Ten Important Things to Think About When Writing a Business Plan
Whether you are raising money, borrowing it, or financing a new business yourself, you should force yourself to put into writing a detailed business plan for what you have in mind. Without one, you most likely will be unsuccessful at obtaining money. With one you can guide yourself and your management team through the entire start-up process in an organized and successful manner. That being said, having a written business plan is a must.
2. If you are raising money for your business, you should first carefully think about who potentially will be providing the funds to start the business. For example, if you are hoping to borrow from a bank, your plan should clearly address the risks involved in the business with emphasis on the new business’s ability to pay back any loans obtained. If you are soliciting funds from investors or venture capitalists, your plan should emphasize the business’s growth potential and it’s subsequent return on invested capital. At every step of the way, you should be conscious of writing FOR and TO the targeted reader of your business plan.
3. Making a detailed outline of what you have in mind is probably the most important thing you can do before you actually start writing your plan. Take your time and give your outline a lot of thought. Organize your thoughts in simple phrases or sentences and number and letter each phrase or sentence. Break down big topics into smaller, detailed lists of specific things that must be researched or said. Composing a detailed outline can be tedious, but don’t slack off on this crucial part of the process. Writing from a carefully written outline will give your business plan a definite beginning, middle, and end.
4. A business plan will achieve its objectives only if it is credible. Credibility is established by the people who will be involved in the venture and how various verifiable facts and statistics are used to support the proposed business idea. The industry or market niche in which the business will compete must be extensively researched. So too must the targeted customers of the business be analyzed and discussed. Much effort should be expended to thoroughly research these subjects by using information found in libraries, on the Internet, and from companies with pertinent databases for sale.
Another source of credible information can be obtained by interviewing industry experts, suppliers, competitors, and even potential customers themselves. The depth of knowledge and insight that can be conveyed in the business plan as a result of thorough research will go far to solidify the needed aura of credibility. Remember to keep track of where you sourced your information so that it can be properly footnoted in your business plan. Footnotes add to credibility.
5. Be organized from the start. You will be surprised at how much information you can collect in a very short period of time. It is imperative that you collect and organize your information in a manner that conforms with your outline. Set up labeled files at the onset. Have a separate, secure place to store them. Plan up front how you will collect and organize information gathered from the Internet on your computer. And don’t just copy information from the Internet.
Keep track of the addresses from where the information came, in the likely event that you may want to revisit some sites for clarification or additional information. It sounds old fashioned, but keep paper and pen on your person and on your nightstand at all times. Write down every fleeting thought that comes into your head. In the busy pursuit of information, it’s easy to forget an idea that popped into your head the day before or in the middle of the night.
6. The body of the business plan must contain the usual descriptive elements such as a clear statement of the business, the planned marketing strategies, a thorough analysis of the competition, a description of operational procedures, an honest list of perceived risks, and other written sections pertinent to the business idea. But what will set your business plan apart from others will be the insertion of a “compelling reason” why your business idea is unique. To just say “this business is different and therefore it will be successful” probably will be ignored or discounted by a sophisticated reader.
But if you build a story through the presentation of your researched facts and take the reader to a logical point where the uniqueness or cleverness of you business idea becomes apparent, he will be more than receptive to your idea when you state the “compelling reason” why your business idea is truly unique and will work. You will have drawn him in and captured his imagination. The “compelling reason” will make him receptive to all the other positive attributes your business idea represents.
7. The financial statements you include in your business plan should span three years with Year 1 broken down into 12 months and Years 2 & 3 broken down into quarters. They should contain both profit and loss and cash flow statements. Two important elements you should include in the financial section of your business plan is a clear statement of the assumptions that underlay your projected numbers and the obvious use of a conservative approach in projecting those numbers. Be thoughtful in your assumptions. Make them easy for your reader to understand. Base them on facts gleaned from your research that appear elsewhere in your business plan. Always take the lower side of any range of figures.
The important thing is for the numbers to work ie payoff the loans or give a reasonable return on investment. Bankers and investors are not impressed by big, optimistic numbers. They see them all the time. They are usually persuaded by that “compelling reason” why the business has a good chance of succeeding and reassured that the projected numbers are achievable because they are obviously conservative. Let their imaginations take your financial projections to higher, exciting levels on their own time.
8. Your business plan should contain detailed resumes of the principal people who will be involved in and/or running the new business. The resume section is often the second place venture capitalists go when they pick up a business plan. They first read the executive summary to get a general idea of what the business is all about, and then they go to the resume section to see who the players are. If they don’t see competent, proven people with direct, related industry experience, they often discard the business plan right then and there. So be thoughtful on who you bring into the business and carefully design their resumes to highlight past experience and accomplishments that directly relate to your proposed business idea.
9. The Executive Summary should appear as the first section of your business plan and should be the last section you write. It is a synopsis of the business idea you have already carefully organized and written. It should give a broad overview of what the idea is, and should, in a page or two, give the reader a clear understanding of what the proposed business specifically does, into what industry it falls, what broad economic climate and competitive conditions exist within that industry, and what general elements of the business idea give the proposed business a chance of being successful.
It should contain summary figures on the return on investment or the loan payback. The Executive Summary is the first section the reader will examine so take your time with it, be concise and comprehensive, and consider it to be almost like an advertisement for your business idea. It should have a ton of optimism as opposed to the factual and objective tone you want the rest of your business plan sections to have. The Executive Summary is often the only shot you have at capturing the reader’s attention, so be thoughtful when writing it.
Remember, most venture capitalists and bankers have stacks of business plans filling their offices waiting to be read. Often junior members of the firm are given the task of doing the initial sort before a plan will reach the eyes of a decision making partner or officer. The person who first reads your Executive Summary thus has the power to reject your proposal but usually not the power to approve it. He only passes it on, and if the Executive Summary can catch his eye and make him read further, it’s done its job.