Use This Dot-Point Easy System To Write Your Killer 2012 Business Plan

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It’s that time again when the old year winds down (toodles, 2011), a new year sparkles before us full of potential, promise, and possibility (hey there, 2012), and savvy entrepreneurs are preparing their 2012 business plans.

If you’ve never prepared a business plan, then this is the year I challenge you to start, no matter what stage your business is in. Whether you are just starting out or a seasoned entrepreneurial veteran, a well thought out business plan can help your 2012 be the most successful it can be.

Don’t let the terms “well thought out” or “business plan” fool you – we’re not talking about a massive, super-formal, corporate business plan.  We’re talking about a meaningful plan that leads to results.

My Experience With Entrepreneurial Business Planning

I started writing informal entrepreneurial business plans for myself in 2008. The plans grew out of something I already did each year: draft out my resolutions

Yes, I am one of those cheesy people who actually does that each year. What can I say, being the slightly wistful person that I am, I relish the opportunity to formally take stock of what has been accomplished, what didn’t get off the ground, how I’ve grown and where I want to go.

When I was in college, the result of these reflective sessions was a set of personal resolutions for improvement that were focused on things like weight, money, and scholastic accomplishment. As I emerged into the professional world and started to manage my own brand, my resolutions increasingly became business focused (selling my ebook, increasing website traffic, writing a book proposal). 

What I found surprised me. The more I took time to plan for my business, even informally, at the start of the year, the more I tallied up as an accomplishment by the end of the year.

My plans, mind you, weren’t what you might think of when you imagine a typical business plan. If you’re anything like me, the idea of a typical business plan calls to mind something that is 50 pages long, full of statistics and pie charts, and featured laminated covers with fancy graphics. 

In contrast, what I was putting down on paper as my plan was little more than a few bullet points categorized under a couple of headings like “The Life Uncommon Website,” “eBook,” “Brand Development.”

Under each of these categories was a list of things that needed to be done to move that category forward, whether it was finally hire a web developer (and therefore “save up for one” and “plan the redesign” were also bullets in that category) or get quoted as a career expert in more visible publications (therefore “sign-up for HARO newsletter” and “respond to queries” were also bullets in that category).

Whenever possible, I tried to include numbers to work against (“aim for 5,000 twitter followers” instead of “get more twitter followers”) and milestone dates (i.e. “Finish next eBook by March 1″).  But the content of the plan was always just formatted as a long, aspirational to-do list.

Find A Format That Works For You

I’ll admit that over time my entrepreneurial business plans haven’t become any more fancy or formal – they are still categorized lists of bullets. 

The only thing that has really changed over time in my approach is the amount and specificity of the categories. This year, for example, I have to add a new one for “book promotion” and one for “next book proposal.”  Also, I’ve started adding my professional mission statement at the top of the plan to contextualize the goals (if you don’t have a professional mission statement, click here to start developing one).

The reason my plans haven’t evolved is because the format works for me.  I post my business plan above my desk and cross items off as the year goes by, or make little notes to myself, or adjust goals as things progress. For others, this spartan plan format might not speak to them; they may prefer something with more description, more graphics, and even laminated covers.

And that’s just fine.

I have found that an effective business plan for an entrepreneur – one that really speaks to your goals and professional principles – is a truly personal thing.

As entrepreneurs we don’t need to be confined by the rigidity of formal corporate plan templates; in many cases, we are small if not sole-proprietor shops with no board to present to or be approved by. This means that our plans can be our own, both in content, length, and design – and this means we can create documents (or spreadsheets, or pictographs, whatever works) that not only help us get clear on our goals but fuels our desire to accomplish those goals.

So as you get ready to go out and party like it’s 1999 this December 31, I strongly encourage you to do yourself a service and steal 20 minutes of quiet time to capture some business goals for this next year and notes on how to accomplish them. 

Here are some quick-tips to get the mental-ball rolling:

  • Dream big and plan small – Outline your large, overarching goals, and then focus your planning thoughts on the specific, small steps it will take to accomplish that goal piece by piece.
  • Be realistic in your resources, but push yourself – There is no good developing a marketing plan that requires hundreds of thousands of dollars you don’t have to implement, but there is good in developing a marketing strategy that calls upon you to stretch your comfort zone a little and grow, like make cold calls or set up speaking engagements at your local library.
  • Be specific so you can measure progress – Include specific numbers, dates, or other measurable elements in your goals so you can take stock of how successfully you are implementing the plan throughout the year.

We are all on our own entrepreneur’s journey, and our journeys in 2012 will be more profitable, powerful, and fun when we have business plans of our own formatting to guide the way.  I wish everyone a truly wonderful and successful 2012, now get planning, because…

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail…

Here’s to your Entrepreneur’s Journey,
Nacie

Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr.

About Nacie Carson

Nacie Carson is a freelance writer and founder of The Life Uncommon, a career evolution and entrepreneurship community.
Her work on careers and authenticity have been featured in over 200 media outlets, including Portfolio.com, WalletPop, and two editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Nacie's first book on career "fitness" will be in stores in April 2012. You can contact her via nacie(@)TheLifeUncommon.Net

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29 Comments

  • Raj

    Frankly, I have never had a business plan before. I thought it might kill creativity and exploration into uncharted territories. But since now all those stages have been crossed, I guess its time to make up a business plan for the year. I have one for the next three months, but I do realize that I need one for the year as well. With tangible and measurable goals, as you say.

    • Hi Raj – having a plan for the next quarter is a great place to start. I find a year vision is really helpful to contextualize my in-the-moment work and also help me evaluate new opportunities that come my way. Good luck and happy new year!

  • Hi Nacie, I do a basic one page plan that covers 6-8 measurable objectives that are key to me reaching my revenue goals. I agree with your assessment that each of us must create a plan and format that works for us. One that allows the plan to evolve as the year progresses is ideal.

    • Hi Tom – That sounds perfect – can you elaborate a bit more on how you measure your objectives? I think measurement and tracking are some of the toughest pieces (but most important!) of the plans.

  • I’m one of those that never bordered to write down plans, althou I have them at the back of my mind. And most times, I accomplished almost 70% of it. I think I should try this for next year to see what can come out of it.

  • I’m a big advocate for planning and these are great tips. In my experience writing down your goals and objectives helps you 1) achieve them faster and 2) exceed your expectations. Sure, you might not accomplish everything as planned, but mapping out your goals let’s you sort through the opportunities and focus on what’s most important.

    Thanks,
    Steinar

    • Hi Steinar,

      I love your point about not being able to get to everything, and that’s OK – what is important to remember about these plans is that they are the MAP not the TERRAIN itself.

  • I never made a business plan. I don’t even know what exactly it is :) All I considered when I started my internet store was how I can eliminate physical work (that is to not deliver stuff myself in case I get sick or travel) and not spend my money (that is buyers pay first, I order stuff on demand and the company delivers it itself). So no work, no warehouse, no expenses except PPC and hosting but it’s not much.

    • Hi Anastasia – congrats on your success! Do you think you’ll try to do a Business Plan this year?

  • Great article Nacie.. I made plans last year and as I look at them on my wall I only accomplished one and that was to live free… LOL.

    It’s been a great year Hugh and I will definitely use your method to write down my goals this year.

    Make goals that piggyback off the success of others.

    Thanks
    Dennis

    • Hey Dennis – live free is an accomplishment! :) Best of luck plan writing – it has always served me well!

  • Hi Nacie, I just somehow stumbled on this page and I am Glad I did. Making a resolution is much different then putting together a plan of action for the year I Love It! I will take note of my accomplishments and then continue on towards the new year. Thanks Chery Schmidt

    • Hey Cheryl – good for you, you’re right they are different things! Best of luck in 2012!

  • Hey there Nacie Carson,

    I’m totally impressed with your post. Business plans are very important for online business as well as offline business. Business plans are easily made but the major problem whether the person execute and take action on every plan he makes.

    Great post indeed

    • Great point – as another commenter noted, it is good to have some flexibility about going with the flow but stay the course!

  • Hi Nacie, thankyou for the advice. I particularly liked your point about not being ‘confined by the rigidity of formal corporate plan templates’. I see that you emphasised this point within the comments about the plan being ‘the map, not the terrain itself.’ Helpful stuff, thankyou.

    • Glad you found it helpful! I think that people feel like they have to conform to a specific format to have it be a real plan, but it is about finding something that you WANT to follow!

  • Hi Nacie – thanks for giving me the push to finally create a business plan after eight (!!) years in business. I’ve always had a plan, it’s just that I’ve kept it in my head and worked towards it via a to do list – so a sort of half way house. I’ve heard it said before and one of the other posts touched on the fact that if you write down your goals you’re much more likely to achieve them and exceed them. So, I’m going to do it. Today.
    Thanks
    Linsey

    • Hey Linsey! great to see you here! Glad to hear you’re planning away…just remember to be flexible with it and use it as a guide, not a rigid list that HAS to be done in EXACTLY the way you see it today…things change over the year and we have to roll with those punches!

  • [...] If you’re looking for some information on using New Year’s to build a successful entrepreneurial business plan (and you should!), you can find more details in my article at Yaro Starak’s Entrepreneurs-Journey, “Write a Killer 2012 Business Plan.” [...]

  • General Dwight D Eisenhower – “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

    Charles Darwin – “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, or the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

  • I used this article to craft my business plan. It really allowed me to stare straight into the soul of my business. Reassuringly, by doing this my creativity sparked. Thank You.

  • Ian

    I have just happened upon this wonderful website which is packed full of great ideas. Many people think that a business plan is just for the bank’s use which is absolute nonsense. Why would you open a business every single day without a plan or an idea of where you are heading? It would be so ridiculous to go on any journey without a clear, measurable idea of where your going or how you are going to get there. I used to look after many small businesses as bank manager in the UK although they were all offline or Local businesses and I used to see this all the time. This is why I broke away from that to do my own thing and try and help other businesses. But now I am absolutely fascinated with internet and internet marketing and I recently implemented loads of new strategies into my online stuff from the offline stuff (and vice versa) and found it very interesting with some interesting results. I am now re writing my business plan and looking at the clients I help to implement the plans to accomodate the internet boom and how it can make a big difference to a business and it’s income. This site will be bookmarked for future to see if I can get any more useful information or if I can indeed share some of my offline knowledge too! I look forward to seeing other thoughts and comments on here over the coming 12 months.

  • Terrific article! I agree with creating measurable goals instead of vague goals. For very large projects, I have found that I need to break it down into smaller pieces working from the ideal end result backwards. I even create smaller measurable goals for completing each of those tasks working back to the very first task I need to complete.
    Sure, this takes more time to plan and complete, but in the end you will have an outline and guide to keep you on track for the next several months.
    Otherwise, time goes by quickly and you find yourself procrastinating and getting nothing accomplished. Also, this keeps me from diving in and working myself to death right away facing burn-out and then going to the other extreme of not wanting to do anything at all. Thanks for the tips!

  • [...] was reading an article by Nacie Carson on Entrepreneurs Journey and she talked about how writing a business plan helped her to tally more [...]

  • I enjoyed the article and i might be taking it too literally but i’m a bit confused where was the dot-point system to writing a plan??

  • As a blogger, I don’t have a formal business plan but yes, a plan is necessary. What I do is write quite a few number of objectives that I plan to achieve every 3 months. I keep them revising as the time goes by and the end result is always better.

  • Thank you for sharing your own strategy on how you do business planning. This article will probably make the readers’ lives easier when they are planning to create their own business plans.

  • Hi Nacie- heading into 2013 and found this site. Thank you for this information. When I was in the corporate world they handed us a template plan, we plugged in numbers and our “plan” was done. On my own I find it much different to write the plan from scratch. This will definitely help. I look forward to 2013 and the growth opps that it will bring!

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