Going Freelance: Business Planning
What I’ve been Doing this Month
Writing a Business Plan
This month, I've been taking all of my ideas and thoughts and putting them into my business plan. I had been told by many people that a business plan would take between 3 - 4 weeks and when I heard that, I thought nah, I can do it in a few days. Let me tell you, you can't!
Before beginning, I also thought I had everything planned in my head just to get started successfully but I actually found writing the plan very revealing and if anything, it made me more concerned about becoming self employed than before I started writing it.
I'd recommend writing a business plan to anyone wanting to start their own business, no matter how small your company will be.
In some sections of the plan, I felt like I was writing just for the sake of writing. When I did a competitor analysis, I sort of just wrote what I felt the section needed, but really -- as a freelance web designer wanting to aim toward Internet based clients -- there's about 1 million competitors in that sector so it was difficult and will probably prove to be the least relevant part of the plan as my company grows.
The process was very revealing, it made me think about a lot of things I hadn't even considered and I feel my ideas of how best to operate the company are set in stone now. It was however, a boring and slow process that could have been made a little easier if I had of planned it out a little more first -- yep, planning out a plan.
So if you're at the stage of having to write a business plan, here's my tips on how you should go about it:
Plan your Business Plan
A business plan is a big document. I thought I'd knock it out in a few days but after some hair pulling moments, I decided that wasn't going to happen and broke the plan down into each section (instead of just breaking down), then gave each section a time period for me to complete it in. If you've got the time to do it, then spread it out over a month, if your focused, it may not take that long but it's a hefty document that will take some serious concentration so my tip is just to work on it a few hours a day then forget about it until the next day.
Don't Use a Template
I managed to find a business plan from a web design firm set up in 1999 that I used as a template. Having got half way through though, I regretted using it. It was written for a big firm, whereas my company is simply me, a sole trader. A lot of its content was heavy business jargon, things that really weren't relevant to me. Because a business template is a big document and I hadn't read one before, it was difficult to say what should and shouldn't be included, so I struggled to fill certain parts in before deciding they were irrelevant and eventually cut the template right down to suit me more.
Start at the End First
Luckily, I read this tip on the Business Link website before I started and it saved me some time. At the front of your plan, generally, you'll be writing about research and calculations you've carried out -- you'll be writing about things you can't really know until you've done them. So, rather than start at the beginning and reference what you can only guess the end will detail, just start at the end and work your way back.
Don't be Put Off
The most annoying thing about writing a business plan is, it's not all writing and it's not something you'll finish in a day. Quite often I'd realise it was 5pm, look back on how much I had written and see only a few paragraphs staring back at me then spend the rest of the night upset with myself. The reason it takes several weeks to do is because a lot of the time you will simply be thinking about your ideas/plans/choices. Remember to include thinking time in your time scale for writing the plan.
So those are my tips for writing a business plan. You may also like to take a look at these resources I made use of:
- Prepare a Business Plan
- Business Plan Basics for Freelance Graphic Designers
- Business Plan Template (the one I used, if you really want to go that route)
I'm continuing with my quest to ever improve my exposure. As far as numbers go, things are on the up and increasing every week. In the last week of October, my blog received over 200 unique visits. It's nothing to shout about just yet but as long as things continue to increase that's good by me. I'm in the Gary Vaynerchuk school of thought: Having one person read your content is truly a special thing.
This month I've actually had some really cool interactions with high profile people and magazines. Gary Vaynerchuk "liked" one of my posts over on Forrst, it was the post that got included in Smashing Magazine's monthly calendar wallpaper series. I also got an email from Web Designer Magazine to say one of my comments about Microsoft will be included in their next issue, they requested a picture of me to print next to it! I also received a tweet from @andipeters -- whom I watched everyday on TV when I was a kid.
Aside from Smashing Magazine, none of those interactions will probably have an impact on my business but clearly, the exposure is working and the fact that I have interacted with people like Gary Vaynerchuk and Andi Peters -- even after ten years of being online, the possibilities still blow my mind.
I was really pleased to be included on Smashing Magazine, although, as yet, I don't think it's paid off. The wallpaper took me almost 4 days to make! Well, that included writing the tutorial for it as well, but the day Smashing Magazine published the post, I only got 5 referrals from their site. I was disappointed, but of those 5 people, 2 read the tutorial and commented on it, which from a refferal to comment point of view, is quite a conversion in my opinion. I've also had a few emails from people saying they really liked the wallpaper and my previous work. So as disappointed as I was about the figures, it was the most effective thing I've done so far. The people it made an impression really took the effort to let me know they liked it.
Toward the end of the month I set up accounts on Behance and CarbonMade. I'll be posting my latest work on both of these, I think it will be another useful way to increase the exposure of my work. As my website is little known at the moment, I think the best way to get noticed is by moving my work onto platforms that have a big amount of users, then if the user is interested on that platform, they will hopefully click through to my site to see me. The further I can spread across platforms like this, the more people will see me and the more people will realise I'm taking this seriously.
The next big step I want to take hopefully in the first few months of my company trading, will be to write an article for a big website such as Smashing Magazine. I think that will truly boost my credibility and get me known as an emerging authoritative figure in web design.
I was hoping this month I'd be able to publish the exact date I'd start officially trading as a self employed web designer but unfortunately, getting funding is taking a little longer than expected. I now have a meeting planned for the 15th of November in which I'll discuss funding and see if my business plan is really up to scratch! There should be another meeting the week after at which point I hope to be given the green light, so, when I'm writing the next diary entry, I should be doing so as a full time, self employed web designer!
I will be getting self employment credits from the Job Centre, which is £50 a week for 16 weeks. It'll make the first 4 months of trading a little more stress free.
I also spoke to the Princes Trust regarding funding, they offered up to £2000 along with a weeks intensive course regarding the setting up of a new business. They also provide a personal business mentor. This was an option I was definitely considering but having been to a few Business Link workshops and started on my business plan already, I felt I was a little too far down the line to take what they were offering. They said they were fully booked up until January too, so if I was to attend, I'd be doing so as somebody who had already started trading.
It is possible to receive both self employment credits from the Job Centre and funding from the Princes Trust but as I'm already itching to get started and feel my projected cash flow is sufficient enough to get me by without the further investment, I decided not to go with the Princes Trust. Definetly worth a look if you're in a similar situation to me though.
Starting up as a self employed web designer is nerve racking, but seeing as it's something I've been studying or commercially doing for ten years, it's not that bad. The fact that I'm going to be responsible for a companies accounting is though!
In my Business Link workshops, both advisors recommended getting an accountant because what they charge, they can probably save you on tax anyway.
I was all for doing this but having researched during writing my business plan, I'm not so sure I want to go ahead and get one now. For starters, I think as a sole trading web designer, money doesn't really move too fast anyway. There's hardly any expenditure; hosting, domain renewal, a few subscriptions and the occasional peripheral and then the only income is the money you get paid, right? Can it be that hard to keep track of? I'm a very organised person so I think I can do it.
I spoke to a few accountants, none of which, impressed me. I felt like the services they were offering were tailored to make their lives easier, not mine. Also, one of my mottos in life is that you can't put a price on knowledge. An accountant can probably save me what they cost but I'd like to learn how to do that myself. One of the key reasons for going self employed was to have control over my own future and I'd like that to extend across to my finances as well.
Feelings Toward the Month
I'm soooo glad to have finished my business plan. I've sent it off to my business advisor at Business Link, so they will probably come back with a few ideas but it shouldn't be anything drastic. That means I can go back to concentrating on web related stuff and really start pushing my exposure.
I don't regret creating the wallpaper for smashing magazine, but it did take me four days (no thanks to computer issues) so the fact it didn't do as well as I was hoping is a little hard to swallow. It won't stop me from submitting more wallpapers in the future but I'll definitely attempt something that will be less time consuming next time.
What I've Learnt
Plan your business plan Build a skeleton structure for your plan, then give each section a time frame for you to complete it in. By all means, read up on writing a business plan as much as possible, but don't use a template.
Every response is special "The day you see that one person is reading or watching or listening to you is a day to celebrate. It's an amazing thing to know someone gives a crap about what's going on in your world, your life, your brain. Don't take people for granted. The word-of-mouth power in one interested person has unbelievable reach." - Gary Vaynerchuk, Crush It
Plans for the Following Month
- Redesign my website
- Design business cards
- Create business templates such as contract/invoices etc
- Start Trading! *gulp*
You get Your Say too!
Remember, you get your say too! Whilst my diary is purely about what I’ve been doing to become a successful freelance web consultant, I’d like to hear your experiences too. Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation to myself but took a slightly different path or made a different decision. Let me know! I’d also like to hear your comments and questions that I may feature in future entries too.