1. Complete a Feasibility Study First. No matter how ready the Solopreneur thinks s/he is, a Feasibility Study is a must! It’s not admission that you have doubt, but could highlight some issues to address before you start writing. Do you have a basic niche identified, the skills and money to start the business, and are you passionate about the niche? Does the rough financial model satisfy your income requirements and at the same time, are they realistic assumptions on how much you can sell? Have others look at it before you move on so you don’t act as your own yes man before you start.
2. Listen to others’ feedback. Home-based Solopreneurs often work in a vacuum which can lead to some crazy idea. Something that sounds great to you at 2AM might not have any need in the market. While there is such thing as over-relying on outside opinion, working with others holds one accountable and keeps progress on track. Successful Solopreneurs welcome outside opinions and bounce ideas off of others. Those that build a wall around their idea or don’t validate questions about their product rarely succeed because they are more in-love with their product than its market potential.
3. Plan to start as a mouse, not an elephant. We’ve all heard that large startups fail because they run out of cash, so why are we drawn to starting larger businesses? Deep inside of us, there is most likely a pre-conceived notion that large equates to successful as all the successful companies that we’ve heard of are, in fact, huge. Starting small is harder for capital-intensive businesses (i.e. a restaurant) than for a service business (i.e. home-based consulting company). Whatever business you are starting, write the plan to include only the items which are directly tied to bringing in cash. This means shying away from large rental space, too much furniture, expensive build-outs, and productivity tools that cost a fortune yet increases your capacity rather than your demand. By planning on being mouse-sized and “bootstrapping”, you will have more flexibility than a large startup, allowing you to shift directions if your business plan assumptions were a little off.
4. There is no genie to tell you the answer. Many Solopreneurs spend weeks in the library trying to find the perfect customer, product, and price in one place. The answer is not in a book, let alone a bottle. It’s a cumulative process of reading, Googling, talking to people, seeing different things, fleshing out ideas on paper and seeing how ideas fit together. The faster you accept that, the faster you’ll believe in your idea during the writing process and the more easily you can concentrate on writing.
5. Combat Perfectionism. In the Solopreneur business plan, writing must lie somewhere between total brevity and pure perfectionism. For example, if you are defining your demographics, you don’t want to just say, “White, female, 30-45 yrs old”. And you also don’t want a perfectly manicured statement that, in your eyes, is so thoroughly researched and well-written where there is no need for revision or feedback. Write enough to paint a picture, not for complete validation and perfection. By walking this fine line, you’ll be able to see the big picture (all the business plan components together) sooner.
6. Manage Your Time. Set a date that you want to complete the rough draft and break the goal into small activities, i.e. a business plan section per week. Then sign a contract when you’ll complete everything and stick to it. Remind yourself you have a fixed amount of time to complete your rough business plan. By writing one section, you are taking time away from writing another section (i.e. opportunity cost). Avoid getting stuck in one section-keep moving! The successful Solopreneurs budget their time and stay up-to-date with their scheduled activities.
7. Own a space. Successful entrepreneurs are big fish in a small pond, not small fish in big pond. Pick a small, uninhabited niche to go after with the goal of being #1. Your levers to control the size of the market are customer segment and product/service differentiation. If you had brain cancer, you wouldn’t want to go to a generalist doctor, you would want the expert-you wouldn’t pay for anything but the best. The same is true for a website development, bookkeeping, a coffee shop, and a clothing boutique. Don’t play follow-thy-neighbor and do what “everyone else” is doing or try to be everything to everybody. Own the niche. Not everybody, but the people who are passionate about your specific product, will flock to your store because you are giving them exactly what they want.
8. Be Appropriate. Are you writing a plan to seek financing for a $50,000 loan? An investor? A $5,000 micro-loan? Or just using the plan to create a roadmap for yourself? By understanding what you are using the plan for, the Solopreneur will be able to meet the expectations of the intended audience. Don’t over-build your plan for an audience who doesn’t expect detailed plans and don’t under-build for an audience who expects a high level of detail.
9. Know this: There will be blood. Maybe that’s extreme. But in any creative process, there is pain. If there is no pain during your writing process, there is a good chance you are skipping steps or creating a commodity business. The best business plan writers are well equipped to deal with creative pains and don’t shy away from it. Take all the get-rich-from-working-at-home-in-your-pajamas schemes. Why do people sign up for them? The schemes promise a “guaranteed, risk-free, already designed” system. People pay for this “dream” because it successfully taps into their need to start something without having to go through any creative thinking. These people require constant validation (“yes, that is the exact customer” or “yes, that is the exact type of product”) and are not comfortable starting something new. Successful entrepreneurs realize that while they might have some rocky patches writing the business plan, it is a natural progression in writing one.
10. Your business plan is a breathing document. Many times, Solopreneurs are simply writing a plan because a bank requires it before funding. The Solopreneurs go through the motions of writing a plan focusing on the end product-not the process of writing and maintaining the plan. Successful Solopreneurs continue to use the business plan long after that original loan is secured. Your plan is your partner.