If you've ever written a business plan, you probably know how daunting/stressful/overwhelming the writing process can get. Sometimes writing a plan seems like a futile exercise; you may feel like you’re just guessing at the numbers, or that you’re making too many assumptions about the market. It’s true that a business plan contains a lot of assumptions and estimates, but these can be great benchmarks even when they’re not perfectly accurate.
To relieve some of the pressure of business plan writing, I recommend that entrepreneurs don’t let themselves get hung up on the term “business plan.”Think of it more as a guide, or a tool to help you through the start-up process and keep you focused as you grow.Those who feel a business plan isn’t necessary often argue that the plan stays static while the business evolves. It doesn’t have to be that way – in fact, I recommend that your revise your business plan (or guide) as often as possible.
Your business plan will change all the time; when your business is really new, it could change weekly. Every day is a learning experience and every experience influences the direction and evolution of your business. That’s normal, but it doesn’t mean you don’t need a plan.
Growing a business takes time; and as time passes, markets change, trends come and go, and the economy can shift. Anticipating these kinds of changes – and writing about them in a business plan – can be the difference between being proactive and reactionary. In other words, it can be the difference between success and failure.
Facebook’s Original Market
When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook (or “The Facebook” as it was originally called), he intended the social network to be a platform for connecting university students. That changed quickly as Facebook grew into the world’s largest social media tool, virtually changing the way people connect online. Whether or not Zuckerberg had a business plan when he was initially targeting Harvard students, we don’t know. But chances are he had a vision for what the platform could become, and at least some idea of how to get there. And there are few industries that change as often as online media!
It’s Not a Plan, It’s a Guide
You can think of a business plan as more of a guideline than a plan you have to stick to. It provides a benchmark for earnings targets, reminds you of where your business is positioned in its industry, and it houses your vision and mission statements, which are often the lifeblood of a company. While keeping that mission and vision in mind, you can revise, adapt and change the plan as often as necessary to stay on track as you strive to reach your entrepreneurial goals and objectives. When you hire employees, sharing the plan with them can also inspire confidence and loyalty, as staff will feel they understand where the business is going and how they can contribute to reaching those milestones.
No matter what type of business you have, I recommend creating a guide, whether it’s one page or fifty. It’s worth the time investment no matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, and it can also be really fun to think about where you’d like to be with your business in one, three or five years. So get to work, and enjoy it!
Jessica Oman owns Write Ahead Consulting, a business plan writing, copy writing and editing firm servicing small businesses and start-ups. She is a two-time UBC alumni with degrees in English and Education, and holds an MBA from Simon Fraser University. Jessica is a hockey enthusiast, proud dog owner and obsessive cyclist.