If “stop working for the man” tops your list of New Year’s resolutions, or if being your own boss has been your dream for years but just seems to move further and further away, let’s make this your year to put that dream within reach.
Entrepreneurism is like any other journey, no matter how good your map is, the longer the trip the more detours you’re likely to encounter. You can’t really know what’s around the next bend, you’re keeping your foot on the accelerator in faith that there’s a road, or at least a navigable dirt track, and no bridges out. You start the journey by driving the road you can see, and you continue the journey on a path you could only imagine when you started, but which materializes in front of you as you progress. Uncertainty isn’t always a bad thing.
For all the entrepreneurs I’ve coached, no two plans are exactly alike. It depends on your starting place, how much of the work you’ve already done, your desired destination, the kind of business you want to have, and the lifestyle you want that business to support. So this 52 week plan is a list of nearly universal needs for you to focus on, decide on, and implement to get your enterprise off to a running start.
You can rearrange, edit, expand and generally customize this plan to fit the needs of your particular business. Maybe you can even check a few things off that you’ve already done or double up on the work since this is designed for someone still managing a full time job and a life. But I encourage you not to ignore any of the points on this list – they’re all there for a reason.
One thing you need to remember; even the most accurate GPS system isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t know where you are and where you want to end up. Any time you start feeling lost it’s your cue to take stock of where you are, and reconnect with where you want to go. Then get back to focusing on the next leg of the journey before you get discouraged by the distance between point A and point B.
Bookmark this page so you can reference it often. Now, ready, set, go!
Week 1: Ask Yourself Why
Any business that doesn’t do more for you than making money is just another job. And when you work for yourself you have at least two jobs; owner/manager and employee. That’s a lot of work if your only “why” is just to be your own boss. Journeys like this take a lot of fuel, and if you want to have the energy to keep going when the road gets bumpy, you’ll want to have a clear idea of what it takes to fire you up. Spending your first week connecting to your personal why may seem like spinning your wheels, but not doing it is like taking off on a safari without checking the fuel gauge.
Week 2: Mission Statement
Sure, it might change as your business plan develops. But it won’t have anything to evolve from if you don’t draft one now. Think of your mission statement as your guiding principle, the compass you turn to when you have to make a difficult decision.
Week 3: Audit of Personal Resources
No, not your finances, not yet. This is an audit of what YOU bring to your business. Experience, expertise, past successes, talents, and abilities. Pitch yourself as if you had to hire you. Explore your understanding of yourself. You’ve probably taken affective assessments like the Myers-Briggs or DISC, take a look at the reports if you have them. Take an aptitude test, even if you don’t agree with the results it will spark some ideas about what you ARE good at. One assessment I think is invaluable to entrepreneurs is the Kolbe A. You can take it online and listen to the recorded explanation of how you most naturally and instinctively solve problems.
Week 4: Set Your BAM
That’s your Bare Ass Minimum. What you absolutely have to be able to take out of your business, or have in cash reserve, for living expenses. Keep in mind that you’ll be looking at after-tax dollars, but your earning goal has to be calculated as pre-tax. This can be an intense exercise since this is when you start asking what you can do without if you have to. This isn’t what you want to earn, it’s what you have to have in order to stay in business.
Week 5: Audit Your Financial Resources
Include everything you own, whether you’d be willing to risk it for the business or not. Add to the list your borrowing ability, credit worthiness should you need to finance your enterprise, as well as assets like life insurance plans you can borrow against.
Week 6: Permission Audit
It’s unlikely that everyone you talk to about your business idea is going to be gung-ho about seeing you become an entrepreneur. Often the people who love us most are the least encouraging because they’re afraid for us. So make a list of everyone you will talk to about your business before it launches. Decide in advance the level of influence they have over your decisions. Do they have veto power? A life partner very well might. Do they have expert influence? Some people are well worth listening to because they can see things we miss. Are you going to smile and nod and let their words slide off like soft serve ice cream on a very hot day? Decide that now, it will be easier later.
Week 7: Start Having the Tough Conversations
You’ve laid enough groundwork to begin having conversations with people who will (or won’t) support you. You’ve probably talked with your life partner, but sit down for a full disclosure and formal request for buy in. Talk to parents, kids, friends, anyone who will find out sooner or later and be mad that you didn’t tell them yourself. Resolve to be OK if they try to stick pins in your balloon. You’ve done the work to prepare for that.
Week 8: Establish Non-negotiables
Without boundaries a business can easily eat up your life. What boundaries do you need to set? Some of these probably came up in those tough conversations, like not missing out on family events or not traveling more than two nights a week.
Week 9: Establish Risk Guidelines
These are a subcategory of non-negotiables and will also come up during those conversations. Decide now what financial resources you’re willing to leverage and what assets will remain sacred and separate from the business.
Week 10: Time Audit
You’ve passed the first mile marker, now things are going to get time intensive. Decide how much time each week you’re willing to devote to getting your business off the ground. Mark that time on your calendar. Protect it with your heart and soul. (No business is worth your life, really.)
Week 11: Personal Success Map
Look at you, while you may not feel like you’re doing anything to build a business, the truth is that the work you’ve done is what so many entrepreneurs fail to do and will only invest in after they realize what not doing it is costing them. You’ve prepared for the journey, let’s do one more checklist before we load up the car. A success map is simply a recorded review of what you want, in your business and your life. I strongly suggest you start a journal, or vision board, or whatever keeps you pumped, helps you stay on course, and lets you celebrate milestones as you hit them.
Week 12: Outline a Business Plan
You’ll find all sorts of resources online. But if you won’t have partners in your business and you won’t need bank financing or insurance, keep it really simple. Really, really simple. (The next few week’s assignments will help you complete sections of the business plan, for this week just create the outline so you’ll know what information you need.)
Week 13: Know What Problems You Solve
A business is, at the highest level, nothing more than one or more people providing something of value for which one or more other people are willing to exchange some type of compensation. It’s not enough, however, to know what your “something of value” is. You have to know why it’s valuable. What problem will it solve and what is it worth to people to have that problem solved?
Week 14: Know Who You Serve
One of the most essential pieces of a business plan is a crystal clear, narrowly defined, highly detailed description of your target market. I like to call it a “bullseye” market. If you know what problems your product or service will solve there’s a shortcut to figuring this out. I wrote about that shortcut to finding your niche in Entrepreneur.
Week 15: Evaluate the Competition
In a very real sense, each of us are unique and have no competition. But there are others providing something that solves the same or a similar problem. Read their literature, evaluate their promises, ask how you can position yourself differently, solve the problem more effectively, or serve a different bullseye market.
Week 16: Estimate Startup Costs and Required Working Capital
Some entrepreneurial businesses, like coaching, consulting, or other professional services, have very little startup costs. Retail, restaurant, and manufacturing are at the other end of the spectrum. If your income is your sole support you’ll also need to factor in paying yourself until you have clients or customers. This is where knowing your BAM is key to not having a blow out before you’ve hit the midway point in the journey.
Week 17: Build a Pro-forma/Projection Spreadsheet
This step will force you to do a lot of research and make a lot of assumptions. But the key is that you will have an idea of what you can reasonably expect your financial picture to look like. You’ll need to project anticipated income for each service or product you plan to offer, as well as expected overhead. Which means that this is the point at which you establish fees and analyze how many hours you (and your employees if you will have them) are going to have to work to produce the required income.
Week 18: Test Feasibility
You know your BAM, but that isn’t your goal. Carefully evaluate every aspect of your pro-forma and ask if the potential it represents supports your personal success map. Will it require more hours than you’re willing to give? Will it provide the income for the lifestyle you want to live? Is there any area of your life plan or your business plan that needs to be addressed?
Week 19: Test Scalability
The long-term growth potential in any enterprise is its ability to continue to be relevant (solving problems) and its ability to scale. How will your business serve more people? By providing additional services, product development, adding providers? Without a plan for scalability you’ve built your own glass ceiling.
Week 20: Go on a Retreat
That’s right. There’s an old saying among us coaches and consultants that “you cannot see the picture when you’re in the frame.” By now you’re pretty well in the frame. So take a week to retreat and look at your business the way a consultant would – from a distance. Ask yourself the difficult questions a coach would ask – without assuming you know the answers. You’ll probably see some tweaks or even areas where you need to overhaul your travel plans.
Week 21: List of Connections
You know people. And they know people. And business, as I mentioned earlier, is really just people. So pull together a list of people you know well enough to talk to. You’ll see why in the weeks ahead.
Week 22: List of Experts Needed
Every business needs different professional support. A couple of basics are financial and legal experts. But you may also need marketing and branding expertise, web and graphic designers, product designers, interior designers, architects, real estate agents, or grant writers. If this is your first business a coach/consultant can shorten the learning curve. If you’ve been in business before, a coach/consultant can save you from repeating some patterns you didn’t know were costing you the last time around. But be sure you believe in yourself first, otherwise coaching is wasted time and money.
Week 23: Market Research
You may hire professional help, or you may leverage the power of the internet, but at the very least knowing where your ideal clientele is hanging out is key to being able to reach them. What social media platforms are they on? What blogs or websites do they visit? What do they spend their money on? What problems do they have? Where do they go to solve them?
Week 24: Brand Strategy
For most of us this won’t be a week’s work, it will be an ongoing project for the lifetime of the business. But for this week focus on the identity of your business, what will you need to represent to attract that bullseye market? Usually an assessment of personal brand is the first step in defining company brand. Getting clear in your mind what you want for your brand will help you prepare to work with a professional if you plan to hire one.
Week 25: Key Message and Value Proposition
This may go through several versions before you launch, but you’re about to start talking to people about your vision. So put it into words that will attract the right kind of people.
Week 26: List Ideal Referral/Launch Partners
Whohoo, you’re halfway there. The six month countdown. So find some people who will commit to being there when it happens. These are other people and businesses who will actively promote your business during launch phase. Maybe they’ll put up flyers, post on social media, blast to their newsletter subscribers, or even throw you a party.
Week 27: Business Entity
Unless you’re planning on functioning as a sole partnership you’ll need to decide on a type of business entity and research any business licensing requirements.
Week 28: Marketing Plan
This is another big project that you will start in this week and work on for the rest of your business life. But you know enough about your business to outline this now. You’ll be filling in pieces in the weeks to come.
Week 29: Launch Plan
This is the part of the marketing plan that is specific to the weeks leading up to your launch.
Week 30: Website Design
Another big project. Hire someone, or if you’re a Word Press whiz do it yourself. But in this week you’ll put together the project plan and timeline for your website.
Week 31: Write the “About Us” Copy
No matter what you call the page, your website will have a page that describes you and your business. If you’ve done the groundwork in earlier weeks you probably have this pretty well drafted.
Week 32: Write the Description of Products/Services
This is for your website, and again, if you’ve done the earlier exercises you’re halfway there, but it’s also your opportunity to clarify your value proposition.
Week 33: Design Your Content Strategy
Will your website have a blog? Will you write for other publications? What about video? You don’t need to do all of it at once, but now is the time to figure out what will be most effective in the first phase of your business.
Week 34: List of Ideal Referral Sources
Marketing is great, and your marketing plan might even include some advertising. But nothing is as golden as a referral. These don’t have to be people who buy from you, they might be people who know you, like you, and trust you and who know people who will buy from you. Think about other professionals who already sell to your ideal clientele, or whose family might include your ideal clientele. List them by name, or just by demographic.
Week 35: Dive Into Social Media
At this point you’ve done the research to know where your target market is hanging out, and you should know what they like to talk about, what problems they have, and where they go for solutions. You also know your message and your brand so you have something to say. Pick one social media platform and build your engagement there.
Week 36: Location
If your business is location-specific, retail or manufacturing for instance, you’re probably already on this. But even if you’ll just need a place where you can make a quiet phone call, or where you can meet with clients, you need to make sure that place has everything you need.
Week 37: List of Necessary Vendors
Now is the time to start doing a little research or looking for referrals for any purchases you need to make, whether it’s a one-time investment or an on-going order.
Week 38: Review Website
You’ve probably been reviewing all along. But just in case that project plan took a few detours, set this week aside to nit-pick and tweak. If you’re planning on integrating an email signup, especially if you’re going to offer a gift with subscription, now is also the week to decide what that will be and start designing it.
Week 39: Social Media Ramp Up
You’ve been active, now it’s time to add one or two additional networks. Increase your activity and fine-tune your strategy.
Week 40: Start Blogging
If your site will have a blog you want to build up some content before you launch. You’ve got 12 weeks to go, try to get at least six articles posted. You’ll want to ramp up to one article a week after you launch.
Week 41: Time for Another Retreat
Yes, seriously. This is about the time most people get their head stuck in the sand again. Take this week to hang out in the oasis, reconnect to your vision, evaluate your progress, course correct if necessary.
Week 42: Networking “Stay in Touch” System
Once you start going out and meeting people, which is next in the plan, you’ll want a system to help you stay connected. An online contact management system that syncs with your contact list is ideal. But keep it personal too, have a system for dropping them a line or better yet, mailing a card, if it’s someone you want to get to know. One of the best books ever written on this is Endless Referrals, by Bob Burg. Get it, read it, do it. There’s a reason it’s in its third edition.
Week 43: Join Up
Time to find your tribe in the local scene. If you’ve been leveraging social media ask those connections about good places to meet good people. Local networking groups are great, but so are special interest meet ups if the special interest is something most of your ideal clients would have in common. Also consider industry organizations and associations.
Week 44: Hiring
If you need a large workforce you’re probably already on this one. But if not, now’s the time to set up your procedure for attracting, interviewing, hiring, training, and compensating in-house or out-source help.
Week 45: Set Up Record Keeping System
Whether it’s a complex accounting chart of accounts set up by your accountant, or a simple bank register and reconciliation process, you need to get it in place and get familiar with it.
Week 46: Check Documentation
This is your week for dotting I’s and crossing T’s. Is everything in order? Do you have written checklists or project plans for everything still to do? What about employee manuals and training documentation? Licenses, insurance, certifications in order? If you’ll need any kind of client agreements, proposal boilerplates, contracts or other forms, this is your week to get them together.
Week 47: About that Job
If your boss doesn’t already know about your plans you’re going to have to break the news soon. Set a time to have that conversation and a date for your going away party.
Week 48: Evaluate Support Structure
You may already have a board of directors or mastermind in place, or you may have been relying on hired experts up to this point. But this is a good week to think about who you want to surround yourself with and be able to call upon on an ongoing basis.
Week 49: Review Launch Plan
You’re nearing launch. Set this week aside to double-check all the details of launch, connect with your launch partners, and do test runs of any technology or systems you’re depending on for a smooth launch.
Week 50: Promote and Promote Some More
Two weeks from your official launch, you’re in the home stretch.
Week 51: Breathe
Of course you’re still checking details, you’re still promoting, you’re still pedal to the metal headed for home. But don’t forget to breathe and celebrate the work you’ve done so far!
Week 52: LAUNCH!
You did it! Pop a cork, lift a glass, and shout out a toast to a successful year past, and a more successful year to come!
Photo: Flickr/Dafne Cholet