Not long ago, a listener of one of our podcasts asked the question:
What’s the Recipe for a Successful Trading Plan?
When first began, I spent a lot of time thinking about trading plans and how to create them.
I read a lot of books and attended seminars, and while they all tell you a trading plan is necessary, they never explain what needs to be in it.
So, What Exactly Is a Trading Plan?
It is a simple document, which details:
- your mission and purpose for trading and investing,
- your goals, your daily routine and actions,
- your risk management criteria and position sizing rules,
- your trading and investment systems and your market analysis.
Trading Plans Are Not For Hobbyists
For those who want to treat trading like a hobby and something you can do in your spare time after work when you feel like it so you can tell people you are a ‘trader’, please don’t pursue this endeavour.
It will be costly. Not only will you not get the results you anticipate, but your entire account is also likely to become nothing.
You are better off getting your excitement elsewhere.
For those who want to treat it as serious business, I am here to help because trading with your trading plan is like running your own business with your own business plan, except there are no bosses to report to, and no employees to manage.
Let’s Start Creating Your Trading Plan Together…
Your trading plan, like everything else in life will evolve over time, as you become a better investor and trader.
It is never a final document.
Where most go wrong, including me is that they try too hard to perfect their plan thinking this will be the ultimate end document throughout my whole trading career. It will not be.
I made that mistake and it held up my progress for months.
So don’t get bogged down into all the nitty-gritty details, as this will only slow down your progress of actually placing real funds into the market, which is the ultimate teacher of all.
Now, let’s take a look at what will be the essential elements of your trading plan…
Your Mission and Purpose of Trading
What is your ‘Why’?
If you don’t know this, you run the risk of quitting when things don’t go according to plan, which is a very common scenario given you are dealing with unpredictable markets.
When I began, my big ‘Why’ was to be able to create the financial, time and location freedom, free from the daily 9-5 grind of full-time employment. That drove me and whenever I hit a pothole during my journey to this dream, I kept on going no matter what.
Without having had my ‘Why’, I would have have easily quit or gone off on a tangent.
So your first mission is to figure out your why.
Your Trading Goals
Most people mistake their mission and purpose for their goals. They’re not the same.
Think of it this way- your mission and purpose is your ‘Why’ and your goals are your shorter-term targets.
For example, when you first begin, rather than aim for ridiculously high returns and place all that pressure on yourself, it may be to complete a trading course to learn all you can, then your next goal may be to then begin trading live.
It is by taking these little steps that you will eventually achieve your ultimate purpose.
Your shorter-term goals will constantly evolve as you achieve them, and it’s for that reason that your trading plan will never stay the same (as I mentioned above).
➜ Related Article: Be wary of setting unrealistic goals as that often sabotages your success. Read my post about Realistic Trading Goals Lead to Greater Trading Success
Skill Assessment and Love
I know – this sounds like an odd title, especially with the word ‘love’ added into it.
Well, the purpose of skill assessment is to do an honest assessment of your trading and investment skills as it stands. Don’t ever be too proud to admit you don’t know something because you are better off acknowledging this and then going out to learn it than pretend you do and make a big financial mistake after the fact.
When I refer to love, I mean love for the markets in which you are interested.
There are a wide variety of markets out there, but it is best you define your affiliation with one, stick to it and be good at it than trying to tackle all at once.
In the end, you will find love / a strong preference for one market compared to another.
For me, it was stocks and the options over these stocks. Although I’d learned about Forex, Futures, and Bonds, I felt very comfortable with stocks because I could physically see each stock as a business of providing products and services for people and I could, therefore, affiliate with them from a business point of view.
Daily Rituals and Actions
This is a very important one as it forms the basis for your success. I use the word rituals not from a religious point of view but from a discipline point of view.
If you look at those who are successful in life, you will find that they have a regular set of behaviours or actions that work towards the completion of their goals and the achievement of their purpose – actions that have become so familiar, that they’ve become automatic.
Everyone’s daily rituals and actions are different. So you will need to find what works for you to best enable you to effortlessly trade.
For me, I start my day with water hydration and weight or cardio workouts to get my body ready for the day. I then spend my day analysing the markets to prepare for the day’s trades when the markets are closed. I will then visualise myself completing the trades as if it has already happened and when the markets open, it is very easy to just execute my plan since I have already lived through the process once.
Find what works best for you and this will make your trading effortless.
Risk Management and Position Sizing
Most people pay more attention to returns rather than risk.
However, my philosophy is to look after the risks and the returns will then look after itself – because it does.
Before you enter the markets, you must always know the maximum risk you have set for your entire portfolio and for each individual trade since all the individuals add up to the whole. If the combination of individual trades all go wrong together and adds up to a blow out the risk you deem unacceptable, then you are in effect taking on too much risk on each position.
This is the concept of position sizing. It answers the question, how much to invest into each opportunity, and when these all add up, how much risk is my portfolio undertaking at any point in time, also known as ‘portfolio heat’.
Ask yourself “What is your maximum combined risk for your total portfolio and your individual trades?”
It is vital to know this before you set foot in the market.
➜ Related Article: Learn more about position sizing with my blog post on How To Achieve High Returns Taking Little Risk
I haven’t mentioned entries and exits up to this point because without mastering risk management, entries and exits are a moot point.
When risk management is in place, the pressure to have a perfect entry and exit on every individual trade is relieved.
Most people make the mistake of focusing on the entry, but ignore the time and place to exit.
I, on the other hand, focus on exit first.
I will always know when I will be exiting before I even think about the entry – because without a solid exit plan and rules, entry should not even be on the agenda.
So set out your strict exit and entry rules hard on paper while markets are closed. Never ever change these in mid-flight when the markets are open because you are then subject to trading on emotions rather than rationality.
These strict rules will be your guiding light when the pressure is on and the markets are open.
Another mistake novice traders make is focusing on just the stock they are about to get into, but ignoring the general market environment.
Always look at the big picture – this is what separates the professionals from the amateurs.
It takes time to get the hang of it, as it is part art and part science. When people talk about intuition, it is usually because they have traded for years (generally a full market cycle of 10-15 years – a whole market cycle) and have deeply embedded within themselves a good feel of the markets. The so-called ‘10,000-hour rule‘.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a good idea of the market as a newbie.
When you first begin, it is best to stick with the science of strict market analysis criteria that you have set up to gauge where the market is.
It can be a combination of fundamental factors as well as technical factors. I personally like fundamentals like employment data, consumer confidence, other economic numbers like inflation etc. and market volatility.
These combine to give me a feel of the market risk level and tell me if I should stand aside and if I do participate, how much to invest in each opportunity based on current market risk.
Constant and Never-Ending Review
This last ingredient is one of the most important parts of trading – the end of the day.
Here’s where you have the opportunity to see how much you were able to stick to your plan and rules of execution with each trade.
It does take time, but these are the elements that will ultimately lead to your success as a trader.
Even to this day, there are times when I forget to visualise because ‘I am in a bit of a rush or I don’t do my post-trade analysis just as well as I should, but at least I am aware of this which allows me to do better the next time. There is always room to improve my performance.
So even having being involved with the markets for two decades, I, like you, are still learning and will likely never stop learning.
This is what keeps me excited every day and I hope it does the same for you too.