So you want to start a freelance business. Or, you’ve started one, and you want to formalise or clarify your offering in your mind (or for the bank). It’s time to start crafting a business plan.
Business plans aren’t just for bigger businesses; for the visionaries or entrepreneurs aiming to sell 100,000 units of personalised coffee mugs during Q4. They’re a useful way to turn your freelance vision, wherever in its gestation it may be, into a coherent strategy. Even if you’re the only strategist.
So… Take a weekend morning. Make yourself a cup of something delicious. And get started.
In general, put your sales pitch upfront and your numbers towards the back. Don’t forget to write a good, sharp intro (or ‘executive summary’) of 150 words or so, and a conclusion where you sum up or call for further contact. This isn’t rocket science, but you’d be amazed how often people leave this out.
Structure is everything when crafting a business plan, so draw up a rough skeleton with the Intro at the start and the Conclusion at the finish. Plan to put in additional headings like ‘Aims’, ‘Services’, ‘Products’, ‘Business Type’, ‘Rates’, ‘Industry/Competitors’, ‘Marketing’, ‘Financials’, etc.
Tip: Investigate your specific industry to find out what the must-have sections and mentions are.
Then, as you go, use research, creativity and numbers (if necessary) to plug the gaps. This is a helpful exercise for anyone new to freelancing (or even the oldies), because it helps to isolate where you see yourself, and how you plan to grow as you go. It can also drive you if you need a vooma injection.
Tip: If you like, use the web to find a basic structure you can customise. Or, choose a few and take the best of each, given your situation. But never use an auto-generated, online business plan template – they read badly and look shoddy, and anyway, a cookie-cutter business plan won’t help you succeed.
Get a picture, via research, of your industry, customers, competitors and market. Then:
- Write your executive summary, highlighting the detail of the business plan.
- Give an overview of the business’s aims.
- Unpack your services (this is your sales pitch) – explaining what your business will do in simple terms and highlighting features that set it apart.
- Talk about what type of business (sole proprietorship, Pty Ltd, etc.) you plan to have.
- Provide a menu of rates, including terms and conditions if this is relevant.
- Follow this with info on the industry as a whole and who else is in it.
- Explain how you plan to market (website, web ads, flyers, networking).
- Finally, provide some detail on exactly who’s involved, with short bios, and conclude with detailed contact information and a call-to-action.
As a rule, keep it clean when crafting a business plan. Black text, white background. No colours or fancy fonts. Use bold headings that are one or two sizes larger than your main font. And don’t be afraid of empty space; it creates visual breathing room and makes your plan look less like a high school essay.
Tip: Use helpful free design sites like Canva to lay out your document. This can change the game.
Carefully consider your style and tone when it comes to language. Keep it professional, but straightforward and simple. Resist old-fashioned phrases: ‘herewith is’, ‘for your perusal’, ‘the aforementioned’, etc. And use powerful words like, ‘The business will or can…’, not ‘would’ or ‘might’.
Even if you’re the only person involved in your business, find someone who can study your plan objectively and point out any weaknesses or areas you might have missed. As you receive feedback, don’t be afraid to make changes to the document. A business plan should evolve along with a company.
Find a graphic designer friend, colleague or contact who can give you an hour or two of their time to lay out your plan properly. That way, if anyone wants to see it, or if you need to ask the bank – or anyone else – for money, it looks like something decent. You can also use bits and pieces of your plan as a corporate profile, which clients will ask for as you progress, so it helps to have it laid out properly.
If you’re skint, and you’re not going to go the Canva route, offer the designer a trade exchange: copy for design, photos for design, illustration for design – whatever. If you’re a graphic designer yourself, get a copywriter or copy editor to check your writing. (See where I’m going with this? Great.)