How to develop a freelance business plan (for development and social impact consultants)
Updated: Feb 1
One question we get asked a lot at the IC-Hub is, "How do I get started as a consultant?"
There are many answers to that question and lots of things to think through for new and prospective freelancers. We also know that many freelance consultants become freelancers "by accident" or due to certain lifestyle constraints (or opportunities, depending on how you wish to view things), so many experienced freelancers have never taken the time (or never learned) to reflect on things like business plans and strategy, which could accelerate their journeys through the "growth" and "levelling up" stages. All that being said, we've found business plans to be critical to our own consulting startup journeys.
Who should develop a business plan and why?
A business plan can help consultants at any stage of their freelancing journey.
For those in the reflection stage (i.e. those who are not yet freelancers), it allows you to think through a lot of the concerns you might have, such as "What is my added value as a consultant?", "Is there a market for my services?", "How will I get clients?".
For those at the growth, delivery and levelling up stages, it helps to avoid plateaus, recognise when to pivot, and to lay a roadmap to address emerging challenges and opportunities (such as how to create more value to warrant increasing fees, how to diversify one's client base, or whether or not and how to form a brand or consulting firm).
Particularly at the beginning of the consulting journey (but let's face it, often throughout as well!), doing freelancing sustainably and well can seem like an overwhelming undertaking. Strategising through a business plan enables you to put your ideas down on paper and prioritise a smaller number of key next steps for you to take action on.
So, how do I develop a business plan?
As with many things we're learning at the IC-Hub, much will depend on your specific needs and we can only share with you what has worked with us (one of us with seven years of freelancing experience and the other with one and a half years to date).
The following areas are the key components of our own business plans:
Mission: Why are you consulting (or why do you want to)? What are the passions that drive you?
Consulting business overview: How do you summarise your freelance offering? If you can't summarise it in simple terms, then potential clients might have difficulty understanding what you do.
Services/products: What services/products do/could you offer?
Market analysis: What types of organisations need your services/products? What job titles do your (potential) client contacts have?
Risk assessment: What are your concerns about freelancing? What are the potential risks to your freelancing business? How could you mitigate these concerns/risks?
Marketing and business development: How do/will you get clients? How will you price your services?
Targets and milestones: What are your objectives? What does success look like to you?
Work plan: What actions are required to achieve the goals outlined in your business plan?
Budget: How much will it cost to implement your business plan? How many consulting days do you need to work to cover your living costs?
At the IC-Hub, we've developed our free Business Plan Template for our members for you to download. You're welcome to fill it in and if you're looking for feedback and accountability (critical to goal-setting and goal-achieving), it may be useful to connect with other IC-Hubbers who are going through a similar process.
Three additional tips:
Show your business plan to someone! IC-Hub members can do this via the Google and Facebook groups. It helps generate ideas and build accountability - critical to ensuring you take action.
Make a note of where you are in life when you develop the plan. Your plan will likely be subject to change and regular revision as you advance along your freelancing journey. I've personally found it useful to look back at previous plans and acknowledge where I was when I wrote them.
Write it for yourself! No need to make it perfect. Write it out as bullet points if you prefer.