Kick-start Your Business Planning

Kicking off a new venture? Whether you’re adding to an existing service offering, or launching an entirely new operation, starting something new can be a challenge in more ways than one.

As I start business planning, I usually find the problem is to work out specifically what I want to achieve. “I want to be able to make a living doing this” is a nice idea … but what’s “a living”? Whatever it is, I don’t usually expect I’ll be making it in the first month of operation — I need time to build a client base, secure contacts, sell my services, and complete some work. And that’s usually before I get paid.

All this can very quickly become overwhelming — sometimes to the point of paralysis. Rather than giving up, I’ve narrowed down three possible options that I pull out when I reach this point. These kick-start my planning and get me on the road to starting something new.

Option 1: Set a Dollar Goal

This is a fairly easy way to get started: set an income goal that you want to reach every month (or week, if you prefer). The only thing you really need in order to do this effectively is an idea of the rate you can charge, and/or a grasp of the size of the market for your offering.

Once you’ve decided that you’d like to generate an income of $x from this new venture each month, your planning can follow. How many hours you’ll need to work, or how many products you’ll need to sell, will be clear. You can start thinking about which prospects you’ll focus on first, how you’ll approach them, and, if necessary, how you’ll keep the rest of your business operating while you devote time to this new goal.

If you take the dollar goal approach, you’ll likely find yourself thinking that selling $x-worth of work to one client is going to be easier than selling portions of that sum to different clients — and that realization’s likely to affect your planning.

You might end up targeting clients with deeper pockets and more extensive needs; you might consider value-adding to your service with contractors’ offerings if this allows you to reach your sales targets more easily (though obviously this will see your costs increase too — you’ll need to factor that into your planning as well).

If you’re trying to sell larger-scale, more expensive projects, and you’re looking to make the selling process as easy as possible for the first few months, you might take a solution you’ve already provided to one client and offer it to similar businesses — probably not competing businesses — in that industry, or look to repurpose that solution to other industries and operations.

On the other hand, if you don’t charge very much per unit of product or work, taking this planning approach may see you dissecting on your market very closely, breaking the major prospects up on the basis of sales potential. It may also encourage you to look at other industries or niches that you haven’t considered before, but which may contribute to your pool of prospects at leach level of sales potential.

Option 2: Set a Sales Goal

This option may be better suited to those who are selling products, or small service units rather than large multi-phase projects or ongoing consulting work. Using this process, you use your knowledge of the market size and demand levels to set a realistic goal for the number of sales you want to make in a month or week.

If yours is a service offering, this approach may still be handy — especially if your objective is to put yourself out there as much as possible, and get a number of clients on your list quickly. Perhaps you’ll develop an introductory offer that’ll take a day or half-day per client, and sell that to as many new clients as you can, with a view to on- and up-selling additional services once you’ve trialled the client and they’ve trialled you.

Setting a sales goal is a good way to ensure you’re giving your new offering a lot of exposure in the right circles — circles that may well expand as you seek more and more buyers to meet your monthly sales quota. So long as you have a minimum amount you’ll accept for your offering, this approach should go hand-in-hand with some assurance of income, too.

Importantly, this option can give you a different business focus than a dollar goal. If sales volumes are your goal, you might focus on volume marketing, or, alternatively, pitching, in part at least, to large organisations that can buy multiples of your product.

This option may encourage you to formulate a more standardized offering that’s easily understood, has clear benefits, and is swiftly approved for purchase by your prospects. Or it might encourage you to try alternative sales channels, such as offering your service through agencies or consultancies, to give yourself the best chance of meeting those sales goals.

Option 3: Wing It

I know, I know: failing to plan is planning to fail. But I know quite a few people who have left uninspiring jobs for three-month contracts offered by friends, and have segued from those into other contracts, then others, finally settling into a happy, ongoing freelance scenario.

Others find their clients ask them more and more often for a particular service, and that service becomes part of their standard offering gradually, without them doing much about it, then, later, decide to take a more planned approach to turning that service into a commercialized part of their offering.

Winging it might be unadvisable, but it isn’t impossible. I think it happens more than we realize. This can be a flexible way to evolve the way you work, experiment within a market space, develop new skills, and expand (or focus) what you do. It can preclude you from feeling tied to particular industries or fields; it can mean that if you end up deciding to try something different, you do little to no mourning for the “closure” of your “business”.

Given the experiences of the people I know who have winged it, I think you really need a project in hand, as well as the obligatory financial buffer that’s big enough to cushion you for a decent amount of time if things don’t work out as you expect. I think you might also need self-assurance, faith/daring, and a resilient, positive outlook.

Finally, you may also need to be very good at what you do — to have the kind of renown that sees the right people calling you up to see if you’re available for a job. Although you can’t necessarily rely on these kinds of contacts, they do seem to be a gauge of the kind of demand that will put you on the firmest possible footing if you do decide to wing it.

Kick-start Your Plan

These are just a few starting points that I fall back on if I’m feeling overwhelmed by the planning process, but there are others. As you’re choosing between options, spend some time thinking about the ways in which each approach is likely to affect the way you approach your particular market with your particular offering, and how long it’s likely to be effective for you.

Consider how often you’ll review your progress, and how. I set a monthly goal, and review it at the end of each week, making the coming week’s plans accordingly.

Also have a think about how you’ll identify the point at which you need to up your goals, and how you’ll go about that, given that if you’re adding to an existing offering, expansion may well take your focus away from other parts of your business.

These are just three of my ways to kick-start my business planning. What’s your favorite way to get started?