Writing an Effective Business Plan For Your Small Business

Plans are Useless; Planning is Indispensable

“Plans are useless; planning is indispensable,” according to Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WWII. Now, you may be in total agreement with the first part of that statement, but you are really not convinced of the truth of the second part.

At this point, you may be tempted to skip writing a business plan altogether, viewing it as an unnecessary exercise in jumping-through-the-hoops, suggested by some old business professor who probably never held down a “real” job anyway. Maybe it’s okay as an assignment for an MBA class, but it would be just too confining and irrelevant for today’s fast-paced business environment. Anyway, you’re ready! You’ve thought about this business venture for a long time and talked it over with friends and everybody agrees it’s a great idea. Best to strike while the iron is hot!

Press for Success

Far be it from me to dampen your enthusiasm, but you should give yourself every opportunity for success. That’s what the planning part of the process of creating your business plan will do. By the time you have pressed your way through it, you will not merely have some neatly arranged document to keep on file, you will have a working tool that addresses the essential factors that influence your future.

Besides, your friends may be 100% behind you in your new venture, but, in case you are hoping to involve others who have actual money to invest, you may need to be able to make a convincing case. Wouldn’t it be nice to have anticipated possible questions and be ready with plausible answers? If you are risking your own money, that is perhaps even a stronger reason to do some indispensable planning.

Easy Writer

If you are one who is intimidated by the blank page, never fear! There are several good software packages that will guide you through the process, such as Business Plan Pro Complete from PaloAltoSoftware. Business Plan Pro Complete walks you through the entire planning process and generates a complete, professional and ready to distribute plan with a proven formula for success. The planning wizard makes it a snap to get started since you simply answer yes or no questions to create your custom business plan framework. Bplans.com offers free business plan samples and how-to articles as well as a wealth of other information. It is definitely worth taking the time to checkout. Microsoft Office Online Templates also has a variety of free templates to use with their products. The wizard indicates the information you need and you fill it in as you go.

You may find that the easiest part is the actual writing of the plan. The real work comes in the data-gathering, which may take you a hundred hours or more, depending on what you already know or have researched. If your new venture is in an area where you’ve been working, you may already know about your customers, your suppliers, your marketing plan, your organizational structure, your financial and cash flow needs, equipment, inventory, and so on. If you know all of these except for Marketing, say, then this is where you will need to invest some time and effort. You can find a wealth of information by utilizing the traditional data sources such as chambers of commerce, major cities’ websites, trade associations, the US Census Bureau, trade journals, magazine and online articles and advertising, etc. Performing keyword searches on Google, or Ask will bring up websites to check out. Following are some places to start:

James J. Hill Reference Library (jjhill.org): One of the nation’s premier business libraries to bring you FREE and affordably priced tools and resources you can use to create a better business plan based on relevant and credible data.

U.S. Census Bureau (census.gov): A source for a variety of useful statistics, especially the Economic Census that comes out every 5 years.

American Demographics (adage.com/americandemographics): Just as the title suggests, numerous free reports about consumer demographics in the U.S. nationally and by statistical area.

Internet Public Library – The Census Data and Demographics (ipl.org)/: An especially useful site that has links to information about countries other than the U.S.

Corporate Information (corporateinformation.com): Features information summaries on over 350,000 companies in the U.S. and abroad for competitive analysis.

You can find a variety of companies online to help you with your market research. For example: Sundale Research’s (sundaleresearch.com) primary goal is to provide new and mature businesses with objective, accurate industry data and market analysis on a wide range of topics. Their market research is intended to save you time and money while keeping up with industry trends.

But your idea may be so new that you may also need to talk to potential customers, host some focus groups, talk to an ad agency, or maybe even make a prototype and float it past some people. Be prepared to spend the time. Remember, it’s not about the Plan but the Planning.

Build It on Paper First

Whether you decide to use business plan writing software or to just follow this guide and create your plan with your word processor, here are the sections of a good plan and the questions that need to be addressed:

Cover Page – Show the name of the company, your name, and the date.

Introduction – What is the name and address of the business? Who are the principals, their titles, and their addresses? What is the nature or purpose of the business? What is your launch date? How much start-up and/or operating capital is needed?

Executive Summary – One to three pages that summarize all the information to follow; come back and write this last.

Industry Analysis – How does your product or service compare with what is currently on the market? What is the trend in the overall industry? What have been the total sales in this industry over the previous 3 to 5 years? What new products or technologies have had the biggest impact on this industry recently? What is the future outlook for these and what trends are emerging? Who are the competitors, where are they located, and how are they doing? What advantage do you offer over them? Who is buying this product or service now? Describe the typical customer for this product or service. Are there emerging markets or market segments? Where does this product or service currently perform best? Possible Data Sources: trade associations; trade journals; attorneys & accountants dealing with the industry; industry salespeople; state business websites; focus groups.

Description – What product(s) or service(s) are you offering specifically? Are any patents, copyrights, or trademarks needed? Have they been acquired/filed? What is the size of your business? Where will it be located? Will this require purchasing or building a facility? Will this require leasing a facility? At what cost? Has a lease been negotiated? What personnel will you need? Where will you find suitable employees? What equipment do you need? Will it be purchased or leased? What are the qualifications of your principals? How do their backgrounds promote the success of this venture? Why do they think this will be a successful venture? Possible Data Sources: local Chamber of Commerce; community colleges & local universities; local employee leasing company; real estate agents; US Patent & Trademark Office; US Copyright Office.

Production Operation – If a product must be manufactured, what is the process? Will the work be done on-site or subcontracted? Who are the subcontractor(s)? If on-site, what space, equipment, machinery, production employees are needed? What suppliers are needed? Who are they? How will quality be assured? What is the anticipated production output? What established credit lines do you have? Possible Data Sources: local Chamber of Commerce; yellow pages; trade associations.

Service Operation – If a service is offered, describe it. Will the work be done by company personnel or subcontracted? Who are the subcontractor(s)? If on-site or in cyberspace, what employee qualifications, equipment, and technologies are needed? How will quality be assured? What performance levels are anticipated per employee? Possible Data Sources: local Chamber of Commerce; yellow pages; trade associations.

Marketing – How is the product or service priced? How will it be distributed? How will it be promoted? Will it be promoted by the venture or an outside agency? What agency? How have you determined what amount to set aside for marketing? How have you determined product or service forecasts? Possible Data Sources: on-line searches; Amazon; local outlets; trade journals; industry attorneys & accountants; salespeople.

Organization

How is the business structured? Who are the principals and the principal shareholders? What authority does each principal have in the venture? What are management’s qualifications? What is the job description for each position? What does the organizational chart look like? Possible Data Sources: on-line templates for job descriptions & organizational chart.

Risk Assessment – What weaknesses are inherent in this venture? What vulnerabilities face this type of venture? What impact will these have? What new technologies may affect this venture over the next 1 to 3 years? What contingency plans are in place? What level of liability insurance is required? What does it cost? Who is the carrier? Possible Data Sources: trade associations; trade journals; Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE); industry salespeople; customers; focus groups.

Financial Plan – What is the anticipated income? What are the cash flow projections? What is the anticipated budget over the next 3 years? What is the break even point? When is it anticipated to be met? What funding is needed and where will it come from? What funding is currently available? What collateral is available? What is the net worth of the principals, if applicable? Possible Data Sources: accountant; accounting software; Small Business Administration; Small Business Development Center; SCORE; banks; venture capitalists.

Appendix – Resumes of principals/management; letters of recommendation from current business associates/customers/suppliers; marketing research data; demographic data; leases or contracts in place or as promised; business licenses; price lists from suppliers; trade or industry articles or data; floor plans; information on subcontractors; liability insurance policies.

Impress for Success – Now you have to admit, this is going to make an impressive package! Put it in a binder and you have built something to be proud of – the first of your many business accomplishments. Your potential investors will appreciate the depth of your analysis, but this tool will prove helpful in describing your venture to your employees, customers, and suppliers, as well. After you have been up and running for a few months, you will find that the planning that you have done will sensitize your inner “business compass” and allow you to flexibly adjust to contingencies. And that is indispensable!

In Summary

Planning out your business on paper first gives you long-term benefits with potential investors, employees, vendors, and suppliers. The business plan becomes your roadmap to success, with pertinent data that shapes the course of your business start-up and lets you adjust your journey as contingencies arise. Business planning templates are readily available and data sources abound at your fingertips. You will achieve a solid understanding of your business as you work through each section of your plan.

IMPress Action Checklist:

Below is a list of the steps that will help you put together your business plan. Check off each step as you complete it to keep track of your progress.

Purchase business plan software or download a template

Read over the business plan sections to decide what data you have, what data you need

Gather data via the internet, phone interviews, print material

Fill in the plan’s sections

Write the Executive Summary

Print and Bind Your Plan

Internet Marketing Press (IMPress) specializes in small business marketing consulting and branding in the Charlotte, North Carolina area and beyond. Our Blog is a great source of tips and tools that can help you promote your business so that it stands out from your competition. We also offer WordPress Website Design Services, Social Media Setup Services, PowerPoint Sales Presentation Design, Brochure Design and Business Card Design.

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The Process of Creating a Business Plan Teaches You Many Things

An investor, banker or lender will demand a plan before they make any financial commitment. Besides being a prerequisite to getting finance for your business, a plan also is a blueprint for efficient management of your new business.

It can be argued that in a fast-changing market, a business plan may quickly become obsolete. However, the insight gained from the planning process can prove to be an invaluable experience and come in handy to deal with the various challenges your business throws up from time to time.

A Plan Creates Tactics and Objectives

A plan describes the long term vision of your venture and the objectives you aim to achieve during a given time frame. It will also detail the tactics and strategies deployed to reach those objectives. A well structured plan will provide the basis for operational budgets, business procedures and management controls.

It must be remembered that no two plans are exactly the same, ever. Every plan is tailored to meet the specific needs of a business situation and the industry it operates in. For instance, a business plan for a coffee shop will be vastly different from one for an internet café. An internet café business document will have more technical details about the equipment and the type of hardware and software used whereas a coffee shop plan will focus more of the operational part.

While there is a lot of emphasis on the presentation, the substance of a business plan is most crucial. The tactics and operational strategies discussed in the plan should be practical and justify how they will help in achieving the end objective. There are various reasons for creating a business proposal. For large organizations, it is an ongoing process to steer the business in the right direction and plan for the crucial cash flow during various stages of growth and development.

Why the Process of Creating a Plan is More important than the Plan Itself

For large companies, business planning is needed to launch a new product. In such cases, the focus of the plan will largely be on investment appraisal. It is commonly believed that business documents are used for setting up a new business and for raising funds from investors. However, those are not the only reasons why companies and entrepreneurs develop a plan. In most cases, more than the value of a plan, the process of creating one is rather critical.

Plans are useless but planning is indispensable – the famous words of former U. S. General and President, Dwight Eisenhower aptly capture the reason why business planning is extremely critical for the success of any business venture. Whether it’s a business plan for a coffee shop or for a technologically driven engineering firm, the planning process helps entrepreneurs and others involved with the business understand how the business will evolve and adapt in the changing markets.

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3 Business Plans Every Entrepreneuer Must Have

I am mentoring small businesses and I am amazed at the ideas I read from the entrepreneurs I have the pleasure of meeting.

Unfortunately, not many have well laid out business plans and most use the Internet for planning.

A big percentage of the documents they use from the Internet are impressive, but what they do not understand is that one cannot use a business plan tailored for another region of the world to fully execute his specific business.

Business concepts are similar universally, but execution and sustainability differ depending on one’s environment and market.

The business plans I have read display glorified projections and their market analysis clearly depicts great profit.

In short, one look at a business plan will tell you that some issues have yet to be thought out clearly. For example, competition, risk, challenges and so forth.

Before embarking on your venture, draft at least three business plans.

Individual

This plan is the truest of them all. I refer to it as the naked business plan. It covers almost everything including risk and possibility of failure. No business life lesson can be complete without a discussion on risks and risk management and no business can be started without embracing risk.

Risks are inherent in everything we do – business risk management is the key to ensuring risks are identified and a plan-B or C thought out. Some risks we can control while others we cannot.

This plan should cover who you are as an individual, what your honest strengths and weaknesses are and how you will handle stumbling blocks or closure.

It should address questions like; Can you persevere through tough times? Do you have a strong desire to be your own boss? Do the judgments you make in life regularly turn out well? Do you have an ability to conceptualise the whole of a business? Do you possess the high level of energy, sustainable over long hours, to make a business successful? Do you have specialised business experience?

Financial projections in the plan should cover, at the very least, five different modules. You should work on the plan yourself and get prepared for any outcome.

Investors

I like to call this the headlines business plan. You only have one shot at getting investors – make the best out of it.

This is a plan that shows what team you will be working with and how you plan to invest to make money for investors. Show a well laid out plan that includes short and long term financial gains.

The confidence, coupled with experience, shown in this document will determine whether you get the initial investment you seek.

Financial projections in this case can be three to five years. They are there to show sustained profit. You should not glorify the plan nor try to get a lot of money for the start-up.

You must mention what your competition is and how you plan to create your own niche market – having a business plan that does not have a thorough SWOT analysis could raise the red flag. You might end up not getting financial support.

Pick the right team, get professional advice, try to separate your product from the rest in order to achieve your own niche.

Do not spend too much money. Most people think that having a lot of money is fundamental in starting a business. That is a fallacy – you can make a lot out of very little.

Universal

This is the plan that you started out with – the ”sitting research” through which you came out with pros and cons of the venture. The plan that has been developed from different Internet searches to better understand what you will be dealing with.

This is the longest business plan. This plan has a lot of data, but you should sieve out information that is irrelevant for your business. Without this plan, it is difficulty to cover everything that needs to be covered in your proposed venture.

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Top 5 Ingredients of Successful Business Plans

Everyone has prepared a business plan. Well, should that read, everyone should have prepared a business plan? My thinking is that these tend only to be prepared when they are needed, rather than as a useful business tool for all senior management. My top five ingredients are:

1. Understand what a business plan is;

2. Understand what you intend to use it for;

3. Identify and implement the critical steps to achieving a successful business plan;

4. Understand what needs to be included in the plan;

5. Be aware of gaps or weaknesses in your plan.

What is a business plan?

A business plan sets out the method for running a specific activity over a specific future period.

Why are business plans needed?

Business plans are needed essentially for the four following reasons:

1. A formal, explicit document of the planning process;

2. A request for finances;

3. A framework for approval;

4. A tool for operational business management.

What are the critical steps needed to achieve a successful business plan?

This may come as a surprise to my fellow business consultants, but producing a successful business plan is not as difficult as people often think, so long as they follow a logical sequence. Here is my considered view as to the critical steps.

1. Understand what you are planning and why;

2. Define the activities of your organisation;

3. Outline the current position of the business;

4. Review and discuss the external market conditions, undertake and understand a competitive analysis, and define your market positioning;

5. Define your core objectives;

6. Prepare and articulate the strategy to attain and meet the objectives;

7. Identify and review risks and opportunities;

8. Prepare a strategy to deal with risks and exploit opportunities;

9. Refine the strategies into operational plans;

10. Prepare financial forecasts including revenues, costs, cash-flow, capital expenditure and assumptions adopted;

11. Finalise the plan;

12. Get it approved;

13. Use it;

14. Review it regularly and update as appropriate.

What should be included in the business plan?

Without being too prescriptive, there are certain necessary elements which need to be included. Such elements are:

· Preliminaries – such as contents, contacts and definitions;

· An executive summary;

· A description of the business;

· A review of the market, the competition and market positioning;

· The vision, mission and objectives;

· The corporate strategy;

· The plan for developing the products and services;

· Financial projections;

· An outline of the risks and opportunities;

· A conclusion.

Understand gaps and weaknesses within the plan.

Any casual viewer of the BBC programme, Dragons Den will be aware of how easy it is for weaknesses or gaps to be identified. Depending upon the purpose of the plan, this may, or may not, prove to be critical. It is often easier to recognise such weaknesses and gaps, and be prepared to deal with them, either by noting them in the plan itself, or having appropriate answers available should the need arise.

Who should prepare the plan?

As a business consultant, this may sound like heresy, but I believe that any plan should be produced by the senior management of the organisation. That is not to say that the consultant does not have a role to play in its preparation. He does. Senior management should prepare the plan as they will then be able to present and discuss it, demonstrating to their audience that they fully understand their business and market. I believe that the consultant’s role is to help facilitate the preparation of the plan, the consultant can help undertake the necessary research, and can cast a critical and impartial eye over the plan.

Innovation for Growth is a UK business consultancy firm. We specialise in: business plans and planning; strategy services; innovation audits and advice; and business research.

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Business Planning For Recession Survival and Recovery

The New Basics of Business

With unemployment continuing to rise, home prices falling due to a surplus of inventory, and small business lending at a standstill, this recession doesn’t seem likely to end soon. The recovery will be slow and Americans will certainly not enjoy the prosperity of a few years ago for a long time to come. It’s not just economists who think this way. “Half the population in [a] new ABC News poll thinks both job security and retirement prospects in the years ahead will remain worse than their pre-recession levels.” (“Poll: Less Job Security is the ‘New Normal,’” ABC News The Polling Unit, June 15, 2009, analysis by Gary Langer) This confidence, or lack thereof, is an integral part of an economic cycle. The analysis goes on to say, “Those diminished expectations – plus the pain of the current downturn – are fueling retrenchments in consumer behavior that could fundamentally reshape the economy.”

Basically, consumers are hunkering down to limit spending, save money, conserve resources, and change the way they’ve been living. The major influence on the health of an economy is the psychological state of its consumers. When there exists a broad belief that spending beyond necessity is unwise, people will change their habits and as a result, some businesses will have to close their doors. The economy is molting into a new, leaner animal. Rather than react in desperation to avoid doom, firms should interact with the current situation with innovative and forward thinking actions.

No matter the economic slump, increasing profits is typically the number one goal of any business. To ensure profitability, a company must demonstrate a competitive advantage over others in its industry, either by cost leadership (same product as competitors, lower price), differentiation (same price, better services), or focusing on an exclusive segment of the market (niche). For long term maintenance of competitive advantage, a firm must ensure that its methods cannot be duplicated or imitated. This requires constant analysis and regular reinvention of competitive strategies.

A recession is the optimal time to reinvent competitive advantage because the pressure of a feeble economy will separate the strong businesses from the weak ones, with the weak falling out of the game entirely. Your business will be strong if you have a plan of action based upon a little industry research, an analysis of what you have and what you want, and continuous monitoring of the results of your plan. This kind of innovation is not only a necessity right now, but it is an opportunity to improve the quality and efficiency in the way you do business.

The three basic actions for growing a business in any economic climate are: improve efficiency (maintain output while reducing inputs, such as time and money); increase volume (produce more in order to spread fixed costs); reorganize the business (change goals, methods and/or philosophy). If you plan to implement one of these, you may as well plan to implement them all. By focusing on one of the above strategies, you will find a ripple effect that causes a need to address the others. This is a good thing.

Right now, growth may sound like an unattainable goal as businesses are grappling just to survive, but hey, “flat is the new up.” If a business can keep its doors open and lights on, then it’s doing better than many others. But lights and open doors don’t make sales, so making changes that attract business is in a sense, striving for growth. It won’t be this tough forever, but for now, putting some growth strategies into action may be what keeps your business alive, if not thriving.

Every Business Needs a Plan

Without a plan, there is little hope for growth, let alone survival. As my small business development counselor, Terry Chambers says, “If it’s not written, it’s not real.” That doesn’t mean it’s unchangeable, but it does show that you mean business. In order to accomplish your strategies of improving efficiency, increasing volume, and reorganizing your business, you’ve got to examine what you have, what you want, and how you plan to get there.

Sometimes it takes a significant event or change in existing conditions for a business to create a written plan. I think it’s safe to say that the state of the economy is a significant change that should prompt business owners to alter the way they’ve been doing things. If you already have a business plan, it’s time to get it out and revise it. Make sure your plan includes answers to these questions:

What do I want to accomplish?
What do I have to work with?
How have I done in the past?
What might I do in the future?
What will I do now?
How will I do it?
Is it working?

A business plan can be used as a vehicle for accurate communication among principals, managers, staff, and outside sources of capital. It will also help to identify, isolate, and solve problems in your structure, operations, and/or finances. Along with these advantages, a business plan captures a view of the big picture, which makes a company better prepared to take advantage of opportunities for improvement and/or handle crises.

Essentially, the three main elements of a business plan are strategies, actions, and financial projections. In order to cover all of the principle elements, you will engage in other types of planning:

Marketing plan: Includes analysis of your target market (your customers), as well as the competition within that market, and your marketing strategy. This plan is usually part of the strategic plan.
Strategic plan: Asses the impact of the business environment (STEER analysis: Socio-cultural, Technological, Economic, Ecological, and Regulatory factors). Includes company vision, mission, goals and objectives, in order to plan three to five years into the future.
Operational planning: With a focus on short-term actions, this type of planning usually results in a detailed annual work plan, of which the business plan contains only the highlights.
Financial planning: The numerical results of strategic and operational planning are shown in budgets and projected financial statements; these are always included in the business plan in their entirety.
Feasibility study: Before you decide to start a business or add something new to an existing business, you should perform an analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis), as well as its financial feasibility, then asses its potential sales volume.

The process of business planning does not end when the written plan is complete. Business planning is a cycle, which includes the following steps:

Put your plan of action in writing.
Make decisions and take action based upon the plan.
Gauge the results of those actions against your expectations.
Explore the differences, whether positive or negative, and write it all down.
Modify your business plan based upon what you learned.

President of Palo Alto Software, Inc. and business planning coach Tim Berry says, “Planning isn’t complete unless you’ve planned for review.” Review is the fundamental action that initiates putting your business plan into action. In his blog at Entrepreneur.com, Berry lists some insightful strategies to making good use of your plan review, a few of which include keeping the review meetings as brief as possible and an emphasis on metrics as key to effective review.

Write your business plan in sessions. Don’t think that you have to produce a business plan before go to bed tonight or you won’t be able to open your doors for business tomorrow. I like Tim Berry’s Plan-As-You-Go method of business planning. The practice of planning is an effective way to really get to know your business and you might end up discovering some important things about your company and about yourself.

There are various strategies and outlines available that will guide you in choosing the appropriate format for your business plan. Check out the collection of sample business plans for a variety of businesses at Bplans dot com. Every business is different, therefore every business plan will be structured differently, but for the purposes of this white paper, I will present the fundamental elements that make up strategic, operational, and financial planning. Here is a basic outline, thanks to NxLevel® for Entrepreneurs (2005, Fourth Edition):

General Business Plan Outline
Cover Page
Table of Contents
Executive Summary

Mission, Goals and Objectives

General Description of the Business
Stage of Development
General Growth Plan Description
Mission Statement
Goals and Objectives

Background Information

The Industry
Background Industry Information
Current/Future Industry Trends
The Business Fit in the Industry

Organizational Matters

Business Structure, Management and Personnel
Management
Personnel
Outside Services/Advisors
Risk Management
Operating Controls
Recordkeeping Functions
Other Operational Controls

The Marketing Plan

Products/Services
Products/Services Description
Features/Benefits
Life Cycles/Seasonality
Growth Description (Future Products/Services)
The Market Analysis
Customer Analysis
Competitive Analysis
Market Potential
Current Trade Area Description
Market Size and Trends
Sales Volume Potential (Current and Growth)
Marketing Strategies
Location/Distribution
Price/Quality Relationship
Promotional Strategies
Packaging
Public Relations
Advertising
Customer Service

The Financial Plan

Financial Worksheets
Salaries/Wages & Benefits
Outside Services
Insurance
Advertising Budget
Occupancy Expense
Sales Forecasts
Cost of Projected Product Units
Fixed Assets
Growth (or Start-Up) Expenses
Miscellaneous Expenses
Cash Flow Projections
Break-Even Analysis
Monthly Cash Flow Projections – First Year
Notes to Cash Flow Projections (Assumptions)
Annual Cash Flow Projections – Years Two and Three
Financial Statements
Projected Income Statement
Balance Sheet
Statement of Owner’s Equity
Additional Financial Information
Summary of Financial Needs
Existing Debt
Personal Financial Statement

Appendix Section

Action Log
Supporting Documents (Resumes, Research Citations, etc.)

Executive Summary

A business plan starts with an executive summary, which is a one or two page summary of your business plan, or an introduction to your business. Although this section is at the beginning of the business plan, it is the last thing to be written. You’ll be able to condense your business plan more succinctly once you have the opportunity to work through the other parts of the plan. The executive summary may be the only thing a potential investor or financier will read, so write it last because it has to be the most compelling.

Start by writing a description of your business, including what stage of development it is currently in (conception, start-up, first year, mature, exit) and your plans for growth. Discuss the nature of your business, the main products and services you offer, the market for your products and services, and how and by whom the business is operated.

Mission Statement

Then work on your mission statement. Here is where you concisely state the focus, scope and hope of your business (or values, vision, philosophy, and purpose). What is the customer pain you are soothing, the need you fulfill? Here’s an example from Coca-Cola:

Our Roadmap starts with our mission, which is enduring. It declares our purpose as a company and serves as the standard against which we weigh our actions and decisions.

To refresh the world…
To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…
To create value and make a difference.

PepsiCo has a different take:

Our mission is to be the world’s premier consumer products company focused on convenient foods and beverages. We seek to produce financial rewards to investors as we provide opportunities for growth and enrichment to our employees, our business partners and the communities in which we operate. And in everything we do, we strive for honesty, fairness and integrity.

This is the mission statement of Inspiration Software, Inc.:

Our company strives to support improvements in education and business and to make a positive difference in our users’ lives by providing software tools that help people of all ages use visual thinking and visual learning to achieve academic, professional and personal goals.

Goals and Objectives

Next, outline your company goals and objectives, including long-term and short-term goals. You will get into more detail on how the goals will be accomplished in your operational plan and annual work plan, so focus on brevity at this stage. There is a difference between goals and objectives and it’s important to know what that is. I like how Andrew Smith explains it in The Business Plan Blog. Objectives are non-emotional, precise descriptions of what is needed to achieve a goal. Goals can involve emotion and don’t have to be as specific as objectives. Objectives are the steps to actualizing the goal. Here’s an example:

Goal:

To increase revenues by 50% by the end of the year.

Objectives:

Add a new product to our line.
Expand marketing outside of local area.
Develop a new customer retention strategy.

Of course, you will need a plan of strategies in order to accomplish each objective, but those details will be expounded upon in your annual work plan. A list of three short-term and three long-term goals, along with the objectives necessary to achieve them, is sufficient for most business plans. Remember to replace the goals and objectives with new ones as you check them off your list.

Background Information

The section that details the background information should start with identifying the industry your business is in. Even if you are not a member or have no intention of becoming involved, you should list any trade associations within that industry; you never know when you made need those connections. Find out what publications, magazines or journals are available to businesses in your industry. Use these and other sources of business information to identify how past trends (economic, social, political) affected the industry, as well as any current or future trends that may have an impact.

How does your business fit in the industry? What is the history of your business, including who started it, what changes have occurred, when was it started, where was and is it located, how was it started and operated, and why it was started? What barriers to entry, if any, have you recognized?

Organizational Matters

The ownership hierarchy of your business, the management structure, and the personnel are described in the section on organizational matters. This part of the plan deals with who, what and how your business runs. Who is in charge of what and how are they qualified? Discuss how the various parts of your business interact together; include details about outside contractors and consultants and what functions they perform. See the example below, thanks to Edraw Soft Vector-Based Graphic Design.

The organizational section of the business plan also needs to include an explanation of your record keeping process, checks and balances, and control management systems. Anyone who reads your business plan should be able to understand the organizational procedures for running your business day-to-day, as well as in an emergency situation.

The risk management plan needs to be fleshed out in the organizational section as well, including your risk strategy, the different types of insurance required, your contingency plans, and problem-solving protocols. What will you do if a natural disaster ruins part of your inventory? How will you handle the sudden illness or long-term absence of a key manager? What happens if you are unable to finish a project on schedule? What are some early warning signs to watch for?

It may not be pleasant to imagine all the “what ifs,” but doing it now and planning for those unexpected events will improve your company’s chances of surviving a storm. For an excellent step-by-step guide on the details of developing a risk management plan, see the article “How to Develop a Risk Management Plan,” by Charles Tremper at wikiHow.com.

Marketing Plan

The next section, themarketing plan, gets into the details of what your business offers and what market it serves. Marketing is the communication of how your products and services “ease customer pain.” Show the problem and how your business solves it. Marketing is a necessity for every business because once your doors are open, you must invite customers to come in. Everything you do in your business that affects customers is marketing because it sends a message about your company.

This part of the plan details the features and benefits of your products and services, their seasonality and life cycle, as well as any future products and services you are planning. It also includes a thorough market analysis, in which you will study your customers, your competition and the market itself. Here you should include a PEST analysis, in which you will consider the impact of various factors upon your business. The factors include combinations of the following, depending upon your business: social, technological, economic, environmental, political, legal, ethical, and demographic.

Studying your market will give you insight as to how you can make your business more appealing to people. Market research is more than just noticing trends in your customers’ buying habits; it’s discovering what motivates your customer to buy. Don’t assume that you already know because you’ve been in this business for years. This study often unearths characteristics about your market that are hidden or new. It’s best to discover these things before your competition.

Another key element to the marketing section of your business plan is an outline of your marketing objectives, strategies, and tactics. Writing down the avenues you travel in order to market your business will afford you the opportunity to record what worked and what didn’t work. You must be able to measure and calculate the results of your marketing efforts, otherwise, what’s the point? If you don’t know if something is working for or against you, then it’s working against you.

Include details about all of the following that are applicable to your business in the marketing section of your plan: location and distribution, and promotional strategies, such as packaging, public relations, advertising, and customer service. As a result of exploring these areas, you will naturally need to consider how much you will budget for your marketing efforts. This question is closely connected to your sales forecast, which leads us into the next section of the business plan.

Financial Plan

The financial plan consists of four sections: Financial Worksheets, Cash Flow Projections, Financial Statements, and Additional Financial Information. All of these components will tell the story of how you plan to start or grow your business from a financial perspective. It is vital that you explain the assumptions under which you have based your projections, for example, “We assume that there are no unforeseen changes in economic policy to make our products and service immediately obsolete.” or “We assume interest rates will stay the same over the next three years.” (both quotes from Bplans.com sample business plans)

I suggest that you construct easy to read tables and graphs for the financial portion of the plan. The worksheets suggested are: Salaries/Wages and Benefits, Outside Services, Insurance, Advertising Budget, Occupancy Expense, Sales Forecasts, Cost of Projected Product Units, Fixed Assets, Growth (or Start-Up) Expenses, and Miscellaneous Expenses. You may find some of the worksheet templates at PlanWare.org to be useful.

The expected revenues and expenses for at least a year should be projected in the cash flow section of the Financial Plan. It’s better to make conservative predictions rather than be too optimistic when it comes to cash flows. As part of this section, a break-even analysis is essential. This is the “amount of units sold or sales dollars necessary to recover all expenses associated with generating these sales.” (NxLevel for Entrepreneurs, 2005) The formula for calculating the break-even quantity is Total Fixed Costs/(Price – Average Variable Costs).

The financial statements section should show the way things are now if you have an existing business, as well as a forward look at your checking account, or projected income statement. The only way a start-up company can provide an income statement and balance sheet is by projecting these figures based upon well defined assumptions. Both start-ups and existing businesses should include a statement of owner’s equity.

An income statement shows revenues minus expenses, in order to calculate net income or net loss. Start-ups should project these expected results for the first twelve months of business, then quarterly for the next two years. A list of a company’s assets (what you own), liabilities (what you owe), and net worth (assets minus liabilities) is called a balance sheet. The statement of owner’s equity shows the owner’s initial investment, additional investments, and retained earnings, minus owner withdrawals.

The additional financial information at the end of this part of the plan should give a summary of your business’s financial needs in order to grow, show its debt position, and state the owner’s financial status.

Appendix

In the appendix, which is the final section, an action plan or timeline for implementing the business plan should be presented. This is where the detailed goals and objectives are expanded in a work plan. Also, include in this section any additional information or supporting documents that are relevant to your business plan, such as important research, marketing materials, product specifications, and owner and employee résumés.

Executive Summary

Now that you have written the hard part of your business plan, it’s time to write the fun part, the executive summary. As mentioned in the beginning of this white paper, this is the most important piece of the business plan because it illustrates the very essence of your business in a captivating and condensed form. If you ever share your business plan with a potential investor or potential buyer, the executive summary may be the only thing that is read.

Make the executive summary brief (no more than two pages), but make sure you showcase the best qualities of your business without glossing over important information; show why yours is a winning business. Write one to three sentences about each of the following:

General description of the business
Mission statement
Management structure
Business operations
Products/services, the market and your customer
Your marketing plan, including the competition
Financial projections and plans

A clear, concise, and convincing executive summary will intrigue your audience and inspire them to read the rest of your plan. If the plan is never seen by anyone outside of your business, don’t assume it was a waste of time. During the planning process, you will have worked through an enlightening exercise that prepares you to run and grow a better business.

Having this written document available for frequent consultation and review will improve your chances of not only surviving, but coming out strong on the other side of this recession. Most people think that knowing in the back of their mind what they plan to do is sufficient for survival or recovery, but the difference between a written plan and an idea is usually the difference between failure and success.

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