The Creative Entrepreneur’s Guide to Crafting a Business Plan

The mission of Elle & Company is to help creatives transform their passion into a successful, profitable business. 

Want to know what differentiates someone’s passion from a business? Action and strategy.

Passion is rarely the issue in trying to get a business off the ground. Instead, us right-brained creatives can sometimes forget the importance of strategy in our businesses. 

And that’s why I created this 6-step business plan: Elle & Company’s Business Playbook.

The Creative Entrepreneur's Guide to Crafting a Business Plan | Elle & Company

Each step helps you design strategies for getting your creative business off the ground and  provides action steps for carrying them through to completion.

I’ve also created a workbook to help you follow along with them.

The Creative Entrepreneur's Guide to Crafting a Business Plan | Elle & Company

Enter your name and email below and I’ll send it straight to your inbox so you can print it out and follow along:

Elle & Company’s Business Playbook


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Craft a tailored business plan with the help of my Business Playbook

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1  |  FOCUSING your brand

In business, it’s tempting to want to appeal to everyone by offering any and everything. 

Because when you offer more options, you’ll appeal to more people… right?

Wrong. 

In fact, by specializing and limiting the scope of what you offer, you end up becoming an expert and a go-to on that subject. 

Consider Martha Stewart. 

While she has multiple product lines and her brand continues to grow, she never ventures outside of the realm of homemaking. Cleaning, cooking, entertaining – it all relates. And because homemaking has always been her focus, she’s become known for it. 

The same is true for Nike. They’re known for athletic wear – shoes, apparel, sporting gear. 

Both businesses have specialized, and I would argue that their narrow focus has attributed to their success. 

By limiting their scope, they’ve become experts on the topics of homemaking and athletic apparel and for that reason, they’re effective in reaching their target audiences.

While you and I might have significantly smaller businesses than Martha Stewart and Nike, we can strive to follow in their footsteps and become known for something. Not only does specializing make you more memorable, but it makes you more desirable.

Struggling to pare down your offerings? Download the Business Playbook workbook above and work through the specialization questions on pages 3-4 to narrow your focus. 

The Creative Entrepreneur's Guide to Crafting a Business Plan | Elle & Company

Once you’ve come up with a clear direction, your 15-minute action step is to write your mission statement – a one-sentence overview of your business that tells people what you do, who you help, and how you help them.

“My business does _____ to help _____ do ______.”

For example: “Elle & Company provides resources to help creatives turn their passion into a successful, profitable business.”

Not only is a mission statement helpful for answering the inevitable “what do you do for a living” question, but it acts as a measure for any product/service idea you come up with in the future.

2  |  DEFINING your ideal client

There’s one goal every business has in common: making a profit.

After all, money keeps your business afloat, pays the bills and allows you to take home a paycheck.

But when you’re planning and strategizing ways to achieve that goal, there’s one variable that isn’t always easy to determine: your audience.

Identifying and understanding your ideal audience may seem to be a guessing game at first…

Who would benefit from my product/service?
How do I reach them?
How do I position my product to spark interest and encourage them to buy?

…but it shouldn’t be. Actually, there are plenty of ways to take the guesswork out of getting to know your ideal customer and make more accurate, data-driven characterizations.

You don’t want to tailor your business to any and everyone; you want to tailor it to the person who would be interested in purchasing your offerings. 

The goal isn’t to bring in tons of traffic to your site; it’s to bring the right kind of traffic to your site so they’ll buy from you down the road.

One tried and true method for better understanding potential clients and customers is to create a “persona” – a fictional, generalized representation of your ideal client.

Personas make it much easier to develop content, offerings and marketing strategies that will actually appeal to people who buy from you down the road.

And while this may sound fine and dandy, you’re probably wondering where to begin in developing a persona. I’m here to help with that!

Creating marketing personas is not a matter of guesswork, it’s a matter of conducting research. 

Data may not sound very thrilling to you (especially if you’re the right-brained, creative type), but the possible outcomes of understanding your audience can have a huge impact on how you bring in sales for your products or services. 

And that’s something anyone can definitely get excited about!

If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed by the idea of collecting data on your audience to create marketing personas, download the Business Playbook workbook above and you’ll find 7 strategies to create marketing personas (as well as some other tips to help you along the way) on pages 7-8.

The Creative Entrepreneur's Guide to Crafting a Business Plan | Elle & Company

Conducting the research and creating full-on personas will take up a good amount of time, so for now your 15-minute action step is to create a plan for the persona process.

Choose a few of the research tactics mentioned in your workbook, jot down some notes on what you think your personas might look like (it’s fun to compare what you thought in the beginning to the end result) and then set some goals to start making this happen!

3  |  GROWING your audience 

Figuring out what you want to be known for and the type of clients you want to work with is only half the battle…

Now you have to draw them in and encourage them to book your services. (Which is so much easier said than done, right?)

Providing value to potential clients, demonstrating your expertise, and building trust through the content you share sounds like a tall order. 

But what if I told you those three tasks could all be accomplished with one strategy? 

The idea is pretty simple, actually: it all boils down to trust. 

In order for someone to buy from you or book your services, they have to trust you. And the key to building that trust lies in content marketing. 

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience -with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” 

In other words, content marketing connects your audience with useful content in order to earn their trust before selling your products and services. 

I don’t know about you, but selling is my least favorite part of running a creative small business. I love creating, I’m grateful that I’m able to make money from creating, but selling? Ugh – it’s a struggle. For some reason, I always associate sales with manipulation and pushiness.

But that’s one of the great advantages of content marketing; it doesn’t feel salesy because your primary goal is to benefit your audience and develop a trustworthy relationship before you ever promote your products and services.

And even when you do promote your products and services, it doesn’t feel like promotion. 

Content marketing allows you to share your expertise, highlight the benefits of what you’re offering, and demonstrate your audience’s need for it. 

So how do you go about it? 

Content marketing can take many forms – blogging, podcasts, webinars, mailing lists and social media. 

And while all of these methods are helpful for growing your audience and building trust with them, blogging is one of the most effective and yet most underrated of the bunch.

While I would be the first to tell you that blogging isn’t easy, it provides several benefits that other forms of content marketing do not. Including:

  • Increased site traffic
  • Consistent site traffic
  • Better SEO (through more keywords, pages, and links)
  • More social shares
  • Total control

While I’ve been able to land some clients through social media, the majority of Elle & Company clients and customers find me through this blog.

Blogging is highly effective for building trust and finding clients. 

I’ve seen it for myself. 

If I could chalk up Elle & Company’s growth and success to one thing, it would single-handedly, without-a-doubt be blogging.

So my challenge to you as you seek to grow your business and bring in new clients and customers is to consider content marketing (especially through blogging).

If the thought of blogging scares you a bit, download the Business Playbook workbook above where I’ve rounded up some helpful Elle & Company resources to help you start and grow your blog on page 12. 

The Creative Entrepreneur's Guide to Crafting a Business Plan | Elle & Company

Once you’ve read through some posts, your 15-minute action step is to choose 2 of the content marketing outlets I mentioned above (blogging, podcasts, webinars, mailing lists and social media) and brainstorm 5 content ideas for that outlet that will benefit your audience. 

4  |  DETERMINING your offerings 

Are you the top pick or the last resort? 

When I first started Elle & Company, I was often the last resort. I priced myself too low, I took on any and every project inquiry that came my way, and my clients often ran the show. 

It wasn’t until I refined my service package and priced myself reasonably that the roles began to shift and I started to take the driver’s seat on projects.

Since launching Freelance Academy and working with coaching clients, I’ve discovered that determining what to offer and how much to charge seems to be one of the biggest struggles for small business owners. 

But it’s also one of the largest factors in being taken seriously and becoming the top pick with potential clients.

Another big struggle among small business owners is whether to offer services or products first. 

The popular choice nowadays seems to be products – especially digital products like courses, resource libraries and ebooks since they provide passive income. 

But there are 2 big hangups with offering products before services:

  1. You have to have a large audience to make a profit
  2. Products require a lot of resources (like time and money) upfront

Services, on the other hand, lessen the risk for the same 2 reasons I mentioned above:

  1. You don’t need a huge audience to book clients
  2. Services have lower overhead

Services allow you to start generating a profit sooner with a smaller audience and little-to-no overhead. 

Then, as your audience begins to grow and you have a steady income coming in through your services, you’ll have both a captive audience and the resources you need in order to successfully launch and sell your products.

But how do you create service packages that allow you to book a steady stream of clients while growing your audience?
 
Download the Business Playbook workbook above to work through whether you should offer a la carte services vs service packages and learn how to build out and price your services on pages 15-17.

The Creative Entrepreneur's Guide to Crafting a Business Plan | Elle & Company

Once you’ve decided on a la carte vs packages in the workbook, your 15-minute action step is to set up a Trello board, outline your services, and estimate the amount of time you expect each one to take you. Then follow the system I shared for pricing your services.

5  |  BRANDING your business

Branding is a term that gets thrown around often, especially in small business circles. 

It’s one of those words that’s used but never defined, and it seems like everyone has their own definition.

So let me start by clearing up 2 common misconceptions about branding.

Misconception #1  |  Branding is not simply a logo. 

A logo is definitely a large part of a brand, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Confusing a logo and a brand is common, but it misses the mark.

Misconception #2  |  Branding is not just for large companies. 

When we think "brand," we often think of the brands we’re most familiar with, like Nike and Coca Cola. 

But the truth of the matter is that every business has a brand, and your brand is always communicating something visually to your audience. 

It might be telling them that you’re intentional and professional, or it could be giving off the impression that you’re uncertain, confused and don’t have a clue what you’re doing. 

A brand isn’t simply a logo and it isn’t just for large companies; a brand is the entire experience someone has when they interact with your business.

So if your brand is the complete experience someone has when they interact your business, it’s safe to assume that there are innumerable benefits to dedicating time and resources into developing a cohesive, well-designed brand.

Here are just a few:

Accurate first impressions – A cohesive, well-designed brand communicates the right message and gives first-time visitors and viewers an accurate first impression of your business and/or blog.

Professionalism – A cohesive brand can help you appear to be more professional, resulting in an audience that respects you and takes you seriously.

Trust – People recognize when a business has put thought and intention into every facet of their business. When people see that your logo, social media accounts, website, business cards, and packaging are cohesive and consistent, they assume that your offerings and services will be, too. And that builds trust.

Recognizability – A strong brand is recognizable even when the logo isn’t present. It’s identifiable by its tangible, visual elements (logo, colors, fonts, patterns) and its intangible, non-visual elements (terminology, tone).

Memorability – A cohesive, well-designed brand gives your audience a mental picture of your business and helps them remember it.

Differentiation – A strong brand has the ability to set your business apart and differentiate it from everything else that’s already out there. 

Efficiency – A streamlined, cohesive brand saves you time (and stress) in the long run and gets all the hard work out of the way so that you can be more efficient with your time and resources.

Identity – Your brand gives your business life, in a sense. It gives it character and an identity, and it gives your audience something to relate to, whether your brand is casual and friendly or modern and sophisticated.

If you want to read more about each of these benefits, check out my 8 Reasons Your Business Needs a Cohesive, Well-Designed Brand blog post. 

Now that we’ve covered what branding is and why it’s important, you might be wondering where to start. Lucky for you, I have 10 practical steps for a streamlined brand. Download the Business Playbook workbook to read more about my 10 steps for streamlining your brand. 
 

The Creative Entrepreneur's Guide to Crafting a Business Plan | Elle & Company

Creating a well-designed, cohesive brand has its benefits, but it does take up a significant amount of time.That’s why your action step for this section is to create an inspiration board for your brand. (My blog post on How to Create a Clean & Cohesive Inspiration Board will steer you in the right direction.)

6  |  STREAMLINING your process 

I love processes. 

A streamlined process not only gets the best results, but it provides an efficient workflow. 

A great example of this is Starbucks. 

You can go to a Starbucks in Seattle, Charlotte or Los Angeles and order a Cinnamon Dulce Latte and it will always taste the same. How’s that possible? Because Starbucks has a streamlined process to make each drink on their menu. 

The same should be true for you and your creative small business – you should have a streamlined process for each one of your business tasks. 

Let’s look at one of the most crucial processes to streamline in your business: project management. 

Blame it on my type-A personality, but I can’t function if I don’t have a system in place for tasks like design projects, blog posts, Ellechats and coaching calls.

Doing something the same way every time has helped me set expectations, work more efficiently and ultimately stay on top of all the neverending business tasks. 

Enter, Asana. 

Asana is one of many platforms out there that allows teams to track their work. 

My team and I use Asana to keep up with all Elle & Company tasks, such as courses, blog, design, coaching, newsletter, Ellechats, the Library, etc. 

In this blog post, I show you all the in’s and out’s of how I have set up Asana for Elle & Company. 

Overall, Asana is a great (free!) tool for keeping up with projects, especially if your business is multi-faceted like mine.

While project management is a crucial process to streamline in your business, it’s not the only process your should streamline. Streamlining social media and your client process will also be helpful to you and your business. 

In the Business Playbook workbook, you’ll learn more about how I streamline my social media and client process. 

The Creative Entrepreneur's Guide to Crafting a Business Plan | Elle & Company

After taking a look at that, your final action step is to pick one of the processes and commit to streamlining it. If you choose project management, choose a project management software and set up the “shell” for your business. If you choose social media, choose a social media scheduling platform and schedule out your social media for the next week. And if you choose the client process, choose one service or offering of yours and work through that workflow. 

Elle & Company’s Business Playbook


Businessplaybookpreview

Craft a tailored business plan with the help of my Business Playbook

Success! Check your email to confirm your subscription and download Elle & Company’s Business Playbook.

As a fellow creative, I know that creating a business plan can seem like an impossible task. But I hope you’ll use the workbook and the 15-minute action steps to start chipping away. 

And remember: Passion gets you started, but strategy keeps you going. 

Which aspect of your business are you struggling with the most? Did the steps above help you gain some clarity on how to move forward?


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