Entrepreneurial Advice: Do I Really Need a Business Plan?


HollyHowardDear Holly,

I’ve been reading your columns, and you seem to really stress the importance of having a long-term vision and setting goals. I’m having a hard time understanding if that’s truly beneficial.  I started a small gallery here in Brooklyn about two years ago.  I have always been in the art world, and so it was a natural progression for me.  I got off to a successful start, but I know it’s because I had built a huge network and following before going out on my own.  I’ve put in a lot of effort to keep the momentum flowing.

I’ll be honest that I don’t know what the next three to 10 years look like, but I trust myself enough to figure it out on the fly.  I enjoy it this way and am always up for a challenge.  So the reason I’m writing you is because I know that even though things look good for me, I do believe I could be doing even better.  I’m also expanding and will have to hire at least two assistants within the next year.  However, I think I have a fear of commitment, and the idea of creating a plan that I have to stick to makes me feel like I would be taking all of the fun out of the business.  

Do you have any advice on how I could not give up all of my creative freedom and spontaneity, but try to put some structure and direction into place?  


Free Spirit

Dear Free,

Thanks for such a brilliant question that I’m sure a lot of readers can relate to.  We often start our own business because we want an opportunity to create and pursue what truly interests us.  We all come to our businesses from different starting points, and it’s very important to realize that what works for some businesses doesn’t always work for others.  It’s never one size fits all.

Your fear of taking the fun and creativity out of your business with a plan is actually quite common.  We often pursue a romantic ideal of what it means to run a business and dive into it without knowing where we want to head. That typically means winging it as we learn about what our customers want and what we need to deliver.  Some people can perceive that as a fun way to work and actually thrive off of that energy, while others consider those years highly stressful when so much is unknown.  It can work well for the first few years, but I promise you if you want to be around in 20 years, I highly recommend you start thinking about the future now.

First of all, it’s important to recognize that you really have already worked in a goal oriented way without acknowledging it. Just opening the gallery must have been a goal that you set out to achieve.  Or making enough money to pay rent on time was probably a goal that you just didn’t formally write down.  So when you said you’re not working with a plan, that’s not necessarily true.

Next, let’s talk about your perceived fear of commitment.  It’s important to recognize that you’re already committed to a certain way of working—spontaneous— so don’t use fear of commitment as an excuse. You’ve already proven you can commit.  What you fear is changing the way you work which is something we all have to do when we want to grow a business.  So get clear that you can commit, you’re just having a hard time with the idea of change.  If you fear change, and aren’t willing to navigate it, then growing a successful business long-term probably isn’t the right choice for you.  You’ll likely go crazy with staff turnover, changing demographics of your clients, shifting perception of what’s “in” in your scene, and fluctuations in the economy.  But, if you’re willing to embrace that you can navigate change, just know that it comes with the business.  Anyone can change.  You just have to be willing to be uncomfortable for a while.

So now that we know that you can commit and work in a goal-oriented way, we can better understand why you’re not setting goals.  We need goals to help stretch us and take us outside of our comfort zone.  It seems to me that you’re likely focused on the things that you do well, and what you’re avoiding is setting goals in the areas of your business that challenge you.  But, the thing about business growth is that the skill set you used to start your business is not the same skill set you need to grow it long-term.  So you have to decide what your timeline is for this business.  If it’s only a few years and then you want to move on to something else, you can likely get away without a plan.  But, if you want to pursue this for a significant amount of time, now is your opportunity to address the pieces of your business you’ve been avoiding and set some goals for yourself.

Goals and long term plans don’t take the creativity and fun out of running a business.  They actually provide a structure and foundation for stimulating you and encouraging more creativity and fun.  A plan also provides you and your employees with a sense of purpose and direction.  What feels spontaneous and fun to you can often feel like chaos and dread to the people working for you.  We all want to work for a business that’s headed somewhere; you need to determine where that will be.

Baby-step it, like Bob.

Baby-step it, like Bob.

I recommend you start small.  Don’t buy into the idea that you can just sit down and completely transform the way you work.  Sweeping changes and dramatic shifts typically never last.  Instead, do as Bob Wiley recommends and take baby steps.  Make a two-year plan instead of a five-year plan.  Pick one area of your business that you’ve never set goals in and consider one goal you want to achieve for this year.  If you start small and consistently add on to your plan, you’re more likely to achieve it.  The key is to be persistent and not give up.

If you shift the way you’re thinking about this and take these steps, I’m sure you’ll build a very successful gallery for years to come.  Good luck!


Want valuable insights into how to grow your business? Email Holly to set up a time to talk at hhoward@askhollyhow.com or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How. Register for her next business development program here.

One Response

  1. Kimberly -

    Heh. I just said to someone on the phone yesterday, “I work very hard, so I don’t have to.”

    I feel Free Spirit’s angst, but encourage them to stick to it! Planning early actually makes the spontaneous parts possible!


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