I never planned to start a business. Having a small side hustle to make extra money as a stay at home mom? Sure. I started a freelance writing hustle when my second child was born and it was pretty great. It generated some income, gave me a creative outlet and still left me plenty of time to take care of a toddler and a newborn.
But running an online business full-time never crossed my mind until I became a single mom. Suddenly, I had two young children to take care of and no real job. So, I decided to dig in and turn my freelance writing hustle into a full-scale business.
And the most important thing I learned along the way? If you're going to start a business — any business — you need a plan.
Why planning is essential for your business success
When I started my business, it was completely on the fly. I went from writing in my spare time to make some extra cash to needing to make a full-time income, A.S.A.P. And I had what I call a "no-plan" plan. In other words, I had no real clue about what I needed to do to make that happen.
Here's why that's bad.
When you don't have a plan for your business, you end up wasting a lot of time doing things that offer little to no return on your investment. You focus your efforts on things that don't matter at all in terms of the bigger picture, because you don't have a plan to follow.
Now, overall, not having a plan initially didn't hurt me, success-wise. Over the past five years, I've built a very lucrative freelance writing business and grown my income to six figures.
But I made a lot of mistakes in the very beginning because I didn't have a strategy. Those mistakes didn't hinder my business growth in the long run, but they did delay it.
Now, I have clear goals for my business and a strategy that helps me be as efficient as possible with the time and energy I put into growing it. Looking back, I know that I could have gotten ahead so much faster if I'd taken this approach from day one. If you're thinking of starting a business, you need a plan, too.
How to create a plan for starting your business
Ideally, this is something you start working on as soon as you're sure that starting a business is what you want to do. So, what does "a plan" involve? A few things, but the answer depends largely on you and what you want to achieve. If I were starting my business all over again, here's what I'd think about as I shaped my plan:
1. How much time can I put into this?
This is an important question. You have to be realistic about how much time you can devote to building your business, especially if you're working a full-time job at the same time.
Look at your schedule. Where do you have the hours each day or each week to work on your business? Thinking carefully about how you can and will use your time can help you set realistic expectations for your business.
2. How much money can I make? And how much do I want to be able to make from this business?
Some businesses make money right away — and lots of it. Others can take time to take off.
If you're starting a business purely out of passion, making money right away might not be your first priority. But if any part of you wants your business to be profitable at some point, think about what that means to you.
For example, you may have a certain dollar amount you want to make monthly or annually. If that's the case, figure out if that goal is within reach.
The easiest way to do that is to study other people who are running a similar kind of business. If someone else is making money with a similar idea, odds are you can, too.
3. How much money am I willing to invest in growing a business?
When I started my freelance writing business, I didn't spend any money. All I needed to run my business then (and now) was a laptop and an internet connection, both of which I already had.
But you might have to invest money in buying supplies or marketing or education, depending on the kind of business you want to start. So, be real with yourself about how much you're comfortable and willing to spend to get your business up and running.
And remember that investing money into your business isn't necessarily a one-and-done thing. You may have to continuously funnel money back in, and you need to be okay with doing that if it's helping you produce the results you want.
4. Who needs what I have to offer and how will I connect with them?
Freelance writers are, for the moment at least, highly in demand. Businesses and brands need writers to help create their messaging and connect with their audiences. As video grows in popularity, that could change, of course. And it's a trend I'm watching closely.
If you have a niche picked out for your business, ask yourself whether there are people who can benefit from what you have. It might be a product or a service, but without a demand for it, you might have a hard time making money.
If you know who your people are, the next step is figuring out how you'll connect with them. You need to have a plan for getting eyes on your business. Otherwise, you might have an uphill battle when it comes to growth.
5. What is my ultimate reason for starting a business?
Last but not least, ask yourself why you want to start a business in the first place.
For me, it was all about financial survival. But your reasons might be something totally different. Getting clear on your why and your purpose can help you find direction as you get your business underway.
What have you learned about starting a business?
If you run a business, then you know how steep the learning curve can be. But you also know how valuable those early experiences are in shaping the course of your business success. If you have a lesson to share with another budding entrepreneur, then head to the comments and let's keep the discussion going!
Rebecca is a full-time freelance writer, as well as a homeschooling single mom of two and a blogger. She's been growing her business for the last five years and continues to learn new things about being an online business owner every day.