Starting a Small Business in Canada – Step 1 – The Business Plan

A small business can benefit from a business plan

I had always been someone that made a plan for everything  in my life.  When my wife Christine and I decided that we would like to venture out into the world of starting a small business – we quickly became overwhelmed with the enormous task in front of us.  There were just so many things to do – and so many vague answers on how to do them.  Every one of these sources of help insisted on the importance of a business plan – naturally, this was right up my alley.

At first, it was difficult to fathom for either of us why writing this document was more important than seizing the day and finding some clients.  After all – isn’t the point of a business to make as much money as you can?  We reluctantly put off our impulse to rush in and started to write our first draft of business plan back in the fall of 2018.  I recently came across this document while backing up some files and it inspired me to write this article, because it took me back in time to what I thought our business was going to be like before we started it.

You can find countless examples of business plans and suggestions on how to write them on the Internet, and I am probably more qualified to fix your sink than to adequately recommend one over another.  However after reading over my first attempt at a business plan, and subsequently re-writing it – I certainly have some thoughts on a way to make the process a bit less like a visit to the dentist. 

Our first attempt at a business plan was highly idealized and loosely based within reality, this was largely because the many implications of starting up our venture hadn’t yet fully sunken.  Fast forward to March of 2020 when we were finally ready to swing our doors open and begin taking clients, the form of our business was no longer represented by this original plan.  I remember pouring hours into researching competitors, contemplating marketing strategies, and endlessly thinking about pricing.  At the end of all of our efforts we had a plan, just like the Internet told us to do – and – an absolute mountain of work to do.

Ultimately there are no short cuts to get you through this part, but fortunately there are a few strategies that you can employ to make better use of your time.  If I could go back and coach myself about a business plan I would say the following two things: concentrate on the broad strokes and revise often.  Deciding on an approach before you start writing your plan (planning to plan) can save you a lot of time and energy and allow you to get to work sooner.

1. Stick to The Broad Strokes

 It is so easy to get pulled down into the weeds of planning that you lose track of the purpose of what the document represents.  Firstly – by no means does this document need to be perfect on the first or even the thirtieth go around, but it should be an ongoing process that reveals the truths that are easily otherwise ignored.

Move through the document as quickly and effectively as you can, filling in each section to the best of your ability.  Writing a business plan did not feel natural to me in any way and I found myself stopping and staring at the template for far too long without making any progress.  If you find that this is true for you as well, skip the section and move on – come back to it on your next attempt to revise it.

2. Revise Often

Writing a business plan and yelling “finished” and then never looking at it again is about as good as not writing it at all.  I can now admit to myself that this was the case for us – and our excuse was that we had finished the business plan, and now we were busy executing it.  As good of an excuse as that was – it was still an excuse and it did not change the fact that all my hard work was quickly disappearing in our rear view mirror.

Now one might argue that the business plan had the desired effect of pushing us off into the correct direction and had us thinking in a particular way about what we were doing.  While this is true, as someone who fancies himself a planner – it irked me to no end that our plan no longer represented our venture – in other words, we had no formal plan

It was after reviewing our business plan after all this time that we committed to re-engaging with it on a regular basis.  We made it a part of our business to keep this document alive and up to date.  We set up a notification in our business management software to revisit the document every month or two – expanding, revising, and shaping it as things changed in our small business.

What could we possibly hope to achieve if we were just riffing on the ideas that had come to us in the middle of the night?  How could we possibly deliver a consistent and high quality product to our clients if we were doing things off the cuff?  To further commit to this concept I decided it was also necessary to share our story with our clients and our readers so that they too could benefit from what we had learned.

One last thing…

There is nothing glamorous or sexy about this part of the entrepreneurial process, but the work that you put in at the beginning will really show as your small business starts to mature.  So if you are reading this and have yet to write a business plan I would urge you to check out this article by Hal Shelton. In the article he outlines what I think is essential in the first draft of a business plan, and he does a great job explaining each bit.