had gone to school for photography, not business. At that point in my career, I figured knowing the art would be enough. Writing a business plan seemed like a scary thing. What was it supposed to include? Who was using it? Why did I even need it? A business plan is just that- a plan. It's a draft for what your business will become. For some businesses, a casual plan is enough. Others, like those seeking funding from outside sources, will require a more formal plan. The casual planning I'm talking about today can easily be modified into a more formal plan because you'll be answering all the necessary questions. Business planning can happen before you start a business or while you're currently in business. I've done it both ways & I find it really helpful at both stages. I also like to revisit my plan every six months or so and see how things are going. I usually find that I've learned some new things or forgotten a possible connection point with my customer that will allow me to grow more.

The easiest way to write a business plan is simply to think about your business from beginning to end. Carve out 20 - 30 minutes of your time to sit down and walk through your business. I like to plot a new business plan out with pencil & paper but you may find writing it out using notecards or on a computer is more helpful. Create a comfy, distraction free environment to really put it some time for good, solid planning work.

Start with the question "Who is my customer and what are they using me for?" What is your target market? Identify as much as you can about them and get really specific. Where else do they go? What else do they do? What do they care about?

Next, answer "How do customers find you?" List any sources - social media marketing, traditional advertising methods, blindly stumbling into your business. Walk yourself through every source. If they'll primarily find you online, how do they find you online to begin with?

Keep walking yourself through your business, step by step. Once a customer finds you, what happens? How do they buy from you? What do they buy from you? Where do you get what they're buying from you? Are you making it? Or are you bringing it from some place else? Imagine yourself as your most perfect customer. What are you doing at each point along the journey of interacting with the business, from the discovery in the very beginning until the "end" when you've made a purchase & are ready to become a repeat customer armed with tools to share your experience.

Think of the touch points in your business. At what point along the business journey is your customer interacting with you? (Hint: a LOT. Even when you think they're not.) As you're walking through the touch points, ask yourself questions using the five senses. When a customer walks into your store, what does it smell like? When they're online, what does it look like? Are there sounds associated with your business?

Answering these questions will help you create a strategic & profitable marketing plan. Of course, there are no guarantees in business, but you'll be able to quickly identify what your customers are doing - how they're finding you, what they're doing once they find you and what happens after. It's ok if during your initial planning there's questions that arise that you don't know the answer to. If part of your business plan involves giving your customers a gift after they've purchased something but you're not quite sure what that is, that's ok. Write as much information as you know & let yourself ponder the questions for a while. You might find that there's many questions that pop up that you've never given much thought to. Or you might find that there's holes in marketing & it's unbalanced.

If you need to, you can translate these answers to a more formal plan. You've already identified your target market, what they're doing, what you're doing & everything in between. These questions also help to answer many branding questions & especially marketing questions because they ask you to think about your business step by step from start to end. It will help answer what marketing pieces you need (price tags, postcards, price lists, etc) because you'll know where each of these pieces will be going and what their function is.

Remember that a business is often fluid and changing as it grows, especially a creatively fueled one. Revisiting your plan will ensure your new goals are lining up with your original business vision and show you where alterations might be needed.

Finally, avoid getting stuck in the planning stage. Business can be overwhelming, especially when you look at the 15 pages of notes you've written for yourself & the long list of tasks you've added to your to-do list. Simply start in the simplest way you know and continue building & growing towards your vision. Know that a business plan is just a tool to help you maximize your efforts in starting.

Best of luck, fellow entrepreneur! You've got this!