One of the first things you can do when thinking about starting a business is just taking a look at the contents page of a business plan template. Business Plans are NOT an exact science, no matter what anyone tells you.
At the same time, do not underestimate the value linked to spending a good bit of time compiling one. I'll blog later about the many different places you can find a decent template - online, in your local library...there are tons of books published on the subject.
I know it's scarey. I've done them - they take time! More time if it's not your business at all and you have to get to grips with someone else's industry/market/sector. Much easier when it is something you know a little about... Simple statement, rings true.
The first thing you do is open up the template and just have a think about each section. There are less than 10 major sections, and if you think about each one in chunks, it will not be so bad.
Before you sit down to talk about the actual business plan itself, the best thing to do is a little SWOT analysis. Write it on a napkin at a bar or a coffee shop, it doesn't take too long. Do the little grid first for yourself, and then for your business. Do not be afraid to complete it honestly - it's not for everyone else to see, it is for yourself.
A SWOT Analysis is very simple, it is just a list of your S-trengths, W-eaknessess, O-pportunities and T-hreats.
First of all, your strengths. Be generous, be realistic. List them with pride! Expand on them. Really think about all the areas in your life where key elements of entrepreneurship might lie. If your 9-5 is on a production line, you attention to detail might be a big strength. If you are a stay-at-home parent, your ability to multitask must be at a peak! Not to mention your budgeting abilities... If you are already a CEO somewhere...you probably know how to do a SWOT.
Next, your weaknesses get a good going over. A lot of people look unsure when I mention this one. It is a wise and more importantly, a responsible entrepreneur that knows their own boundaries & limitations.
If you were never great with numbers in school, and the idea of bookkeeping makes you shiver, then do not be afraid to identify that as a weakness. The main reason for this identification is so that you can do something about it now, before you start operating: if you can afford it, employ the services of a reliable bookkeeper or qualified accountant. If you can't afford it, ask a friend or family member who you trust, to give you a helping hand in the area, for the first few months of operation. Ask them to give you a crash course or better still, find a local course and take it.
The same goes for you if selling is a scarey concept. If the idea of picking up the phone to make a cold call and then being yelled at by 10 angry people makes you want to run & hide (and you would not be alone on this one) then go and learn how to do it best! Or ask a friend...or employ the services of a small telesales business operating locally...if you have the budget!
Can you see a pattern emerging?
What's next? Opportunities. They come in all shapes and sizes - the trick is to identify them. You are doing this SWOT on yourself so have a little think about where the opportunites are for you. Remember, nobody else has to see this SWOT analysis, so put anything you like down here. Some examples of personal opportunities from self-employment might be: better quality of life...more time at home with the kids...more money...control of your own time in order to travel a lot...who knows?! You tell me...
The Threats are then the last part of the S-W-O-T. This is anything that could possibly stand in the way of you achieving your objectives - such as a downturn in the economy for example. If there is a threat of maybe losing your part-time job in the near future, it may mean that you will not be able to find the energy and money you need to put into your new business. Your own personal situation will dictate what is contained in this list of threats.
Once you have completed the SWOT Analysis of your own good self, you should (after going and getting another cup of java...) conduct a similar list with the very same headings, for your business.
Much more fun! You will suddenly find opportunities everywhere, and realise the importance of measuring your threats.
The trick with entrepreneurship is to flip threats around and turn them into opportunities. e.g. If someone just like you went out of business recently, that is not a threat of the current economic climate - it is an opportunity to pinch all their good-paying customers and decent suppliers!