Have you ever had those days (or weeks, or months, or longer) when you feel stuck in your creativity and creative business? You love creating your work, but you don’t know how to promote it? Maybe you don’t even know if you should promote it or try to sell it? A business plan helps you stay focused and moving forward.
A business plan is a guiding force, a reference point, a document of truth that reminds you what exactly you do, how you want to do it, who you’re doing it for, and why. The purpose of a business plan is to get your big ideas, goals, and resources written down and out of your head. It provides clarity; it's a master plan containing mini plans that inform your next steps.
How to Use a Business Plan
It’s a good idea to write or refresh your business plan every year so you know what goals to go after, and which steps you’ll take to get there. Once you have your master plan for the year, you can make another one for the quarter or month or however you choose to operate. Some creators find that keeping a one-page business plan printed and posted in their workspace helps keep them focused; it’s easy to look up and check your goals before committing to a new project, asking yourself “how does this fit my plan?”
You know the old saying, “all roads lead to Rome”? Well, ideally, all your business decisions should tie back to your plan for the year. Of course, you can edit your plan as your business evolves, but a good business plan reminds you of why you’re in business... and it should give you permission to say no to doing work, projects, or tasks that don’t serve you. Your plan will remind you that you’re the boss, you’re in control, and you can totally build your business your way.
Want to make one? Let’s look at some key components to building a business plan that will work best for your creative business and brand.
1. Mission Statement | Define The Why
First things first: a mission statement will be the short phrase that guides your business forward. If your decisions don’t enforce your mission statement, it’s time to rethink your strategies. A mission statement can seem daunting to write, but don’t overthink it; we’re just talking about the who and the what and the why. When you think about the “why” part, think about your personal why (why do you create) and why your audience values your work (why do they want it).
If you’re an independent/solo creator, complete this sentence: I create (thing) for people who (like/need this thing), because I want to (reason).
Example: I create recipes with hidden veggies and cooking videos for people who have picky eaters in their family, because I want to share my love of cooking while helping families eat well.
If you’re part of a group, your statement might look like this: We create (thing) for people who (like/need this thing), because we want to (reason).
Example: We create ghost hunting content (podcast videos, blogs) for people who are obsessed with haunted buildings, because we want to share our love of ghost hunting while entertaining our audience.
Once you have a mission statement written down, you’re ready to make manifest your intentions.
2. Set Goals | Define The What
It’s time to get a little more explicit and put some firm commitments around what you’re going to create, make, and deliver to support your mission statement. Come up with 1-3 BIG goals, and the work you’ll do to move your business forward.
What are you going to create this year — a new album, video series, eBook, webcomic series, podcast, community? Will you go on tour, get an agent, grow your following? Do you want to create one big thing or launch of series of weekly/monthly things? How much money do you want or need to make from your business? How many new fans, patrons, or followers do you want to obtain?
Taking the foodie creator in the first example above, their goal list might look like this:
Land a book deal or self-publish an eBook
Make $6k/month through various income streams
Update kitchen “studio” and buy new recording equipment
Their supporting work might look like this:
Create at least one new recipe a week
Produce at least one cooking video a week
Collaborate and network with cookbook creators, agents, editors
Design dream kitchen and identify potential contractors
Research and select recording equipment desired
Writing down some big goals will help you shape your plans going forward. It will be easier to pick and choose projects when you can see if they support your goals or are distractions.
3. Identify the Team | Define The Who, Part 1
For creators who are part of a group or organization, it’s important to note key roles and responsibilities so decision making is effective and efficient. Even if this has been clearly identified among your group, note it on the plan so there is no question about who is filing your license or who is sending the newsletter emails.
If you’re a solo artist, write down the main roles and responsibilities you see as necessary for your success, so nothing gets lost in the hustle and shuffle: creative, administrative, financial, marketing, community, etc. Next, write down some potential mentors you can ask about topics that aren’t areas of expertise. Know any marketers? Financial planners? Graphic designers? Lawyers? Note the experts you know and any gaps you’ll want to fill this year.
4. Address Your Audience | Define The Who, Part 2
Remember in the missions statement we identified who you’re creating your work and art for? Let’s get a little clearer on who those people really are, what they need and want, and where you can find them.
How would you describe your audience in a few words?
What problem are you solving for them, or what desire are you fulfilling for them?
What do you have in common (why do you understand them or know them so well)?
Where can you find them, or talk to them?
Knowing exactly who you’re talking to will help you know what to say when you connect with them. The foodie creator knows that families with picky eaters are coming to them for homemade recipes and cooking hacks, so they don’t need to worry about also adding restaurant reviews or songlists to their offerings. Remember, a business plan is here to help you focus. The right people will find you if you are authentic and true about who you (and they) are. Want to build out personas? Check this out.
5. The Money Part | Define the How
This can sometimes be where creators get stuck: how are you going to make money from your creative work, and what are you going to charge for it? Write down the revenue streams that appeal, could work, or are working for your creative business. Include your Patreon membership business tiers and benefits, as well as over income generators.
Using the example above, a creator making recipes and cooking videos might plan on the following revenue streams:
Patreon membership business (tiers and benefits)
Cookbook (eBook) sales
Sponsorships (social media influencer, endorsements)
Ads on website/blog or affiliate links
Live events (cooking classes, public speaking)
6. The Marketing Part | Define the Where and When So you know what you’re offering, to whom, and why. You know what you want to earn, and the income streams that will assist that flow. Now you can make some notes about where you’ll spread the word. Where will you connect and communicate with your target audience, and when? Are your folks email subscribers who’ll happily read weekly newsletters? Do people find you through Facebook ads? Do you get more patrons the more you post on social media? List five marketing tactics that are working well for you, or that you want to explore this year and put some time frames around them.
For example, the foodie creator in our example has an audience that is primarily on Instagram and Facebook, so they decide that this year they’ll double down on those channels, as well as develop blog and email content weekly and monthly, respectively.
Patreon Special Offer every quarter
Monthly newsletter to email list (sign-ups from website)
Paid ads promoting Patreon page on Facebook that runs for 2 weeks each month
Weekly blog post on website
Daily social posts on Facebook and Instagram
7. The Hard Part | Define The Waaahhhh Okay, so this isn’t a technical part of most business plans, but when you’re in this optimistic state and you’re listing all of these awesome ideas and resources and initiatives you’re going to tackle this year, you might feel a little fear creep in. That’s natural. You might have some naysayers second-guessing your approach, maybe they’re friends and family, or maybe they’re just voices in your own mind. That’s okay. We encourage you to push past those feelings of doubt and ignore those negative tones and focus, instead, on any questions, concerns, or obstacles you anticipate. This is YOUR business plan. It is allowed and should have YOUR challenges listed. Where is your seed money coming from? How will you produce your podcast? Who will design your website? Where do you file your LLC paperwork? Anything that makes your stomach flip should go here. Scary? Sure. But being a creativity takes courage, and you can get through it.
Once you tackle these seven questions, you’ll have a document that will guide you on to greatness. What to do when it’s complete? Why, take each idea and execute, of course. If you get stuck, just break your task down to the simplest step you can take today towards the success you seek. Send the email. Book the meeting. Write the blog post. Record the demo.
Remember, a goal without a plan is really just a wish, so get your ideas out of your head, and put them into action. We’ll be here to support you and cheer you on the whole way.