Most books talk about writing a business plan like an academic
exercise—the creation of an all important document that sits proudly on
your shelf to show interested parties or to give to potential investors.
However, I believe creating a traditional business plan the way most
people write about it is a complete waste of your time and let's face
it, the majority of small businesses are not interested in seeking out
venture capital. Instead, I want to encourage you in this article to
think about this process in a very different way.
This article will cover:
don’t need a traditional business plan
The top 10
reasons why you must have a marketing plan
10 east steps
to writing and using your marketing plan
these 10 steps using a free sample business plan
THE RIGHT REASONS
you really, truly need a plan to build a successful small business? No.
My answer may surprise you but research shows people have built
successful companies without a business or marketing plan. Anything is
possible, but the real question is—Is it probable? What does having a
plan really do for you and your business? Here are the reasons why you
need a plan:
Increases your chances of long-term business success.
It is possible to succeed without a marketing plan, but historically
speaking having a solid marketing plan that you can follow will
significantly increase your chances for success in your business
endeavor. A solid, well thought out plan keeps you from making serious
mistakes later than can sink your business.
It gives you structure
in an otherwise unstructured business. Part of the appeal for many
people in starting their own business is the freedom—no one to tell you
what to do. This is great, especially when you know exactly what to do
every day, month in and month out, year after year. However, most
entrepreneurs are new entrepreneurs. If this is your first try at
building a business having a plan can help give you structure and a
context for your everyday activities.
Keeps you on the right track.
One of my favorite quotes is from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
where the Cheshire cat meets Alice for the first time and responds to
her question with the classic reply, “If you don’t know where you're
going, any path will do.” One of the best reasons to develop a plan
before you get started is to help you stay on the right track. It is so
easy to become distracted by problems that arise or opportunities that
sound great, but don’t exactly fit with your long-term goals. A plan is
not designed to be unduly constrictive, but to provide you with freedom
within defined boundaries, the “boundaries” being your short and
Helps you count the cost before you start building.
Critical to any marketing plan is an outline of your anticipated
expenses, your marketing budget, your sales goals, and path to
profitability. Knowing your costs ahead of time can be invaluable in
planning out your growth strategy.
Makes you think outside of the
box. It’s very easy to copy someone else, which is what most people
end up doing when they don’t have a personal plan. There are several
potential dangers to copying someone else when it comes to marketing
your small business:
opportunities that are perfect for you and not other people.
advantage of “opportunities” that are not right for you.
You make the
same mistakes as the person you copy.
thinking strategically about your business replacing it with duplicating
Exposes holes in your plan. Regardless of how advanced your
thinking skills are you probably can't think of every major challenge
you will encounter while building your business. Writing down your plan
will help you expose the traps that could derail your efforts. It’s easy
to overlook areas that you are unclear about or are outside of your
Forces you to become clear. A great reason for having a
written plan is that it forces you to become clear with your personal
and business goals, your target market, your financial goals, how and
when you are going to implement parts of your plan. There is something
about the disciplined exercise of writing these down that solidifies
them and drives them into reality.
Helps you create a vision for
what you want in the future. Where do you want to be in 12 months?
How about 3 to 5 years? Ultimately, your business will be driven by your
vision and the process of developing that vision is critical to your
long-term success. The real value of a marketing plan is not just having
it done, it’s all the time, energy, and research you put into thinking
about your business in a strategic way.
Sets up measurable objectives for you to evaluate your success
with. How will you know if you’ve had a successful year? Will it
depend on how you feel or can you set up measurable objectives to
compare your results against? If you fail to do so, how will you know
whether or not your specific efforts were rewarded? How will you
determine where to put your future efforts if something didn’t work? A
marketing plan with objective goals can help you ask and answer the
right questions when it comes to evaluating your marketing and sales
efforts. The answers give you indications as to your next steps.
Sets you apart as being committed to your business. Let's face it,
if you're not willing to spend a few days writing up a solid marketing
plan to grow and develop your business, why should anyone take you
serious? Do you really have anything better to do than to take some time
and write down your plan for how you are going to succeed in your
business? Writing up a working marketing plan sets you apart from other
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
people just don’t take the time to write a solid, actionable plan before
they start their business. If they do it at all, it is usually after
their first year didn’t go really well or just after they come back from
a conference where a presenter talked about all the positive aspects of
creating a business plan. However, I would argue that not developing a
plan is totally contrary to the very foundation of successful business
building. A core principle of building a business is about identifying
where you are, deciding where you want to be, and creating a plan to get
there. That’s exactly what a business plan does for your company. A
business plan is simply a written plan that details:
...what your business does
...who your business helps
...what your goals and objectives are
...the financial, marketing and sales strategies you will use to get
Don’t think of it as a Business Plan—think of it as a Marketing
Plan. About 80% of your plan should be focused on sales and
marketing strategies because these are the two areas where most small
businesses have the most problem with and the largest reasons why they
fail. It makes sense to spend most of your time on the part that makes
the biggest difference to your success.
Don’t look at it as an academic exercise—look at it as a living
document. It is something you use on a daily and monthly basis, not
a long essay you write only to put on your shelf.
Don’t see it as a just one more thing to do—see it as a plan for
all the things you must do to succeed. Your Marketing Plan becomes
the driving force for all your actions and financial expenditures. It is
your personal success plan.
Click here to go to the
next section where we will use a free sample business plan to
demonstrate the 10 easy steps to writing a business plan.