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3 Elements of a Successful Trading Plan

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Perhaps the single most important aspect of engaging the financial markets profitably is the development of a comprehensive trading plan. A rules-based approach to active trading promotes a consistent dialogue between the trader and the marketplace.

Entering the arena of active trading without first having a plan is like driving a car equipped with a shattered windshield — you may get from point A to point B, but the odds of doing so safely are reduced dramatically. By investing the resources necessary for building and implementing a viable trading plan, a trader will be able to avoid the many pitfalls standing in the way of success in the marketplace.

What Should a Successful Trading Plan Include?

Successful trading is a process. No matter how sophisticated a strategy is, or how extensive the available resources are, a trader must clearly define three distinct elements within the context of any trading plan:

  • Market entry and exit
  • Risk
  • Psychology

Having each of these topics fleshed out in detail is vital to the structure of a comprehensive approach to the markets. Each topic is interrelated with the others. If one item is missing, the integrity of the entire trading plan is compromised.

Any trades are educational examples only. They do not include commissions and fees.

1. Market Entry and Exit

At its core, active trading is the art of knowing when, what and how to trade. Implementing a set of concrete guidelines that govern market entry and exit is crucial to trading in a competent manner.

Executing a trade is a fairly straightforward act. A simple mouse-click on an order DOM or a call to a broker can open or close a position at market. However, the methodology behind the decision to buy or sell a security is a key driver of performance.

A viable strategy clearly defining market entry and exit brings the following attributes to the trading plan:

  • Promotes trade-related consistency and efficiency
  • Creates a statistically verifiable track record
  • Reduces the impacts of fear and greed on profitability

Understanding market entry and exit thoroughly is an important part of any successful trading plan. Consistent and efficient habits in the marketplace are essential to sustaining a viable “edge” over the competition.

2. Risk Management

Aggressive risk management is an integral part of trade-related efficiency. Each and every time traders enter the market, they’re putting capital into harm’s way in the hopes of realizing a return. Although risk is unavoidable, reckless trading is not.

Industry professionals often cite risk management as the primary factor in successful trading. Here are several factors that traders must consider to adequately address the role of risk in any trading plan:

  • The inherent volatility of the product being targeted must be respected.
  • Prudent money management ensures account liquidity is preserved.
  • Balancing risk and reward promotes the economical use of available capital resources.

Risk is an ever-evolving entity that may change without notice. However, the trader is in full control of how much risk is assumed on a specific trade. A robust trading plan ensures efficient use of capital in the face of any unexpected adversity.

3. The Psychology of Successful Trading

Adopting the trading methodology that is most suitable for one’s psychological makeup is a key element in optimizing performance. Specific skill sets and predispositions lend themselves better to certain strategies over others. Simply put, not every type of trading is a good fit for every individual.

These attributes are typically present in a successful trading plan:

  • User-friendly: The objective of the trading plan must be clear-cut and make sense to the user, with execution being second nature.
  • Comprehensible: The trader needs to be comfortable with the technology and methods that govern a strategy’s implementation.
  • Promotes discipline: In order for a plan to perform up to its capabilities, the plan must be trusted by the trader. This ensures that the strategy is executed in a consistent manner over time.

Realizing steady gains in the marketplace is a product of tenacity, dedication and competence. If the trading plan makes sense to the user, seamless execution is possible. Any conflicts surrounding the implementation of the plan are eliminated when the trader’s psychological needs are fully addressed.

Any trades are educational examples only. They do not include commissions and fees.

Getting Started

Building a viable strategy for market entry and exit, accounting for risk, and overcoming psychological barriers are integral parts of a robust trading plan. If one of these items is neglected, performance is sure to suffer.

If you’re interested in exploring what a fully customized strategy can do for your portfolio, check out the online futures trading options available at StoneX. With a nearly 100-year track record in the industry, StoneX has a vast collection of resources at the ready to help you achieve your market-related goals.

Download the eBook: Futures and Options Strategy Guide