Me — “Wait, how much is it?!’

Sarah — “It costs what it costs. You can’t put a price on memories.”.

Me — “Well, it sure sounds like Disney is putting a price on it. And it’s not a “Small World” price either.”

We had been to Disney World twice and now we were headed for the big time; a Disney Cruise.

A Disney Cruise is just what it sounds like, but even more expensive.

And they do it up right. No detail is too small and no show is too big. All of the Disney characters are on board and the staff are wearing Stepford wife perma-grins.

I liked the idea of a cruise, because there is no planning involved.

The itinerary is all taken care of and you just show up when and where they tell you.

But that’s not the case if you are Sarah Alexander.

She is the queen of planning.

Before we boarded the massive Disney Fantasy cruise ship, she had thought out every minute of every day, including what excursions we would take, what times and where we would eat, and unfortunately, what costumes we would wear each night. I was Grumpy the night we went as Snow White and Seven Dwarves.

She even had an Excel spreadsheet that was color coded and filled with formulas.

This was her happy place.

It later dawned on me that Sarah had done more planning for a cruise, which in theory needs no planning, than most of the startup wannapreneurs have for their new business.

By the way, do you think Disney became Disney without proper planning?

Yes, she probably over planned, however, this really means many of you aren’t planning at all.

Thinking non-stop on an endless loop in your mind about quitting your job and being your own boss doesn’t count as planning. That’s daydreaming.

Create a realistic plan and don’t overthink it

You just need a goal to begin with and preferably a measurable goal, like revenue.

Once you have that, you reverse engineer (fancy term for working backwards from the goal) your plan to meet the goal.

Think of your plan like you are building a house.

You wouldn’t just rush off to Home Depot and buy a bunch of lumber and concrete and get started with no plan, would you?

Oh, sure you could do that and get very “busy” with your build.

You could work non-stop, hustle, grind, blah, blah, blah, and feel very productive.

But after a few weeks you would probably just have a treehouse and be very discouraged.

In reality, you would find a home design and builder that made sense for you.

Then you would make sure you had the money in place to make it happen. Next would be land, utilities, milestones, and a timeline.

That just seems like common sense when it comes to building a home.

Yet I see people use the no-plan process all of the time.

I also have many clients over the years go to the other end of the spectrum as well.

Don’t wait on the perfect plan to start

“I can’t start until I have my business plan.”

The business plan has been the ultimate excuse in not starting a business for many people.

● You don’t need 50 pages of charts and graphs.

● You don’t need business planning software. By the way, bankers can spot those a mile away and they’re not fond of them.

● You really don’t need to hire a writer to create the perfect business plan. It’s your freaking plan.

What does a plan look like?

If you Google business plan you will get about 3,880,000,000 results in just 0.65 seconds. Yes, I Googled that:).

It’s absolutely overwhelming.

Below is an outline I have used for well over a decade now.

To me, everything falls into the following categories:

● Marketing

● Management

● Financial

Marketing — To me this is the most important section. If you’ve ever taken basic sales training the first thing you will learn is that nothing happens until something is sold.

● Product and service offerings — Narrow down to two or three.

● Target customers — Who would be your ideal customers?

● Customer buying and selection criteria — Why do they buy and what is their pain point you are solving?

● Competition — How are you different from the competition?

● Marketing strategy — There are 40 jillion (a real number I made up) ways to market your business. What are the top two or three ways you will get your very specific message to your very specific target market?

Management — Who will do what in your business?

● Key activities — What needs to be done daily, weekly, and monthly? How long does it take, who will do it, and where does the activity fall in terms of priority?

● Outside advisors — Your accountant, attorney, banker, candlestick maker, and insurance broker. Candlestick maker is optional.

● Goals and measurement methods — Have two or three goals and how you will measure your progress toward them.

Financial — You got money?

● Startup budget — How much money will this business cost to start and how much working capital will you need to survive while it grows?

● Monthly cash flow projection — This is where most wannapreneurs quit. Why? It’s hard. But, it’s very eye opening for you too. How many sales do you think you will make each month (basing this off of the Marketing section) and how much will you spend each month to run the business; that’s it.

When you need a professional business plan

You only need a professional business plan when you are applying for a business loan with a bank.

Even then, professional is a relative term. They just want to see that you have thought this through and you have a realistic view of how your business will do. And a business plan by itself will not get a loan. It just opens the door for a chat and your personal financial situation is what secures a loan.

And when you write a business plan for a lender, you will want to include an Executive Summary, which is a tow or three paragraph cover that pulls the highlights of your plan into a one-page introduction. Consider it like your movie trailer that motivates the lender to read the rest of your business plan.

I know this sounds so cheesy, but it’s true.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Ugh,

By the way, the cruise was a huge success!

Sarah’s plan was almost flawless and she has the 40 jillion pictures to prove it.

Charles Alexander is the director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at Vol State.

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