Do you have a business plan for your eLearning business?

So I've begun my career as a freelancer with gusto, and have received a couple of suggestions from different people that I should be spending some time and energy on writing a business plan. The reason suggested is that I won't know if I'm meeting my targets or achieving my goals without one.

However, I'm not sure it's going to be worth my time doing one?

In my head, getting 3 or 4 reliable clients, earning more than I did in full time employment and having a diary full of creative projects that keep me enthusiastic from Monday to Friday would have been enough to tell me that I'm achieving my goals!

Despite now officially having a limited company, I have no plans currently to expand any further than just working alone as a freelancer (well I may look to subcontract work in the future but that will be the extent of any 'expansion') - so do you think I need a business plan? Did you write one when you started freelancing?

 

16 Replies
Kevin Thorn

At first, no I didn't have one. I may be alone here, but like you, it was just me in the beginning. I had been part time freelancing for over a year and had a substantial client base, and all the earnings during that time went into a separate account which added up to about 4 months of my salary (old corporate job). 

I had existing projects, leads and bids on new projects, and four months of income in the bank. I had been working nights and weekends so when I went full time my "business" plan was simply having more hours to do more. :) I would NOT recommend that approach!

My "plan" is more refined now with the help of the Business Model Generation. Bought the book first, then the app. This has been one of my most valuable tools/books. It helps seeing the bigger picture but also the value proposition of what you're doing whether service or product.

Get the book. Best place to start.

Ant Pugh

Thanks very much for the link and suggestion Kevin, I've added the book to my wishlist. Roll on the day that you can download books directly to your brain rather than to my poor, overworked Kindle... but that is a conversation for another time :)

I may attack this year in a similar fashion to how you started - and then try to implement something more structured later on, once I have found my niche, had some experience of working alone etc. 

Phil Mayor

Hi Ant, I pretty much tackled the first year like Kevin, worked every evening and weekend for a year and then with a safety net in the bank went for it without a business plan.  I had loads of help off Bruce and my accountant, My plan in the first year was to survive and subsequently  has always been to do better than the previous year. Now I am spending more time looking at how to grow the business, I wouldn't say i have a plan more a framework.

I have just bought the book Kevin recommends, I always try to sell the company based on value rather than price.

 

Ant Pugh

That's great feedback, thanks a million Phil. Although Bruce may regret offering to let me buy him a coffee later this week now I know that! ;)

I think my goal is exactly the same as yours was - survive and improve. I'm in a fortunate position at the moment that I don't have kids, mortgage etc. (yet!) so as long as I can pay the rent and afford to get food on the table, I'll be happy knowing that I'm moving in the right direction. If you read that book before me, would be keen to hear your feedback.

Are you going to be at LT15 this week too?

Thanks
Ant

Nancy Woinoski

I've been freelancing since 2001 and still don't have a business plan. I set some goals at the beginning of each year but that's about it. It has worked well for me.

i guess you have to decide what you want your business to be down the road. Do you want to stay a one person company or do you want to expand? Do you want to keep doing custom work, do you want to create your own products or do consulting?  If you want to build a company then you might need a business plan. If you want to remain a one person shop then it might be something as basic as setting some goals and maybe focusing on a marketing plan.

Holly MacDonald

Hi Ant

I've been in business/freelancing for 7 years and while I don't have a business plan, I certainly have evolved who my ideal customer is and the types of work that I'd like to do and things that I don't want to do. It's nice to get to a stage when you can choose which projects you'd like to work on and which ones you don't. 

You also want to think about your market positioning. Why would a client buy from Ant, than Bruce, Nancy, Kevin Phil or me?   

The book above by Osterwalder is a great tool - and is used by many entrepreneurs to figure out their business model. (He does have a course - https://strategyzer.com/academy/course/business-models-that-work-and-value-propositions-that-sell. You could also think about the E-Myth Revisited, which gives insight on the challenge of working IN the business (the creative stuff) vs working ON the business (keeping the business running).

I'd suggest you start more with clarifying what you want your business to be (+100 on Nancy's questions), and also calculate how much you need to earn.  The hardest part in the beginning is finding time to keep work coming in, while still doing said work. That gets easier, but still expect to spend a good chunk of time (25% - 50%) on things that are not products/services that you get paid for. Set some goals, but a business plan is probably more formal that you need.

Hope that helps,

Holly

Ant Pugh
Nancy Woinoski

I've been freelancing since 2001 and still don't have a business plan. I set some goals at the beginning of each year but that's about it. It has worked well for me.

i guess you have to decide what you want your business to be down the road. Do you want to stay a one person company or do you want to expand? Do you want to keep doing custom work, do you want to create your own products or do consulting?  If you want to build a company then you might need a business plan. If you want to remain a one person shop then it might be something as basic as setting some goals and maybe focusing on a marketing plan.

Thanks for the reply Nancy. At the moment I'm definitely not thinking about building a company per se, I am just really keen to:

  • work on some creative, fun projects that I have chosen rather than those that have chosen me
  • earn as much if not more than I was earning in my full-time role (including an allowance for sick days, holidays etc.)
  • allow myself the flexibility to work from home, and benefit from all the other things that freelancing allows
  • and most importantly, to be my own boss!

So it seems that everyone is of the same opinion, that writing a business plan whilst still looking for work is possibly an unproductive use of my valuable time! 

I really appreciate you having taken the time to reply - thankyou :)

Ant Pugh
Holly MacDonald

Hi Ant

I've been in business/freelancing for 7 years and while I don't have a business plan, I certainly have evolved who my ideal customer is and the types of work that I'd like to do and things that I don't want to do. It's nice to get to a stage when you can choose which projects you'd like to work on and which ones you don't. 

You also want to think about your market positioning. Why would a client buy from Ant, than Bruce, Nancy, Kevin Phil or me?   

The book above by Osterwalder is a great tool - and is used by many entrepreneurs to figure out their business model. (He does have a course - https://strategyzer.com/academy/course/business-models-that-work-and-value-propositions-that-sell. You could also think about the E-Myth Revisited, which gives insight on the challenge of working IN the business (the creative stuff) vs working ON the business (keeping the business running).

I'd suggest you start more with clarifying what you want your business to be (+100 on Nancy's questions), and also calculate how much you need to earn.  The hardest part in the beginning is finding time to keep work coming in, while still doing said work. That gets easier, but still expect to spend a good chunk of time (25% - 50%) on things that are not products/services that you get paid for. Set some goals, but a business plan is probably more formal that you need.

Hope that helps,

Holly

Thanks very much for taking the time to reply Holly, I really appreciate it! I have already added the Osterwalder book to my list thanks to Kevin, so I am hoping to start reading that once I get some peace and quiet.

Your point about finding time to work vs finding time to keep the work coming in couldn't be more perfectly timed... For what seems like years, I have been dreaming about the day I quit my job and start spending my hours designing beautiful courses without the stresses of a corporate lifestyle to worry about, only to find my time so far has been spent setting up my accountants, registering with recruitment consultants, fiddling around with my website and emailing contacts to see if they need any work doing!!!

(It is very early days for me though so I'm not getting too fed up yet - this definitely beats the office!)

But the time spent looking for new projects and clients is definitely something I may have underestimated!

Phil Mayor

I think you will find you spend a good proportion of your time designing corporate branded projects and probably about 10-20% of your time doing fun, beautifully designed courses.

I get some really beautiful projects to work on, but will also spend a lot of time building corporate branded courses  However I have fun no matter what I do.

Instead of a business plan why not build some free templates and demo's that you can use as part of your portfolio but also raise your profile.

Nancy Woinoski

Ant, one of the things I did when I was first starting out is hire a company to do lead generation for me. They would run one or two campaigns for me each year. There was a bit of work involved in figuring out my value proposition, "brand positioning" and what type of client I wanted to go after, but once that was done  the company would cold call these companies with the objective of getting me a certain number of meetings. I still had to "sell" the client and close the deal, but the calling got my foot in the door in places that I might not have been able to get in on my own. That is how I got my first car company as a client.

I am happy to say I don't have to do this anymore but it was well worth the time and money when I was getting started.

Ant Pugh
Phil Mayor

Instead of a business plan why not build some free templates and demo's that you can use as part of your portfolio but also raise your profile.

That's exactly what I'm going to do Phil - having heard your stories, and spoken to others, it sounds like a much more valuable use of my time to sit and design some more short courses for my portfolio that will help generate more business.

And then once I am inundated with requests (a bit of positive mental attitude there), I can reassess where I am in 12 months time and then sit down and look at this again if I need to.

Ant Pugh
Nancy Woinoski

Ant, one of the things I did when I was first starting out is hire a company to do lead generation for me. They would run one or two campaigns for me each year. There was a bit of work involved in figuring out my value proposition, "brand positioning" and what type of client I wanted to go after, but once that was done  the company would cold call these companies with the objective of getting me a certain number of meetings. I still had to "sell" the client and close the deal, but the calling got my foot in the door in places that I might not have been able to get in on my own. That is how I got my first car company as a client.

I am happy to say I don't have to do this anymore but it was well worth the time and money when I was getting started.

This is a really interesting idea Nancy. I suppose that I had never considered the idea of employing any tried and tested sales techniques such as lead generation, but it's really cool to hear that it worked well for you. How did that agreement work? Did you pay per lead that was generated? Or did you pay per 'campaign'?