A 'Lean' Business Plan for Freelancers Who Hate Planning!
A flexible approach to business planning in 2017!
I'm actually someone who loves to plan - you may have noticed this from my free business plan and marketing plan templates I offer on my site! However, at some point through the middle of this year I realised that this way of detailed planning wasn't for me...
Why I've ditched my Business Plan Document
For two years in a row now, I've written up a business plan document (roughly 10 pages long - relatively short for a biz plan actually!) for my freelance design business, and each time I've looked back at this document 6 months, or even 3 months, after writing it and found that my goals and journey had totally changed.
The business plan was no longer relevant.
And so I'd spend a week or so writing a new one, with my newly aligned aims and ideas. But I'd forget about it within a week after that, and wouldn't end up revisiting it again until 3 months later when - you guessed it - my plans had changed again!
So maybe this is a reflection on how scatty my brain is and shows I am unfocused, OR maybe this is completely normal for a small business - particularly an online-based business, where technology & innovations are changing faster than any of us can keep up.
I know I'm not alone in feeling like the detailed document route isn't working. Sure, sometimes you need a more formal business plan if you're getting investment, funding or new partners etc, but for most of us freelancers and small business owners, it's okay to find a more flexible way of doing things that works better for us!
My secret weapon of choice is... kanban boards!
I've written about using kanban boards to organise my life before, and talked about the digital kanban board tool, Trello, more times than I can count. I literally use this tool every day; I'm always on it - so what better place to host my 'business plan'?
In case you're wondering, a Kanban board is:
A visual project management/workflow organisation tool
Traditionally created using a whiteboard & sticky notes, but digital versions are awesome because you can access them from anywhere at any time!
Originally a tool used in Agile/Lean software development & manufacturing
An incredible way for visual/creative people to plan aspects of their business & life!
I've been a huge fan of Trello for years; it's free and extremely intuitive, making it very quick to set up and use for even the biggest technophobes!
Just so you know, I'm not sponsored to talk about it by the way - my affiliate link doesn't even work anymore because I've already had the max amount of 'free Premium Trello months' from recommending it so much! So this is just pure passion pouring out of this post.
Creating Your 'Lean Business Plan'...
First of all, go ahead & create a free account on Trello (it takes 2 minutes) and create a board for your business plan.
Business Plan sections
Vision & Goals
This section is for a bit of 'inspired thinking'. Traditionally here you'd write your business background, a vision & mission statement, goals, objectives & tactics, but I personally think these things can be condensed down further (see sub-sections below!).
Customers & Competition
Here is obviously for being aware of who you're targeting in your business, and what competition you have to contend with in the market. Super important to be aware of, and your products/services should all be focused around your customer and how you can stand out.
Services & Products
In this section it's time to get specific about how you're going to make money (ie. how you'll stand out from the competition, your revenue streams and more).
Pretty self explanatory - this section will contain a brief overview of how you plan to promote your business and get yourself seen! My favourite part, of course.
Finance & Metrics
If you're keen to start measuring the success of your business, this section is important for keeping track of key numbers so you can start to see patterns and learn from them.
Time to start bulking out your 'lean' plan by adding cards to your lists! As you can see from the screenshot above, I've tried my best to fit everything onto one screen so I can see it all at a glance. This is the main downfall of a document plan; you have to scroll and read and find things. I love being able to see everything in one place!
1. In the Vision & Goals section I've included just the key information. I think it's important to have this section be really clear, because seeing goals & 'vision statements' written out regularly is incredibly helpful for aligning all your every day activities for success.
At the bottom I've included a card for 'Future Expansion & Ideas' just to leave all your awesome brainstormed ideas for the future!
2. I've included 2 different 'Customer' cards on my list because it's important to recognise that most businesses have more than one typical customer! Whether it's two slightly different segments, or the difference between the 'Business-to-Consumer' and 'Business-to-Business' sides of your business, it's likely you'll have more than one to describe. You can go into more detail on each of these by clicking into the cards and writing a more in-depth description (or not! The aim is to keep things as simple as possible).
3. At the top you can write how your business will be solving the problem identified in the 'Vision' section, and write your 'Unique Selling Point' (aka. how you're different from the rest) here too. Then it's onto the revenue streams and how you actually make money!
For me, this would include 'Design Services', 'Affiliate Revenue' and 'Digital Products' for example. It's quite a fun challenge to think of extra revenue streams for your business!
When I say 'price levels' at the bottom, I mean what sort of price structure are you using, and how can you appeal to customers who are on more of a budget by offering smaller products/services as a kind of taster product.
4. As a small business owner, marketing is key to getting your business seen, but it's also one of the hardest areas in business - especially for solo freelancers doing it on their own! Seeing it all in one screen like this can help with overwhelm and keep you focused on the important channels for your biz.
Examples of 'other digital marketing' might include: Blogging, SEO, online advertising, email marketing, video marketing etc.
Examples of 'offline marketing' might include: Events, press & PR, direct marketing and signage.
5. This is fairly self explanatory, but this section is a little different in the fact that I'd encourage you to go into the card itself and track your numbers each month (rather than writing the answer in the card title like the rest of the board).
These headings might be different for you, as you may have different priorities to measure in your business, but for me, these are the most important!
Colour-coding & extras
As I mentioned, you can click in to all of these cards and add a more detailed description if you wish - it really depends how simple you want it to be. I'd advise against just writing an essay in each card's description, as that's essentially the same as writing a document business plan. Keep it short and sweet!
As well as adding a description, you can also add a variety of other features to each card, such as:
Extra 'members'/people to view your card & keep track of it
Coloured labels which you can determine yourself (for those who love colour coding!)
Checklists - a handy feature if you need to keep track of your activities
Due dates, in case there are things with a deadline in your plan
Attachments, perhaps external documents or spreadsheets if that's your jam!
Don't worry - you'll still be able to download my free business plan and marketing template documents! I realise different people like to plan in different ways, so I still maintain that these are useful for many business owners. Just do what works for you!