I think I missed something important in my previous post on plans: If you want to build a balance, you can’t plan your business and life separately.
A balanced business is an integral part of your life, not something extra.
That’s why today, I decided to go a bit deeper and present to you my once-every-day business and life planning process.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a professional business plan advisor (is that even a profession?), and this is nothing more than the process I use for maintaining my own business plan. So, take from it what you find useful, use it abs a building block for your own model, and comment on it so I can further improve my approach.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move forward.
There are a few key principles that define how I see my business plan:
- A balanced life contains a good career, and a rewarding career contains a rewarding life
- Your life is personal, and so is your career, or business. It has to match your values, dreams and goals. No one else can pick those for you.
- By trying things and documenting what you do, you learn new and better ways to define what your personal career should look like.
- By planning, you get yourself moving and trying things.
- …and soon you’re planning again
I’m not a big fan of long and thorough business plans, because I see them more as planning than action.
I want my business plan to be alive.
To be something I come back to daily to see how my understanding on life has evolved, and how well my business is reflecting those ideas.
This is the first time I present my model in public, so bear with me (and really, I’m all ears for comments and improvement ideas).
The plan is actually a collection of goals, an evaluation of where I am today and a description of my current understanding of how to reach my goals. I usually don’t have all of it written on paper because the plan lives in my head, growing and shrinking, until every now and then, I spend some time plotting it on paper. Quite a few separate, small pieces of paper, in my case.
Like I said in an earlier post in this series, I am a dreamer.
I love to dream big (“I would love to be able to provide an amazing working environment for a few people”).
I love to dream small (“Aww… That MacBook would be such a great thing to have”).
I love to dream about work (“It would be so great to write a book”).
I love to dream about life (“I want to go to Japan”).
And in many cases the work and life dreams are the same (my biggest dream is that I would be able to work from anywhere I want to).
I collect a list of dreams (big, small, important, not so important) on which I write everything that comes to mind. From that list I can then easily identify the most important, or most urgent ones to work on as well as some easy ones that I can reach rather quickly.
My current number one dream is to be free from location and work from anywhere I choose to (which in my case means more or less the same thing as working from home). And the small, practical one that keeps me motivated is the new MacBook hiding just behind the corner.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are your dreams?
- How have they evolved since the last time you looked at your plan?
- Is there something that doesn’t seem to go away? (If so, that’s a good candidate to your big, guiding dream)
Write down your answers so that the next time you are unsure of why you are doing the things you do, you can come back to your list of dreams and see the reasoning.
2. Making a difference
I want my life to have meaning.
I don’t care about death that much, but before I die, I want to be able to say that I tried to do the things I was meant to do.
It’s no secret that I’m Christian. I believe that God has a plan for me, and that’s why I want to spend time looking for clues, for finding out that plan. (One of my big business heroes, Phil Vischer, has written a few good blog posts on this topic)
But even if you don’t share my faith, I’m sure you believe in something. Peace? Eradicating poverty? Stopping global warming? Globalization?
And no matter what it is you believe in, if you don’t include that as a part of your life and business plan, you are not being honest to yourself. I believe in all of the things above, and many more (I told you I’m insanely interested in everything, didn’t I?), so it’s getting complicated to find a room for everything I believe in.
But I’m trying.
The questions to ask yourself about making a difference:
- What do you believe in?
- What is it that you would want to change in this world?
- What happens if you combine these ideas with your dreams (from step 1)
Again, write down your answers. Play with them a bit, mixing them with the answers from the first step to see if you find some nice combinations. For example, a dream of traveling to Africa combined with a belief in eradicating poverty could lead to some interesting times spent helping out African entrepreneurs.
3. Neat ideas
And when I read, I come across exciting ideas (for example, outsourcing my life, as Tim Ferris suggests) to try out. Sometimes when I read about an idea, I can put it to practice right away (like adding the CommentLuv plug-in to my blog), but more often, they are something I have to write down and save for the future.
When I say, save for the future, I don’t mean writing down the idea and then forgetting all about it (although sometimes that happens as well). You need to remind yourself of the ideas you find cool, over and over again.
Go through the list and see if you now could benefit from one of them. For example, in the case of outsourcing, go through your current projects and activities and ask yourself “what would happen if I outsourced this task?” If the answer is positive (“I would get more time to find new opportunities”), go for it!
And if you decide not to follow the idea, take a closer look at it and decide whether you still want to keep the idea on your “neat ideas” list or not. Maybe the idea doesn’t seem that neat to you anymore?
So, the questions, as a reminder:
- How could I use this idea to improve my current work?
- Do I still think this is a great idea?
Keep the idea list close (I suggest you start carrying a notebook with you) because you’ll never know when you will find something new to add to it.
4. Where will I be in a year from today?
By now you have a list of ideas, a list of values, and a list of ideas. If you have been super efficient, you have already sorted them by importance. But if you haven’t, that’s OK as well – I guess inside your head you have a pretty good idea of what is important and what is just nice to have extra.
This is one of my favorite moments in my business planning process. It’s the moment when you come closer to earth and start thinking about the possibilities, but still keep your feet just a bit above the ground, not getting down to your current situation but looking at the future:
- Which ones of your dreams do you think you could achieve in a year from today?
- Or if you can’t achieve them completely, maybe a partial goal? (If your dream is to be free from the office, maybe a nice partial goal would be to work part time?)
- What can you do in a year to further the causes you believe in?
- Which of your neat ideas can you use to get there?
This is a question about priorities and choosing a few most important goals to aim for. Be realistic and remember your current commitments (if you work for 8 hours a day, you can’t do as much as if you would be working full time according to this plan), but don’t be afraid to dream big (even if you just work one hour every day, it’s still 365 hours, which is about 45 working days, 9 full working weeks).
5. Next actions
And finally the part that makes this plan worthwhile.
A business plan is about action. It’s about movement. And life.
Take all the material from the four sections above and think. What do you need to do to reach your goals for this year? Do you know how to do it? Does it make sense financially? Do you believe in the necessary actions?
I don’t have the answers to all of the questions. I answer the ones I can, as well as I can. And in most cases that’s enough to keep me moving. I’ll get more answers as I go.
Right now, my action plan consists of the following items:
- Writing articles to Finnish magazines (brings in most of the money, and helps improve my writing skills)
- Freelance blogging (brings in some money, helps improve my writing skills, and most importantly, helps me make myself known on the Internet)
- Writing articles for this blog (keeps me in touch with all of you, improves my thinking, let’s me test my ideas in form of posts like this one)
- Contributing to SproutWire (helps me share my passion for small business with the rest of the world, helps make a name for myself)
- Writing an eBook / premium service (once done correctly, will bring in money as well as help people in their side business needs)
As you can see, most of the actions have something to do with making money, but many are also about things I believe in strongly, like small business or blogging.
This is it, my business planning process.
Except for one last thing: now that you are done with your business plan, you’re not really done. Come back tomorrow to revise your plan. And the day after tomorrow. The day after that. And so on.
Until the very last day of your life.