As a business adviser, I work with owners of all sorts of businesses – creative and otherwise. One thing that a surprising number of business owners have in common is that they just don’t plan their business.
Even established businesses need a plan
When most people think of business plans, they think of new start-ups convincing investors (or the bank manager) to give them cash. But a good business plan is so much more than that. It’s a statement of intent for you as a business owner. A declaration of your goals and priorities. A roadmap for where your business is going and how you’re going to get there.
That’s why every business should have a plan. Even when you’re up and running, it’s never too late to take a step back, reflect and plan.
It doesn’t need to be a long or complex document – a simple one-pager setting out key activities for the future will bring clarity to what you’re trying to achieve. One of my clients sets out their annual goals as a single page infographic, for example, which is a very visual way of presenting their plan.
Bringing your creative vision to life
Business planning can be a vital source of creative ideas, and the end document itself isn’t nearly as important as the thought processes involved and the engagement of your team.
Your business is reliant on your passion. It’s your DNA running through the business that makes it what it is. Therefore, business planning isn’t about turning you into a boring corporate type or losing the essence of why you started the business in the first place. It’s about making the most of your passion and energy, involving those around you and sharing both its creation and output with others.
Ultimately, your business plan details and communicates your vision, from a blank canvas to a masterpiece that supports your business goals. Designed and produced well, your plan reveals the picture of where you want your business to be and how you’re going to get there.
Business planning in practice
Assuming you don’t need to massively overhaul your business, or need a business plan for a specific purpose such as raising finance, you can use business planning as a tool to focus your time and energy on the areas that matter most.
The following five exercises will help you firm up your priorities, identify areas for improvement, and ultimately build a better business.
- Set out the primary purpose of your business. This will be a statement both of what you want the business to do for you – it’s your business, you’re building it for a reason – and what your business is intended to do for your clients.
- Create an overarching goal or target. This might be a single target of achieving a business of a specific size by a certain date, or it might be a number of targets that include financial, creative, industry awards and other goals.
- Review what’s gone well (and what’s not). Divide a page into three sections. In the first, list things that have gone well over the past year; in the second, list things that haven’t quite gone to plan; and in the third, turn each item into an action point for doing more of the stuff that works and improving or avoiding the not-so-successful bits.
- Identify the small number of critical things to do. Keeping true to your purpose, with a focus on your overarching goal, and using the experience you have gained so far, capture the really important ‘strategies’ for your business. Consider the resources you will need to create the product or service you provide; think about design and production and how these will be both innovative and cost-effective; consider the talent you will need to attract and retain; identify and map out your supply chain; and be specific about your marketing and distribution plans.
- Be clear about your role. If you are the owner you may feel that both the planning and the success of your business is down to you. But you don’t have to do it all. As you undertake your business planning take an honest assessment of your own role: what are you good at and what do you like doing? In your plan build around you the talent and experience to support you and the business.
What you should have now is a firm idea of your priorities and goals. In other words, you have a plan.
Staying on track
It’s important to revisit your plan regularly to check that it’s still relevant and that you’re on track to achieve your goals. Remember, it’s not a blood oath. Businesses evolve and goals change, so repeat these exercises throughout the year to keep your plan fresh.
And if all else fails, if planning really isn’t your strong suit, you can always work with us to clarify your vision and goals. That way, you can focus on your creative passion, while still driving your business forward.