Business Plans Are a Team Effort – Think Outside The Box

Business plans are mostly about organizing, formalizing, and committing to a specific plan-of-actions. Such a document generally presents the objectives, strategies, analysis, and a detailed roadmap for implementation. Underlying a plan-of-action is comprehensive analysis of historic, current and proposed results all supported with assumptions. If anyone doubts the interest in business plans, a Google search returns more than 62 million and Amazon list more than 77,700 titles concerning this subject.

They are like fingerprints; no two are alike, even within the same organization. One further point, opinions about what makes a good finished product are like noses-everybody has one. The ones that work and prove to be executable are the best. With this in mind, let me offer my views about business plans at a macro level having written a sizeable number of plans for internal and external applications. One other point, a business plan can build a team quicker than any formal team building activity.

I have written business plans for all manner of industries: a coin operated jukebox company, airlines, travel companies, new product launches, and anti-aging product companies. It is not necessary to have a passion for the product or the company to write or develop a business plan. What you must have is a passion for aggregating information, getting involved with and understanding the service or product, and understanding the financials of the product or service. By financials I am not referring to having a CPA before you undertake the task, but rather understanding the presentation of the information and analysis/ numbers to support the activity being planned. Financials are important because they are the score card in the world of commerce.

There are many reasons for utilizing such a document. Is the final document going to be about implementing a decision already having been reached or is it about analysis and recommendations for a newly proposed activity. As noted above, a finished document may be for internal or external purposes. Externally they are often used to solicit funding for a start-up or joint venture. Whatever the purpose, do not confuse effort with say, a marketing or a production plan.

I mentioned the financial aspect of a plan earlier, so let me add this. Another fact about financials to consider: not all business activities are about making money. Point being, in most enterprises financial considerations are centric to the document. But there are some other considerations. For example, a few years ago I wrote a plan for a new subsidiary that was focused on developing an inventory of patents. The potential financial returns were years into the future. Those patents may or may not ever have commercial value. Another example is a non-profit enterprise that has need for a complete roadmap for growing their profile in a market, of which a marketing plan would be the centerpiece.

If a document needs to be developed that requires input from other disciplines-Finance, HR, Property & Facilities, Marketing, Procurement/Supply Chain- then most likely you are looking at a team building effort to get the job done.

In any event, don’t look at the task as only as a roadmap that leads to a profitable product or enterprise. Business plans are a great way to build team buy-in, force a thorough review of options, define objectives, establish benchmarks to judge performance, and help arrive at a plan-of-action. Ultimately, it can lead to a Project Management approach to implementing a plan and that can be as involved and detailed as is necessary.

Another consideration. Should the business plan be a document that is focused on selling an idea for a product or service? For many years I worked in a company that did not want anything in a business plan that could be construed as showing a bias towards or against a project. The mantra was to only present facts in the business plan. The Operations Research Department was there to review the analysis as being unbiased. To handle the “what if” scenarios or sensitivity analysis we prepared a supplemental analysis documents which were mostly financial oriented. Personally, I like a factual approach and use the presentation of the final document to point out the conservative aspects of the content.

Here is a recap of where we are in this discussion:

  1. Business plans formalize an understanding of the task with appropriate analysis leading to a plan-of-action.
  2. Not all business plans are for profit motives.
  3. Business plans are for an enterprise effort and not focused on disciplines/departments, e.g. Marketing plan, sales plan, HR plan, supply chain plan, etc.
  4. Business plans are a great vehicle to build a team effort.
  5. Plans can be utilized for formalizing metrics relative to achieving goals and performance measurements.
  6. Some complex plans might include a Project Management professional.
  7. There are internal and external audiences for business plans. Most external focused plans are for outside funding of projects.
  8. Be mindful of the ‘tone’ the plan projects to the reader. Tone refers to the impression a person gets from reading the plan; a subliminal feeling about the plan.

Organization and content of the business plan will evolve as it is prepared. For example, if the driving force of the plan is marketing or sales then a preponderance of the analysis and plan-of-action section will be more up-front and sales oriented in tone. With business plan’s the world is your oyster; think from the center out to the edges and think outside of the box.

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.

  1. Purchase business plan software or download a template
  2. Read over the business plan sections to decide what data you have, what data you need
  3. Gather data via the internet, phone interviews, print material
  4. Fill in the plan’s sections
  5. Write the Executive Summary
  6. Print and Bind Your Plan

Why Hire Business Plan Writing and Editing Services?

There can be many ways to approach the writing and editing of a business plan. We will discuss some of the basics about the structure and content of a good plan. One of the keys to creating a great plan that meets the needs of investors, banks, and even grant providers, is to make sure that you understand your business well, whether it’s a start-up company or one that has been in operation for many years. Professional business plan consultants help owners, directors and founders to develop a better understanding of their business in order to assist in providing answers to questions that will create a solid business and financial plan for any purpose.

Business Plan Templates and Outlines

Most experienced business owners strongly recommend hiring a professional plan writing company to create a business plan. They have learned a lot in all their years in business and know that it is important to hire experts in their fields. Companies that are reputable and have been creating plans for many years are the best options. Often, when someone attempts to create their own plan, it can take months to complete if it even gets completed at all! Professionals know how to move through a plan template or outline and fill it in with pertinent and well-written information.

So, what are the key sections of a great plan document? Well, there are many opinions to this as well as ways to approach it, but there are definitely some key ‘ingredients’ to a solid plan. A great plan features all the typical main sections, but also has many refinements not found in the average plan. The main sections recommended include a clean, well-designed cover page, table of contents, cover letter, executive summary, business overview, sales and marketing section, operations section, HR section, action plan and financial section with tables for – at the very minimum – expenses, revenue, and cash flow projections. Within these sections, a professional writer creates many headings and lots of writing that describes every aspect of the business in very good detail. On average, most business plans end up being about 25 to 35 pages in length.

Plan Creation Process

Typically, the process for creating a business plan goes like this: The client discusses their business with the writer and pays a deposit. The writer starts immediately on the business plan by creating an initial layout and inputting all the known information. This is followed by compiling a list of basic questions for the client to answer in point-form related to the details of the business. These questions are usually easy to answer within a day or two because clients already know the basics about their business. The writer then receives the answers and uses the information to create sentences and paragraphs and fill in the plan’s content. Once the written parts are done, the writer will work with the business owner and a financial expert on the financial tables that will go at the end of the plan.

Timelines

Timelines vary greatly for creating a plan depending on the writer’s experience, the business type, the detail required, and how much industry and market research is necessary. There may also be other factors. In most cases, however, a detailed plan can be created within 2-3 weeks.

Plan Costs

Business plan writers and companies charge very different amounts for their services, ranging from as little as $500 to as much as $5000 or more. A good pricing model is based on the factors mentioned earlier, such as length, complexity, research required, etc. Generally, $500 is not enough for a plan because of the many hours that go into creating one, and $5000 is way too much for clients to pay. That being said, a good, well-written and professional document of about 30 pages in length should be more in the range of $900 to $1500. This pricing structure is very reasonable considering that most of the work can take more than 50 hours to complete. In terms of an hourly rate, most professionals charge between $25 to $35 per hour.

Business Plan: Why Should You Create A Business Plan For Your Online Home Business?

Having a business plan is so important to you as an online marketer. But most people, who start online businesses, especially small businesses, do not really take the initiative to make a business plan. Probably they think that it’s not necessary. But for sure there is little you can achieve in life without proper planning. More so in the contemporary times when survival depends largely on one’s ability to organize your physical and mental resources well. The future is actually for those who are organized. And the future of your business is dependent on your good planning.

Planning is very important in life. Everybody should do planning at individual or family level. As an individual, you should plan for the day well in advance in order to accomplish what is to be done in that day. At family level, a family plan helps to focus on supporting the entire family in its growth and development. Planning is also done at business and organizational level.

A business plan is therefore an outline for taking an idea for a product or service and turning it into a commercially viable reality. It’s a roadmap of the business you intend to start and without it you may end up getting lost on the way. It should therefore be remembered that having generated your business ideas and analyzed them to come up with the most viable idea, it’s important to create a business plan for your online home business. Do you have one?

Some people think that they do not need a business plan for a small business. But let me make it clear that the size of the business doesn’t matter. Whether small or big, you need a plan. If you need a plan as an individual and for your family, then why not have a plan for your small business? Like for individuals and families, you need to plan for your online small business.

A business plan shows you what you would like to achieve and how to achieve it. Although not all plans are written down, a good business plan should be written down. If you have it in your head, it’s high time you spent some time to write it down for better results.

Why should you create a business plan?

1. It encourages you to think deeply about your business objectives and goals.

When you create a business plan, you get to think about the short-term and long-term objectives. It also helps to develop a mission statement for your business. This helps you to remain focused as you do your business.

2. It encourages you to think about the possible problems and how to overcome them.

In any business you may think about, there are always risks involved. Creating a business plan enables you to anticipate the risks that you may encounter in the process of running your business. It also makes you to think about the various ways of overcoming the problem in case it happens. That’s a proven way of looking at things for you to remain in business.

3. You get a clear picture of the whole business project.

The process of making a business plan makes it possible for you to focus on the nature of your business in details, to analyze your target market, to develop a marketing and operational plan and to make your financial projections.

4. You get new ideas.

It becomes easy to communicate your ideas to the people you interface with, who in turn can give you better ideas or complement the ones you have. Collect all the material to one place. Having a business plan makes it possible to have all your ideas and plans in one place. It becomes easier for you refer to it and to use it to develop your business. You become a more committed business person and even others people, like your prospective financiers, can easily regard you as a serious business person.

As I conclude, I would like to advice all people, who want to start any kind of business or who already have business without a business plan, to think about creating one as way to building a successful business. One of the causes of failure in business is lack of proper planning. Create a business plan if you want to succeed in your online home business!