Starting a business is exciting, just as exciting, if not more, than going travelling.
And when you go travelling you need a plan of how it is all going to happen. Well you do if you donít want to find yourself stuck somewhere unimaginable without funds or a clue how to get out of there, anyway! And itís the same with your business.
So letís imagine your business is actually a travel adventure. You are going to start here and end up there, and you are going to be away for a very long time, perhaps three years, certainly 18 months, because itís an awfully big adventure.
Now, if you are going on such a long adventure, away from civilisation and everything you hold dear, such as designer clothes, fabulous shoes, and chichi handbags, good wine and fine food, job security, sick pay, lunch hours, and weekends off, then you would insist on the having enough money, the right guides and help, the right equipment, excellent transportation, a rescue plan in case of emergencies or obstacles, passports and visas, medicine and protection against accidents and emergencies, a translation book in the language(s) of the country you were visiting, and a comprehensive, really detailed map, wouldnít you? I mean, really, you just would, wouldnít you? Especially if you are taking children?
Yes, I would too. So as this is your adventure and that's likely to be the conditions you find yourself in, at least initially, letís make sure you have everything you need in place.
Where's the Money?
The biggest essential of all and almost certainly one of the major reasons why you are doing it in the first place ie how you are going to make money and how much money you hope to make.
Action: Research if there is a market for what you are planning to do, and whether what you are planning to do fills that need (and no, A doesn't always follow B). Research how much other people are charging for what you are going to do. If that isn't possible, look at what people are charging for something similar. Work out how much the product or service will cost you to provide. Work out the profit margin between the two and multiply by how much you can realistically provide or sell in a week, a month, and then a year. Put this in your financial plan.
Get the Right Guides
These are places and people that give you invaluable insight and information. Think mentors, small business advice centres and websites, people who have already been through the fire and survived, people who went in and didnít survive. Books, courses, workshops, and anything else you can think of in the way of support. Some of it will feel like youíve stumbled on treasure, other things will make you feel like youíre being nagged, and still other stuff will feel irrelevant. Take it all in and taste and test. You can always return what you donít need, but do keep a tag on where you found it because you are still learning the ropes and may not realise you need that particular thing until later on, when you may not be able to locate it again.
Action: Write down the tasks that need doing and whether this is frequently or occasionally. Work out how much you will need to pay to have these tasks done. Do not assume you can do them all yourself. Do not assume you have to have all this help as PAYE employees. Do assume you will probably need to hire freelancers and suppliers and that youíll need contracts and agreements. Do tear out and keep anything that looks interesting, or bookmark it on the web. Do keep business cards and make sure your address book is up to date with notes of who it is, what they do and anything else relevant.
The Right Equipment
Whatever your business, you need to research what you will need and how you will pay for it. Donít leave yourself short out of a false economy, and if you have to schedule in a year of no new shoes in return for having a marketing budget, then you need to work out if this is an acceptable trade off (did I mention this was an adventure, not a picnic in the local park?).
Action: Work out what you need, when and how much it will cost. Check out hire purchase and secondhand as well as brand-new paid-in-full. Write it down in your financial plan.
Make sure the vehicle carrying your business is sound and fit for the purpose.
Action: Decide if you will be freelance, a sole trader, a partnership or a limited company of one or more people - all come with pros and cons. Be thoughtful and careful about the name you choose, and don't commit until you have market tested it and checked through the internet for other companies with similar names... one small graphic design partnership I know failed to check the internet until after they'd set it all up and then found out the .com with the exact same name was a porn site! And on that note, make sure you can have the same, or a complementary, domain name, even if you don't need one yet.
Rescue Plans in Case of Emergencies
Have safety nets planned, including where you can off-load the children if you need to go to a meeting at school pick-up time, what outfit you can throw on without ironing and it still knocks íem dead (and if you havenít got one, beg, borrow, steal, or buy one), and have relevant up-to-date literature and digital information you can pull into a professional presentation without staying up all night to create it.
Action: Have your ďWhat ifs?Ē worked out in advance. Note where these will cost money. Plan for at least one ďWhat if?Ē happening each month and budget accordingly in terms of time and money.
Passports and Visas
Consider carefully your branding, your marketing and PR, your USP (unique selling point), your sales story, and your strapline. Get resources that will help you.
Action: Draw up your marketing plan. Organize the networking events and exhibitions so you attend the essentials and avoid the rest.
Think about how you would survive if you were injured and couldnít do anything for a year, or one of the children were seriously ill, or someone stole your idea and ripped you off, or if you were flooded.
Action: Plan accordingly and research the options. Buy the right insurance, and copyright any unique material. Consider patenting and trademarking. Have three months income that covers EVERYTHING in the savings account and regard it as untouchable. Cost it out.
Learn how to draw up contracts, read a balance sheet, and how to do basic bookkeeping - find a good accountant and be nice to them. Learn how to do sales and marketing if you donít know how - find someone who does if you can't. Retrain if you need to.
Action: Raid other peopleís knowledge banks, either on line, at weekend or night classes, or workshops. Cost it out in terms of money AND time.
Make sure you have enough money for your purpose. If you donít, make sure you know where the nearest cashpoint is, and make sure you know the pin number.
Action: Find the funding for your business. Have a financial plan that gives you access to that funding. Learn how to sell yourself.
Plan Rest Breaks en Route
Working for yourself can be unrelenting, especially during the first year or two. Make sure you plan regular mini and micro breaks to recharge your batteries.
Action: Pencil in a mini break every month, complete with destination, companion and costs. Do the same for micro breaks (couple of hours, say) at least once a week Ė think a massage, a sauna, a visit to the local spa, a trip to the beach, whatever rejuvenates you.
Know Where you're Going and How to Get Home
Work out where you are going, exactly, and that means what you hope to achieve and what you want from this. Then think about at which point you will have had enough and what would make you want to stop ie would it be only when you get there? Or sooner?
Action: Know how you will measure success - when you are earning enough to give up the day job? Have achieved the perfect life/work balance? Are a millionaire? Now think about what would make you give it up (your exit strategy)? Not having made a profit after three years? When someone offers you a million for it? If the family is miserable?
Now you have the bones of your business plan. Go away and play with it until you are sure it is 1) realistic, and 2) realistic, and 3) realistic, and that it is something you can and will stick to. Donít hesitate to amend it whenever you need to in order suit changes in circumstances, but just remember that if you change direction completely then that is a brand new adventure and will need a brand new plan.
© Claire Burdett.
Claire Burdett is the Founder and Director of The Funky Agency, Business Midwife and Funky Angel. She is a Writer and Editor, Integrated Marketing Expert, and Business Coach and Mentor. Claire is also a qualified and experienced business coach, a home business expert and a serial entrepreneur. She runs www.businessmidwife.co.uk and http://www.thefunkyagency.com and is the founder of www.funkyangel.co.uk, which is the site for people combining home and business.
She is also divorced and a solo mum.