How to Write An Effective Business Plan


There's that line from Field of Dreams that most everybody knows, even if they've never seen the movie: if you build it, he will come. Though in the movie the phrase relates specifically to baseball, many people have since assigned a more general meaning to the expression—don't worry about the outcome, because simply making the effort will produce results.

And there is something to be said for passion driven by blind faith.

But, particularly in business, there’s also something to be said for taking the time to outline where you are now and where you want to be—and how exactly you plan to get from point A to point B. In other words: writing a business plan.

The topic of writing a business plan can bring a wide variety of reactions, most of which range somewhere between reluctance and fear. The process, however, doesn’t have to be painful. Here are some tips to help you make the most of this important business tool.

The What

Part of the reluctance to write a business plan might come from some misconceptions surrounding the practice. Many people think of these documents as long and complicated, taking days and months to write and finalize. But that doesn’t have to be the case, according to Kelly Bowers, a licensed massage therapist in Washington, D.C.

In fact, for most massage therapists, a one-page business plan is probably sufficient. “What most of us think of when we say business plan is what I call the standard or large business plan, but it’s not what most of us are going to want to work with,” she says. “We’re going to want to work with a simplified form of the standard business plan.”

To get to a clear understanding of how elaborate your business plan needs to be, Bowers suggests asking yourself some basic questions: How specific are your goals? How long-range are they? Are your goals ambitious? Are they a stretch? Do you really just want to make enough money to live comfortably and peacefully? Do you already know how much money that will take?

Also, consider your own personality. Are you a planner, for example? Do you tend to live in the moment or are you always looking down the road, thinking about where you want to be in two, five or 10 years?

“The more you want to move outside the simple or outside your comfort zone, the more you’ll benefit from having a business plan,” Bowers says. “If you are a planner, you will benefit from a business plan. If you tend to be overwhelmed by too many choices, a business plan can help you stay focused.”

Bowers quickly cautions, too, that simple isn’t going to work for everyone, and she encourages massage therapists to remember this rule of thumb: “The more people that are engaged in your practice and the more of someone else’s money you’ll be asking for, the more involved your business plan needs to be,” she says.

The Why

When Bowers decided to leave her job as a technical writer and pursue massage therapy full time, she started having lunch with a group of women who were starting their own businesses. “They were all big proponents of using business plans,” she says. “They kept pushing me to write one.”

Bowers didn’t follow their advice right away, however. Then, finally, she took herself on a business retreat one January and worked her way through Jim Horan’s “The One Page Business Plan,” a book her friends she lunched with had recommended to her.

She learned a few lessons from her first attempt. “My first business plan was, ah, optimistic, to say the least,” she recalls. “It turns out that making $50,000 a year requires more than writing it down confidently in your business plan! But I was hooked on the process.”

Some of why writing a business plan is helpful comes from being able to clarify your vision. “Having a clear sense of my personal vision and my practice’s mission has made a big difference for me,” Bowers explains. “It’s given me a clarity and focus I probably never would have found otherwise.”

In addition to more focus, writing a business plan gives Bowers a way of evaluating any new opportunities that might arise. “Does this opportunity I’m considering or being offered line up with my mission and vision?” she asks herself. “There are a lot of things I could do as a small business. But, as a very small business, I want to focus my time, energy and money on those things that help me bring my vision to life and fulfill my mission as I understand it.”

The How

Bowers has advice that is quick and to the point for those reluctant to start writing a business plan: “Give up any idea that you aren’t smart enough or educated enough to write a business plan,” she says. “If you’re smart enough to do the work, then you’re smart enough to explain it in a business plan.” That’s not to say you might not need a little help, Bowers adds.

First, relax a little. You might find a different perspective helpful, like thinking of writing a business plan as having a conversation. “A business plan, at its most basic, is a conversation,” Bowers explains. “The conversation might be between you and an investor or business partner. For most of us, it’s a conversation we’re having with ourselves.”

Bowers elaborates on this idea, suggesting you look at the business plan as a kind of conversation between your present self and future self. “These two selves are working out what they want to build together and how they’re going to move that thing from today to the future you want to have,” she adds.

You might also find that imagining yourself sitting with a friend describing what you envision your practice looks like is a good way to approach writing a business plan. “Imagine describing, with passion, the practice you want to have,” Bowers says. “Imagine the two of you brainstorming what it would take, in some detail, to make that happen. If you wrote that down, you’d have a basic business plan.”

Remember, too, that writing a business plan shouldn’t be something you do once and never revisit. “As long as your business is alive, your business plan needs to be alive,” Bowers explains. “That means you need to be looking at and updating your business plan regularly.” For Bowers, that happens every January, when she takes her annual business retreat.

Writing a business plan might not be at the top of your priority list—and that’s OK. You don’t have to dedicate months to the process. But engaging in the process of putting your plans in writing can be a great exercise, and help you increase business and clarify your own vision. “I think getting clear on your vision and mission are the two biggest benefits of a business plan,” Bowers says. “Writing a business plan is a way to tell the story of your passion and how you’re going to make that passion sing.”


Anatomy of a Business Plan

Though many massage therapists may not need to create an in-depth standard business plan, knowing what this document comprises is a good idea. You also might find that at least some of these elements will be included in your own business plan, no matter how simple.

Executive summaryHere, you’ll summarize the key points of the rest of the plan. “It lets you highlight the exciting parts,” says Kelly Bowers, a licensed massage therapist in Washington, D.C.

Company descriptionThis description tells people what kind of practice you’re creating. You can detail the legal structure of the company, for example, as well as how management will work, if you’ll have a management team in place. “This is also a summary of things you’ll get into in greater detail later in the plan,” explains Bowers.

Product/serviceObvious, perhaps, but in this section you’ll detail what products or services your practice will offer.

Target marketWhen thinking of who your target market will be, Bowers suggests thinking of these questions: Who is going to buy your products or services, and why would they buy your products and services?

Competitive analysisNo matter how simple you make your business plan, you should have a good idea of who in your area may serve as competition for business and clients. “Who is already selling your product or service?” Bowers asks. “How are you going to be able to compete with them?”

Marketing and sales planHere, you are going to outline how you’ll reach potential clients and get them to buy your product or service. In today’s world, there are a lot of different ways you might choose to market your practice, so take some time to think about what might work best for you.

Operations planHow does your company run? Where is your practice located? What equipment do you need? All of these are questions you’ll answer in this section, Bowers says.

Management teamIf you plan on setting up business with other people, or going into business with a fellow massage therapist or someone from a complementary profession, you’ll need to outline leadership roles. Who will be in charge, for example?

Development plan and milestonesThis section will work through some of your future plans, as well as how you’ll measure if you’re on track or not. You might also think about exactly how you plan to grow your practice, if growth is indeed a goal.

FinancialsMoney is sometimes the last thing you want to talk or think about when you’re excited about starting your own business, but especially if you’re looking for investors or need a loan, you’ll need to have a good idea of where you’re starting financially, what you expect to make and what you’ll need to spend in overhead, for starters.

“Each of these sections answers specific questions about business,” explains Bowers. “Even if you aren’t writing a standard business plan, it’s worth it to at least look at the questions and think about them.”


Business Plan Mythbusting

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in business for 10 years, you can probably benefi t from writing a business plan. To help you get over any hesitation you might feel, we’re busting some of the common myths that seem to surround this practice.

No. 1: You need a formal business education to write a business plan—False.

“For the kind of businesses most of us are running, what we need is a guide that is written to our level of business knowledge,” explains Kelly Bowers, a licensed massage therapist in Washington, D.C. Now, she adds, you might have to look up a few terms in the dictionary, but if you have a solid vision for your practice, that’s the important piece to the business plan writing puzzle.

No. 2: You should never start a business without writing a business plan—False.

Contrary to what some people might think, writing a business plan doesn’t have to be the fi rst thing you do when you’re thinking of starting your own practice. Much of what a business plan is designed to do is give you a clear direction and focus your efforts. “When you want to get clear with yourself about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re going to do it, a business plan can help,” explains Bowers.

But, Bowers says, though many people come out of school believing they know what their practice will look like and the types of clients they’ll work with, many don’t really know. “For a lot of us, it makes more sense to write a business plan after we’ve been in practice a year or three,” she says. “A few years of practice will tell us what our reality actually looks like, making writing a more realistic business plan easier to do.”

Times of change, too, are natural places to create a business plan. “Times of change are great times to work on a business plan to help you chart your new course,” says Bowers. “If you’ve worked in a spa for five years, for example, but now want to go out on your own, that’s a good time to write a business plan.”

There is one caveat to this advice, however: “If your starting point is a big plan that requires borrowing money, bringing in partners and things of that nature, your fi rst step should be to write a detailed business plan,” Bowers explains.

No. 3: Business plans are all about numbers and money—False.

“The heart of a business plan, any business plan, is what you want to build (vision) and why it’s worth building (mission),” Bowers says. “Everything else in the plan needs to be detailed enough to help you get there.”

That’s not to say you don’t need any information about financials, because you will definitely need to have an idea of what you want to make and what you’ll spend. “This information only needs to be as detailed as you personally need it to be,” Bowers says.

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