How does a business go from an idea in your head to a functioning venture that runs smoothly and turns a profit? It helps to get your ideas on paper, and this is where a business plan comes in. A business plan is essential for materializing your business and getting on the road to success.
I’ll admit, I’m a bit intimidated by the thought of sitting down to write a 10-page document about my business dreams. Don’t even get me started on the thought of crunching numbers and making projections about profitability. For most right-brained creative types, the thought of writing a business plan, complete with all that financial analysis, is daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.
Depending on your business needs, you can make your business plan as formal or informal as you want. If you are applying for loans or looking for investors, you’ll want to spend a little more time fleshing out your plan and follow more formal guidelines. Thankfully, most design businesses are fairly inexpensive and easy to start. So more than likely, your business plan will be an internal planning document that no one sees but you. You don’t want to spend so much time on your planning that it takes away from actually doing, so don’t sweat writing your plan. Just do it, a little bit at a time if that helps. Now, if only I could listen to my own advice!
One of the first things you can do to start the process is become familiar with what a business plan looks like. Ask colleagues if they’d be willing to share their plans with you (minus the financial details if they want). Or, you can find many sample business plans online at places like the Center for Business Planning and the SBA’s Business Planning Section. I’ve found it pretty difficult to find sample business plans for green businesses, much less green graphic design businesses, so just look for something as similar as possible and read through a few plans to get an idea of how they are structured.
Think of your business plan as a living document, one that you can refer back to frequently to gauge your success and make decisions. Reviewing it quarterly and revising it annually should be scheduled business activities. Seeing a business plan as a work in progress and something useful for your business makes it a lot less intimidating to write.
So, what should your business plan include? It depends on what you’re using it for, but most business plans include a summary of the business and a mission statement, information on how the business is structured, a description of the market niche — this is a good place to discuss being a green business — and competition, a marketing plan, and a financial plan. The entire plan will need to incorporate specific, measurable goals for various aspects of the business. That way when you review it, you can assess whether or not you are meeting those goals.
I started the process of planning a business by buying a business notebook. It is divided into sections so I can keep my thoughts organized: one for general brainstorming (like thinking of a business name and mission statement), one for financial details, one for research notes, one for marketing ideas, and one for drafts of my business plan. Having one place to collect your research, notes, and plans helps to get everything organized so it functions as a guide for writing the business plan.
As I prepare to write my plan, I have come across several great resources specific to the creative field. AIGA’s Design and Resources section has numerous articles on running a design firm, including this very useful Creative Business article on business planning. The Zen of Business Plans is another great article on the topic. How you write your plan has a lot to do with its purpose and the reasons behind writing it, so the first step is to figure out why you’re writing one. If you’re like me, it may help to think of writing your business plan as another design project, so that you look forward to working on it. Of course, you will want to use your design skills when organizing your plan, just don’t go overboard with the visuals while neglecting the content.
Make sure that as you plan your business, you consider sustainability at every step of the way. Green business is a growing market niche, and being green will help you stand out from competitors in your industry, so be sure to emphasize this in your plan. How will you assess your environmental impact and determine if you’re as sustainable as possible? In what ways can you measure success not just for your business, but for the planet? How will being green affect your accounting, your profit margin, and your marketing? These are all things for the ecopreneur to consider when putting together a business plan.
A lot of freelancers or sole proprietors in the creative field that I’ve talked to don’t even have a business plan. But even if you’re already operating, a business plan is a good idea. You’ll have more information on your finances and operations available than a brand-new business would, so plans for existing businesses differ from those of new start-ups. For a new venture, your plan will involve more guesswork and goal-setting than hard facts and numbers. And that’s fine. Cater your plan to whatever stage of your business you are in. It is ultimately a tool for you anyway, so it can take whatever form you need it to take. The important thing is that you have one, because that cliche, “the business that fails to plan, plans to fail,” tends to be true. Writing a business plan is a great exercise in organizing your thoughts, cementing your goals, and giving you a reference point to assess your business success.
Now, it’s probably time I started writing my business plan instead of writing this article. Please feel free to comment and share your business plan tips, ideas, and even frustrations. I’ll need all the motivation I can get to get this thing on paper!
Resources and links from this article:
- Business Planning: The Exasperating Made Simple from Creative Business/AIGA (PDF).
- Center for Business Planning
- Small Business Administration’s Small Business Planner
- Honing Your Business Plan on CreativePublic.com
- A Business Plan: Doing it for the Right Reasons on Two Bit Operation
- The Zen of Business Plans on How to Change the World
- AIGA Design and Business
This is the fourth article in my “Green Dreams” series on starting a green graphic design business. Read the first, second, and third posts in this series for more information or to follow my sustainable start-up journey.