How to Write a Really Simple Business Plan

wile e coyote business planningTrue success in any venture needs planning. Successful planning needs a clear direction with actionable steps towards getting there, a way to measure success, and a separate plan for dealing with setbacks. Fear of the unknown, the need for deep soul searching, and of course the ever elusive resource of time, can all conspire keep you from even starting to plan – especially when it comes to your business.

Enter the Really Simple Business Plan

The ideas for the questions below were first developed by one of my favorite bloggers, Sonia Simone, as part of her free email course Internet Marketing for Smart People. I strongly encourage you to sign up for her course, which consists of 20 emails sent to your Inbox over a period of 2-months where she lays out multiple approaches to Internet Marketing. The nine questions presented here are adapted from Sonia’s original post, and I have used them in presentations and when working with clients to get them in planning mode.

1. Who are the right customers, where are they now, and how will they find us?

This question should focus on your target market. If you say “everybody” is your customer then I think you are lying. There are very specific people your business will appeal to, which you can determine by doing a little research and analysis. Free tools like Google Ad Words, Talkwalker and Meltwater can reveal so much about your potential customers. Another great way to zero in on the right targets: identify your successful competitors, see who they are going after and then analyze that for your offerings. These people go certain places online, they engage in certain behaviors, and have similar buying patterns. Get clear on what these are and you’ll be half way to the sale.

2. What are we really selling to these customers, and how can we communicate that in a unique way on different media platforms?

Too often we think we are selling widgets when really we’re selling doodads. This question requires a clear statement of benefits, sometimes called unique selling proposition, so that we can explain what our business will do for customers in under 30 seconds. Also, different delivery platforms offer different opportunities. You can sell in one way on Facebook and another way on YouTube. Getting clear on how you can differentiate from people selling similar items to you (perhaps even in similar spaces) by doing something extraordinary will help you get sales instead of the other guy.

3. What problem do we solve for the customer that THEY want to solve, and why do they care about solving it?

This question again asks you to consider a unique selling proposition, focusing on the benefit statements. Big corporations love to describe product features. They fall in love with technical specifications and jargon (trust me, I’ve worked for these guys), and think if they can just make a better product everyone will buy it from them. The problem with this approach is that people don’t care about what you think is important for them – they care about what they think is important to them (even if it isn’t). Selling them a dream of what the product helps them do is more important than anything else. These are the benefits to the customer, the problems you solve for them. Rolex doesn’t sell watches, they sell luxury.

4. What does the product need to do, and how do we make that exciting for customers?

You may not think that insurance law can be exciting, but what about the law of insurance for damage caused by super villains? On their blog Law and the Multiverse, lawyers James Daily and Ryan Davidson found a way to make any legal topic interesting and informative (even insurance law). I read every word of their post, Supervillains and Insurance: Who’s Gonna Pay for That? despite being an IP lawyer who finds insurance, tax, and some aspects of corporate law the most boring subjects in the world (conflicts of law on the other hand are fascinating!). Daily and Davidson are generating national attention, with a prominent article in the New York Times about their barely 1-month old blog. Needless to say, the blog is already bringing potential business to both of their law practices, and I am interviewing them next week on my Martindale Mike Podcast. They understand what they sell (legal services) and are making that exciting for customers.

5. How will we make money, and can any of it be generated from our social media activities?

Making money is going to break down nicely into a few categories: direct product sales (storefront, sales person, or Internet), paid access (real world and online), instruction, and service fees (hourly and project). List what you foresee will be the money life cycle; how you will get it and how it will exceed the costs of making it. Then tie your products to this list under the proper headings.

6. What else can you sell these customers later?

Nothing is better than repeat business, especially with passionate customers who believe in your product. Think of the follow up opportunities and how you can produce successful sequels.

7. What do we need to worry about now to avoid headaches later?

This includes thinking about expenses (both foreseeable and random), competition, operational challenges, the need for expansion v. the need to stay nimble, etc.

8. Execution: who’s going to do the work to make this work and how? Do we need anyone extra to handle our social media activities?

This is such an important point that we so often overlook. As someone who worked in entertainment law, I love the stories of clients who would barge into the office, turn off the lights, pull down the shades, make sure no one was listening and then whisper “I’ve got a great idea for a screenplay.” My boss would open the blinds, turn on the lights, and invite a few other lawyers from the office to hear the idea. Why, because ideas are not really where greatness happens. You’d be surprised just how many people there are out there with great ideas. Execution is the challenge, and whoever executes best deserves to reap the rewards.

9. What makes sense to start doing today? List your next actions.

Self explanatory. Get to work.

One of the biggest social media mistakes is to assume you need to do everything and be everywhere with equal force. Large multinational corporations can maybe think like this, and most of them don’t even do social media so well, but smaller businesses and start ups need to focus on what’s best for them based on the answers to the questions above.

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