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Business Plan Advice

How to Choose a Business Plan Consultant

If you don’t have experience in writing a business plan, you can speak to a consultant, but choose a solution suited to your needs.

Dr. Thommie Burger

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Everyone knows the saying that there are only two things of which we are certain in life:

“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”

History tells us that this saying originates more than 220 years ago.  American-born Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, scientist, and writer who frequently corresponded with the prominent international figures of his time.

In 1789, at the age of 83, Franklin was still corresponding with Jean Baptiste Leroy, a French physicist and writer. Many of Franklin’s personal letters contained simple maxims – the kind found in his Poor Richard’s Almanac – and they prove that his wit and wisdom were not impaired by age.

One of these comments was:

“Our Constitution is in actual operation. Everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”

The Advent of the business plan

Now, long after his death, I believe it is sensible to add a third aspect of which we can be certain in life… business plans.

Whether you are starting a new business and require funding for your business venture or whether you are a seasoned entrepreneur that is seeking capital to grow your business, one thing is certain, any potential investor will require a business plan from you.  So, with this realisation that you can’t cheat death, taxes or business plans, the question beckons, “How do you choose a business plan consultant/writer in South Africa?”

Related: How to Build a Business Plan for Investors

You may need to interview a number of different business plan consultants prior to making a decision of who to work with.  In Gauteng alone there are a handful of reputable business plan consultancies and a considerable number of other firms that merely offer a generic/template/software-generated business plan service with no guidance, support, strategic advice or consultation.

It is more important at this stage to ensure you have positive answers to the following questions. Merely deciding on the cheapest business plan consultant may cost you much more in the long run.

1. Why do I need a business plan consultant?

A good business plan consultant has experience working in and working with a broad range of businesses.  It is the accumulated business experience and knowledge of a business plan consultant which makes the consultant valuable.  A good business plan consultant is experienced in a number of different types of businesses and industries, while also having very specific experience in running companies, in the financing of a company and most importantly in the marketing and sales of a company.

In other words, a good business plan consultant has broad and specific business experience and typically, 15 years or more of accumulated business experience.  Having an MBA or CA qualification isn’t enough.  The business plan specialist must have solid real world experience with many types of companies and within various industries in order to be an effective consultant.

2. Will the business plan consultant I choose write the business plan for me?

Be wary of companies that promise that they will just “write a business plan for you.”  A reputable business plan company will develop a business plan in close consultation with you.

There are numerous so-called business plan “experts” in South Africa that will ask you to provide them with very little information and then they write the entire business plan for you, without meeting or even speaking with you.

This type of process will produce a poor quality business plan.  As client, you are the expert in your business and should walk side-by-side with the business plan consultant throughout the entire business plan writing process.  This type of consultative process will ensure that they produce a business plan that will be effective and improve your chances of success.

3. I have limited cash available!  How can I afford the services of a business plan company?

How can you not? Even though sufficient cash may not be available prior starting your company, you cannot make many mistakes before you find yourself quickly out of business. Spending money on the services of a business plan writing company shouldn’t be seen as an expense but rather as a time to invest in your company’s strategic direction and market positioning.

4. Should I take a cautious approach when choosing a business plan consultant?

Like any supplier you evaluate, you should ask yourself the question:

“What is important to me”?

The business plan consultant should be with you in the beginning, middle and at the end of the business plan writing process. While this personal approach may take a bit longer, the extra time spent on your project will make a noticeable difference in your confidence and the quality of your business plan.  And, when you sit down face to face with a potential investor, you will be fully conversant with all aspects of your business plan.

When someone tells you they can complete your business plan in a few days or merely gives you a business plan template suggesting that all you have to do is insert your data where noted, what you are looking at is the proverbial money down the drain.

Be very careful! There are companies that operate in this manner as it is easy to make quick money.  Be extremely cautious of “generic” or “template” business plans; whether you find these generic templates in your Google search, in a bookstore, in cheap business plan software or from a business plan consultant.  Numerous so-called business plan writers take this approach and charge you next to nothing for such a service.  There is no such thing as a generic or template Business Plan.

Make sure that you partner with a reputable business plan company that takes an approach which will ensure that the final product is “your” plan and not a “generic” plan that’s been produced by a business plan software programme or inexperienced business plan writer.

5. Will the business plan that a business plan consultant writes guarantee investment funding?

All South African investors and financiers require a sound and feasible business plan for funding approval, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee funding. Every investor will evaluate a number of criteria when making a business loan or investment decision.

They typically consider the validity/viability of the business- and financial model, the entrepreneur’s experience, market potential, solid market research, use of funding, ability to repay the business loan, the entrepreneur’s personal credit history and the collateral available to secure the loan.   And needless to say, just like in an interview for a new job, the responsibility remains that of the client to “sell” the business plan and business venture/concept to potential investors.

6. Why is it important to use a business plan specialist?

The business plan specialist utilises many different outlooks to develop a business plan that will be focused on your company.  The business plan consultant gets the opinions of your colleagues, co-shareholders and management team and uses experience gained across various markets and industries to write a business plan that is unique and that will address your exact requirements.

Most new entrepreneurs have very specific technical knowledge about their intended business venture, product and/or service.  Unfortunately, these entrepreneurs aren’t always fully conversant with aspects pertaining to the management of a company, business planning principles, market research, financial projections, sales, marketing, etc.

This is where a business plan company can be of extremely good value as they will be able to partner with you and guide you on these aspects, providing you with useful information and an opportunity to learn new skills and obtain new knowledge.

7. Is it important to you that the business plan consultant be local?

With video conferencing, Skype and e-mail widely available, there is no reason to limit your search to local business plan consultants. If you have no fear of throwing a wider net in search of the best business plan consultant for you, you can use this technology to connect with individuals you may never meet in person during the process.

For example, why not put a Cape Town based business plan consultant in competition with a Gauteng based business plan consultant; as long as you are comfortable with virtual collaboration methods (Skype, telephone, email, etc.).

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Sample Business Plans: Why not get going with your plan so long? Click here to view over 100 industry-specific, free sample business plans.

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Founder of JTB Consulting, a leading Business Plan Consultancy that provides practical, unique and affordable Business Consulting and Business Plan Solutions to entrepreneurs, start-up businesses and existing companies. Founder of Animazing, a Marketing Agency that designs unique animated videos; a communication and marketing medium clients use to deliver their messages in an effective, engaging and memorable way. Thommie is a Summa Cum Laude MBA Graduate and holds a PhD in Entrepreneurship and Business Management.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ntokozo Verge Mkhize

    Aug 18, 2012 at 22:16

    I wish I saw this article a year ago, before we went to this Business plan consultant for him to draw up a business plan for us and my mates and he charged us R5000 then 5 days later he calls us and say his done with the business plan. What was shocking is that we never had any talk about the business and stuffs:-(

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Business Plan Advice

The Future Of The Business Plan

When things get rocky, what will keep you on point and on mission? What can you refer to, ensuring you aren’t straying from your original vision? The right business plan can go a long way.

Pieter Scholtz

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Business plans are a lot like maps and GPSes. If the organisational journey is proceeding smoothly, you may believe you don’t need one. Indeed, there’s a school of thought — backed by certain research — that says starting out with a formal plan is no predictor of success and it’s better to get out there and test your concept in a real-world environment.

These naysayers argue that most business plans are theoretical, unrealistic and go out the window the first time the entrepreneur encounters an unforeseen hurdle.

Refer to the original vision

But the pro-business plan lobby argues that, when market conditions unexpectedly change and you’re thrown into disarray, it’s important to refer to the original vision and belief system that you started out with. These will help to keep you grounded and avoid going off at tangents every time you hit an obstacle.

A plan also helps to prioritise your daily activities. Without it, everything becomes urgent and the resulting chaos will destroy your work/life balance and leave you feeling overwhelmed. If you are more than a one-person operation, a business plan enables company teams to align their activities to the overall vision and to work congruently to achieve the same goals.

William B. Gartner, an entrepreneurship professor at Clemson University in the US, believes business plans are essential. After analysing data from a survey of more than 800 people starting businesses, he found that writing a plan greatly increased the chances of actually going into business.

“You’re two-and-a-half times more likely to get into business,” he observes. “That’s powerful.”

Alyssa Gregory, an entrepreneur and writer for the likes of Forbes and the New York Times, says the process of putting together a business plan can help with new ideas, different approaches and fresh perspectives.

“An effective business plan is a flexible, growing and dynamic tool that can help you think creatively and come up with new solutions for some of your toughest business challenges,” she says.

Related: Business Plan Format Guide

Keep the plan simple

However, the thinking around the required depth and complexity of a business plan has changed. A decade or two ago, management gurus advocated elaborate 40-page plans with detailed sections covering objectives, mission, organisational structure, target market, customer behaviour, competitive advantage, marketing strategy, sales forecasts and financial projections.

These days, unless you’re seeking outside investors or looking for a bank loan that requires a detailed risk analysis, the move is towards shorter and simpler documents of no more than a page. The reasons for this change are many. A lengthy document is likely to be unread — particularly by younger-generation employees with short attention spans. Even if it is read, it’s unlikely to be remembered in detail because of its complexity.

So, opt for a one-page business plan that’s easily digestible and lists only the important things like mission, vision, etc. Cut the fluff and keep the essence. If you’ve spent time preparing a longer plan, that’s okay. Turn the key elements that will keep you focused on your goals and the bigger picture into short bullet points that will become your go-to business plan for regular use.

What should be in your one-pager? South Africa-based digital marketing and content strategist, Casandra Visser, suggests:

  • Vision – What are you building
  • Mission Statement – What you do, what your product/service is and who your customers are
  • Objectives – Your business goals for the next week, month or year
  • Strategies – How you plan to achieve your objectives
  • Action Plan – Steps you will take to action your strategies, including dates/deadlines.

Related: Keep It Simple: How To Write A One Page Business Plan

Finally, remember that your plan is a living, breathing document that needs to be meaningful in a constantly changing business environment. So, break up your annual plan into quarterly plans that take into account micro and macro changes in your specific operating environment.

Keep it relevant, keep it simple — and your business plan will be an invaluable asset in navigating your business journey.

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Business Plan Advice

Questions To Consider While Testing The Success Rate Of Your Business Plan

Here are four ways to test your plan’s success rate or you may instead take these as questions to validate your business idea’s credibility.

Angela White

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So you’re finally ready to craft your business ideas out of your head and wondering if the plans you have made are worth hitting the success road or not. Well, this is something that stands as a matter of concern for every budding entrepreneur. Also, checking the viability of your business plan is necessary. For this reason, the online evaluations are turning out to be handy.

Creating tests online to assess your business plan has become a norm these days. You may find several testing tools with ready-to-use quizzes/tests to help entrepreneurs in interpreting results for developing a successful business plan. So before you take the plunge and give your business a shoot, here are four ways to test your plan’s success rate or you may instead take these as questions to validate your business idea’s credibility.

Answer these 4 Questions to test your business plan’s success:

1. Did you assess your target audience/market?

A crucial element of a successful business plan is making an appropriate market analysis and identifying your target customers.

  • Whom are you selling your product/service to?
  • What are their demands and requirements?
  • How big is the market you shall step in?
  • What can you do to launch your business in the market?

An open interaction with your target audience in the form of social media polls, surveys, etc., can help you find answers to the above questions. If your business plan includes all of these necessities, then you have successfully crossed the first milestone.

Related: Business Plan Format Guide

2. Have you made a check of your funding?

What do you need to kick-start your business? Idea, passion, and more importantly ‘MONEY.’ Your business plan should help you identify potential funding sources for your start-up. These sources may include spending your savings, taking loans or sometimes a combination of both. Studies by the University of Oregon say that businesses with a proper plan are more likely to get funded. Therefore, consider making an effective business plan to enhance the chances of getting funds.

3. Did you roll your eyes on the competition in the market?

Analysing your competitors and making a note of their strategies is something that will help you nurture your business. This doesn’t mean that you spend all of your time and energy in eyeing the competition. You need to gather all the tricks implemented by successful entrepreneurs and keep an eye on the factors that lead to failed startups. If your business plan structures key points you take from the competitive market around you, then you have bagged the next milestone in this journey.

4. Have you made a marketing strategy?

Would you like your business to stay stagnated? Obviously not! How you market your product/service to reach your target audience must be included in your business plan. If your business plan gives you a clear picture of when and how you will advertise your product through social media, websites, etc., then you ultimately succeed in creating a full-fledged business plan.

The online test maker software these days has made it extremely convenient to create tests judging the success rate of a business plan. According to a recent study, businesses with an adequately devised plan tend to grow 30% faster. Looking at this number, we can precisely estimate the importance of having a full-proof business plan that includes all of the points as mentioned above. So don’t forget to test your plan before you take the huge leap.

Download a free business plan template here.

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Business Plan Advice

Why Your Business Beliefs Are More Important Than Your Business Plan

Your business plan will change. Your business beliefs should lead you to long-term success.

Bedros Keuilian

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Do not spend more time working on your business plan than you do actually working on your business. A business plan is important, and you should take the time to make one. Just know that your beliefs about business will have a much greater impact on your success than what you put on paper.

I know this because I’ve coached dozens of entrepreneurs and business owners from the very beginnings of their businesses. I’ve watched some of them grow their businesses all the way to six-, seven- and even eight-figure earnings, even when their initial idea looked shaky on paper.

I’ve watched others struggle for years before giving up, even though their ideas looked foolproof on paper.

Related: Bankrupt And Dreams In Tatters: How Sheree O’ Brien’s Self-Belief Drove Her To Success

The short explanation here is that what you put on paper for a business plan will never match reality. Never. As soon as you start selling to and working with real people, things change. There’s a certain amount of chaos. However, there is a way to harness that chaos and use it to build your empire, which is what I’m here to show you today.

Innovation is moving faster than ever before

In the next five to 10 years, most of the jobs that exist today will be replaced by AI. For entrepreneurs, that means your business operations will be cheaper and more reliable than ever before. However, it also means that your daily operations will look completely different than what they look like today.

Plus, many of these technologies will have unintended consequences. They’re going to create problems that we’ve never had to deal with before (such as high unemployment).

I don’t say any of that to scare you. In fact, I’m extremely optimistic about the future, and you should be, too. My point is that none of us can afford to get stuck on how we do business today.

If your idea of success is to find the next “hack” or “quick fix,” then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Those hacks and quick fixes are going to become outdated almost as soon as they appear.

So, here’s what you need to do instead: Become obsessed with the principles of wealth and success, not just the delivery system. Study the entrepreneurs and the businesses you admire most and look for the principles that guided their decisions.

Focus on principles, not quick hacks

principles

The most successful entrepreneurs on the planet are the ones that put in decades of hard work to build their empires. That means that they kept their businesses growing even in times of massive uncertainty, loss and change. How?

It comes back to their business beliefs, which is another way of saying principles. If your business beliefs are solid, you will quickly find a way to create new solutions when the old systems for doing business break down. For a great example of this, look at Ray Dalio. He’s been listed as one of the 100 wealthiest people in the world, and he even wrote a book called Principles.

Related: The Mindset Strategy From The “Rock Star” Coach Can Turn Your Beliefs Into Results

He’s also the founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates, which has a fund called the Pure Alpha fund that only lost money three times in the last 20 years. Keep in mind, that includes the 2008 housing crisis, which was the worst economic downturn in recent history. When most people were suffering financial disaster, Dalio and others like him kept their empires growing.

Again, it goes back to beliefs, aka principles. One of Dalio’s core beliefs was that he could design an investment portfolio that would remain safe and keep growing under any economic season. Through years of researching and testing, he created the All Seasons portfolio and accomplished just that. And he accomplished that because he was looking for the principles that would keep his money growing over the long term instead of get-rich-quick tricks and hacks.

Another great example is Google. Google’s mission statement is “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s not a hack or a get-rich-quick scheme.

That’s a guiding belief in what’s possible. It’s a huge idea that serves the needs of people all over the world. That’s what has allowed Google to create billion-dollar solutions and rewrite how much of the world operates today.

Beliefs can make you mentally strong — or weak

Let’s bring this back down to a personal level. If you believe that you have the creativity, focus and discipline to solve any problem that comes up in your business, then that will come true. On the other hand, if you believe there’s no room left for your ideas, or that you’ll never be able to lead other people toward your vision, that will also come true.

With that in mind, let me offer you a set of beliefs that have helped me succeed in business. These are not beliefs I pulled out of thin air. These are beliefs I’ve seen in action with dozens of other successful entrepreneurs.

I’ve tested them out in my own life and found that they each helped my businesses grow faster. I encourage you to read these aloud to yourself until they become habits in your own thinking.

  • Money is attracted to decisiveness, action-taking and speed.
  • I can learn whatever new skills I need to succeed and keep my business on the cutting edge.
  • I can earn the respect and cooperation of anyone whose help I need.

Now, you might be wondering if I’m preaching some kind of woo-woo, “law of attraction” stuff here. I’m not. If you read those beliefs again carefully, you’ll see that they emphasize taking action. They emphasize going above and beyond what most people are willing to do.

The whole point of this is to prime yourself to want to take these actions even when they are uncomfortable. You will do this because you believe that the rewards will come. No, the rewards will not come immediately. Yes, the reality will be a long and difficult road.

Related: The Power of Dominant Thought

That’s precisely why you need deeply held, empowering beliefs to push you forward even when your plan falls apart. Focus on developing your core beliefs, and you will have the power to overcome any challenge on the path to empire.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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