Writing a Business Plan
While it may be tempting to put off, creating a business plan is an essential part of starting your own business. Plans and proposals should be put in a clear format making it easy for potential investors to understand. Because every company has a different goal and product or service to offer, there are business plan templates readily available to help you get on the right track. Many of these templates can be adapted for any company. In general, a business plan writing guide will recommend that the following sections be incorporated into your plan.
The executive summary is the first section that business plans open with, but is often the last section to actually be written as it’s the most difficult to write. The executive summary is a summary of the overall plan that highlights the key points and gives the reader an idea of what lies ahead in the document. It should include areas such as the business opportunity, target market, marketing and sales strategy, competition, the summary of the financial plan, staff members and a summary of how the plan will be implemented. This section needs to be extremely clear, concise and engaging as you don’t want the reader to push your hard work aside.
The company description follows the executive summary and should cover all the details about the company itself. For example, if you are writing a business plan for an internet café, you would want to include the name of the company, where the café would be located, who the main team members involved are and why, how large the company is, who the target market for the internet cafe is, what type of business structure the café is, such as LLC, sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation, what the internet café business mission and vision statements are, and what the business’s short-term objectives are.
Services and Products
This is the exciting part of the plan where you get to explain what new and improved services or products you are offering. On top of describing the product or service itself, include in the plan what is currently in the market in this area, what problems there are in this area and how your product is the solution. For example, in a business plan for a food truck, perhaps there are numerous other food trucks in the area, but they are all fast –food style and unhealthy so, you want to introduce fast food that serves only organic and fresh ingredients every day. This is where you can also list your price points and future products or services you anticipate.
The market analysis section will take time to write and research as a lot of effort and research need to go into it. Here is where you have the opportunity to describe what trends are showing up, what the growth rate in this sector looks like, what the current size of this industry is and who your target audience is. A cleaning business plan, for example, may include how this sector has been growing by 10% every year due to an increase in large businesses being built in the city.
Organization and Management
Marketing and sales are the part of the business plan where you explain how you will attract and retain clients. How are you reaching your target customers and what incentives do you offer that will keep them coming back? For a dry cleaner business plan, perhaps if they refer customers, they will get 10% off their next visit. In addition, you may want to explain what needs to be done in order for the business to be profitable. This is a great way of showing that you are conscious about what clear steps need to be taken to make a business successful.
Financial Projections & Appendix
The financial business plan section can be a tricky one to write as it is based on projections. Usually what is included is the short-term projection, which is a year broken down by month and should include start-up permits, equipment, and licenses that are required. This is followed by a three-year projection broken down by year and many often write a five-year projection, but this does not need to be included in the business plan.
The appendix is the last section and contains all the supporting documents and/or required material. This often includes resumes of those involved in the company, letters of reference, product pictures and credit histories. Keep in mind that your business plan is always in development and should be adjusted regularly as your business grows and changes.
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How to Choose a Phone Plan for Your Business
Every company needs an effective phone plan for their business. It’s important for all your employees to be able to communicate with each other. You also need to ensure that you can take phone calls from clients when they need to reach you. There are many office, VoIP and cell plans available, and your choice depends on what’s best for you. Here’s how to choose the best phone plan for your business.
The Types of Business Plan
If you’re looking for the perfect business phone plan, you need to think about which will benefit your organization most. There are loads to choose from and each have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s essential for businesses to have the best communications systems, because without this you’ll lose potential customers. Many people choose systems based on their convenience, but also look at how effective they are, the costs and if the system is up to date.
With so many options, businesses rarely know where to start. However, your primary goals will enable you to find the best phone plan for your business. Do you have a large team and need a strong internal communications system? Is saving money your primary goal? Here are some business phone plans, and their benefits.
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
VoIP is taking over the business world, and many companies are ditching their landline service for the internet-based phone solutions. While making international calls on landlines is expensive, VoIP enables you to call anywhere in the world for no extra cost. Phone calls take place over the internet, and you can reach your employees wherever they are.
There are many VoIP solutions, including basic packages, options for mid-sized businesses and high-end solutions. It’s important to think about which solution is best for your business and avoid any hidden costs associated with high-end solutions. VoIP is great for companies and there is a range of technological benefits you won’t find with other providers. Search online to find the best VoIP providers.
Private Branch Exchange (PBX)
PBX uses hardware to route all calls through the office to and from a central connection. It connects all employees and enables easy transfers. PBX has many benefits, including its cost-effective solutions. Employees can make internal calls without the needs of connecting to an external network. This means that businesses can save money on phone calls, which is especially useful for small companies.
There are automatic capabilities, meaning PBX systems can automatically route calls. Basically, PBX offers an all-in-one solution, but it isn’t as technologically convenient as VoIP solutions. It depends on your needs, but remember PBX systems are best if you use over 12 phone lines. Smaller businesses might find that installing and maintaining a PBX system is too expensive.
Small businesses have one thing on their mind; money. They need to find cost-effective solutions to grow their business, but not bankrupt them. Most small companies use manual key-systems to route phone calls. As you add more lines, you’ll find a manual system less convenient and harder to manage.
Key systems are great when businesses are starting out, but if your business is growing then it’s best to choose between a PBX or VoIP solution. There are many positives to manual key systems, and providers are combining technology with the systems to make them better for small business owners to maximize their internal and external communications.
Is the price right? That’s what you should be considering. Many phone providers will offer comprehensive packages for both office and cell use. Combining these will save you money in the long-term and enable you to streamline your communication procedure. The more technology you want, the higher the price. You should weigh up the benefits of cost and convenience when making your decision.
Speak to providers and ask them what bundles they offer. You’ll want to supply your employees with cell phones if they travel out of the office regularly. Choosing a phone system doesn’t have to be complicated if you know what you’re looking for and consider your price limits.
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Making a Risk Management Plan for Your Business
It’s impossible to eliminate all business risk. Therefore, it’s essential for having a plan for its management. You’ll be developing one covering compliance, environmental, financial, operational and reputation risk management. These guidelines are for making a risk management plan for your business.
When you start the risk management plan with an executive summary, you’re breaking apart what it will be compromised of into easy to understand chunks. Even though this summary is the project’s high-level overview, the goal is describing the risk management plan’s approach and scope. In doing so, you’re informing all stakeholders regarding what to expect when they’re reviewing these plans so that they can set their expectations appropriately.
Who Are the Stakeholders and What Potential Problems Need Identifying?
During this phase of making the risk management plan, you’re going to need to have a team meeting. Every member of the team must be vocal regarding what they believe could be potential problems or risks. Stakeholders should also be involved in this meeting as well to help you collect ideas regarding what could become a potential risk. All who are participating should look at past projects, what went wrong, what is going wrong in current projects and what everyone hopes to achieve from what they learned from these experiences. During this session, you’ll be creating a sample risk management plan that begins to outline risk management standards and risk management strategies.
Evaluate the Potential Risks Identified
A myriad of internal and external sources can pose as risks including commercial, management and technical, for example. When you’re identifying what these potential risks are and have your list complete, the next step is organizing it according to importance and likelihood. Categorize each risk according to how it could impact your project. For example, does the risk threaten to throw off timelines or budgets? Using a risk breakdown structure is an effective way to help ensure all potential risks are effectively categorized and considered. Use of this risk management plan template keeps everything organized and paints a clear picture of everything you’re identifying.
Assign Ownership and Create Responses
It’s essential to ensure a team member is overseeing each potential risk. That way, they can jump into action should an issue occur. Those who are assigned a risk, as well as the project manager, should work as a team to develop responses before problems arise. That way, if there are issues, the person overseeing the risk can refer to the response that was predetermined.
Have a System for Monitoring
Having effective risk management companies plans includes having a system for monitoring. It’s not wise to develop a security risk management or compliance risk management plan, for example, without having a system for monitoring. What this means is there’s a system for monitoring in place to ensure risk doesn’t occur until the project is finished. In doing so, you’re ensuring no new risks will potentially surface. If one does, like during the IT risk management process, for example, your team will know how to react.
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What should a business plan include?
1. the executive summary, 2. a description of the business, 3. the market(s) the business will operate in, 4. a swot analysis.
5. Management team and personnel
6. The products or services offered
8. A financial plan
The contents of a business plan
This is placed as number one on our list of components of a business plan , but it can easily be the final stage. That's because sometimes it's easiest to write your summary after you've covered all the other details.
A great summary is one of the key features of a business plan. It serves as an overview of your entire business and the elements surrounding it.
Be sure to outline succinctly the 5 "W"s (Who, What, Why, When, Where) as well as the mission statement . Think about why you started the business along with where you would like it to be in the future, how will you get there? Your mission statement is the start of creating a culture that people in your organisation will live and work by.
This section should contain details of things such as your goals and the customers you will service. What are the products and services you will offer to your customers? You'll need to provide an overview of them and how they will address customers' needs and wants?
You've come up with this great business idea , but how will it do in the market? Or, more importantly, what is the market for it? How well do you know the market? What does a typical buyer look like, what is their income level? Does the business have the hallmarks of disruptive innovation ?
This is the time to research and determine who your target market is and ask specific questions that relate to your product or service. Put you idea to the test. What have others done before you and what can you do differently and better? Analyse what information you've uncovered and outline it's potential impact in your plan.
Create a detailed list of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This needs to be done with an open and honest approach, keep emotions out of it, focus on being objective when analysing your business and those of your competitors.
Any strengths you uncover will represent internal, positive factors in your business that are within your control. Weaknesses are also internal, but are negative factors that need to be improved.
Both opportunities and threats are external factors. While opportunities will potentially positively impact on your business, threats represent negative factors beyond your control. For example, are there high barriers to entering the market? Does a competitor have the market cornered due to brand loyal customers? These could harm your enterprise, so you need to strategise for it in your plan.
5. The management team and personnel
Who will run the business, who are the directors in the business? What are the skills of the management team and how do their different responsibilities make maximum use of their abilities. What is the chain of command in terms of decision making?
Also use this section to identify how the management team, and taking on employees will help maximise strengths, while addressing identified weaknesses to help improve the business.
Finally, which of the UK's business structures will you choose to operate through?
- Limited company
- Limited liability partnership
In this section you need to detail what will be produced and how it will be sold. You should explain how your product or service will meet a particular need in the marketplace, and how you'll get customers returning to make repeat purchases. Repeat custom is after all the lifeblood of many a good business.
Who will you rely on, in terms of suppliers, to help you assemble your products? What intellectual property, patents or copyright do you own, or might you be at risk of potentially infringing?
What is the branding to your business? What are the key messages you want to communicate with your target market and how will you go about reaching them? How will you achieve market share and at what cost in terms of your budget?
8. Let's talk money: A financial plan
Ideas are great, but how will you make them a reality and sustain a viable business. Creating a financial plan will give you the opportunity to address your financial concerns and talk money, think about start-up costs, financial projections , funding and investor pitches.
You'll need to list how much your start-up will cost, everything from stationary to leases should be outlined and balanced against your financial projections.
Don't fear change, your business plan isn't written in stone
It’s important to remember that your business plan isn’t written in stone. This is a document that you and your staff can improve and update as the business grows and changes. Your plan should be reviewed regularly.
Consider implementing a monthly review to track progress or make adjustments to your strategy. Accountability and motivation are key in making sure your goals are met, think about the people involved and what can you do to keep them inspired.
This post was created on 26/06/2018 and updated on 18/02/2022.
Please be aware that information provided by this blog is subject to regular legal and regulatory change. We recommend that you do not take any information held within our website or guides (eBooks) as a definitive guide to the law on the relevant matter being discussed. We suggest your course of action should be to seek legal or professional advice where necessary rather than relying on the content supplied by the author(s) of this blog.
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6 Questions Every Business Plan Should Answer
Table of contents.
An actionable business plan is crucial, whether your business is brand-new or an established player in its field. A business plan is especially vital for SMBs, which often must contend with lower name recognition, fewer loyal customers and other typical business challenges. While it doesn’t guarantee success, creating a business plan with research and care can help a business prepare for any future uncertainties.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners must ensure their business plans address six primary questions. Thinking through these questions and developing potential solutions helps set up your venture for success.
What is a business plan, and why does it matter?
A business plan is a formal document designed to help you set achievable business goals and outline how you’ll accomplish them. The business plan should include various road maps dedicated to the following operational elements:
- Product creation
- Operational goals
A business plan is a valuable tool internally and externally.
- Internal business plan functions: Internally, a business plan helps align its decisions with an overall road map to help it stay on track. Businesses can also use road maps to help think through difficult choices, such as headcount decisions.
- External business plan functions: Externally, a road map is critical for securing funding from outside investors like angel investors . A business must demonstrate to investors that it has a solid business plan with achievable goals and a road map to success.
When pitching your business idea to investors , emphasize how your product or service solves a problem and frame your pitch as a story to demonstrate your passion.
What should a business plan include?
Typically, a business plan should include the following elements:
- Executive summary. An executive summary highlights a business plan’s essential elements. Readers should be able to understand your business plan by reading your executive summary, even if they don’t read the rest of the document.
- Budget. A small business budget should include overall operational and personnel costs. Consider your payroll budget , marketing budget and other departmental budgets.
- Market analysis. A market analysis should include a thorough market assessment that identifies competitors, your target customer , customer buying habits, marketing demographics and what customers are willing to pay. A market analysis may include a competitive analysis that dives more deeply into direct and indirect competitors.
- Product analysis. A product analysis outlines decisions about optimal product pricing. While you want to sell as many products as possible, low prices can scare off customers and eat into your profit margins, while prices that are too high will have customers turning to your competitors.
- Marketing strategy. Your marketing plan should outline how best to market the business and its products or services. Consider digital marketing targeted to specific online and social platforms, email marketing and local marketing.
Business plans vary in length depending on your business’s size, industry and scope. An SMB typically has a shorter and more succinct business plan than a larger, established business that operates across industries.
Collect market intelligence for your business plan by conducting customer surveys and researching social media metrics, competitors’ sales and target customer data.
Questions every business plan should answer
We spoke with six business leaders who shared their thoughts on the crucial questions a business plan should answer. Consider these six essential questions to optimize your business plan.
1. What is the competitive advantage?
Scott Locke, chair of the intellectual property department at Dorf and Nelson LLP, advises thoroughly researching copyright infringement issues when determining your competitive advantage.
“I always look for what will give the business a competitive advantage relative to businesses that want to offer the same or similar goods and services and an analysis of the competitive landscape,” Locke explained. “I pay particular attention as to whether there is valuable intellectual property, be it patents, trademarks, copyrights or trade secrets, that will serve as barriers to entry for competitors. Similarly, I like to see a discussion of the intellectual property of the most direct competitors and how the new business will avoid infringing on it.”
2. Is the business in a growth market?
Walter Recher, principal consultant at SmallBall Marketing, says your business plan should emphasize how you plan to grow your business .
“The key to any successful business is to be a growing company in a growth market. A business plan should articulate how the entrepreneurs will enter the market, apply their investment to prepare them to grow quickly, and participate in the expansion of an industry that is thriving, with a better-than-average growth trajectory,” Recher said. “As I have spent my career working for hyper-growth companies in rapidly expanding markets, a founder of several small businesses and adjunct professor of a course on entrepreneurship, this has been the common denominator.”
3. Will customers pay for it?
Andi Gray, founder and president of Strategy Leaders, advises examining the risks of entrepreneurship and determining what and how customers will pay for their products and services.
“When looking at business plans, I always want to know how the owners plan to get paying customers to engage at a fee and quantity that allows them, as owners, to be in business and sustain themselves,” Gray advised. “My frequently asked question is, ‘How do you plan to feed and clothe yourself, and where do you plan to sleep while you’re getting this venture off the ground?’ My hope is that it will cause the students to consider why they are planning to take the risks of entrepreneurship.”
4. How will the business be staffed?
Larry Holfelder, senior consultant at DJL Insurance Services Inc., emphasizes the importance of staffing considerations.
“In every business plan, I like to see the recognition of the need to cover and staff the production, sales and finance parts of the business. Roles should be established for the entity as if it were mature and successful,” Holfelder advised. “Multiple roles should be assigned at first, if necessary, and filled with the right people as the entity grows and the timing is right.”
Holfelder says thoughtful staffing coverage shows that the business owners are realistic. “I like to see that type of thought process because it shows me they recognize that they won’t be able to do it all themselves and that business success revolves around collaboration and management,” Holfelder said. “It also shows that they recognize their own limitations, their ability to focus on their strengths, and the need to bring in others who know what they don’t in order to reach the goals they envision.”
Consider using a staffing agency if you need to scale quickly and want flexibility and reduced legal risks.
5. Is the product innovative?
Irwin Glenn, chief identity scientist at Hunova, stresses the importance of innovation and inventiveness as well as the team’s level of inspiration.
“Is the idea for the product or service innovative, a unique invention, or is the dream truly inspired? Glenn asked. “By innovative, I want to understand if the business plan is centered around a new twist on already-existing technology or services delivered in a new and compelling way. If inventive, can the idea be protected against new or existing competition? Finally, is the team assembled an excellent group that can’t be stopped from succeeding? Are they inspiring to me, each other, and their marketplace?”
6. Are the plans and goals realistic?
Charles North, former president and CEO of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, prioritizes a realistic business plan with reasonable expectations.
“I look for it to be a realistic business plan, not something that is pie-in-the-sky. I want to see reasonable expectations,” North explained. “I tend to look more on the conservative side, since I feel that is the safest way to go. The idea doesn’t have to be reasonable; the plan does. The idea can be anything.”
North also emphasizes the importance of sales forecasts . “I always look for projections on what the business will do in the first year, second year, third year and fourth year showing sales, expenses [and the] bottom line as the business progresses. Those assumptions have to be reasonable.”
How planning for success pays off
A great business idea is no guarantee of success, but a solid business plan is a way to start a new business off the right foot and prepare your venture for a lucrative future.
Business plans are a vital resource for businesses of all sizes. While business plans should, at minimum, lay out a series of goals and a road map for achieving them, a business plan should also help answer questions ranging from analyzing a business’ competitive advantages to considering if its goals are realistic.
If you think through these questions while creating your business plan, your business will be in a better position to achieve its goals and weather any challenges it may face.
David Mielach contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.
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10 Important elements of a good business plan
Everybody plans before doing something big. don’t you think so? So, why not consider a business plan ? Just like on a road trip, a map is needed. Likewise, every start-up business or a full fledged running business needs a direction. This way you don’t have to sit back and let the waves rock your boat. We will discuss some key elements to pay attention to that we might miss when we are in planning mode no matter what stage your business is at. Find here the key elements of a business plan to consider when creating a business plan .
Also you can use this business plan and financial plan template to start writing your business plan
1. Executive Summary
The executive summary of your business plan should always be the last topic written in your plan, and it appears at the beginning of the paper. As the word summary implies, it should cover everything important to the one who is reading it; be they a lender, investor or financier. An executive summary is mainly highlighting the points that need to be discussed or known in order to make the favorable decision the reader is being asked to make.
A compellingly good summary is a summary that reveals the mission statement of the company, with a brief discussion of its services and products. The WHY question can be answered in the summary for the start-up business or the relevant experience of the entrepreneur can be added.
2. Company Description
The next thing that interests the reader in the business plan is the introduction of your company. It should have complete information about what the company provides or will be providing, its products and services, its targets or goals and the audience, prospects and customers it serves already or plans to serve. This description will also help the reader to find out why your business is different or differs from the competition that will help you cater the target audience.
3. Market Analysis
Your market analysis should be based on logical research or findings. Ideally, the market analysis shows if you know what are the trending ins and outs in that certain industry and the particular market you intend to enter. In this section when you discuss the data and the statistics, make sure you have coloured graphs, spreadsheets, and histograms to demonstrate your insights and the future goals of where the company will be and where it stands in the market. In addition, the details about the customers you will be marketing to need to also be shown, provided with the details of their income levels.
4. Competitive Analysis
To make your business plan a good one try to add as much clear and honest information you can in comparison with your direct and indirect competitors . Give the reader a clear picture to show how you can stack up against the competition, even when you know the strengths and weaknesses of the competitors. In addition, if at any point you think there could be possibilities, for example, of high outspoken costs that may prevent you from leaping into the market then it is better you say so in your business plan but this information will be revealed when you complete the competitive market analysis .
5. Management Positions and Business Structure
Create a clear outline of factors that influence your corporate culture. Show the management positions, who reports to whom, who holds each position and the job descriptions. Moreover, do not forget to mention how your business will operate legally. Will it be a partnership, a sole proprietorship or a different ownership business structure?
6. Products and Services Breakdown
Give an overview of what products and services your business provides, incorporate facts and extra information as available.
By this time, the reader should have a pretty decent knowledge of what you are planning to make and sell, the life of your products and their need.
Another good idea is to mention suppliers too. List the cost of production and how much financial backing you hope to secure and a list of related copyrights and patents can come in handy as well.
7. Marketing Plan
What is your main aim for this business plan? Outline your plan for marketing and promotions. You could use this marketing plan template . Describe how your audience will hear about, learn about and decide to take the next step to buy your product or service. Also outline the budget required for these strategies.
8. Sales Strategy
The most important question is to ask yourself: How will I sell my products? This answer is discussed with the sales strategy you plan. Be as precise as possible. Add numbers. How many agents will you hire? How? Add specific sales targets. Will you sell online, will you use sales reps?
If you are interested in getting funds devote an entire section to explain the amount of money you will need, and how you plan to put to use that capital. Even if there is need of extra money in the future in order to complete a particular project be explicit in explaining that as well. Here you can find a financial business plan .
10. Financial Projections
The last final section, you will reveal your financial goals and potentials based on the market research you completed. This section will have a report of your expected revenue for the coming year, also the annual anticipated earnings for the next five years.
Moreover, if there’s a need to apply for any loan, even a personal loan, you can add an additional section or an appendix that delivers additional fiscal information.
Download a business plan template
Download a financial plan template for your business
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6 essential elements of a good business plan
Entrepreneurs, executives and venture capitalists discuss how to craft a business plan that will impress investors and be a good road map for your company.
Whether you are just starting out and need startup investment or are looking to expand your business and raise capital, a business plan is a must. Indeed, a business plan is not only essential if you want to get people to invest in your idea, it can help you articulate what it is you hope to accomplish with your business – your mission, goal(s) and values – and plot the company’s growth trajectory.
However, to be successful, a business plan cannot just be a bulleted list of an entrepreneur’s thoughts and musings, hopes and dreams. It needs to be a serious business document with the following six elements.
1. Executive summary
“An executive summary is the ‘elevator pitch’ of your business plan,” explains David Mercer, founder, SME Pals , a blog dedicated to helping entrepreneurs. “More often than not, landing a new investor relies on hooking them with a great elevator pitch. Without grabbing their attention, your business plan, no matter how well researched and presented, may not stand out enough.”
The executive summary should, in brief, describe the “problem you are going to solve, and why that problem needs to be solved right now,” by you, says Peter Arvai, CEO, Prezi presentation software. “If you aren’t able to communicate that deeper purpose to others, you will have a very hard time convincing investors to fund your idea and people to join your team.”
Tip: Write the Executive Summary last, after you’ve done all your research and put everything down on paper.
[ Related: 12 tips for creating a must-read business blog ]
2. Description and bios of your leadership/executive team
“The entrepreneur should clearly demonstrate what they are bringing to this venture – the idea, the technical ability or the passion,” says Hossein Rahnama, founder & CEO, Flybits . “Investors want to understand how you will execute using your personal strength.”
You should also “talk about the leadership team,” says Andrew Witkin, CEO, StickerYou . “If the leadership team has a previous track record of building and delivering businesses, this should be highlighted. Business plans serve multiple purposes, but one of them is to build trust, and the team is as important as the product to potential investors and partners.”
“Investors bet on jockeys, not horses, and knowing about who will execute on an idea is key to an investor making an investment decision,” says Richard J. Foster, president, Foster Management & Holdings. “Very frequently I’ll see multiple companies with the same idea, but the one to invest in is the one with the team who has the experience and the credentials to succeed. Having the best idea with the wrong team is a recipe for failure, but proving that your team is the [right] one to execute [your idea] can make all of the difference.”
3. Description of your product(s) or service(s)
“When developing a business plan, it’s crucial to clearly [explain] the need your product or service is trying to address,” says Elena Filimonova, senior vice president, global marketing and strategy, CGS . “Your business plan should highlight how the product or service will address the need, what is unique about your offering and why it would be difficult to replicate. To do this, you should outline key differentiators, features and why the product or service is something that stands out in the market.”
[ Related: 11 ways to build your online brand ]
4. Market/competitive analysis
“Every business plan should have a section that defines the target sales market – who you are selling to,” says Victor Clarke, owner, Clarke Inc. “This is the part that requires considerable research into areas such as industry sales data related to the service or product you are selling and trends within the industry. You should look at competitors and see who they are targeting, look at your current customer base and create a profile of an ideal customer or client for your product.”
“For a business plan to be effective and attractive to investors and partners, you must be able to provide tangible data and information that supports the notion that your demographic is strong and growing, and that market trends support the continued need for your service or product offering,” says Brock Murray, cofounder & COO, seoplus+ .
[ Related: 7 attributes of a successful CMO in the digital age ]
“Sequoia Capital has a great framework that every business plan should use: separate your Total Addressable Market (everyone who conceivably needs your product category), Serviceable Addressable Market (everyone who needs your specific product or service, limited by factors like where you can do business) and Serviceable Obtainable Market (the portion of the market you can realistically capture),” says Christopher S. Penn, vice president, Marketing Technology, SHIFT Communications . “For example, lots of companies say everyone is a customer, and while that may be a TAM, if the company has only one salesperson, their SOM is significantly smaller. VCs and investors especially want to understand what’s realistically obtainable, and splitting out your addressable markets… shows them you’re not just presenting pipe dreams.”
Also be sure to “include a competitive analysis section,” says Bryan Robertson, founder & chief revenue officer, Mindyra . “Every business has competition, so it’s a good idea to research companies in your industry who are fighting for the same customers. You should include specific details about their strengths and weaknesses. This forces you to become very familiar with your market. It also encourages you to think of ways to differentiate your business [from] the competition.”
5. Financials (how much cash you need and when you’ll pay it back)
“Make sure that the plan goes into exacting detail about how much startup capital will be needed, where it will come from and how it will be paid back,” says Bruce Stetar, executive director, Graduate Business Programs, SNHU . “Equal importance should be given to how you [plan to] pay back capital as how you acquire it. Investors want to know when they will see a return. Failing to plan adequately for capital acquisition and payback is one of the chief reasons that new businesses fail.”
“Whether you’re hoping to receive funding to build a brick-and-mortar shop or a technology venture, you must have your numbers straight,” says Erica Swallow, founder & CEO, Southern Swallow . “For tech entrepreneurs, I’m a big fan of the startup financial model template developed by startup investor David Teten, in collaboration with a couple of colleagues. Based in a nearly fully-automated Excel worksheet, it enables early-stage entrepreneurs to map out their financial plan, without being too overwhelming. It’s the best startup financial model I’ve encountered over the past five years.”
6. Marketing plan
“It is critical to have a plan [for] how you are going to spend your marketing budget,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation . “Assess different options (paid search, salespeople, flyers, [social media], etc.) and the associated ROI with each.”
“The plan should cover both sales and advertising strategies and costs,” says Stetar, as well as customer acquisition costs. “Be conservative here since you will look good if your over achieve but it will cost you investor confidence if you under achieve.”
A successful business plan is one is easy to read and follow
You need to make your business plan easy to read and follow. “There’s nothing more daunting than to receive an all-text business plan, 30 pages in length,” says Swallow. “Keep your potential investors engaged by including product and user photos, team headshots, colorful headings, financial graphs, charts, tables, anything to make reading more of a pleasure. Even bullet points help.”
Indeed, “don’t underestimate the importance of visuals,” says Arvai. “Researchers have found that presentations using visual aids are, on average, 43 percent more persuasive than those without.”
Finally, before you go public with your plan, “have trusted mentors and expert peers look over it [and give you] their feedback,” says Sam Lundin, CEO, Vimbly . “Having [someone] review your business plan [before you present it to investors] is crucial.”
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