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Business plans are broken
The traditional business plan is no longer relevant. Try this, instead.
When you’re starting off as a solopreneur or small business, the first thing everyone tells you to do is create a business plan.
If you’ve looked at a business plan template lately, or done any research on what should be in yours, you’ll know this is true: Business plans haven’t changed much in the past 50 years.
You know what has changed in that same timeframe? Literally everything about the world.
The internet. The availability of free tools. No-code. Social media. Global supply chains. Global banking systems. Recessions that hit everyone, not just one country. Monopolies. Fintech. Covid. Remote work.
All the things that affect your business are so much different than they were 50 years ago. So why would you build the plan for your business on such an outdated idea?
For some things, this is a necessary evil: if you plan to borrow money, lease a commercial space, or have a board or investors, yes, you absolutely should fill in all the little boxes in that business plan template. Make yourself sound as good as you can, to get what you need.
But otherwise? I’ve been doing this a long time, and even I fell into that trap for years before I realized that what I and most of the businesses I work with truly need isn’t a business plan but a sustainable strategy.
A sustainable strategy is incredibly personal to you.
It should include all the things no bank or landlord will ever be interested in - like your dream working schedule and routine, what you actually want to get from this, how it fits into your real life (you know, the one outside of work you keep saying you want to have), and what your goals really are.
It’s probably not something the bank will ever want to see, and I don’t recommend showing it to them. They don’t want to hear about anything except Continual Growth! Scale! Expand! New Markets! (Validly so, in most cases — after all, how you are going to pay them back is their most important question.)
But what if you didn’t need that loan or that space in the first place?
What if you took the time to step back before signing on the dotted line to see what it is you really wanted?
You might realize that whatever you wanted to borrow or build wasn’t actually the right thing for you. You might realize that step would cost you the much more valuable ability to say no to toxic clients or stressful projects, to hold your boundaries around your mental and physical health.
You might, in fact, realize that you were chasing things that not only were going to cost you more money but lock you into the kind of soul-crushing, no-choice-but-to-show-up-to-get-paid job you left your career to get away from.
It is likely that if you take this step back and look at what a sustainable strategy looks like for you, you’ll realize you don’t want any of those things: not continual growth, not new markets, not expansion or scale.
You might even realize that a lot of the things you’re doing now are just holdovers from when you started and you’re doing them on autopilot – like carrying six clients at a time, which makes sense when you’re building up your portfolio and makes no sense at all if you’re trying to build a career where you don’t work all the time.
(Trust me, six clients just means you literally never have a day off, because someone’s something somewhere will always be on fire with that many people to stay responsible to.)
Most of us don’t go into solopreneurship because we want to be CEOs. We go into it because we want some independence and agency in our lives at work.
We go into it because we can’t find work that fits around our lives in the current model. Most of us don’t do this because we want to slave away at something, even if it’s something we love.
We do it because we’re trying to find something that suits us, some modicum of freedom within our existence that makes it bearable to be alive in a world where you have to work in order to live.
More useful than a business plan is to make sure that your solo or small business journey works for you — and results in the things you actually want.
So here’s your invitation.
Whether you’re just starting out, you’re considering some growth or a new project, or you’re waking up wondering what happened to the last ten years you spent doing this, take a minute for yourself.
Set aside an hour of your time, take yourself on a little date somewhere nice, whether you prefer a coffee shop or an outside table or a dive bar, and get back to the basics of why you went into business in the first place.
Create your sustainable strategy…and then review it side by side with your business plan (or the idea of your business you’re carrying around in your head).
You might be surprised to learn what you think you want, what you thought you wanted to show the world, and what you actually want - all from giving yourself the time to spend an hour on this simple exercise.
Want a free template to help plan your sustainable strategy? We’re working on those for every article on the site. Hit reply and tell me what format you want — Google Docs, Notion, something else? — and we’ll let you know when they’re ready to share!