Why you should write a business plan for 2016

The following blog was recently published on the Professional Copywriters’ Network website.

Are you winding down for the holidays yet? I know I am. There’s something about this time of year – all I can see is the big day looming, and nothing beyond. Sound familiar?

But January always comes. A new year, full of possibilities – so what are you going to do with it?

If you’re anything like me, you already have goals and targets. Mine float around my head in a random fashion – if you drew a diagram of my mind, it would be a mass of scribble; mostly outside the lines. The more I read and work, the more out of control that scribble becomes as ideas generate new ideas – I get more and more enthused about the endless possibilities. But if I don’t capture those thoughts, they are lost.

So I need a business plan. And today, I spent some time putting my business plan for 2016 together. Have you done yours?

What is a business plan? According to Wikipedia, “A business plan is a formal statement of business goals, reasons they are attainable, and plans for reaching them.”

This probably refers to the type of business plan you show the bank manager when starting out.  I’m talking about a business plan for your own personal use, so really it’s a long-term ‘to-do list’ – a document that sets out what you want to achieve and how you are going to do it. It’s something you can refer to throughout the year to measure your progress and keep you on track if you lose focus.

There are no hard, fast rules – it’s your business plan, so make it work for you.

My business plan starts with a brainstorming session. All those fancy ideas and dreams floating around my head are captured on my favourite piece of technology – my whiteboard! I call this the ‘splurge’ stage. Every wild idea I have is written down – it’s exhausting, but it feels good to clear my mind.

Then it’s time for me to get real and produce a document that includes realistic, achievable targets. So the first thing to tackle is the finances. I love writing, researching, brainstorming, training – but ultimately, I need to work for the money. Don’t we all?

So my first priority is to set a financial target. I’ve set myself three:

  1. How much do I need to earn? This is the important one. No messing around here – how much do I need and how am I going to do it?
  2. How much would I like to earn? What sacrifices do I need to make, to go the extra mile? Am I prepared to work evenings? Weekends? What support would I need to make this happen?
  3. How much would I like to earn next year (2017)? Okay, this is looking ahead another year. But what I do in 2016 will have implications for 2017. What experience do I need to get? What training? Do I need to think about upping my rates? Who are the clients that prepared to pay a higher fee – and what do I need to do to attract them?

You know your situation. Are you working to put food on the table and a roof over your head? Does your income pay for an expensive hobby and exotic holidays? Or do you need a bit extra to put the kids through university?

Consider all the implications – discuss with your partner and family if necessary. You may need their buy-in and support if you are going to work extra hours. And you might need to think about extra costs such as childcare, admin or book-keeping. Then work out a plan and stick to it (especially for point 1).

Having thought through my financial goals, my next goal is continuing professional development. I love learning and growing on the job, so it’s no hardship for me to consider taking on extra training or development.

But what if you’re too busy to attend a training course or study for a new qualification? That’s okay. One of the fab things about being a copywriter is the number of fellow professionals who share their knowledge for free.

Your continuing professional development could be as simple as setting aside half-an-hour a day taking in the tips and advice that your fellow copywriters are blogging about. That’s three and a half hours a week of free advice – think how much that adds up to over a year (any mathematicians here?)

Just follow the Professional Copywriters’ Network on Twitter and you’ll soon establish a list of great copywriters, who are generous enough to share their experience. Invest in a few good books too, that you can dip in and out of.

So my primary goal for continuing professional development will be to continue to read daily.

I also want to improve a few technical skills. This will take time and money (for training and equipment), but I consider them important enough to make a financial investment.

Finally, I have a hunch that I might like to write for charitable and non-profit organisations, so I’m planning to read up on bid-writing. I have an idea about how I can combine personal development with helping a cause close to my heart. Time is the main factor for this goal, so I will need to consider carefully how and when this can be achieved without overloading my calendar or letting people down.

Talking of people, this brings me to my final goal: networking. There’s a good reason I’ve left this one until last. Do I hate networking? No. Maybe. Am I afraid of it? Probably. The thought of attending networking events makes me cringe. But I know I’m missing out. And it nags away at the back of my mind, as I take on yet another remote client and find more excuses not to attend events that could immerse me into the local business community.

This year, I’ve noticed an increase in enquiries from local blue-chip companies. This is a good thing. It’s what I’ve been aiming for. But I still break out in a cold sweat when a company invites me in for a brief. And I’m good at thinking of reasons not to attend networking events.

So networking is my biggest challenge for 2016. It’s the target that, given a chance, I will neglect and leave unticked next year. So I need to work out how to network in a way that works for me. Sharing knowledge and ideas with other business people is a good start. I’ve been known to make referrals to fellow copywriters when I’ve had to turn work down – this seems to go down quite well. And of course, those dreaded events – I really must attend some!

If you’re a social butterfly, networking may be a breeze for you. In which case, you might want to think about something else to include on your plan – something that sits outside your personal comfort zone and scares you!

For this blog, I’ve picked out three key targets from my plan. In reality, it’s a much longer document that includes marketing, admin, purchases, relationship building as well as some personal goals.

Now that I’ve tamed that inner mental scribble into neat, tidy boxes and compartments, I have a solid vision of where I want to go next year. Things will change. Forces outside my control will dictate – that’s life. But when they do, I won’t abandon my plan – I will adjust it. And if I have to take a step back on one thing, I will take two steps forward in another direction.

I hope you can find time to write your own business plan. When it’s written, put it somewhere safe. And whether you take off a day or a fortnight over the holidays, close everything down and lock the office door. Take time out.

When it’s time to face 2016, your plan will be waiting for you to get you started and motivate you throughout the coming year.

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