All businesses start out with a plan. Even if that plan is just “I think I can buy this widget for £1 and sell it for £1.50”, it’s still a statement of what the business will do and how it will make a profit.
But many – in fact, most – wannabe property investors start out without even the most basic of plans. Often, people have nothing more than vague thoughts like “property prices go up, so it’s a good investment” or “most wealthy people seem to own property”.
It might feel like sitting around planning is just delaying you from getting out to look at properties and start making money. But take it from someone who’s spoken to a lot of investors over the last few years: almost everyone who achieves great success started out with a solid plan.
(Or to put it another, more painful way: almost everyone who didn’t start with a plan ends up disappointed with where they end up – however much effort, money and time they put in.)
What does a property investment business plan look like?
It certainly doesn't need to be 100 spiral-bound pages of projections and fancy charts. In fact, the best plan would be so simple that it fits on the back of an index card – meaning that you can commit it to memory and use it to drive every decision you make.
In order to get to that simplicity though, you might need to do some seriously brain-straining thinking first.
It's not easy, but it is simple: your plan basically just needs to set out…
- Where you are now
- Where you want to get to, and
- What actions you're going to take to bridge the gap
Where you are now
To give a cheesy analogy, you can't plan a route unless you know where you're starting from.
Working out your starting point is the easiest part, because it involves information that's either known or easily knowable to you.
You'll need to be clear about:
- The amount of money you've got to invest
- The amount of savings you can allocate to property investment in future years
- The time you can invest each week or month
- The skills and knowledge you can apply to your property business
Note that I said it was the easiest part, but still not easy – because it involves honesty about what you can commit, and self-knowledge to determine where your strengths lie.
Knowing how much money you've got to invest should be straightforward, but it's probably worthwhile speaking to a mortgage broker to check that you'll have borrowing options – because this will determine your total investment figure. A broker will also be able to tell you about your options around releasing equity from your own home, if that's something you want to consider.
I'd also strongly encourage you to consider what “emergency fund” you want to keep in cash, and deduct that from your total investable funds. I suggest having at least six months' expenses in the bank at all times: the last thing you want is to plough every last penny into investments, then lose your job the next day and be unable to pay your bills.
Where you want to get to
So now you know where you're starting from, where do you want to end up? In other words, what's your goal?
Yes, you want to be “rich”, or “secure”, or “build a future” – but what does that actually mean, in pounds and pence terms, for you?
And just as importantly, when do you want to have achieved that?
You might be surprised by how much thought is involved in answering these questions properly. It's easy to throw around terms like “enough to fund my lifestyle” and assume that it might involve an income of £10,000 per month, but it's another matter entirely to look honestly at your ideal lifestyle and determine what a genuinely meaningful figure is.
The same is true for “when” – and it's an often-ignored factor that actually cuts to the heart of the most basic of investment decisions.
For example, take a choice between two properties:
- Property 1 will give a return on your investment of 15% but will probably never increase in value
- Property 2 will give a return of 7% but has the potential to double in value over the next decade.
If your goal is to create a certain monthly income within three years, the Property 1 is likely to be a better choice. Growth is unlikely to happen to any great extent over that time, so you need to optimise for cash in the bank right now.
On the other hand, if you have a decade before you want to have achieved your goal, Property 2 is probably the better bet. It very much is a “bet” because you're taking something of a gamble on capital growth, but it's got a lot of time to happen – and when it does, your returns will dwarf the higher rental income you'd have made from the other property.
That's just one example of why making even simple decisions in your property business are impossible without having that most basic ingredient of your plan: where you ultimately want to end up, and when.
So, by this point in the plan you need to:
- Assess your finances to build up an honest picture of where you are now
- Put some serious thought into where you want to get to, and when
That's a great start, but for most people it'll produce an uncomfortable insight: the gap between where you are and where you want to be seems impossibly large! With the resources you've got now, how are you possibly going to reach your goal in a sensible period of time?
Well, that's where it's time to start thinking about the details of the third step: the strategy you'll use to pursue your goal.
A strategy to bridge the gap
The steps you take to get from Point A to Point Z are what's commonly referred to as your strategy – and strategy is a vital component of your business plan.
The way I like to think about strategy is the way you compensate for a lack of cash. It's an unusual way to look at it, but I find it useful – because it tells you (given your timeframe and your goal) how much heavy-lifting your strategy will need to do to keep you on track.
Think of it like this: if you had £10m in the bank and your goal was to make an income of £5,000 per month within a year, you wouldn't need any strategy at all. You could just use your £10m to buy any properties, anywhere – you wouldn't need to maximise the rent, manage them well or even keep them all occupied at all times! You'd be able to buy so much property that you really couldn't fail.
Sure, it'd be a pretty stupid thing to do – you should really have had a more ambitious goal – but you get the point.
Obviously, most of us aren't in that position – and that's why we need a strategy.
So, just what position are you in?
A rule of thumb
A handy way of looking at it is to take the amount of money you've got to invest in property, and assume that you can get a 10% annual return on that money (ROI) – which is a rough rule-of-thumb for a normal property bought with a 75% mortgage.
So, if you've got £100,000, you can generate a (pre-tax) profit of £10,000 per year – or £833 per month.
That's unlikely to be enough to hit most people's goals – but then there's the time factor. If you save up the rental income for 10 years, you'll be able to buy another batch of properties just like the first – so you'll now have income of £1,666 per month.
If you're happy with that, then you've already got your strategy: buy properties that will give you a 10% ROI, then wait!
But most people will want more – which is where more of an advanced strategy comes in, allowing you to get better results, faster.
This might include:
- Buying properties and adding value, so you can refinance at the higher value and buy your next property more quickly (learn more about this strategy)
- Buying properties at a discount, allowing you again to refinance at the higher value and move on to the next one
- Turning properties into HMOs, so you can generate a higher ROI on them
- “Flipping” properties for a profit, so you can replenish your cash more quickly (read my guide to flipping)
…or something else entirely.
I go into different strategies in enormous detail in my book, The Complete Guide To Property Investment.
Simply appreciating the need for one of these strategies from the start is a really big deal.
Most people don't: they'll rush in, use all their money to buy properties that generate (say) £500 profit per month, then…what? They'll be stuck – because they didn't go in with a plan for how they were going to get to their target number. They'll effectively be starting from scratch, having to scrape together the money to go again.
It's extremely common, and it doesn't surprise me – but it does frustrate me. If they'd started with just a bit of time making a plan, they wouldn't have made this mistake – because it would have become very obvious that they wouldn't reach their goal without applying some strategy.
Any of the strategies I listed (or a different one, or a combination of several of them), when applied effectively, can get you to where you need to be. But that's not to say that all of them will be equally good for you. Each of them has different risk factors, requires different time commitments, are suited to different skill sets, and so on.
That's why this is your business plan: copying someone else's homework isn't going to do you any good, because their skills, attributes and preferences will be different from yours.
For example, one person's plan might be to get their hands dirty by renovating properties for resale – completing two projects per year, and using the profits to buy an HMO. Within five years they'll have five HMOs, which will give them all the income they need.
Someone else might be hopeless at anything hands-on, but a master negotiator. Their plan could be to buy at enough of a discount that they can pull at least half of their funds back out again by refinancing – and keep doing that until in ten years' time they have 15 single-let properties giving them their target income figure.
(That's why when someone emails me asking if their strategy “sounds good”, I have to say that I don't know: usually it sounds like on paper like it would work for someone, but I have no idea if they're the right person to execute it.)
So, coming up with your strategy involves:
- Starting with an assessment of where you are now
- Deciding where you want to get to, and by when
- Seeing how far you'll fall short by just buying “normal” properties
- Thinking about your own skills, time and preferences to choose which strategy (or strategies) you'll use to fill in the gap
It might take a while, and that's OK – it's not an easy decision. To take the pressure off though, remember: your plan isn't set in stone. It's important to start with a clear vision and not get distracted by every new opportunity that comes your way, but every plan is just a starting point: you'll be seeing what works, reviewing and adjusting course along the way.
Once you've got a strategy down on paper, that's a huge step – and you should congratulate yourself, because it's a step that most people will never make (and will suffer for).
But of course, the act of writing the plan isn't going to magic it into existence: you need to get out there and execute on the plan.
Turning your strategy into action
Having an appropriate goal and a solid strategy to get you there are essential, sure – but nothing is going to happen until you actually take the steps that are necessary to execute that strategy.
If you don't take the time to identify the steps and make a plan to carry them out, you'll end up in “pulling an all-nighter the day before your homework is due in” mode. And you don't want that: it's no good setting a five-year goal, feeling all virtuous for being such a strategic and big-picture thinker, then realising in four years and 364 days that you've not actually got any closer towards making it a reality!
So let's get those steps in place. And the good news is…it's really simple. (The best things usually are.)
Breaking it down
However big, ambitious and far in the future a goal seems to be, all goals are achieved in exactly the same way: by breaking them down into individual tasks, and working through those tasks one by one.
As you work through those tasks, it’s important to have sub-goals as “checkpoints” along the way.
Sub-goals are how you stay on track: by setting a deadline for each sub-goal, you can make sure that your progress is fast enough. They also keep you motivated, because it means you’ll always have a small “win” on the horizon: you won’t just be looking at the main goal (potentially) years off in the future. Think of them as mile markers at the side of a marathon course.
To put it another way:
Small task + Small task + Small task = Sub-goal
Sub-goal + Sub-goal + Sub-goal = Overall goal
It's those small daily tasks that are the foundations of your achievement. And that's the beauty of a good plan: all you need to concentrate on is ticking off your tasks each day, and your overall goal is achieved automatically!
So, this final step in your plan is about breaking that big goal down into sub-goals, and those sub-goals down into bite-sized individual tasks. That's it!
As you break it down, there are a few things I find are useful to think about…
One-off tasks v recurring tasks
Your business will have two types of task:
- One-off tasks, like finding a mortgage broker
- Recurring tasks, like viewing properties and making offers
These two types of task will both appear in your weekly, monthly and quarterly to-do lists. A useful way of planning your time is to start by filling in your recurring tasks – like going through portals to find new potential acquisitions every day, and calling agents to follow up on offers once per week – then adding your recurring tasks on top.
By thinking about both types, you'll make sure you're not dropping the ball on the important day-by-day stuff, but you're also not ignoring the big-picture one-offs that are going to make a huge difference to your business in the long run.
The first, simplest step
Just like you break a goal down into sub-goals and sub-goals down into tasks, I favour breaking every one-off task down into the smallest possible unit.
For example, “find a mortgage broker” could be an important one-off task for you, but it's not something you can just sit down and do until it's done. Because it seems nebulous and you can never identify a block of time when you can do it from start to finish, you can end up never doing it at all.
Instead, you'll make yourself feel better by ticking off smaller tasks that seem easier – but are often less important.
The solution is to break every task down into as many sub-tasks as possible. So instead of “find a mortgage broker”, the tasks become:
- Email 3 contacts to ask for recommendations
- Post on The Property Hub forum to ask for recommendations
- Email everyone who is recommended to set up a quick call
- Draw up a shortlist of 2-3 people to have a longer conversation with
- Pick a winner
Doesn't that seem much easier already? You can imagine sitting down and bashing out the first task in five minutes right now, then you're underway!
Who will do each job?
Here's a potential lightbulb moment: you don't have to do everything in your business yourself.
Any business has different “functions”, or departments – like sales, manufacturing, and admin. A property business is no exception.
The basic functions of all property businesses are the same:
The types of task that fall within each function will depend on your business plan. For example, if your aim is to find properties you can buy “below market value”, acquisition could be a major part of the business – involving direct-to-vendor marketing, networking with estate agents, and attending auctions.
On the other hand, if your model involves buying properties that you think will experience strong capital growth, there could be a lot more tasks in the “research” part of the business – and acquisition could be very straightforward once you’ve identified the opportunity itself.
Could you do every task within every function yourself? Maybe.
Could the business achieve better results if you bring in specialists to do what they do best? Definitely.
You could go big and employ an assistant to view properties and make offers for you, or just make sure you outsource functions like management and accountancy to the relevant professionals.
Whatever you do, once you start thinking about your property venture as a business with various departments, you'll start to break away from the idea that this is something you have to do all on your own – and that's a very powerful insight.
OK, this has been a long one – but we've covered a lot of ground.
To recap, those critical steps are:
- Assess where you are now
- Work out where you want to be, and by when
- Outline a strategy to get you there
- Fill in the detail, to get you from “big picture” to individual steps
It's a process that's worked for me, and I've seen it work for many investors I've encouraged to put it into action too.
Its power is in its simplicity: you take the time to intelligently decide exactly what you need to do, then you figure out a way to (to borrow a registered trademark) just do it. As long as you show up and work through your to-do list each day, the big, scary, long-term goal takes care of itself!
Of course, you'll need to assess your progress and adjust course along the way: nothing will pan out exactly as expected, and there's a lot that can change over a timespan of several years.
But by having your plan, what you won't do is get distracted by every new idea that comes your way – researching HMOs one day, and holiday lets the next – and end up getting nowhere.
(You'd be amazed by how many planless people that description fits to a tee.)
So now you know how to put a property business plan together. It's not a plan that will necessarily get you funding from the bank, but it's something more important than that: a plan you can use every day to make sure you stay on track to hit your goals.