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Planning is a process. You should always be clear about the basic concept of your business: Who you are, who your customer is, and what you do for them. You don’t need a formal, written plan document unless you need to show it to someone else. However, you should think through your business critically, jot down some notes, and review your assumptions on a monthly or quarterly basis. Do it even if it’s just a few scribbles on a napkin. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” (Benjamin Franklin).

Start anywhere. What is your target market? What do you offer them? How do you reach them? Who is your competition? How are you different? How will you set your prices? What are your costs? How much do you need to sell to make it worthwhile? How much cash do you need?

Then go out and do business. After a month, or a quarter, go through it all again. Revise the plan based on what you have learned. Use your real accounting data from the reports in QuickBooks. Refine your focus to your core competencies. What worked? What didn’t? Has your competition changed? Narrow your target market to your best customers. “No battle plan ever survives the first encounter with the enemy” (attributed to various generals).

When it’s time to get a loan, report to partners, or bring in investors, you need to write up a formal plan. Software can help. LivePlan is a monthly subscription that walks you through a formal planning process and formats everything nicely. It can pull data in from QuickBooks Online to make good looking reports. It also has a forecasting feature that can compare your actual data from QuickBooks with your forecasts. Business Plan Pro is a downloadable alternative to LivePlan that has good reviews. There is no QuickBooks integration but also no monthly subscription.

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