So you’re starting a business and you need a loan or some other kind of financing. You knew you needed a business plan so you grabbed a template and started writing. But it wasn’t long before you realized that the plan was so much more than a really long form to fill out.

The instructions? They weren’t so good. The template asked you to “describe the target customer for your product” before you’d had the chance to ask yourself who those customers were.

And there’s a lot more to your financials than revenues and expenses. How do you decide how fast the business will grow? You can’t predict it with much certainty, so how do you decide what’s reasonable?

Hold on a minute – back up.

Who’s Your Ideal Customer?
If you haven’t answered this question in as much detail as you can muster, you’re doing yourself a disservice – and you’re wasting your time trying to complete a business plan.

Your ideal customer isn’t “small business owners” and it isn’t “single women who live downtown and own small dogs”. Sure, you might target these categories with your marketing, but only do so if your ideal customer falls into those categories. Don’t throw money at marketing – or even at a marketing plan – until you know who your ideal customer is.

How to Find Your Ideal Customer
Imagine the perfect buyer for your service or product. What does she look like? Where does she live? What’s her income? What are her hobbies? What are her buying habits? What does she value? Once you’ve got as clear a picture as possible of exactly who you want to work with, it becomes much easier to finish your business plan, because you are writing for her. All the decisions and plans you make revolve around her.

Now, this exercise isn’t easy. You’ll second-guess yourself. “But, my ideal customer might live downtown, but she might also live in the suburbs!” Okay, fine – but where do YOU want her to live? The goal of this exercise is to define your customer as if she’s the only one you’ll ever have, and you can just clone her a million times.

Once you’ve defined THE ONE, then you can go find some statistics to find out how many people like her exist. Bam! You’ve got your market size, and target segments. Next you can analyze those segments’ buying behaviours based on real data, not just your own assumptions. Bam! Marketing plan. You can then estimate how many people like your ideal customer your marketing activities will reach, and then you can start looking at revenue projections.

Of course, financials are a bit of an art on their own. There are plenty of resources that will help you understand and plan your business by the numbers, if you need them. (For instance, see the SBA’s site here.)

Once You Know Your Ideal Client, Everything Become Easier
You’ve got what it takes to finish your business plan. If you need more help, you can always turn to advisors or consultants – but there’s a lot more you can do on your own than you think.

Have you struggled to define your ideal customer? If you’ve succeeded, how did it help you finish your business plan? Let us know in the comments.