Do I Really Need a Business Plan for My Business?

Most successful businesses have created a business plan at some point, usually before their start-up.

Why?

A business plan is needed to address all of the central components to starting a business. It is essential to make sure that you, as a new entrepreneur have carefully thought through many if not all, of the important components of your business. Ideally, you need to do this BEFORE starting your business.

What is a business plan?

They are generally prepared for two reasons:

1. To obtain financing for the business

2. To help determine if essential components of starting a business have been considered.

Often times with new entrepreneur’s (and sometimes even with the more experienced!) they overlook certain aspects of starting a business. So the business plan helps to ensure that most, if not all reasonable questions have been answered and strategies thought about.

Although business plans are often considered optional – they serve a vital importance to entrepreneurs.

Many aspiring entrepreneurs and even experienced entrepreneurs fail to recognize their importance. It is often considered an “optional” component of their business and should only be prepared when absolutely necessary.

Not so!

It is needed to address all of the central components to starting your business. It is essential to make sure that you, as an entrepreneur of quality, have carefully considered what you are offering, how you are offering it and whom you are offering it to.

Although it may be tempting to say “I have everything in my head about my business” – could lead to a lack of clarity.

Why?

The idea of keeping everything in your mind makes it possible for you to:

forget certain things
remember things incorrectly or too modified to later be useful
misconstrue thought combinations that you had at one point but later revised
revisit ideas that you already have thought of and since dismissed…

Preparing a business plan will allow you to document what you know and have the permanent impact of writing it down.

But this is complicated – Right?

In the context of the larger corporate world a business plan is not only essential but required. Many formats of business plans are modelled after the layouts and inclusions used for larger public companies. The time frame and level of detail is much greater for large corporate entities as they are required for various interested parties (stakeholders). However, it is not necessary for smaller businesses, especially start-ups to prepare overly lengthy and complex documents.

Your business plan need not be a time consuming, uncontrollable and over-the-top difficult process!

How Can I, As an Entrepreneur Achieve This?

Through the simple process of preparing a Preliminary Business Plan you will:

Engage in a key strategy that will help you to organize your thoughts
Help you to focus on your business intentions.
Apply a straightforward, step-by-step process to prepare one.
Obtain clarity about your business.

Why is it called a Preliminary Business Plan?

Traditional business plans, like those used for large public corporations can be very complex and have the level of detail that is not required for most smaller, private businesses.

A Preliminary Business Plan is shorter, designed more for the start-up of the business and it is easier to understand and prepare.

Here are just some of the questions that it should answer:

Describe in detail exactly what your business is to be.
Describe whom your products and/or services are for.
How do you plan to deliver your products/services to your customers/clients.
What pricing do you plan to use.
If you have a product, list the major suppliers
Indicate whom your major customers/clients are likely to be.
What are the risk factors that you see for your business.
What current businesses pose as competition to your business?
How many employees do you plan to have in the company and at what point will they become active?
Have you completed one?

It will address all of the central components to starting your business. It is essential to make sure that you, as a new entrepreneur have thought carefully through and considered all that you need to BEFORE starting your business.

A Preliminary Business Plan is a step-by-step method that allows you to organize your thoughts and WRITE DOWN your intentions through documenting them in a meaningful way. It also provides you with a document to provide to interested parties (for example, banks, investors, etc.) if the need arises.

You need to prepare one, if you are:

An aspiring entrepreneur who is serious about properly planning a business and would like to discover if you need one for their new business.
An experienced entrepreneur who never has prepared one, but would like to learn how.
An aspiring entrepreneur who is skeptical, but would like to explore the process and know more.
Any entrepreneur who has heard about them, but are confused and would like some clear DIRECTION of what to do.

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: