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Do You Need a Business Plan?

If you tell someone that you’re going into business for yourself, he may ask to see your business plan — unless you tell him that you’re planning to freelance. There’s a certain assumption that freelancing is so plain and simple that anyone can do it, with no business plan needed.

But is it really true that a freelancer shouldn’t bother with a business plan? There are thousands of freelancers, after all, who started taking on clients without even thinking about writing a business plan. Nobody seems to have suffered from that approach. However, there are a few steps along the way that are significantly easier when you have a business plan in hand.

Figuring Out Your Plan

In a lot of ways, the value in a business plan isn’t so much having it, but actually writing it. It gives you a chance to sit down and actually work through the numbers for freelancing. Not sure quite how to price your services? As you write even a basic business plan, you have to take a few minutes to figure out what your costs are. If you aren’t covering your costs, what’s the point of being in business?

Because many freelancers come from creative backgrounds, the act of writing a business plan can seem a little daunting. It’s easy to imagine some thousand page document that requires you to be able to predict exactly how many clients will find in the next year, as well as make all sorts of arcane operations decisions that don’t really seem to apply to freelance writers. It’s true that you may not need as in-depth a document as other types of businesses. But a freelancer can still benefit by figuring out the details of how he or she will operate and getting it down on paper:

  • Description of the business: Sure, you’re planning to be a freelancer. Can you get more specific than that? Are there particular types of projects you want to work on? The more precise you can be, the easier planning later steps like marketing will be.
  • Competition: Who else is out there? There are plenty of other freelancers, not only who you can compete with but who you can work with, learn from and more.
  • Operating procedures: Even if you’re a one-person show, it’s worth thinking about how you’re going to operate your business. There are questions about everything from what type of business structure you plan to use to where you plan to work.
  • Marketing: Every freelancer has to have a plan for getting your name out there. Without marketing, there won’t be any clients.
  • Finances: You may only have a handful of expenses, but they can add up. Comparing those numbers to what you charge can give you an idea of where you are financially and where you want to go in the future.

Making Predictions

A business plan isn’t just a description of where you are now: it also shows where you want to be. Within your financial data, you might include a break-even analysis (determining how much work you need to do in order to cover all your expenses), but you’re probably also going to include some projections on what you expect to be able to make as well as the equipment and other assets you already have on hand. Those projections will require some work to meet, of course, but they can help you set goals and create a plan for how you’ll earn money.

You can also make a few useful predictions on questions like when you’ll need to replace your equipment. Considering that laptops don’t grow on trees, it may require advance planning to make sure that you’ll be able to cover that kind of cost when it comes around.

Partnerships, Loans and Other Purposes

A business plan comes in handy for more than just planning for yourself, of course. If you’re thinking that you may want to form a partnership with another freelancer or even expand your business, having a business plan can provide a blueprint for how you will move toward that goal. Such an expansion is not always simple and can even require more money than you currently have accessible. In such cases, you may be able qualify for a small business loan, as long as you have a business plan.

In such circumstances you may need a more formal business plan than you might otherwise put together. For my freelancing, my business plan is less than ten pages of text: for your own, day-to-day use, you can work with a business plan that isn’t much more complicated than bullet-points and a couple of spreadsheets. If you’re approaching another freelancer about a partnership or you’re looking into taking out a loan, you may want to add more details and make sure your business plan is closer to the format that the Small Business Administration (or your local equivalent) suggests.


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