Ever feared your passion isn’t a real job? You're not alone.
Two of the biggest barriers to launching the biz/organization/project of your dreams are money and confusion about where to start.
There comes a point in most of my coaching calls when my lovely client will finally give up the story that she “just has no clue what to do with her life” and share the truth with me: that she has a secret passion...she just has no clue how to make it work. Or worse, she’ll reveal her secret fear: "But this isn’t a real job! No one will pay me to do what I love, and I can’t possibly follow a path that will leave me broke. Aren’t all artists starving and scraping by?"
It breaks my heart to see beautiful writers, coaches, makers, and world-changers shut down their dreams and refuse to share their gifts with the world simply because they don’t know how to make it work in the real world.
"Real world" concerns are always—I repeat, always—figureoutable. Today in this blog post, I am going to teach you exactly how to figure out the bones of your business so it's real world successful.
First, we’re going to delve into what a creative business plan actually is (AKA where to start) and I'll walk you step-by-step through what you need to have in place in order to make your passion a “real job.”
What the heck is a creative business plan?
First, let’s define the idea of a business plan in general. A business plan is basically a document that describes what your business is, what it does, what your goals are, and how you’re going accomplish them, along with any legal and financial stuff needed for the specific business in question. People generally take them to the bank or a board when they are applying for a business loan or attracting investors.
The goals of a traditional business plan are usually to explain the business to other people, which makes it a lousy fit for creatives, coaches, makers, etc. Creatives usually aren’t building a traditional brick and mortar business where they’re selling goods for a profit, or at least that's not all they do. More often than not, Creatives are selling information, services, or some kind of small boutique product...or even selling themselves! Since the goals of Creatives are different, the plans should be different, no?
So a creative business plan, or CBP, is simply a business plan that works toward the goals of Creatives. Make sense?
How is a creative business plan different, and why do I need one?
You technically don’t need one. You can totally just put stuff out there and let it evolve, but if you want a safer, smarter, more strategic approach that doesn’t threaten to drain your life savings, a bit of planning is the way go.
A creative business plan is different because it keeps the creator at the center. Rather than getting your facts straight to present to someone in a loan application, we’re kind of just getting the facts straight for ourselves so that we can actually launch the thing and meet our goals.
The CBP is much simpler, and it allows for more personalization and flexibility. You can make the CBP align with your life rather than building it out to impress someone in a suit.
What's the difference between a creative business plan and a creative business model?
A creative business plan is just that: a plan. It gives a general overview of your specific creative business, where you're going, and how you plan to get there. A creative business model is a proven strategy for how the business makes money. While you are certainly welcome to make up your own creative business model from scratch, it is way quicker and easier to get started with an already-proven business model and then customize as you go. Your business model is an important part of your creative business plan, but not the whole picture. I'll be sharing my favorite business models for creatives and coaches—as well as case studies and examples for each—here.
How do I write a creative business plan?
First, download the free workbook here. It has a great template, and when you subscribe, you’ll also get extra goodies from me.
A good creative business plan answers 6 basic questions:
- Who are my customers/clients?
- How do I serve them?
- How does this make money?
- How do I engage with them and let them know I exist?
- What are my wildest dreams for this business?
- What are my very next steps for making it happen?
Let’s break each of these down with some examples.
Question #1: Who are my customers/clients?
This is the most important part of your creative business plan. Until you know who your Ideal Client or Customer is, it’s going to be really, really hard to move forward. That’s because your Ideal Client/Customer is your North Star. When you really know who he/she is and what he/she needs, all other questions and decisions come easily.
Start by creating an Ideal Customer Sketch. This is a snapshot version of your business muse, the person who is the perfect fit for your products and services. You can base this on an actual person, a version of yourself, or an imaginary person you'd love to serve or work with.
Here's an example: "Kaitlyn is pregnant copywriter who dreams of joining the circus. She's in her mid-30s, lives in a mid-size to large North American city, and is middle class. She has always dreamed of being a tightrope walker and trapeze swinger, but she worries that the carny lifestyle isn't great for kids, so she keeps her copywriting job while daydreaming of wearing spangly leotards and doing flips for an adoring audience."
So basically, this short Ideal Customer Sketch contains a few golden nuggets of info you need in order to guide your CBP:
- It details your Ideal Customer's demographics. From this sketch, we know Kaitlyn's age, gender, location, economic status, and family status.
- It also details your Ideal Customer's pain points and wants (she's shutting down her desires because she's a mom-to-be, but she really wants to pursue the circus career of her dreams)
- It captures your Ideal Customer's energy. This quick description shows us who she is, what she's concerned about, what types of things she enjoys, and what her overall character is like.
This is a slightly over the top example, but you get the point. Basically, you gotta know who's buying your stuff if you want to sell it. Don't forget to download the workbook so you can map out your Ideal Customer.
Question #2: How do I serve them?
What does your Ideal Customer/Client need help with? What knowledge, inspiration, and goodness do you have that can help them?
Let's use Kaitlyn as an example. Since we already know her pain points and wants, we can offer her specific things to help her achieve her goals. Knowing what I know about Kaitlyn, I could offer her:
- a course in how to have work/balance when you're mom who's a traveling performer for work
- hand-made spangly tightrope outfits
- career transitions coaching
- a motivational speech on why following your dreams is important
- a community-based babysitting service that shares childcare responsibilities for working moms
- an inspirational book on how to learn the art of trapeze swinging for beginners
- membership to a nonprofit that sells circus-themed jewelry to raise funds for survivors of sex trafficking
- an in-person workshop on basic circus dance moves
- a meetup for aspiring circus performers to connect
And the list goes on.
You can actually do this two ways: you can either start with your Ideal Customer in mind and figure out how to serve her based on her pain points and wants OR you can figure out what you desire to offer, and then figure out who is the type of person who would enjoy that product or service. Either way, these first two pieces are the bedrock of your creative business foundation.
Question #3: How does this make money?
This is where a lot of Creatives get stuck. We daydream about our amazing clients and the gorgeous things we have to offer them…..and then the "real world" gremlin pops up.
“Will anyone actually pay me for this?”
“Am I being unrealistic?”
“What should I charge?”
“What do I do about my day job?”
“Will I have enough to pay for things like health insurance and a retirement plan???”
First, pause. Breathe. Remember that there are tons of creative humans in the world making a living doing the things that you want to do. That means it can be done. Those humans are no smarter or better than you. They’re just not.
Okay, now let’s get strategic.
Real talk: whatever you offer your Ideal Customer has to make money.
This thing you want to offer your Ideal Client/Customer? We need to figure out how to monetize it. That can be a sticky subject for many Creatives (and especially coaches) because we are so damn close to our work. We love our work! It’s our art! We do it to heal, express, and make a difference in the world! Should we really be cheapening it by making money?
Yes. Yes, we should. Because you can’t serve from an empty cup. You’re not helping anyone if you’re struggling to get by. Choose to see charging for your work as a flow of energy back and forth. You let your products and services flow out and you let money flow in.
A business that doesn’t make money is just a hobby. Let’s avoid that.
So how do you make money doing what you love? Well, you've got a few options.
Go back to your "how do I serve them?" section and pick a few options from the list. For example, let's say that you really love the idea of designing and making spangly tightrope outfits and hosting workshops that teach basic circus dance moves. Maybe you rent a small space where you can teach ongoing circus dance classes and sell your custom-made spangly outfits in the lobby. Maybe you eventually expand to selling your outfits in an online shop and selling your signature circus dance course online.
All options are valid. The trick is picking a monetization method that 1. you enjoy delivering and 2. your Ideal Customers need or want. Finding that intersection is the most important part of monetizing your magic.
To find that golden intersection, consider the following:
- How much money do I desire to make from my business?
- How much money do I need to generate to make the business run?
- How much money do I need to make to pay my bills and make my life work?
- How do other people with similar businesses monetize their work?
- How will I validate my ideas, i. e. see what works and what doesn't?
Once you've found your golden intersection of what you love to offer AND what your customers/clients love to buy, you now get to test it out and validate your ideas. You may think you love offering a certain type of product or service, but you won't know for sure until you try it out and see. Same thing with what your clients need. At some point, you've got to put it out there and test and tweak till you find the right intersection for you.
Since monetization is sooo important (not to mention one of the biggest indicators of business success or failure), I have a separate blog post my three favorite business models for creatives, makers, and coaches. You can read it by clicking here.
Question #4: How do I engage with my Ideal Customers and let them know I exist?
Here's the thing: Kaitlyn may be dying to come to your circus dance workshops, but she can't come and pay you if she doesn't know you and your business exist.
Hence the need for Section #4: also known as a marketing plan, which is a fancy term for “how I connect with my people and let them know about my amazing stuff.” It doesn’t have to be icky, gross, or manipulative. It’s simply a thoughtful plan for helping the people who need you find you.
There are tons of ways to engage with potential clients/customers and help them find out about you and your offerings.
Here are a few:
- blogging about your philosophy or work (like this post!)
- guest blogging on a blog that your Ideal Customers read
- getting featured in other media publications, like podcasts, TV, Radio, etc
- using social media to drive people to your website or offerings
- doing guest spots or workshops for free as an incentive for your Ideal Customers to get to know you and your business
- building relationships in communities where tons of your Ideal Clients hang out (this can be done in person or online)
- going to networking events your Ideal Customers are likely to be at
- volunteering with organizations your Ideal Customer is likely to support
- asking your friends, family, and work circle for referrals of people who might love your work
- building partnerships with businesses similar to yours (like building a partnership at a yoga studio if you sell circus dance classes or befriending a wedding stationer if you're a wedding florist)
The name of the game here is to find out where your Ideal Customers hang out, and then go there. Go there, build relationships, offer value, and share your products or services.
Question #5: What are my wildest dreams for this business?
Business-building takes time, patience, and the willingness to experiment, so having a clear vision to focus your efforts and sustain you is critical to your eventual success.
So let’s break it down. How do you personally define business success? What does a successful business look like for you, with your unique desires and dreams?
Where do you see your business in 3 years? 5? 10? What is the absolute best, most exciting outcome for your business that you can imagine? What impact will it make on the world?
Question #6: What are my very next steps for making it happen?
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. A successful business requires both planning and execution, i.e. action steps. In general, I spend about 50% of my time and energy on planning, visioning, and getting intentional about what I want to create, and the other 50% taking consistent, aligned actions toward that vision.
That means setting aside time every single week to grow my business, whether that’s in the form of writing helpful tutorials like this one, connecting with communities where my Ideal Client hangs out, or working one on one with my clients. The idea is to first keep the goal in mind and then act on it.
You actually don’t have to work on your business 40 hours a week to see results. You just have to act consistently over time and let the pieces fall into place.
So let’s get intentional about what actions you’re going to take.
What are three actions you can take daily or weekly to achieve your goals? For our fictional business of selling spangly circus outfits and offering tightrope classes, that might include setting aside a few hours every Wednesday night to pull out your sketch pad and create some new outfit designs, then posting a time-lapse video of your work to Instagram to share with your Ideal Customers who hang out there. It could also include heading to a coffee shop every Saturday afternoon to write articles about your personal circus dance technique and why it's so great.
The key is figuring out what action steps 1. align with your goals and 2. work. This may take trial and error, but on a long enough timeline, you will see results.
So there you have it. This has been a behind the scenes peek into what it really takes launch the creative business of your dreams, and this workbook is the perfect place to start, so download your copy now.
Before you order business cards or pick brand colors, start here, with this creative business plan and then get to work. It really is that simple. Figure out these 6 steps, take consistent, aligned actions, and then watch it grow. While it does take a little time to replace your day job income, it’s actually a very simple process if you stick with it and have a little patience.
You got this!