Surely I’m joking, right? Business planning is an exercise in torture, designed to keep you bogged down, painstakingly researching your market and analyzing reams of data, before you write it all up in a formal document filled with mind-numbing jargon to impress lawyers and bankers.
If that were all true, I’d never have gotten my first business off the ground. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: a business plan is where you put your dream on paper. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Yes, if you want to launch a new business, you will need to do your due diligence–including market research, drawing up an operating budget, and sourcing the start-up funds needed. But those are the details that come after you let your mind go wild, and get creative. And you’ll find it a lot easier to fill in the details when you’ve allowed yourself to have fun with the broad strokes first:
- Envision your “finish line”. You may never actually reach such a place with your business if your goal is to grow it and maintain it indefinitely, but even then you’ll be selling it or passing it on to your children someday. What kind of shape do you want it to be in when you’re finished with it, whether that’s one year from now or 50? Dream up a powerful, colorful and inspiring vision of your future. If you could put a soundtrack to this vision, what would it be? Try to think of a few songs that really help your vision come alive.
- Write down key words and phrases that came to you during the envisioning process. These can be specific details about the products or services you’ll be selling, or they can be words that describe feelings, states and broader goals that you want to attain through starting this business.
- Get crafty. Create a vision board or book for your business-to-be. Include inspirational photos, quotes, powerful words, and anything else that calls to you. Put together a complete picture of your ideal vision. Does it include a photo of happy, smiling team of employees and another photo of you at the beach with your laptop, keeping tabs from afar while you enjoy a life of ease and freedom? Do you see piles of money coming your way? What kinds of products or services are you offering – what do they look like? If you’re going to be delivering an entirely new, innovative product, put up a drawing of it. As you’re making this vision board, let yourself be drawn to certain images and words for no particular reason. Put them up and figure out what they mean to you afterwards.
- Start mapping. Now that you’ve got a clear image of the finish line, what do you need to get started? For now, don’t worry about all the ‘how’ questions that will come your way once you embark on the entrepreneurial journey. Think about the basic things you will need to get rolling, like research on your potential market and competition, product/service concept development, business name and overall branding ideas, website needs and social media strategy. Will you need a storefront location, or just operate online? Do you need a loan? What is your mission and overall business vision? What are the values your business will operate with? Write these things down in broad terms, use mind-mapping techniques, and let yourself play on the page.
- Empower yourself with research. Look at your vision board and play your inspirational soundtrack songs daily, as you start doing research, filling in the details and writing a more complete plan. If you’re going to be applying for bank loans or trying to attract investors/partners, you’ll obviously need a more professional-looking business plan. Otherwise, if the plan is just for you, it can look however you want it to–some people have business plans that look more like scrapbooks. The point is to have all the information you need to make the best business decisions, and a roadmap that will inspire you and keep you on track with your business goals.