How business planning can elevate your start-up journey

Starting a business comes with mixed emotions, excitement mixed with a feeling of being overwhelmed.  But there are a number of things that you can do to help with the stressful elements, and as the title suggests, the way forward it planning.  Not an exciting word in itself… but it will lead you to the exciting part!

Why plan

You’ll probably have heard the adage ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’, well, it’s a good one.  Business planning involves working out all aspects of your business, which helps prevent unpleasant surprises.  I always compare it to building a house.  It might be possible to build straight onto the ground, but chances are, it won’t be long before the walls slope or sink, and you certainly couldn’t build another storey.  But take the time to build solid foundations and your house stands a great chance of existing for a very long time.

End goal

It might sound counter intuitive to start with this but thinking about where you want to be will help you find the best path to your end goal.  Put simply, if you want to start trading next summer, this is your end goal that you will be working towards.  This then allows you to use the tools below to work out all the things you need to do before you trade and to identify if you need to move your launch date. 

Where to start – tools to use

Business Model Canvas (BMC). Designed by Strategyzer, the BMC is divided into 9 building blocks, which breaks down key areas, focusing on you, your customers and your suppliers.  We are all part of a supply chain, so it’s important to know what’s going on with your customers and your suppliers at all times.

Business Plan (BP).  This is a natural progression from the BMC and develops areas such as understanding who your customers are, what they are looking for and how you will reach them.  The BP covers essential areas such as the practical ways you’re going to manage everything, who’s going to do what, how you’re going to manage all the practical and admin elements, and your key financials. 

Tip: a good place to start is with the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).  Start by doing a SWOT analysis on 3 or 4 of your competitors which will help you identify your own.  It’s a good place to start as it’s really quite enjoyable and starts quickly bringing your ideas to life, showing you how special your offer is.  There is a lot of guidance and tips on writing a SWOT analysis, such as this excellent blog ‘How to do a SWOT analysis’

There are a lot of Business Plan templates out there, so have a look and select one that you like the look of.  If you are setting up your business in the UK, make sure the template you use is relevant to the UK as terminology can be different elsewhere. For example, the Prince’s Trust template is a good one to look at, and we can email you SBREC’s template which gives you the headings you need and an explanation of what goes in each section. 

Tip: if you use a template, always make sure you make it your own.  Don’t leave in the questions or pointers and add your own images and branding.  I have seen many BPs where someone has left in all the guidance notes – it’s not a good look and it doesn’t make it your own.

A Business Plan is your foundation, so don’t rush it.  Take time to consider each aspect carefully, for example, with your marketing plan, it’s not enough to say you’ll use social media platforms.  Have a think about what that means; which platforms will you use, and why?  Does your target audience use one more than others, what sort of product/service do they spend money on, and so on.  Don’t just guess, do the research.  Research can be primary (what you do yourself) and secondary/desk (using specialist published resources by organisations who have done the primary research).  There are great resources for the latter available for free at SBREC.

Action planBecause there are many aspects to setting up and running a business, create a plan to organise yourself.  Use whatever works best for you.  I know business owners who use digital weekly/monthly plans, some who prefer a printed calendar, others use Word or Excel, and others who use post-it notes to group tasks and easily visualise what their goal is for that week/month.  It is also easy to move post-it notes around.  Regularly review your action plan to make sure you’re not missing anything.

Tip: this is an important one that I can’t stress enough; make sure you timetable breaks for yourself.  Start with a year’s calendar (or 6 months) and book in time off.  It is all too easy to get so involved in your business venture that you want to work on it all the time, but this will lead to burnout and will become counter-productive.  Booking time off in your action plan also stops you from feelings of guilt for the times you’re not working on your business. 

Training.  No-one can possibly be skilled in all aspects of running a business, so seek support and guidance.  Attend webinars or workshops, watch video tutorials and when you’re a bit stuck, watch motivational presentations, such as the TED talks

Networking.  There’s nothing quite like getting out there and talking to people.  There are so many networking events available, many for free and many at low cost, making it a relatively small investment for you, and it can be an amazing learning opportunity as well as making connections.  You can join networks/groups on LinkedIn and other platforms, but I would recommend having a look on Eventbrite to find in-person networking events near you. 

A final couple of points

It is important throughout your planning to be realistic.  There is no advantage in idealising something if it is not realistic as it is only you who would be disappointed.  So, if after you start your research and planning, you find that your initial plans aren’t as good as you’d first hoped, then consider tweaking them.  It’s always better to amend your original ideas than carry on regardless, and by the planning you will have done, you are giving yourself the best chance for a successful business.

Business planning is not a once in a lifetime activity, aim to update your business plan once a year, and review what has worked well and not so well in your techniques so that you can go from strength to strength and maintain the joy from running your own business.

This article was written by Wendy Foster, one of Small Business Research + Enterprise Centre’s Business Advisers. Wendy joined the City of London Corporation in 2002, and has worked with many business people during this time. As a qualified Business Adviser, Wendy’s role is to support those wanting to start-up or scale-up, successfully advising and guiding businesses and entrepreneurs. To take advantage of our services and to learn more visit our events page or website for more information.

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