Trading plans are an important part of any trader’s toolkit. The problem is, most traders don’t actively lay out a plan before they begin trading.
The result? They lose money and wonder why. Furthermore, many traders don’t know how to create a trading plan, or what to include.
Successful traders understand that trading plans are crucial to profiting consistently. In this article, I’ll walk you through creating your own plan, step-by-step, plus you can get a head start by using my free trading plan template, download below:
What is a trading plan?
A trading plan is an integral part of a trader’s strategy, outlining how trades are executed. It establishes rules for buying and selling securities, position sizing, risk management, and tradable securities. By following this plan, traders maintain discipline, consistency, and leverage proven strategies.
Why you should create a trading plan
Ask a new trader what they intend to do before the trading day and then ask them what they did at the end of the day. They almost certainly didn’t follow their plan.
Trading plans are there for us to follow. Trading plans mean we take trades that are consistent with our rules and risk, and it means we remove a lot of emotion and discretion. This is important because humans are not rational agents and outsourcing this work means we can achieve a better P&L and make more money.
A trading plan should resemble a business plan. A trader’s capital is their business and so we need to include everything that might be useful, but it should always cover the below.
What to include in your trading plan
- The time required to spend on your trading
- Your trading goals and targets
- Your risk tolerance and risk management rules
- Available capital for trading
- Specific markets you wish to trade
- The trading strategies you’ll use
- Your motivation for trading
Read more information on what to include in your trading plan (with examples) below, and download your free template here:
The time required for trading
We need to define the time we need in order to trade successfully. For example, if you’re in full-time employment, then it’s unrealistic to spend six hours a day trading the market.
For example: Here is a part of my trading plan…
“To trade the UK stock market on a full-time basis I realistically need to spend at least 8-10 hours per day in order to take advantage of intraday opportunities and manage open positions in real time”.
Your trading goals and targets
It’s important to set realistic targets in trading. Once you have a target, you can reverse engineer how to achieve it.
For example: A target of increasing a trading account by 20% is an achievable target. To do that, we need to look at our trading capital and work out which trading strategies we’ll use.
Using breakouts to trend follow is a strategy I have had much success with, and I explain how I do this in my guide to breakouts.
There are several trading styles:
- Swing trading: This is a common strategy that attempts to capture moves over several days or weeks. Swing traders look for shorter term trends and then move onto the next trade.
- Momentum trading: This is a trend-following strategy based on upward movement and momentum. It can be a successful strategy over months and years as the stock continues to move higher. This is often coupled with increasing fundamental strength and accelerating earnings.
- Scalping or intraday trading (also known as ‘day trading’): Intraday strategies refer to trades placed and closed within the same trading session.
Your risk tolerance and risk management rules
Risk management is the most important part of trading. Position sizing is the first and last line of defence in our trading accounts.
If you take position sizes with 20% of your account, then that means you are risking 100% of that position every time it is risked in the market. Even if the chances are 99%, then eventually that 1 in 100 chance of the stock going to 0p and losing 100% of the position will happen.
Whilst a 20% drawdown on the trading account isn’t fatal, the law of compounding means that we will now need to gain 25% of our account just to get back to where we started.
Never underestimate the numbers here – a 33% drawdown requires a near 50% gain just to get back to where we started.
It’s important to put in place risk management rules that will protect the account and prevent us from taking on too much risk.
Only you will know how much risk you’re willing to take, but if you put yourself in a position where you could do yourself material damage, then eventually that outcome will be presented.
If taking a loss hurts, then it means you are trading too large. Most traders blow their accounts due to overexposure. I’ve never heard of a single trader who blew their account due to continuously taking small losses. Position sizing and risk management is covered in detail in my trading handbook.
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Available capital for trading
Traders should always be clear about what money should be used for trading and what money should stay in their bank accounts.
Far too many traders have drawdowns in their trading accounts and decide to top up their account with a bank transfer.
Unfortunately, they end up putting far too much money into their account and do not keep track of their losses.
You should never trade with money you can’t afford to lose. I’ve had emails from people asking me what to do because they’ve lost the deposit for their house and they haven’t told their partner. Sadly, there is little that can be done at that point because the money is already lost.
In your trading plan you should be clear about how much is going into your trading account and how much you will top this up each month if that is going to be your strategy to grow your account further.
However, the best way of growing your trading account is by making money trading successfully in the market. Once you can consistently do this, then it makes sense to increase your funds and scale up.
Specific markets you wish to trade
A trading plan should also include the specific markets you wish to trade. Do you plan on trading UK stocks, US stocks, foreign exchange (forex), or cryptocurrencies? Once you’ve picked a market, you still need to drill deeper.
For example: If you pick UK stocks will you trade all of these, or just AIM, or just the Main Market? Will you trade only small cap stocks? Will you trade both SETS and the SETSqx platforms?
In my case, I trade all UK stocks, and don’t discriminate between any of them. However, my focus is on smaller stocks under £500 million market cap.
The trading strategies you’ll use
Your trading strategies are the ways you are going to make money. This part of the trading plan is important because by defining your strategies it will be clear to follow.
For example: I want to trade small-cap stocks that have momentum behind them, and I will find this momentum through technical breakouts and positive RNS announcements.
I will trade gaps and also place orders into the auctions in order to get better fills. I will use various brokers for different types of execution. I will take secondary raises that have news catalysts that can potentially drive the shares higher.
Your motivation for trading
What is your why? What are your goals, and what is your motivation? Trading is hard and there are ups and downs – it’s easy to motivate yourself when the going is good and you’re making lots of money. But it can be harder when you’re suffered several losses in a row, and you keep seeing your account grind lower or flat for weeks on end.
Writing down your why will make it easier to stay focused and commit to the long-term process and improvement.
- I want to trade because I enjoy the challenge and I also want to be my own boss.
- I want the freedom that comes with the lifestyle of a full time trader and I want to be around my wife and future children as they grow up.
- I want to offer my family a better life, and by continuing to work on my skillset is putting me closing towards my goals.
Good trading plan example
How do you write a trading plan?
1. Know your trading playbook
You should have a playbook of trades that you know how to execute in the market. A playbook is a list of trades, each with step-by-step instructions on how to trade the pattern.
If you don’t know what you should trade in your trading plan then building a playbook of trades is a good place to start.
2. Manage your risk
Risk management is a crucial skill for any trader. I’ve written an in-depth article on trading risk management for further information.
The reason risk management is so important is that without it we would blow up our accounts. Nobody would think about driving a car with no brakes because it would obviously crash – risk management is the brakes and safety system for our trading accounts.
Everyone has different risk profiles. Some are happy to take on high amounts of risk accepting that they may take hefty losses in order for the possibility of excess return.
Full-time traders like myself tend to be more cautious knowing that if they lose too much capital, they may have to go back to work.
You should include in your trading plan how much you’re prepared to risk on particular trades in your playbook and how much in your account overall.
3. Have a realistic profit target
Having an idea of a profit target will mean that you don’t end up falling into the trap of never selling. Far too many traders watch a stock rise, see it pullback, then immediately regret not nailing down profit into strength.
By setting out clear take profit targets this avoids indecisiveness and will ensure you execute ruthlessly.
Bonus tip: Trade the stocks in play
Trading is about being in stocks that are moving. Volatility is the lifeblood of a trader, and a dead stock means dead money.
The stocks ‘in play’ are the stocks that have moved or are moving in recent sessions, and the stocks we should be immediately keeping tabs on. Stocks can cycle in and out being in play, and so we need to keep track of those that offer the greatest volatility to trade.
Download my free one-page trading plan template
My opening plan trading template has everything you need to begin the trading day. It forces you to check and review your open positions, so you’re always knowing what to do.
It also suggests to list the current stocks in play, and how you can trade them, and in what size. Additionally, it asks “What can happen?” so a trader using this template will never be caught out.
By thinking ahead about potential scenarios and how to trade them, this gives the trader an advantage over others who do not put the work in. Traders who punt around their money without a clue or a plan are commonly referred to as “liquidity”.
To download the free template, click the button below and follow the instructions.