Many writers and professionals, like Accountants, will stress to you that you should have a Business Plan. Depending on the life cycle stage of your business, this may or may not be a good idea.
Do you really need a Business Plan?
If your business is a Start Up, you have very little evidence on which to base your plan and, even if you did one, it would be a work largely based on guesstimates. If your business is in a more mature stage of its life cycle you probably do have a lot more data upon which you can build.
In the early stage of your business, when you do not have a great deal of concrete evidence on which to build the plan, it is probably not worth expanding any plan in detail, but it is definitely worth spending time on Goal Setting for your business so that you have a very clear general direction in mind by way of a Vision. If you don't have some clarity on your direction, you are likely to jump in whatever direction short term indicators take you and lose track of the long term preferred direction of the business.
You should not feel pressured to develop a long-term plan until such time as there is some clarity around your business. Elsewhere, we write about Start Up phases of your business and it is worth spending some time looking through these elements or suggestions on planning (see Business Start Up menu).
Alternatively, it is worth keeping in mind that once you have a Plan that you begin to execute religiously, you are putting on blinkers that will encourage you to focus on the direction of the Plan early on, your Plan is almost certainly wrong or incomplete. Putting on blinkers too early in your business’s life may prevent you from taking some alternative direction that turns out to be more positive. Although rapid "pivoting" from one business direction to the next is not good practice by any means, retaining some flexibility to make the occasional pivot in your direction is a good idea.
Keep in mind that:
A business without a path to profit isn't a business, it is a hobby!
Track your Competitors
It may be very tempting to model your business on a competitor that has been successful in the hope that you can pick up some of the crumbs from their table.
Although it is increasingly easy to duplicate the processes that your competitors use to get to success, it is almost certainly guaranteed to mean that you will continue to be less effective, efficient and profitable than they will be.
The reason is simple; you will always be tracking them from the rear so you are setting yourself up to always follow them rather than to lead them.
Much of the reason why they are a success is rather like the "iceberg principle". You can only see about 1/3 of an iceberg above water and 2/3 is below and invisible to you from the surface. And so it is with a successful competitor. While it looks comparatively easy to duplicate what they have done, it is the hidden things like leadership, team work and culture that will have made substantial contribution to their success and which you will find hard to duplicate; even if you are aware of them.
There are a couple of good lessons to take from your competitors.
One is to take what they are particularly good at and focus on just doing one of those things much better than they do. At least they have indicated the size of the market for any areas in which they presently operate and, therefore, they can provide you with good intelligence on a particular sector or subset of those markets that you might thrive in.
One way that 12Faces's have done this in the past is to identify all the areas where a successful competitor is strong and where they are weak and then build a business that addresses all those areas in which they are weak; providing there is a business to be done there.
The well-known "Blue Ocean Strategy" book talks about a competitive canvas which maps all the things that are appreciated by customers in a particular industry and then compares the existing competitors on how well they service those needs. Where a strong customer need is under-serviced by existing competitors, this opens an opportunity for you to specialise in that area.