Sorry for being this direct, but writing a business plan the traditional way simply sucks. I mean, you have to take care of all the boring elements like: the SWOT analysis (or should I say prediction), executive summary, business description, market strategies, competitive analysis, design and development plan (not only for online businesses), operations and management plan, financial factors, and so on.
This is a lot of work, and from my perspective it’s work that won’t bring you any reasonable insights.
For instance, the main problem with the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) is that you don’t even have the chance to accurately describe the reality you’re in, you’re just playing the guessing game.
Almost every SWOT analysis is just a prediction mechanism and a way of foretelling the future. You’re not listing your actual strengths, you’re listing what you think your strengths are. You’re not listing your actual weaknesses, you’re listing what you think your weaknesses are, and so on.
That’s why I want to present an alternative approach at writing a business plan. One that’s much simpler and easier to grasp.
Now, I need to set one thing straight. I’m no expert on the economy or business development. But I have my own experiences and those of my friends. And since the following advice has turned out to work for everybody so far, I’ve decided to share it with you too.
Element #1: What you’ve got
Simply start by listing what you’ve got.
What I mean here is everything you can offer to your customers. Things like: products, services, content, etc.
Be somewhat detail oriented when going through this step. If you’re listing a new product of yours, make sure to mention its main features and characteristics.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may just have a single item to offer, which is fine. We’re not going for quantity here.
Element #2: Who are you going to sell it to?
Aka your target audience.
Only don’t make it lame. Lame is where you try to define your average customer like this, for example: “it’s a woman in her 30s, mother of two, and working a 9-5 job as an accountant.” I mean, how can anyone come up with that? What research tools do they have? Surely not anything a small business owner can afford.
Besides, not every business has an audience that is so specific. For instance, if you’re selling socks and live in Austin then your target customer base is “people with feet living in Texas.” If that’s true then don’t try to make it narrower just for the sake of it.
Go with a general description that’s nothing more than a starting point – your starting audience. If it turns out that your main audience is actually someone entirely different then nothing bad will happen, but you need to be ready and accept such a situation.
Element #3: Why would they buy?
What makes your product better or just as good as your competitors’? Or what’s some other reason someone would want to work with you?
Just be honest and not overly promotional. This is about facts.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to be better than your competition to be a successful business owner. Is Pepsi better than Cola? I mean, scientifically better? No. It’s the same thing.
Element #4: How are you going to reach them?
As in, reaching your target customer base. Do you have anything fancy in plan? Or just standard marketing methods (which are completely fine, by the way)?
Actually, the exact methods are not important here. No matter what you’re going to end up doing, you need to have a plan for the initial couple of weeks. Treat it as your getting started approach.
Pick a handful of methods that have the most potential in your opinion and start executing them. Then, if something doesn’t work, you can adjust your business plan to reflect the new situation.
There’s no element #5. All you need in 90% of possible situations are the four elements above: you need to know what you’ve got, who you’re going to sell it to, why would they buy, and how you’re going to reach them. Of course, your mileage may vary … so feel free to disagree with me if your experience is different.