Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Create a Useable Business Plan That WORKS for YOU!

When you think of a business plan, what comes to mind?

Is it a leather-bound tome of perfect grammar, financial projections and graphs, complete with bibliography?

Or, was it written at your kitchen table and now has coffee stains, scribbled updates and new ideas in the margins?

If your mind’s idea of a business plan is the former, you’ve got lots of company: most people think a business plan looks more like a Master’s thesis than a working document.

However, if your idea of a business plan is the kitchen-table, hand-scribbly kind, you probably have benefited more from your efforts. Here’s why: a business plan should be a “road map” that changes with the terrain (changes in your business), road improvements (growth and expansion of your business) and new models (new product ideas).

Sometimes a formal business plan has its uses for presenting to your banker when you want to apply for financing for new equipment, a larger studio or national expansion (hey, it could happen!). But more frequently it is simply an outline of where your business is now, where you want it to go and how you plan to get there. Read on for some ideas to help guide you in keeping it simple.

• First, get started! A general, hand written plan is better than no plan.
• Discard any fears about someone reading it or judging you. This is your plan for your business! Don’t worry about spelling or writing skills. The point is to write down your ideas and plans.
• I prefer bullet points to a traditional outline with numbers; it’s faster to write and easier to add or delete items later.
• Be sure to save your document as you go, and save a backup copy, too.

Of course, the owner of an online shop has different goals, needs and concerns than the owner of a brick-and-mortar shop. Business is business, though, wherever we set up shop. The following are some general sections you’ll want to include in your plan:

• What’s happening now
• Where you want to go (goals, objectives)
• How you plan to get there
• Who is your competition
• What could stop or slow your progress (i.e. Etsy shuts down your shop, new competition)
• When you plan to get to each step (set intermediate or milestone target dates)

Notice that I used the W’s of Who, What, When, Where, etc. I find it’s easier to really think things through in these terms, rather than the more traditional Competitive Analysis, Risk Analysis, etc. Remember, having the best ideas won't help you if you don't get started!

Review your plan with someone you respect and trust, and whose opinions you value, such as another Etsy seller who is successful but not in direct competition with you. In our old coffee shop, I’d write the business plan and review it with my husband. We’d divide up the things to be done, and write down who would be doing which items. AND (and this is really important), the target dates for completing our tasks.

I reemphasize the last statement: target dates for completing the tasks. The process of zooming in for a close look on your "road map" is critically important – almost as important as the actual “doing”! For example, suppose your primary supplier quits supplying. What is your Plan B?

For every obstacle, find a possible solution and you'll sleep better at night!

A business owner benefits from second opinions, third opinions, and fourth opinions. Consider an informal “board of directors” of two to three trusted, knowledgeable people on whom you can draw for honest feedback, ideas and brainstorming. One of my Etsy teams periodically critiques a member’s shop, joined in by as many as can attend online. The result is a condensed (about 1 ½ hour) but intense session for marketing, photography, customer service, etc. This is great because it’s online sellers, familiar with the Etsy community and rules, and who are familiar with your work.

I also find it beneficial to ask for opinions from a select few people “on the outside” of Etsy for a regular consumer’s or business owner’s viewpoint. Both avenues of gaining insight have worked very well for me.

A road map without distances is just a pretty collection of colors and lines – great art but skimpy on how to get from here to there.

It is the scale and distance that give your road map and business plan its meaning, and without the structure of the W’s plus your target dates, you’re just completing a writing assignment.

And, remember that perhaps the most important step is to just get started!

I'd love to see your ideas, too, so let me know what you think!

Good luck -- and tune in again for our next episode of "When the Petal Blooms." Or, something like that. Thanks for reading!