One of the most common questions we hear from potential entrepreneurs is “Where do I start?” The short answer is Plan Your Business. You don’t need a formal, extensive business plan at the earliest stages, but you do need to have a clear idea of the business idea. That is, you should know what a typical workday will look like, who your customers will be, how they will find and buy from you, where you want the company to go, and the like. Planning your startup will also give you a good idea of how much money you will need to get your venture off the ground and force you to think through any potential obstacles in your way. Here are a few options to get your business planning started.
There are hundreds of free business plan templates available on the web. They all cover basically the same topics, and most include the broad areas that you need to consider to really plan your business. However, many first-time entrepreneurs have trouble actually making a plan from these templates, and for good reason.
In general, those outlines are useful once you already have a pretty clear plan in mind and just need to organize it for the bank or investors. They do not help you decide what to look for, or how to evaluate your idea, or even really explain what each section means. For most startups, the ready-made, fill-in business plan forms are not the best option.
There are also several good business plan software programs out there, but they have a similar problem to the templates. They are excellent tools for putting your developed ideas into a logical, presentable order for investors and banks, but don’t really help with the actual planning process.
A fairly recent addition to the small business outsource community are planning consultants. For a fee, these folks will tell you, step by step, what you need to do during the startup process and beyond. While this kind of hand-holding can be very tempting, it is also very expensive…costing money that would be better spent on marketing your new venture!
One popular consultant charges $750 per session and leaves you with a “homework assignment” of the next three steps to starting your business. Can they help you improve your business? Probably, because they should be experienced with the startup learning curve. Will they give decent advice? Possibly, though since it is an unregulated industry just about anyone can claim to be an expert. Will using a planning consultant make your business a sure success? Definitely not. YOU need to become the expert yourself in order to ensure long-term success for your startup.
Rather than relying on business plan templates or disconnected consultants, look for opportunities to learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship for yourself. Most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that learning to plan effectively is an important key to success. And, since experience is the best teacher, you are better off finding resources that will teach you more than just what needs to be done, but also how to be an entrepreneur.