What is a trading plan?

A trading plan is a structure, or a set of guidelines, to define your trading activity. It can be an extremely useful tool to help you focus on planning and executing your trading strategy.

There is no absolute blueprint for the perfect trading plan – every trader is unique, and different styles suit different people – but there are certain universally accepted elements to consider when building your own plan.

Your road map

You can think of a trading plan as a road map; a route to take you from where you are to where you want to be.

Metaphorically speaking, it is important to have a very clear and honest picture of both of these ‘places’ in mind.

  • Where are you now?
  • What sort of trader are you now?
  • What knowledge and experience do you have
  • How much capital do you have to trade with?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • What do you want to achieve with your trading?
  • What sort of timeframe do you have?
  • What will success look like?

Another way to look at a trading plan is like a business plan. You wouldn’t start a business without a business plan – why would you want to start trading without a trading plan?

General trading plan rules

While it is true there is no absolute blueprint to constructing the perfect trading plan, there are a few general rules that will be extremely useful in almost all cases.

  1. Write it down. You should write down things like your reasons for trading and the key objectives that you hope to achieve. This will help you organise your thoughts, as well as giving your plan solidity.
  2. Record your progress. Develop a clear and concise method of recording your trades. It is critical in planning a long-term strategy to be able to view your past and present trades, both from a learning perspective but also to keep track of which markets you are, and have been, exposed to
  3. Control your finances. Money management is a third crucial element of any trading plan. You need to have a plan for managing your investments, especially your exposure to risk.

Key trading plan questions

Here are a few important questions, and some hypothetical answers, to consider when setting up your trading plan:

  • To make a sustainable living
  • To top up my retirement funds a little
  • To make some fast cash whenever I can
  • Purely to enjoy the challenge
  • To make as much money as possible
  • I like taking chances
  • I like a balanced approach towards risk and reward
  • I like to play it safe
  • It’s my full-time job
  • Only my spare time, but I’m committed
  • This is just a hobby, for when the mood takes me
  • I’m very familiar with financial markets and most trading methods
  • I know certain areas in depth, but others are unfamiliar to me
  • I’m fairly new to financial trading, but learning fast
  • I’m just getting started and only know the basics