The best business plan for creative entrepreneurs and agencies

If she could have climbed through the screen and hugged me, I think she would have!

Naomi (not her real name) had signed up for a 90-minute laser coaching session to review her creative business launch.  She was gung-ho and willing to do whatever it took, but writing a traditional business plan was slowing her down (not to mention bringing her down!).

“Why do you need a business plan?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I thought you had to have a business plan” she responded.“I don’t think you need one right now.” I replied.

Her look of sheer relief, bordering on joy, was a sight to behold. She had just saved herself weeks (months?) of work trying to get facts, figures, and projections on paper that she had no idea how to get or calculate.  

It’s easy to see why creative business owners believe they need a business plan. We’ve all heard the adage “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” (and who wants that!?). The question is, what type of plan best serves you as a creative, and at what point in your entrepreneurial journey should you create it?

As Francis J. Greene and Christian Hopp wrote in their Harvard Business Review article, When Should Entrepreneurs Write their Business Plan?

The real key to succeeding in business is being flexible and responsive to opportunities. Entrepreneurs often have to pivot their business once it becomes clear that their original customer is not the right customer, or when it turns out that their product or service fits better in an alternate market. Because of these realities, business plans written at the start end up nothing more than a fable. And writing a plan takes time – time that could be spent evaluating opportunities. Another danger lurks. A plan might just lock the entrepreneur into a false sense of security that prevents them from seeing the actual opportunity — rather than an imagined one.”

In my experience as a business coach working with creative entrepreneurs, I’m all-in on having a plan to execute your vision.  And, I’m delighted to tell you that I’ve discovered a much more flexible, easy, and innovative alternative to a traditional business plan. Enter…

⭐ The Business Model Canvas. ⭐

If you’re new to the Business Model Canvas, think of it as a visual tool that allows you to craft and shape the essence of your business. Each section of the Canvas represents a critical component of your business, allowing you to dive into the details of a specific area of your company e.g. marketing or revenue, while still being able to see the big picture. 

Now, you’re probably asking yourself why on earth you should spend the time creating a business model canvas for your creative enterprise (especially if it’s a one-person show). Here are a few good reasons:

  • When you understand the individual components of a company (small or large), you empower yourself with knowledge and put yourself in the driver’s seat of your business. No more winging it for you!
  • You can zoom into the fine details or zoom out and see the big picture at the same time!
  • Creating a business model canvas can be a solo or a group effort. It’s visual, flexible, and easy to use (once you get the hang of it), so making changes are a snap.
  • You can spot the outlier ideas a.k.a. Bright shiny distractions before you waste your resources chasing them.

I will be the first to admit that when I was first introduced to this tool, it took me a minute to get my head around it. Now, I consider it to be such an essential part of building a profitable creative business that I co-create a canvas with ALL of my clients.  Because I want to save you the time it took me to read the books, watch the videos, and figure it out, I’m going to shorten your learning curve by sharing the following:

  1. a canvas before it’s populated 
  2. a video where I walk you through a demo canvas
  3. descriptions of what each section means + a free tool that you can use to create your canvas

Are you ready to stop winging it and achieve the clarity and confidence you need to position, streamline, and grow your creative business?

1) What is a business model canvas?

I find it helpful to have a visual of the business model canvas before it’s populated. You can clearly see the 9 different sections and how simple and visually appealing this tool is.

2) How do I create a business model canvas?

Like most tools, the business model canvas can feel a little weird if it’s new to you (remember the first few times you drove a car or put on a pair of roller skates?). In this short video, I will walk you through a demo canvas, sharing some things you might want to keep in mind as you give it a shot.

 

3) What are the 9 sections of a business canvas?

If this is a new tool for you, you’ll probably want to refer to these short descriptions of the business model canvas sections.  The nine sections of the canvas are:

1) Customer Segments

These are your ideal client profiles. These are the folks you want, and are uniquely equipped to serve and who are ready, willing and able to invest in working with you. I’d recommend anywhere from 1-3 profiles, no more! A few questions you’ll want to consider include: What specific challenges are your ideal clients struggling with? What goals or objectives are they trying to achieve?

2) Value Proposition

Your value proposition is how you solve your ideal client’s problems or help them reach an objective and why someone would choose you over another freelancer or creative agency.  What core value do you deliver to the customer? Which customer needs are you satisfying? Tip: each service (or bundle of services) should align with your customer segment or profile.  Be on the lookout for outlier propositions that might take a lot of resources, yet only serve a small customer segment or don’t account for much revenue.

3) Channels

Your channels describe how you communicate with and reach your ideal clients to deliver your value proposition. Channels might include communication, distribution, or sales. They may be direct e.g. a website, or store (online or brick and mortar), or indirect, e.g. as wholesale or partner-owned websites. Which channels do you reach your customers through e.g. social media, speaking, writing etc? Which channels work best? Optimizing your channels can help you reach your customers or clients where they are, while streamlining your efforts.

4) Customer relationships

These are the types of relationships you establish and maintain with each client profile. Depending on your business, this can range from personal to automated. In a high-touch business, you may decide you want the relationship to feel very personal while creating support and systems to streamline the process.

5) Revenue Streams

How you successfully sell products or services to your clients. For what value are your customers willing to pay? What and how do they recently pay? How would they prefer to pay? How much does every revenue stream contribute to the overall revenues?

6) Key Resources

Key resources are the assets you need to deliver your services or products to your ideal clients/customers.  For example, if you have a low-overhead, service-based business, these will be pretty minimal e.g. website, a virtual assistant, online marketing, and content delivery platform e.g. Mailchimp.  If you have a product-based business you’ll have more key resources e.g. a storefront, storage facility, delivery truck, etc.  What key resources does your business require?

7) Key Activities

These are the most important activities you need to do to deliver your service or product to your clients.  Examples might include Marketing, content creation, outreach, sales, service or product creation, production, etc. What key activities do you need to perform in each area of your canvas? I like to group the activities in the “buckets” below. Feel free to do the same if it helps:

    • Value creation
    • Value delivery
    • Marketing
    • Sales
    • Finance + admin

8) Key Partnerships

This is your network of suppliers and partners that make the business model work. These might include strategic alliances, joint ventures, strategic partnerships between competitors, or reliable vendors and suppliers. Who are your key partners/suppliers? What are the motivations for the partnerships?

9) Cost Structure

Every business costs money to run.  Your cost structure helps you see the various expenses associated with running your business, including fixed costs, variable costs, and overhead expenses. Now you can see those costs, you can ask yourself: Which key resources and activities are the most expensive?  Am I getting a return on those investments?  Where does it make sense to invest next? My professional development? Software? Team members? Etc.

Navigating the world of entrepreneurship as a creative freelancer or small agency owner can feel like a wild ride, but it doesn’t have to be a daunting one. With its visual simplicity and holistic approach, the business model canvas empowers you to craft a clear and comprehensive business model that reflects your creative vision and charts a path to making it a reality.

And the good news is you don’t need to do this all at once. If you’ve made it to the end of this post and watched the video, it’s already shifted something in your brain about how you can optimize and grow your business.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s a free tool you can use to play around with your business model Canvas.

And if it feels overwhelming, don’t worry. I’m here to support you! If you’re ready to talk about what the next level of your creative business and entrepreneurial journey looks like, let’s chat!

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