Meet Sheila. As a new entrepreneur, Sheila is hustling - working hard to bring her young makeup company to profitability. She started her business because she wanted the freedom to design her own lifestyle and work on her own terms. She’s also passionate about helping women feel and look great, and loves the transformation that her products can bring to her customers.

I’ve met a lot of Sheilas. And I love them. And when I talk to people like Sheila around December or January I might ask:

“So, what do you want to accomplish in your business this year?”

And the answer I hear more often than any other is: “Well, I want to grow my business.” Well, that’s vague.

“That’s awesome,” I’ll say. “How are you going to do that?” And the Sheilas of the world will say, “I’m going to get more customers.”

And that’s as far as it goes. Many entrepreneurs have no plan at all for how they’re going to achieve the nebulous goal of “growing the business” because very few of them have even thought through what that means. So, if they achieve growth, they don’t know why they succeeded, or what activities generated the best returns. That’s fine if you’re more concerned about earning money today than having a sustainable business tomorrow. But most of us are dreaming bigger than that.

So what can you and Sheila do? Create a business plan, of course.

If that phrase made you cringe, weep, or roll your eyes, you’re not alone. Business plans are old hat – at least, conventional ones are. The good news is, you don’t need 80 pages of industry statistics, market data, Gantt charts and endless variations on financial forecasts. You just need a clear outline of what the HECK you’re going to focus on this year, and how you’re going to measure your success. You can do that by developing a super simple business plan that lays out this year’s business goals and the actions required to complete each one. It’s literally one page that contains all your goals along with the actions and resources needed to complete them. And there are four easy steps to doing that.

Step 1: Realize that business planning is fun, not painful

Creating a path to a specific goal is unbelievably exciting. You can see the finish line! And you get to do all these fun things on the way there? WOW!

Successful planning starts with being in the right mindset. If you approach planning as a laborious, boring and uninspiring chore, that’s what it will be. But if instead you can reframe the exercise as one that reveals insight about your business that you can act on and see positive results from quickly, then the task suddenly becomes enjoyable.

Step 2: Outline specific, meaningful achievement

Don’t pull a number out of the air like “I’m going to increase revenue by 25% this year.” Instead, choose goals that:

  • Bring you closer to your long-term business vision and support your purpose for being in business
  • You WANT to take action on every single day
  • Are realistic – but ambitious – given your existing financial and human resources

You’ve heard that goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-sensitive (or some version of that acronym). Don’t pooh-pooh it; it’s true. Ambiguous goals are never achieved because you have no way of knowing whether or not you achieved them.

Craft 3 to 5 goals that you can accomplish within a year and that excite the heck out of you. Next to each, write 3 to 5 actions you can take in the next 3 months that will move you closer to reaching your goals. As you complete each action, cross it off (and write subsequent actions if necessary). You’ll feel amazing seeing the progress you’re making.

Step 3: Design your own scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunts are the BEST, am I right? The other key piece of your business plan is to source out all of the resources (people, money, time) you’ll need to finish each step. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have to hunt those resources down. Maybe you hire a contractor. Maybe you take out a small loan. Maybe you get a dog walker for a few months to free up additional time to work on your business. Be honest with yourself about the help you need to accomplish your goals, and then relentlessly hunt down that support.

Step 4: Evaluate quarterly

People criticize business plans by saying “as soon as you’re finished, it’s already out of date.” That’s absolutely true. You can’t predict the future and unexpected things are guaranteed to occur this year. By evaluating your plan quarterly, you can quickly “tack” (to use a sailing term) and see how to get back on course. For example, if one of your goals was to add four new products to your line of natural makeup but in April you still haven’t launched the first one, you can look back at the action steps you developed in December to see if you missed any, or whether the plan no longer makes sense because circumstances have changed.

This evaluation means you won’t be throwing your hands in the air come next October, wondering why your business hasn’t grown the way you wanted it to. If it hasn’t, you’ll now know exactly why.

Now, the next time someone asks you “so, what do you want to accomplish in your business this year?” you don’t have to be like Sheila. You can confidently state where your company is headed, knowing you have a workable plan to get there.

Goal #1

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Jessica Oman

Jessica is the sassy business expert behind Renegade Planner, creating business plans for new entrepreneurs that lenders and investors simply will not reject. She knows what kind of funding is available, and which one is the right one for you. She’s also an Adjunct Professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, an AirBNB host, and just happens to know exactly how to make money off of that abandoned storage locker.