There’s never a “perfect” time to make a career switch or become a small biz owner. But hey, that also means there’s never a wrong time to do it, right? If you’ve been thinking about starting your own side hustle or full-time hustle, there’s no time like now. Since this kind of leap definitely requires a solid business plan, we reached out to Lauren McGoodwin, the founder and CEO of Career Contessa, a super smart platform that offers women one-on-one career counseling sessions with experts in various fields, many of whom run their own businesses. Read on for McGoodwin’s bright answers to our toughest Q’s, along with her go-to resources for drafting a plan that’ll impress and set you up for success.

1.Set super clear goals for yourself. “When I first launched Career Contessa, I was still working full-time, and it was very much a side project,” McGoodwin tells us. “That period was an experimental phase for me, so carving out a real business plan for the next phase was key. If you take anything away from my advice, let it be this: To write a killer plan, you need to get more specific than you’re probably expecting.”

When we asked her exactly how specific you should think about being, McGoodwin told us that not only should you know your goals before you even start writing the plan itself, “but also outline the clear, actionable ways you plan to accomplish them.” She says that these goals are probably different from the ones that you had when starting your side project, because what you’re about to do isn’t the same thing. “I’m a big believer in setting SMART goals for yourself and your business before you even hit the business-plan phase. You should schedule regular periods to check back in on those goals and adapt them,” she wisely advises.


2.Connect with people who have been there and done that. “I recommend taking one more step to prepare yourself before you ever start writing your plan: an informational interview and research phase,” McGoodwin says. “There are plenty of people out there who have turned their side hustles into full-time businesses, and most of them love sharing how they did it. Chances are your network, friends, and family know someone who launched their own business.”

Not sure how to go about connecting in a genuine way? McGoodwin dishes the deets: “Reach out to them for a coffee date or phone call. Next, do some research on your competition, and know who your direct competitors will be. What other companies are doing what you’re doing or something similar? Can you talk to someone working there?” She let us know you should set as many meetings as you can. “It may sound time-consuming, but hey, if you aren’t ready to put some serious work in, you shouldn’t be launching your own business, right?” Totally true.


3.Don’t reinvent the wheel. McGoodwin shared some pretty awesome insights with us. “When it comes to actually writing a business plan, you should know that *millions* of people have done it before you. The great thing about that (and the digital age) is that you can read sample business plans and download templates online for free. Why start from scratch when experts are there to help you?”

McGoodwin gave us a great list of sites to scope out too, telling us that she loves this comprehensive business plan guide from Entrepreneur and Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas, which you can use in your planning phase. Boom!

Black businesswoman talking on cell phone in office

4.You’ve got to talk money to make money. It’s no secret that chatting about money can be a bit awkward, and McGoodwin agrees. “Probably the hardest part of creating a successful business plan is dealing with your finances realistically — we’re all raised to never talk about money with strangers. But when you decide to make the leap and start your own business, you’re going to have to give up that rule of etiquette.” She tells us that a successful business plan means “knowing exactly how much money you need and, more importantly, where that money is going to come from.” She says to ask yourself: “Will I offer services or products? Both? How will I market my business and make sales? What’s my overall budget, and how about those fixed versus variable costs each month?”

Number crunching is also ultra-critical if you’re going to the bank for a loan or trying to raise investment dollars. McGoodwin says you should be ready to easily talk about why your business is worth investing in and how you’re going to make money. “Practice writing your financial plan and present it to your family or friends,” she offers. “Make them ask the hard questions. That way, when you get ready to write those portions of your business plan, you’ll know exactly how to explain yourself.”

5.Work smarter, not harder. McGoodwin explains that staying healthy and maintaining balance is a key part in thinking about your business and should be top of mind when writing your plan. “When writing your business plan, you really need to assess what’s working and what isn’t,” she notes. “It’s easy when you’re side hustling to get too close to your work. But emotion can’t play a part in this. If something you love doing is a flop in terms of growing your business, you have to be prepared to let it go. It’ll save you time, money, and, ultimately, heartache.”

She also reminds us that the 80/20 rule, or Pareto Principle, should stay top of mind. “Study after study shows that when you work all the time you’re not necessarily producing quality work. It sounds complicated, but actually, it’s pretty simple: 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of the work you put in (and vice versa).” McGoodwin’s advice? Learn how to recognize what makes up your 20 percent and own it.

Are you hoping to turn your side hustle into a bona fide biz in 2017? Tweet us the deets @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)