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Fun, creative business planning – is it really possible?

Do SMART goals bring you out in hives?

Does the thought of opening up a spreadsheet to work out your revenue goals and cashflow create a sudden passion for cleaning out the kitchen cupboards?

Anything is better than having to do a business plan, right?

business planning blog

Just this week I spent 2 days away with the Mastermind group that I belong to and I had to present my 2016 Business Plan.

I’ll admit it.

Being told that we were to do this immediately brought out the teenager in me. I found myself folding my arms across my chest and glowering with contempt. There was no way I was going to have to take the time out of my busy week to come up with goals and a focus for the next year and present it to my fellow masterminders.

Who did my Mastermind leader think she was??

You see, I’m probably very much like you. I’m a creative entrepreneur who would much prefer to spend her time on the things she’s loves to do. I love marketing so I will spend all day and every day reading, watching, learning, teaching and doing marketing stuff.

I know for you, your passions will be something different. It will be around whatever speciality or expertise you have; nutrition, health and wellbeing, recruiting excellence, inspiring business leaders, design …. it’s what you are naturally brilliant at and it comes to you with ease.

But business planning … well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish, isn’t it?

Business planning takes me back to my corporate days; the time of my life I couldn’t wait to get shot of. Probably the same for you, yes?

Business planning documents can be wordy, scary, ask you questions that you have absolutely no idea on how to come up with the answers and you question the purpose behind actually knowing that information in the first place.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you are focusing right now on finding investors or you are putting your business up for sale or you need to ask your bank for financing, then a “proper” business plan is critical.

But this is not what this article is about. It’s for you, my dear reader, who is like everyone else who reads my emails and articles. You decided to go do what you do because you love what you do. You jumped off the corporate ladder (or perhaps you were pushed?!) … but the fact is you escaped the rat race so you could focus your energies and creative flow on stuff that excites you and gives you the freedom to do what you want.

The overriding problem with all of this is that without a serious business plan, you go about your working week flitting from one thing to the next. You run the danger of drifting to the point of self destruction because your new lifestyle ain’t as profitable as you had hoped it would be.

And that, my friends, is the reality.

You simply can’t just wake up each morning and decide how to fill your day based on which direction the wind is blowing.

Burning candles, filling your office with smiling buddhas and hoping that unicorns are going to poop you a rainbow of new clients each week just ain’t gonna happen.

But heading over to a spreadsheet, planning out your revenue goals, working out your outgoings, deciding on monthly and quarterly targets … I know, I know … I hate it too!

I’m a get it done kinda girl. I like taking a approach to my business and having the freedom and flexibility to have fun and use my creativity to love every client I work with. So I’m with you here … I HATE BUSINESS PLANNING!

There … it’s out in the open. It’s important for you to know I get how you feel about business plans too.

BUT (and here’s the BIG BUT!) … you can’t sit crossed legged, smelling that incense candle and wait for those darn unicorns.

You have to have some kind of idea of where you are headed so you know what to do today, tomorrow and the rest of the week.

With some kind of idea you can realise your potential and become the person that so many people around you, can see you being.

You can be small … you can be big … you can be anything you bloody want to be but you need to choose a destination to head to so you can start taking action.

elephantAnd if that direction doesn’t end up being the destination you thought it would be, then that’s OK. It’s your life and your business so you have the power to change your mind, adapt and grow and buy another ticket to another destination.

That’s the fun of running your own business, after all.

So let’s get back to the elephant in the room; The Business Plan.

How do you create a simple business plan when you hate business planning?

1. Know who the business plan is for

If you are not presenting this to the bank or a group of investors, then your plan is probably for one person only. And that’s you.

So the plan has to work for you and you alone. If you hate 20 page documents that start with a synopsis and a mission statement, then don’t do one. If you hate excel spreadsheets, then don’t use one.

I recommend to all my clients that one page is all that they need most of the time. Yes, there may be some documents, scribbles or mind maps that you may use to get you there and support the details of your plan, but if you can’t get your business plan down on one A4 page then there’s every chance you’re overcomplicating the process and it won’t give you the working document you need to keep you on track as you go about taking action from it.

2. If like creative then get creative

Business plans don’t need to be typed out or become a form filling exercise. So if you prefer flipcharts, post stick notes, Sharpie pens or online planning tools such as Trello, then use them. I find that most of the clients I work with who are creative entrepreneurs and service based professionals are visually focused, so if you are too, then get scribbling and colouring.

If you are more audially focused, then record yourself as you answer questions. Perhaps get a good buddy to interview you and asking some probing questions to unlock what might be going on in your mind. Record your answers and then get them transcribed … it’s a darn sight easier to find a plan that way than starting from that dreaded blank document.

3. Take yourself out of your normal working environment

There’s nothing more suffocating to your creative energy and ideas than sitting down at your regular desk and forcing out a plan. If it’s not coming out naturally, it won’t be something that you are going to resonate with and, more importantly, act on.

Take yourself away from your office; it could be as simple as sitting in another room in your house or you may want to book a room in a lovely hotel for the day. Just as long as you take yourself away from your “doing” space so you can readjust and feel what your “being” is going to be about over the coming months.

4. Let your ideas whirl around for a while

Coming into your plan cold can be tough. Without some mulling and thinking over first, your brain will find it hard to go from day to day doing into planning mode. It’s like driving around your local town where you know the roads inside out and then suddenly finding yourself in a strange city. You haven’t a clue where you are going and you drive differently, often under stress.

So warm up your brain first by spending a short while coming up with some questions you want to answer and play around with some ideas for the week before you start doing your plan.

Your ideas will whirl around like a piece of software quietly cleaning up your hard drive whilst you get on with your day to day work. And when you are ready to get them all out on to paper (or the screen), they come out more easily because you’re brain is warmed up to the answers you want to come up with.

5. Know that if it doesn’t come out easily, then stop and come back again another day

Some days you are going to struggle; you may be under the weather or you’re still feeling crappy after an argument you may had with a friend the day before or you are just not feeling it right there and then.

Procrastination is a bad habit and if you keep letting yourself off the hook of doing a plan then know that the unicorn is not coming to save you.

But there are times that your plan is just not ready to come out; it needs another day or so in the slow cooker of your mind. So don’t beat yourself up or make yourself feel guilty if your plan is not coming to you as easily as you hoped.

little dog ask help

6. Know that if you are struggling, you can ask for help

Following on, there will be times that you will find it tough to get your plan out. You feel you know in your head what it is you want, but trying to articulate it or clarify exactly what it is you are after, can be hard for a lot of people. Asking for help from either a business buddy or a professional business mentor (like me!) can be the quickest way to unlock what it is you want so you get to where you want to go.

So be aware of whether it’s a case of your plan just needing a little extra cooking time or you need to ask for help. There is no need to struggle on by yourself .. so don’t!

7. Present your plan to your board of directors

OK .. I know it’s just you and having a board of directors is what you desperately wanted to get away from when you were in corporate. But I know that if I didn’t have the challenge of presenting my 2016 Business Plan to my mastermind buddies this week, my plan would probably never have been done.

The act of not only getting it clear in my head, but put it into a 15 minute presentation so that others could understand what it is I was setting out to achieve and then have them all, one by one, constructively critique my plan was invaluable.

Who could you present your plan to so it helps you get clarity on where you are heading?

8. A simple business plan can be anything you want it to be

As I write this, 2016 is almost upon us and a lot of people are thinking of their next year. But you don’t have to do a year long plan if you don’t want to. There are some instances that focusing on a short 90 day plan to get you up and running is more motivational and achievable than getting bogged down with a “this time next year, Rodders” timeframe.

One year may scare you a little. One year may not be enough for you and you want to think in terms of 3 years.

So it is entirely up to you how far you feel comfortable and yet stretched enough to help you move forward.

9. It’s not always about bigger, better, faster

There’s a lot of pressure to grow. Everywhere you look, there seems to be someone talking or selling 10X income programmes or how to hit your 7 figure business income.

That’s right for some but it may not right for you. And that’s perfectly OK.

My focus right now is not growth. It’s about getting more from less and focusing my next year on simply systemising so that I can create more time for creating, without having to work harder and harder.

Planning is planning on what you are want to do … it’s not always about how much further you want to leap.

10. Know that you can’t be Wonder Woman by yourself

I’ve seen a lot of plans where thinking big is taking a little step too far. Your financial goals can be as big or as small as you want; it’s your choice after all. But if the projects and the marketing strategies involved to get you where you want to be going start to look like a jugglers’ convention, you need a shot of reality.

You can’t do everything yourself so if you have big plans and lots of marketing strategies you want to implement you need to factor in a significant budget for outsourcing.

As a solo professional it is important not to put all your eggs in one basket, but the more marketing strategies you start to build in – speaking, guest blogging, podcasting, running webinars, JV campaigns – you give yourself another ball to juggle. And put them all on top of your client work, it’s very easy to start spreading yourself too thin.

It’s far more effective to focus on 2 or 3 marketing strategies and do them really, really well then try to be Wonder Woman and make yourself dizzy from all that spinning.

What about you?

Has this been helpful to you? What helpful advice can you share in the comments below?

Perhaps you’ve got a tip or technique that’s been instrumental to your planning success. Or you’re struggling to get your head around where to start?

I’d love to hear from you so leave a comment below.

And if you are interested in knowing more about simple business planning and want to get a copy of my 12 Questions Business Plan that gives you the creative flow and a process to follow to come up with a plan that works for you, then click the image below. These are the exact same 12 questions I used myself to come up with my current Business Plan.

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