Why you don’t need a formal business plan (and what to do instead!)


Resolutions, planning, goals — in January, you’re either fired up about these topics, or you never want to hear the words again. Personally, my feelings each year are cyclical. Last year I was a crazy planner. This year I’m feeling very go-with-the-flow. However you’re feeling, let me just remind you that January 1 is just another day on the calendar.

I’ve had the topic of business plans in my blog post ideas list for a long time, and this January feels like the perfect time to write about it — because truthfully, I’ve never written a formal business plan. And yet I’ve successfully made it through my first year in business — and my second, and almost third, with my business growing each year.

That’s not to say that business plans don’t have their place and aren’t useful. But if you’ve had an unfinished “business plan” file on your computer for the past six months, this post is for you.

Why don’t I have a formal business plan? I honestly didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I started out. In fact, some days I still don’t. I can’t tell you with certainty what services I want to offer with profit projections over the next five years, because I’m a one-woman show, and I like it that way. I like having flexibility to adapt my services depending on my season of life and the work I’m currently enjoying.

But I also didn’t get where I am today without any planning. It’s still important to monitor the progress you’re making and take some time to reflect on where you are and where you want to be, even if you don’t write a formal business plan. To help you out, I’m sharing the planning spreadsheet I use each month to track revenue and stats and document my goals, thoughts, and ideas for the month.

I’ll be honest: I’m not always good about filling out the bottom half for goal setting and reflecting. I alternate between that and writing/brainstorming in an Evernote notebook, which I also highly recommend. I have a notebook full of random thoughts on who I’m serving, why I do what I do, phrases that resonate with me — really just anything I can look back on when I’m feeling stuck in my business. I often write about things you would cover in a formal business plan — target audience, my process and services, etc. — but my notes are more free-form, working documents that I can add to or improve when I revisit them. Each time I revisit them with the insight from new experiences, I get a little more clarity on what I’m doing, which in turn helps me sell my work more effectively.

The money portion of the spreadsheet is essential to make sure I know what’s potentially coming in and what I need to do to make that happen. It helps me prioritize my task list based on the income I need to pay my bills each month. I found the idea of projecting a year’s worth of income really overwhelming, but as I started tracking month to month, I have a much better idea of the average amount I make per month, and exactly how much I need to pay my bills. If you do nothing else, tracking and projecting your income month to month will make a huge difference in your business.

When you open the spreadsheet, you’ll find that I’ve only created a template tab — that’s so you can make adjustments according to what works best for you. For example, I only track stats for my blog, email list, and Twitter — you may like to track other platforms. You’ll also find a little spot at the top to write a reminder of why you do what you do, or a manifesto of sorts, so that any time you open the document you’re reminded. I also think it’s a fun exercise to rewrite it each month and see how your priorities change over the year, or watch your language become more clear.

Once you’ve edited the template to track the information you want, right-click on the tab and duplicate to create a tab for each month. I tend to create tabs only a few months in advance in case I need to adjust the template. As soon as I book a project, I log the payments in the appropriate month, then each month I fill in any additional payments (like maintenance work or payments that didn’t come in the previous month). I have a recurring task in Todoist to remind me to review my spreadsheet at the end of each month and prep the new month’s tab.

Download the template below, and tweet me or email me to let me know how you use it! I’d love to hear of any changes you make and how it helps your business.

Biz Planning Spreadsheet

To download, go to File > Make a copy, and you can copy it to your Google Drive for editing.

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