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How do you make money in a one-off business?
August 7, 2014 7:06 PM   Subscribe

My friend has a fledgling business writing business plans in a smaller city. She wants to know how to make it grow.

My friend has been writing business plans as part of a variety of services she offers. She's been doing it off and on for a number of years. She thinks she could make a go of it and, in the city she's in, she doesn't have a lot of competitors in this particular area. But she's wondering how on earth she would grow it so it's more than just a lifestyle business.

Right now, she gets paid between $3,000 and $10,000 to do business plans for smaller businesses. She can see that she could grow it to the point where she had some other people freelancing for her. But there's none of the recurring revenue that you get from other consulting businesses, such as when you're a marketing consultant and the same clients come back for things like websites, social media, brochures, direct mail campaigns, etc. And, while people might refer others to her, business plans are kind of a niche, one-off thing.

Is there some sort of business model she could look at? She'd like to be in a position where she's able to make good money and sell the business off one day. She's unsure if that is a pipe dream and she should look at some other sort of business. I told her that lots of people have "lifestyle" jobs that they can't sell at the end of the day, but that allow them to earn a good living. She thinks she could probably outsource some of the work, but a lot of the people are looking for her unique skillset and she's not entirely sure how many people could do the work she does. But she concedes that maybe she could dumb down some of the work, a la Emyth. She is pretty set on the idea that some sort of recurring revenue would allow her to sell the business one day. She is very interested in business plans and feels she would really enjoy focusing on this sort of work. But there's no opportunity to get clients on a monthly retainer, unless she also offered business coaching or other research services or something like that. Or is there something to this sort of business that would provide some stability, so that she isn't constantly having to weed through clients with $3k-$10k to pay for plans, do the work, and then never see them again?
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hire a marketing expert and become part of the marketing infrastructure of the businesses for which she is writing the plans, helping grow, drive and shape the vision of said businesses according to their business plans by being outside marketing consultants on monthly retainers.
posted by zagyzebra at 7:26 PM on August 7


Law firms that represent plaintiffs don't really have repeat client business, so that sort of compares.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:30 PM on August 7


So she needs a business plan for her business plan business?

Sorry, couldn't resist. She could partner up with a web person and hire out for social media, etc. and then offer the full package.
posted by myselfasme at 7:37 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


My business is similar in that people rarely buy more than one of what we sell. It doesn't stop businesses like ours (solar power installer) being profitable and getting sold. Our work keeps coming in because (a) there's an ongoing demand and (b) we're good at it and people tell others this. Repeat business is not the only way to demonstrate value to a potential purchaser; customers don't last forever anyway.

It also strikes me that business plans need to be redone periodically because market conditions are always changing, so I don't understand why they think there's no opportunity for repeats. Some sort of a newsletter/blog/whatever to keep in touch with clients can be helpful in keeping you in their minds and one could organise a follow up schedule at the time the initial business plan is done.

There also seems to me to be a lot of follow up opportunities here. Plans must be implemented and that's something I'd guess many people would want help with. Not sure why your friend isn't interested in this.
posted by mewsic at 7:56 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Also, the phrase "serial entrepreneur" exists for a reason. There are plenty of people who start multiple disparate businesses and as such would need multiple business plans.
posted by mmascolino at 8:23 PM on August 7


Thanks. I think she was wondering if there was a way to just focus on doing business plans. She already offers a range of services now, but there are just so many companies offering marketing services and fewer offering business plans. She thought perhaps becoming a niche provider would set her apart and allow her to grow. But she can't see a way to do it without offering the marketing services and then she feels like she's just absorbed back into the masses of marketing companies.

And, yes, she recognizes the ridiculousness of needing help for her business plan business, but stepping outside her own head is difficult to do. I asked her what she'd tell a client and she said she'd tell the client to outsource marketing, since it's easy to find people to do that, but she's still wondering if there's a way to just focus on business plans.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:40 AM on August 8


I know people who help small businesses for a living. Part of their job is helping with business plans.

The business owners whom they help are not paying for their service - local government is.

So your friend should investigate this avenue; seeing if they could become "the approved" mentor or business plan writer for local businesses starting up.

So, while this type of business might not be scalable; getting involved with local government might make the work less ad hoc and more stable.
posted by jacobean at 11:07 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Part of being a business owner is re-evaluating business strategy each year/2-3 years, and repositioning the business for new market conditions. Perhaps she could do packages for initial business plan + yearly meeting for strategy evaluation. Sort of like a life coach who helps a client with goals and forward planning, but for business. If she's great at writing business plans, she would probably be very good at cultivating the skills for this.
posted by shazzam! at 4:39 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


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