When you are self-employed you’ve usually got your head down and tail up, getting on with what needs to be done as part of the daily grind. Nine times out of ten, it needs to be done today so the idea of taking time out to put together a business plan can seem like a luxury you can’t afford, possibly even a waste of time.
In a sense that’s correct. A business plan can be a waste of time; however, the planning process itself can be extremely valuable and might even ease some of the tension that comes with the daily grind.
Though he wasn’t talking about self employment, Dwight Eisenhower summed it up nicely when he said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” To say plans are worthless might be stretching the point a little but essentially he was saying that things rarely go to plan anyway, so the plan itself should be taken lightly.
So if a plan seems worthless to a President or a General, how does someone in self-employment justify a business plan? When you’re on your own and your ‘plan’ is in your head anyway, the notion of taking time putting it on paper is uncomfortable, especially when there’s widgets to make, stock to polish, websites to tweak, money to juggle and any of the hundreds of pressing to do items calling for your attention.
And therein lies the problem. Working with a plan that’s in your head can be like juggling on a rowboat. Self employment is already like juggling but if you are constantly having to look to the horizon to adjust your balance and steer the boat you can be certain something’s going to hit the deck. That something could possibly be you.
What the planning process does is it converts the metaphorical row boat into something larger; something that doesn’t need course correction every two minutes and something more stable so you can do the day-to-day juggling with more ease. With a plan, your business is more like a ship. It still requires navigation but it doesn’t need your attention on the big picture on a constant basis.
What it also does is it frees valuable brain space. Once an idea, a strategy, a notion or a target is on paper, the brain is free to do other stuff like remembering to get ink for the printer, following up with a client, etc.
Planning can also help us ‘get real’ about what it is we’re trying to achieve and what it’s going to take to make it happen. An idea that seems simple in our head can show its true colors once the finer details are shown on paper.
How To of Business Planning for Self Employed
So what exactly does a business plan entail? Here’s the good news – there are no rules so it can be whatever you want it to be.
Perhaps the most important element is that it outlines what you want the business to look like, the vision or ideal outcome, and what the current state of the business is. From there you can work out the intermediate steps.
Ultimately a business is a creative process, and creative processes work best when you know what you want to create, what you currently have and what the difference is between the two. The model that we like most for creating is as espoused by Robert Fritz in the books Creating and The Path of Least Resistance. Fritz talks about setting up underlying structures that support creativity and doing this in business can help you get where you want to go much quicker.
Bear in mind that the vision will definitely change. That might make the plan seem pointless from the start but you can adjust the details to suit as you go. Without the vision though you are likely to flounder pointlessly (remember, juggling in the row boat…).
Beyond that, the contents of the plan are up to you. An internet search for business plan templates will throw up thousands of possibilities. Some of them are extremely complex and definitely a waste of time but you can judge that for yourself pretty quickly.
And whatever you use, make sure you review your business plan on a regular basis. Remember, planning is everything and reviewing the plan will help keep your ship steady so you can get on with the business of being in business.