Designing Your Living Business PlanIt’s been awhile since I’ve written about living business plans. (This post might be a good place to start if you’re not familiar with this type of business plan). While my mantra is “Make your business plan usable for you”, it’s not always clear how to design this plan so to fits you. I remember being interviewed by an interested small business owner who wanted to know if she had to use an outline form. The short answer was, and is, no. So what can you use instead?

There certain parts that are necessary so that this document actually reflects that you are running a business.

No matter how visual, linear or whatever ways you write out your business plan, you still have to include:

1. Executive Summary

2. Services and products offered

3. Marketing strategies

4. Desired client profile

5. Financials

6. Company goals and objectives

This is entirely about how you work.

Keep in mind that this is not the business plan you’re showing to the bank or investors. It exists so you can keep focused as you lead and manage your business. It’s way too easy to get sidetracked by the day to day work, exciting opportunities or negative events. There’s a host of stuff out there that can get you off your game.  Couple this with your thinking and learning styles and it makes sense to write or draw your business plan your way.  And, of course, any goals that you include will include specifics, measurements and deadlines 

So, what are my choices?

Style 1:  Outline form This is probably the most traditional.  With an outline format, list each category and use bullet points to specify the details. 

Style 2:  Fish Diagram-This style reads left to right with each category branching out into the specific components.   The Executive Summary is the “head” of the fish and the other parts of your business plan make up the body of the fish.  This diagram creates a visual image of what you desire for your small business.  The lines coming off the “body” of the fish are the details that you want to remember and/or implement as actions steps.

 Style 3:  Bubble Chart- This method is well suited for people who like to take a creative and/or visual approach to goal setting.  Write your executive summary in the center bubble and in the radiating bubbles, write the other sections of your business plan.  Each radiating bubble contains important details or the goals you wish to execute. The bubble chart allows you to keep track of  each section while having fun with your strategic and operational planning. 

Try out the different styles suggested here to see what works best for you. 

Your business plan is supposed to be a guide and a reference. It’s a live document that you can review, writing comments in the margins, scratch out what you don’t want, add on new ideas and use continuously. Consider how you learn.  Do outlines make things sensible to you or do you prefer pictures?  Do you tend to think in a step-wise way or in “stream of consciousness”?  These important details will aid you in designing how you think about and plan the actions in your business plan.  The cliché, “Keep it simple” also applies here because simplicity will prevent or manage feelings of overwhelm or distractibility.  It makes no sense for your business plan to become forgotten in a desk drawer or a computer file that it never opened. It’s a tool to keep you focused and motivated as you lead and manage your small business to successful outcomes. Make your business plan a living business plan!

What style makes sense to you?

What suggestions do you have that would help other small business owners create a written business plan?