Conventional wisdom is that a business plan must be written before a company is launched, especially if outside financing is needed. So why wasn't this the very first article written for Design Firm Management? Frankly, it's because many design firms do not have a business plan. If they do, there's a good chance that it was written several years after the business started. Many of us ease into business based on project opportunities that come our way. A few big projects and a few loyal clients can enable a freelance career to gradually expand into a successful small office. Often there's no outside pressure to produce a business plan. If you've been freelancing for a while, you might already own most of the equipment and software required for the company, and startup capital needed for other purposes may be minimal. So, if your design firm is already operating successfully, why would you want to write a business plan after the fact? The answer is that the document itself is part of a larger strategic planning process.
The planning process
Writing a business plan involves asking yourself a series of hard questions about the work that you're doing and the direction in which you're heading. Young firms tend to take shape in a reactive way, accepting any project that comes along. Eventually, though, you'll decide that it's time to become more proactive and exercise greater control over the evolution of your firm. The business planning process is an opportunity to evaluate your situation, think through every aspect of your operations in a thorough and systematic way, and bring everything into alignment. You'll analyze recent trends, then project them forward in order to set realistic goals for the next three years. Most important, writing a business plan is not a one-time effort. It's just one part of an ongoing strategic planning process that can help your firm reach its full potential.
The planning document
The structure of the business plan document reflects the logical sequence of issues that need to be considered. It starts with a very broad-brush description of the company, gradually becomes more specific, and ends with detailed projections of financial activity. The exact details of the document vary somewhat from industry to industry. For creative firms, the outline usually looks like this:
- Executive summary
- Values statement
- Vision statement
- Mission statement
- Description of services
- Business environment and market trends
- Client profile
- Evaluation of your competition
- Sustainable advantage
- Marketing plan
- Operations plan
- Human resources plan
- Technology and physical facilities plan
- Financial plan for the next three years
Small business resources
As you work on your plan, you may find it useful to check out the information on the following sites:
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
This is a membership organization that provides free online resources for entrepreneurs, including small business toolkits and advice on business planning for startups.
- U.S. Small Business Administration
The SBA is a government organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs. It has offices in every state. Its Web site has free online courses and articles about preparing and implementing a business plan.
- Service Corps of Retired Executives
SCORE is a nonprofit association with local offices across the country. It's a resource partner with the SBA, providing workshops, seminars, and online advice for both startups and established businesses. Their site has free business plan templates that can be downloaded in Word or PDF format, plus Excel spreadsheets for financial projections.
- Nolo Press
Nolo is a publishing company that specializes in legal and business information. They sell do-it-yourself books, forms, and software. Their site has lots of free advice for entrepreneurs.
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