Laying It Out On Paper

You might be thinking to yourself, "Why should I waste my time writing a business plan? I know what (web designers, freelance writers, professional organizers) do!" Knowing intellectually what your industry is all about and pinpointing exactly where you want your business to go are two entirely different propositions.

Something happens when you empty vague ideas out of your head and SOLIDIFY them on paper. Suddenly, it seems easier to move forward on projects for your business. Resources appear out of nowhere. You begin meeting people who can help you accomplish your goals. Sound like magic? It isn't. But having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish makes you more aware when you encounter someone or something that can help get you there.

Unfortunately, some people see creating a business plan as an almost insurmountable feat -- they may work on their plan for years, never reaching the end. This is absurd! Putting a business plan together involves nothing more than asking yourself a series of questions about how you will structure your company. Moreover, it's okay if you leave some things out the first time through. As time passes, you will have the opportunity to revise your business plan to reflect your changing focus.

The type of business plan we are developing is merely a short-term roadmap for your entrepreneurial activities -- to help you understand your financial needs, set "production" goals, think through any potential obstacles, and develop your daily business operating procedures.

YOUR COMPANY'S "VITAL STATISTICS"

We will begin with the easy part -- a straightforward description of who and where your company is today. Include your business name, address, phone, the entity (sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation, etc.), and type of business. You also want to describe any clients that you have secured. If you are new in business, you might say, "I don't have any clients yet." But if you have spoken to anyone about this business venture, I'm sure you've heard, "Let me know when you get your business going. I need your help!" So be sure to include those potential clients on your list.

WHO NEEDS YOUR SERVICES?

Let's take a look at why someone would hire you. Your potential clients all face certain problems that will cause them to seek out your assistance -- and you must tailor your services to those needs. So take a minute to imagine some of your "typical" clients. What is causing them problems, and what can you do to help them? And be specific. When I started as a Professional Organizer, a statement like, "My clients are disorganized and need me to organize them," didn't do much to define my client base. But rephrasing it to say, "My clients are overburdened with paper and they need me to help them set up filing systems and learn how to manage incoming paper," brought me one step closer to setting up my business structure.

MARKET OPPORTUNITIES

Every market has a "no-brainer" -- a huge, under-served, or untapped population that is just sitting there waiting to be serviced by you! You just need to figure out who those clients are. If you live in Florida, you might find an overabundance of elderly clients who are downsizing to a retirement community and need help cleaning out -- a great market for Professional Organizers.

Big cities are filled with busy executives who don't have time to stay on top of their daily responsibilities -- perfect for service businesses that "come to you" (grocery delivery, car detailing at your office). And most suburbs are overflowing with overwhelmed homemakers -- they need help maintaining their homes (handyman services), looking after their children (tutors, child care providers), and getting their errands done (concierge services). No one is limiting you to just one population. But finding a "niche" can help build your business quickly and give you a steady client base.

DESCRIBING YOUR MARKET

Now we are ready to focus in on your market -- those clients that you plan to serve. Be very specific about who your clients will be. Don't just say that your market is "everyone who needs their car serviced" or "anyone with hair." Are you limited to a specific geographic area (say, within fifty miles of your office)? Do you plan to work with the elderly, busy executives, single parents, men, women, or kids? Will you offer different kinds of services to different clients (closet organizing for some and paper management for others)? What about different levels of service (consulting versus doing the hands-on work yourself)? Will your business slow down during the summer or pick up at the first of the year?

Try to think through each question thoroughly and pinpoint the demographics of your client population.

WHO IS YOUR COMPETITION?

Before you begin any business venture, it is always a good idea to know your competition. Some fields, like Professional Organizing, are much more collaborative than competitive -- others, such as PR and advertising, are very cut-throat. However, competition in the abstract is still always a concern. If a client has a choice between you and even one other organizer, that's technically competition. You will need to make yourself more attractive to the client than your competitors to win the job. Do some research to find out what other professionals in your area are doing (check with your professional association, look in the Yellow Pages, and scan the classified ads). And don't be afraid to ask others in your field how they do business -- you might be surprised how many people are willing to share.

MAKING YOUR COMPANY STAND OUT IN THE CROWD

This is the hard part -- deciding how you will make your company seem more attractive to clients than the competitors. You are going to have to get inside the mind of your consumer and understand what influences their purchasing decisions. Is it price? Quality of service? The reputation of the organizer? Begin by asking the people around you how they would decide which organizer to hire. Then, you need to determine how you will make your company stand out. Will you offer discounts or "value-added" services? Share testimonials about your work? Create flashy brochures? Decide how you are different from the others and capitalize on that idea.

YOUR PROFITABILITY

Even if you aren't planning on taking out a business loan, you still need to know whether or not your company will be profitable. First, examine how you charge for your services -- is it by the hour? By the job? Based on an up-front estimate? Now look at the number of clients you can reasonably service each week, month, or quarter. Be sure to leave time in there for a personal life -- remember that you can't see clients 24 hours a day (no matter how attractive that big paycheck may seem!) Based on these two figures, what is your projected income for the next year?

Next, take a look at your regular business expenses -- how much do you spend each year on office supplies? Travel? Marketing? If you don't know, that's your first goal for the new year -- to set up an accounting system that will track your expenses and income! How do you expect those expenses to change over the next year? Do you have any big purchases or investments planned?

When you compare your projected income to your projected expenses, how do you come out? Ahead? Breaking even? In the red? Let's think about some ways you could either increase your income -- you could work more hours, raise your rates, expand the services you offer, increase your profit margin on organizing supplies you sell. You can also consider reducing your expenses -- cutting back cell phone minutes, meeting networking contacts for coffee instead of lunch, buying supplies in bulk. Try to come up with a list of at 10 different ways you can improve your profit margin.

ADVERTISING AND PROMOTIONS

The next big question is how you are going to market to your clients -- how you will educate them about the services you provide and the benefits of working with your company. The first step is to think about the big picture -- your marketing strategy. Are you selling your company based on the speed with which you work, your price, or extra services? Then emphasize that as the CENTRAL THEME in all of your marketing efforts. Is your intention to put your name in front of as many people as possible, or a specifically targeted population? Do you want your company to be the most recognized name in the industry or the organizer for the elite? Your marketing strategy should be shaped first by whom you want to reach, and then how you plan to reach them.

When it comes to choosing a marketing vehicle, you have a lot of choices -- direct mail, radio and TV, trade shows, public appearances, word of mouth, special promotions. Which are the best methods for you? Start by talking to other professionals about what works for them. And use your gut instinct -- think about what you can afford, which method will best reach your audience, and what would attract you to a company. Don't feel as though you have to envision 10 years worth of advertising right now -- marketing, like all other parts of running a business, is a constantly developing process.

DAY-TO-DAY OPERATIONS

It's also important for you to give some thought to how you will manage the daily details of your business. Planning ahead for simple things -- how you will stay on top of your accounting, who will manage different administrative duties, what technology you will utilize -- will make running a business easier in the end. Make a list of tools and technologies you plan to employ -- everything from your planner to your accounting program to your cell phone. Also think about the professional help you plan to employ -- advisors like your CPA and attorney, freelance consultants, and even paid employees. Who are these people? What skills or experience do they bring to the table? How will their involvement benefit your business?

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

Finally, we must determine how well your business will fare among the competition. To do this, you must have a clear idea of how you will know you are succeeding. Will you base your success on income, number of clients, level of happiness, or fame? Once you know what success looks like, you need to identify any strengths or weaknesses that will affect your chances of achieving that success. Finally, you must develop a plan for overcoming those weaknesses. That may involve improving your business skills -- or hiring someone else to do work that is outside your realm of expertise. Be as honest as you can when answering these questions -- the more candid you are in developing your business plan, the easier it will be to carry out. Good luck!

Ramona Creel is a Professional Organizer and the founder of OnlineOrganizing.com -- a web-based one-stop shop offering everything that you need to get organized at home or at work. At OnlineOrganizing.com, you may get a referral to an organizer near you, shop for the latest organizing products, get tons of free tips, and even learn how to become a professional organizer or build your existing organizing business. And if you would like to read more articles about organizing your life or building your business, get a free subscription to the "Get Organized" and "Organized For A Living" newsletters. Please visit http://www.OnlineOrganizing.com or contact Ramona directly at [email protected] for more information.

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