biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: how to use visualizations to grow your business

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from regular contributor Andrea Baxter, owner of Bratface Marketing and co-founder of Smart Cookies. (Check out more of Andrea’s Biz Ladies posts here!) Andrea offers some advice on realizing your future successes and goals through the use of visualization boards and other business-planning techniques. Thank you, Andrea, for this motivational piece! Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Imagine your perfect day. What are you doing? Where are you working? Are you married or single? Do you have children? Where are you living, and who are you living with? Does this exercise seem slightly unrealistic to you? Well, maybe it does to some, but to me, it seems like less of a dream and more of a reality now that I am finally in complete control of it.

Five years ago, when four financially inept friends and I started the Smart Cookies, The Perfect Day was one of the many concepts we came up with to help align our spending with our goals and what it was we truly wanted out of life. We all realized that we had these BHAG (code for big hairy audacious goals) that we wanted for ourselves, but none of the spending we were doing was getting us any closer, or close at all, to these goals. My spending certainly wasn’t getting me closer to fulfilling my dream of moving to the Big Apple & living in a brownstone walkup. Enter The Perfect Day & Vision Board. My personal vision board contains things that are easier to accomplish than others, but at the end of the day, they are all things I want out of my life, and I have learned to align my spending with these goals and visions to help me turn them into a reality. We all have a so-called “perfect day,” but are we really doing all we can to achieve it? I wanted to share a snapshot of what my vision board looks like (and keep in mind, it does change every so often):

I took this concept of ours and applied it to my new business, Bratface Marketing, because I see the purpose in the exercise and how visualization can take those dreams and turn them into a reality. Being a small-business owner in charge of the success of what I’ve started, I feel it’s important to be realistic about what my business goals are when it comes to profitability, growth and the bottom line. One thing I have learned in business is that no idea is used to its fullest potential unless you share it with others! I wanted to give all you fabulous small-business owners some of my step-by-step pointers on how to create a vision board for your business, how to set specific and realistic goals and how to put your dreams out there, so you actually achieve them!

Be Realistic When Creating Your Vision Board

Some of us have grandiose plans to start a business, be the CEO, earn tons of money and live happily ever after on our own terms. But it isn’t all cupcakes and double rainbows, so it’s important to be realistic about what this looks like for you because it’s different for everyone. This is where a vision board can come in great use because it allows you to visualize and map out what you see for your business. Do you see your business with its own office space? If so, what does it look like? Do you see yourself operating the business from the city you are currently in or moving it elsewhere? If so, where would that be, and what would that look like? Do you envision having lots of employees or just a few? Do you see multiple office locations? How is the space decorated? Do you see yourself working with specific companies? All of these small details that you visualize and use to create your vision board are the fun part because you get to be creative, and you would be amazed at how the power of visualization can work once it’s in a space you see every day. My vision board is right behind my desk where I work, and it’s a constant reminder of what my personal and business goals are.

Divide the Vision Board into Sections

This is one tool I started to use when I needed to take my business ideas and make them into a more visual object (after all, I’m a visual person, so it made perfect sense to me). I made a vision board that is divided into business sections that I wanted to focus on. They include TEAM, CLIENTS, GOALS, MONEY and NETWORKING. I divvied it up into these sections using a ribbon.

The TEAM section was my vision of what the Bratface Marketing team looks like, how many people I wanted to eventually hire, what their roles were and their goals in the company. I also mapped out what my role in the company was in 1, 3 and 5 years because it isn’t uncommon that the company founder takes on other responsibilities or changes their role as the business grows and matures.

The CLIENTS section visualized the types of clients I wanted to work with (you can be specific with names of businesses if you want to get really granular) and specific industries I wanted my dream clients to be in. It’s okay to think outside the box on this one because remember, it’s all about what your dreams are for your business. I’ve never had a problem reaching for those high-in-the-sky stars because my philosophy is “you won’t until you try it.”

The GOALS section is all about miscellaneous goals I wanted for my business and me personally, since the two mesh in many ways. Similar to what I mentioned above, my personal goals include living in NYC, which will drastically change the nature of my business and clients, so it’s important that I map out what that goal looks like. You can also note personal goals in here. I recently applied for a local Vancouver magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40” award, and one of my goals was to win this title, so that is also included in this section.

The MONEY section is all about numbers. This was the least fun part for me because I tend to be allergic to math, but it’s an exercise you need to do because the responsibility is on your shoulders. I mark my monthly, quarterly and annual revenue goals I want to hit in 1, 3 and 5 years; the number of clients I would ideally like to be working with on a regular basis; what my future client load looks like; and the cost of my business and how much I spend in 1,3 and 5 years (office rent, supplies, subscriptions, programs, affiliates, networks, etc.). I also listed what my time is worth and various billing tiers. It’s really important to have these numbers in a visual space because the more often you visit them, the more you will stay on track.

Finally, the NETWORKING section is my fave because I love getting out and meeting new people. I make a list of the people I want to connect with, how I’m going to get there and which events and conferences I want to attend. I have always wanted to attend some wickedly fantastic conferences and meet-ups in NYC and San Francisco, so I can connect with some awesome business people and organizations. I also want to build the speaking part of my business, connecting with companies and organizations that want to bring speakers in for their conferences and seminars. I LOVE meeting new people and connecting because 95% of my business is based on word of mouth and referrals, so I know it’s important to the livelihood of my business.

Networking also includes mentors. I wrote about connectors, trendsetters and influencers in a previous post and talked about how important it is to have these people in your professional and personal lives. Visualize and make a list of the people you want as your business mentors. They can be anyone you admire or respect, local or national, and be sure to choose people who are specialized in specific industries. The Smart Cookies Advisory Board is compiled of business people in areas like finance, web/online and entrepreneurship because those were the areas we needed the most guidance on, and they were a big part of our empire.

Be Smart, Plan Financially (the Non-Visual Part)

When starting a business, you have to be okay with the fact that you may not make any money in the first few months. Some do; others struggle a bit more. What I know for sure is that if I didn’t have my finances straightened out (thanks to the Smart Cookies) and if I was still living beyond my means, I wouldn’t have had the financial capability or common sense to start a business on my own (sad but true!). If you’re lucky and working full-time, you can typically get the business ball rolling when you are off the clock in your spare time (not at your day job!). This can include creating your business development plan, determining what the company’s brand is going to be and how much the business is going to cost to get started (all your incidentals — website, branding, accounting, legal, etc.). Having a job at the same time helps with your living expenses (especially if you are single and on the hook for paying all the bills yourself!). This is advice I’ve offered to a few of my friends who are in jobs they want to move on from and go out on their own. If you can, get as much done while you’re still earning a paycheck before you leave because it will help you out financially until you get your business off the ground.

However, if you have already gone out on your own with no regular paycheck, you have to be realistic and smart about what your monthly living expenses are and what start-up costs you will be incurring. If you can keep your business overhead costs low, then do so. I still work out of my home because I can, and getting an office would be an extra expense that I would be okay with in the future but can do without for now. Also knowing your bare-minimum monthly costs helps because it gives you an idea of how much you need to make in order to cover the basics. Everything on top of that is a bonus, and you can adjust or save accordingly. I knew that I could easily manage to pay my bills and live a decent life on $2,500 a month. (Scary to know that 5 years ago I was spending $1,500 MORE than what I was earning pre-Smart Cookies! Yikes.)

Business Plans Aren’t the Be All End All . . .

I know I may be putting myself in front of the firing squad with this tip, but a business plan isn’t always needed when you start a business. We did one for Smart Cookies because we had so many parts of the business that needed fleshing out. We also had the intention of having investors come on board and possibly selling the company in 5 to 8 years. We needed a plan for these reasons alone, but I know the pressure when you start a business. Everyone tells you, “You need to have a business plan before you do anything.” Talk about a kill-joy! It’s okay to say no, but you have to look at your intentions and “blue-sky planning” when it comes to your business and its goals. If you plan on keeping a small, boutique business with a few employees, you may not necessarily need one.

As an alternative to a business plan, I drafted up a business development plan in PowerPoint for Bratface Marketing, which included my growth plans; monthly, quarterly and annual revenue goals; target clients and industries, Bratface Marketing’s ideal clients, etc. We did this for each employee as well because we all had various targets and companies we wanted to go after. We even added our business plans for the next 3 to 5 years and projected all the numbers that coincide with those.

At the end of the day, you have to plan your business as best you can in the way that is best for your company. There is no one-size-fits-all plan, and some like to take the more traditional approach (i.e., drafting up a business plan) while others like to take a more unconventional approach.

I think this is a great exercise for any small business because it’s different, and everyone responds to something visual. If you can make it your own and create the business you’ve always wanted, why not show it off? If you do create a vision board for your business, I would love for you to share it with me, so I can share with others. You just never know where it will take you . . .

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  • I’d always seen vision boards as a little hokey, but now that I am starting my own business, I can definitely see the advantage to having things mapped out visually to keep you on track. Time to go find my glue stick…

  • Great advice! I’ve seen different versions of this, but none so realistic and with sections making it easier to start. Thank you for your always stellar info!

  • Really fantastic advice, and so appreciated right at this time in my life. About to make the jump from doing just contract work, to out right sales and marketing my wares. I have a vision board, but the concept of dividing it makes perfect sense! Thank you.

  • I feel like this post was written just for me! I’m at a stage of big transition with my business right now and definitely need a plan to take it to the next level.
    Thank you so much for this series.
    Perfect every time!

  • I started my own business in 2003 at the age of 52 after spending 20 years on the corporate merry-go-round. I’m lucky to be married and my husband has a good job with health benefits, but I put him through school so we agreed it was my turn. In the beginning I used a pretty little box for affirmations. These were short notes like, “I have strong connections to the people who hire me for my creative talents.” “I have steady, paying work.” I think putting it out to the universe in a positive, organized way really helped me grow my business. Now I’m planning on starting a vision board! I applaud you for making this available to others. Thanks!!

  • I do this for everything I design whether it’s a piece of jewelry, an office interior, a special gift or my veggie garden. This article however, presents this style of visual explanation for business goals, perfectly. Glad I found this today!

  • I’m most definitely going to do this – I tend to keep all my dreams and aspirations in my head – I think i’m too nervous of failing to let them out and get them down on paper.

    This post, and this one http://mr–yen.blogspot.com/2011/07/monday-morning-six-month-plan-update.html are putting it a little differently, and if I alter my ‘dream’ to ‘goal’ by visualisation and planning then I might just make it happen! Thank you!

  • Thanks for all of your wonderful comments! I’m glad you were all inspired to do a little arts and crafts to map out your business goals! – Andrea

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