Thinking Like a Business: Creating Your Business Plan

“I just don’t have a business mind.”

It’s a common refrain among our people. What’s the deal with business versus music and art? Why is it common for folks like us at CMN to feel they don’t have the right mind for business?

I’m here to tell you: you do.

Here’s how you use that right mind: You make a business plan.

First, a little background on me. I write this article with experience starting my own sole proprietorship, then converting it to an LLC and building a team of five employee-teachers. We teach at about seventy different locations in the San Francisco Bay Area under the name Golden Acorn Music. Along the way, I completed an online MBA from Quantic School.

Second, a little background on artistry and business. The logic behind the “not the right mind” sentiment usually breaks down as follows:

  1. Music and art are warm, creative.
  2. Business is cold, calculating.
  3. The two just don’t mix.

There are many ways to address this, and I usually make two counterarguments. First: Yes, music work is certainly warm and creative. It also has an audience—typically a very specific audience. A business plan is a great way to optimize your time finding and delighting that audience.

Second: Not all businesses are cold and calculating. Admittedly, it is painfully easy to look around and observe all sorts of bad players in the business world. Fortunately, those bad players have little to no bearing on you and your business. You get to choose how you want to do business, and I’m happy to report that you can do good (income-generating) business in a way that is creative, artistic, and moral.

After many conversations with CMNers on mixing music and business, I created a workshop to help coach groups of musicians and first-time businesspeople. This article distills all the information from that workshop, a version of which I led at the recent CMN Conference.

How can you find your business mind? You’re going to create a simple, one-page business plan, which has five parts:

  1. Products and services
  2. Audience and competition (market analysis)
  3. Marketing strategy (what’s your selling point?)
  4. Key metrics for success
  5. Pricing and budgeting

First, get ready to write. (Or type.) Copy those five parts onto a paper (or document), evenly spaced.

1) Products and Services

Under this heading, write down everything you currently offer. And by “everything,” I mean everything that you would say yes to doing if someone asked you for it tomorrow.

As you go, try to keep the things you offer organized into products (tangible offerings, e.g., CDs, t-shirts, instruments) and services (nontangible offerings, e.g., concerts, parties).

Once you’ve triple-checked and made sure you got everything, see if you can pare things down to a “logical list.” By that, I mean what’s the most time- and resource-efficient collection of products and services you can offer? For example, birthday parties and in-school assemblies probably have a lot of overlap—they may involve much of the same content and equipment. By contrast, birthday parties and private lessons probably have a lot less overlap.

(Remember, this is an exercise—you actually don’t have to cut anything from your offerings if you don’t want to!)

Then we move to:

2) Audience and Competition

Now that you know what you offer, this two-part exercise is based on two questions: 1) What population segments are your offerings best for? 2) What’s already available for those segments?

When you answer number one, you’re trying to identify your audience. You may be tempted to insist, “My music is for everyone!” I am sorry to say that this is never true. Even “September” isn’t for everyone, and if Earth, Wind & Fire can’t make a truly universal song, you probably can’t either.

But that’s okay! All you need to do is identify who your offerings are for, or who they’re most for. Try to be as specific as possible about your target audience—their age, location, and interests.

As an example from my own work, I found that my interactive, movement-based style of music education resonated best in play-based and Reggio Emilia schools, so that’s who I targeted first.

Once you have identified at least a couple audience segments, move to the second question: What’s available already? For this, identify who else is currently providing services like yours to your target audience(s). Identify what attributes are common among those providers. For example:

  • What instruments do they play?
  • Do they sing a cappella?
  • Electric or acoustic?
  • Are they mostly solo performers or bands?
  • What genre(s) of music are most common?

When you have that ready, it’s on to:

3) Marketing Strategy

This one is deceptively simple. Now that you’ve analyzed the competition, the most important questions to answer are:

1) What attributes do I bring that are common?

2) What attributes do I bring that are rare?

Write down one or two answers to each. This will help you identify what aspects of you will be more familiar to your audience (e.g., if you play guitar, this can help build trust quickly among new customers), as well as your more unique or niche aspects (e.g., you have a STEM background, you’re a trained dancer). These aspects help you stand out amid a crowded field.

Not 100 percent sure what your niche aspects are? Ask a few people who know your work well! Colleagues, friends, family, ardent fans—they’ll tell you.

For example, in my work, I come with a background in music (college degree) and performance. This is common among music educators, so when I first meet a school, I lead with this, and they quickly trust me. Then I present my uniqueness: extensive experience in Early Childhood Development, which means I specialize in leading classes for ages zero to two, which many musicians find more challenging. (For more on this, read up on the concept of unique value proposition.)

That’s all. When you’re ready, it’s on to:

4) Key Metrics for Success

Key metrics for success are goals or targets you want to hit. They should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Basically, they should be detailed, have numbers, and have deadlines. You can do it!

There are two types of metrics I want you to write for yourself: income metrics and foundation metrics. (I made up those terms, so don’t Google them.)

Income metrics are goals for activities that directly generate income. Examples of these goals are:

  • Have twenty-five classes per week (regular)
  • Book three parties per month (minimum)
  • Book forty concerts per year (minimum)

Notice that this is directly related to Products and Services. What are your goals for how much of each product or service you want to sell?

Foundation metrics, on the other hand, indirectly generate income. You know that if you do them, they’ll lead to income, but they don’t, in and of themselves, make you money. Some examples:

  • Make twenty cold calls to schools per week
  • Make five networking calls to get word-of-mouth referral to new customers per week
  • Write two new songs per month

To recap: income metrics directly generate revenue; foundation metrics indirectly generate revenue. Jot down your top two for each.

Now, it’s on to the final piece. Everyone’s favorite:

5) Pricing and Budgeting

It’s numbers time!

There are many ways to determine price. (For more information, read this article about cost-based, value-based, and market-based pricing.) The easiest way for you, however, will probably be to make fifteen to twenty calls and get seven to ten actual price points from people in your area.

The only rule I have for you is that when you have a good idea of what others are charging, don’t be at the bottom. Two reasons: first, you’ll seem “cheap,” and second, others will resent you because even if you’re not aiming to undercut them, it will look like that.

Budgeting, like pricing, is too complicated a topic to explain in a single article but know that it all boils down to one number: your business income.

Not your personal income—though that is important—but rather the amount of money you want your business to bring in.

Use this simple formula:

Business Income = Your Personal Income + Expenses (+ Taxes)

All you need to do is replace the parts of the right-hand side of the equation with numbers. How much income do you want to personally make from your business? How much will running the business cost? (Don’t forget to factor in how much you’ll pay in taxes.)

The main difficulty lies in Expenses: how do you calculate them? Estimate them? Categorize them?

If you’re feeling unsure, get help! Help can come in the form of a part-time accountant, a family member who’s good with numbers, or this spreadsheet budgeting template. (To create your own editable copy, click the link, then click File > Make a copy.)

Using Your Business Plan

Amazing—you’ve done it! You have a one-page business plan draft. This is a great exercise to repeat once per year, and it’s great if you can get together with someone else to do it. Two minds work better than one on this kind of strategic, creative thinking.

This business plan should help you decide what products and services to offer and to whom. It should help you decide how to market your offerings, what short- and long-term goals you have for each product or service, and how much you’re going to charge to make what you want/need to make.

A business plan isn’t a silver bullet, but it can be a steel scaffold. Good luck. If you found this useful, or if you didn’t, or if you have comments or reactions, please email me at

Now, go be the business you always wanted to be!

Additional Resources

A longer article about making a business plan

That spreadsheet budgeting template I mentioned in Part 5

That pricing article I also mentioned in Part 5: “The 3 Most Common Pricing Strategies

A book about systematizing creativity: Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, one of the Pixar founders

If you want to build a simple, easy website, try Google Sites

If you want to find a part-time designer, accountant, etc., try Upwork. You can also try a local university, chamber of commerce, or community college.

Most of all, don’t give up!