Does the thought of writing a formal business plan fill you with fear? I can understand that they’re often a dry wordy document that once written is completely ignored. Other than their use to persuade banks to lend you money do you need a business plan? Is there a way you can create something useful that will help you grow and develop your new enterprise? A plan that you will refer back to time and time again.
I still remember nearly 20 years on writing my first ever business plan. I was 18 and had found out that the bead shop I was working at was about to close. I really enjoyed my time working there and didn’t want to go back into the world of academia, even though I’d always planned to go to University! After talking it through with my dad and Robin, who had also worked there I decided to open a shop in partnership with Robin.
Our first stop was The Prince’s Trust where I naively thought it would be quite easy to get help with writing a business plan and getting a loan. It soon became clear that although they help 18-30 year olds they weren’t keen on me being 18 or Robin being 30. They also didn’t like helping shops as they classed retail as too risky. Fortunately the Prince’s Trust has changed a lot over the years and they are now a fantastic resource for young people entering employment or starting their own enterprise. I am now a volunteer mentor for them and they provide lots of help and support so are an excellent place to start if you fulfil their criteria.
After this I approached several banks as I knew we needed funding to turn our dreams into reality. Most banks refused to take me seriously. One even avoided giving me their free business plan CD, as they assumed I was just setting up a Youth Enterprise scheme at school! After lots of perseverance I got my hands on a CD and we wrote a business plan and cash flow forecast. I think being able to present a formal document to the bank went a long way towards persuading them to loan me some of the money we needed.
Nowadays it’s much easier and business plan templates can be downloaded from sites such as The Start Up Loans Company https://www.startuploans.co.uk/business-plan-template/
If you’re not looking for finance I still think it’s incredibly helpful to have some form of plan in place. These are my top 5 reasons why;
Helps you to set goals and work out how to achieve them
Prompts you to identify your ideal customer and how to market to them
Makes you aware of your strengths and potential weaknesses
Identifies your key values and what sets your business apart from competitors
Provides the basis of a business strategy
This doesn’t have to be in the format of a dull word document though! A giant piece of paper with pictures, drawings and doodles on is just as valid and possibly far more valuable to your business. Here are my favourite resources for creating an engaging, useful and even fun plan.
My business my way toolkit for female entrepreneurs. https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/business/businesscentres/hgi/mybusinessmyway.aspx this interactive pdf can be completed online or printed out and filled in (with lots of different coloured pens is my preferred way!). It was developed by Dr Isobel O’Neill at the University Of Nottingham with local entrepreneurs Alex Hardwick (www.lineanddotcreative.com), Debbie Clarke (www.debbiedooodah.com) and Sarah King (www.workbydesign.co). It's aimed at helping female entrepreneurs build their success and confidence.
Draw a better business is a fantastic book by Cara Holland (www.graphicchange.com). It shows you how to use visual thinking and sketching to improve your business. I dislike drawing (or certainly have since being told my skills are terrible during my year as a student) but I’ve found this book has really helped me to start adding graphics to my notes and plans. There are lots of really helpful planning exercises in it that will benefit any small business. So far I’ve used it to help identify ideal customers, the customer journey and a plan for blog content creation.
The final way I’d recommend is using a journal to create a plan for the next year split into more manageable 90 day goals, or monthly or even weekly ones. I use a pre-printed planner but a bullet journal would provide much better flexibility (I just need to find time to make one!).
If you’d like any help creating a business plan or working out the next step for you, please get in touch.