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Business Plan Advice

The One-Paragraph Start-Up Plan

Use these five steps to write a practical business plan to launch a new company quickly.

Entrepreneur

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During the earliest stages of starting a business, the last thing you should concern yourself with is writing lengthy plans or long-winded executive summaries. It’s time to kill the traditional business plan in favour of a realistic, practical tool: a one-paragraph start-up plan.

You might think there’s no way to write everything there is to know about your brilliant business idea in one paragraph.

Guess what? You’re wrong. You probably don’t have much to say – because it’s likely that you haven’t proved a thing yet.

A one-paragraph start-up plan is exactly what it sounds like: Your entire business concept boiled down into an easily digestible format. Unlike traditional business planning that teaches people to brainstorm-write-brainstorm-write-revise-revise-execute, the goal of the one paragraph plan is to have you brainstorm-write-execute-revise-execute.

There are fundamental differences between these two approaches.

  1. The traditional route would have you finalize your entire strategy based on a hypothesis without testing or validation.
  2. The one-paragraph start-up plan is designed to test your hypothesis through daily experimentation. It also serves as a fluid action strategy that grows along with your start-up.

My first one-paragraph start-up plan took me three days to research, brainstorm and write. On the fourth day, I was up and running. Was it the perfect business plan? No, but it got me started quickly, and set me on a course to generate revenue immediately.

Here is a five-point guide to help get you started with your business plan.

1. Answer key questions about your business. ?

To get started, you must have answers to key questions about your business and its prospective customers. Answer each of the following questions completely, honestly and in no more than one or two sentences. It is important to be confident that you can substantiate your core beliefs with relevant arguments.

  • What product or service does your business provide today?
  • How does your business produce or provide the product or service right now?
  • How will customers use your product or service as it exists right now?
  • How will your business generate immediate revenue?
  • Who are the primary clients your business will target immediately?
  • How will you market your start-up to prospective clients with the resources currently at your disposal?
  • How are you different than your competitors right now?
  • What secondary and tertiary client bases you will target once you’ve achieved success with your primary base?
  • Here’s how I answered the questions for my company, Sizzle It!
  • The company produces and edits sizzle reels, which are three-to-five minute promotional videos that combine video, graphics, photos, audio, and messaging for fast-paced, stylized product overviews.
  • A team of freelance editors edits together media materials submitted by its clients.
  • Customers use to offer their clients overviews of products, services or brands.
  • It produces revenue by charging these clients flat fees for editorial services.
  • The primary clients are boutique public-relations firms.
  • Marketing efforts includes cold calls, search engine optimization and networking at public-relations industry events.
  • Unlike its diversified competitors that offer large service rosters, the company will focus only on producing sizzle reels.
  • The company will expand its client roster to include advertising agencies and small businesses.

When you organise these statements in paragraph form, you have a first draft of your plan. It not the final plan. Think of it as an outline for the beginning of your journey.

2. Write checklists

This exercise is about field-testing your assumptions to learn whether they are true, false or incomplete and turn your paragraph into a functional, action plan you can revise regularly. As you learn lessons from your successes, failures and nonstarters along your journey, you can modify your business plan to make it a formula for success. Break each sentence in your start-up plan into five immediately executable steps – statements you can convert into reality. Each step should move your business forward in some way.

List each action step chronologically in a checklist format, like a to-do-list or a series of task reminders on your mobile phone or computer. Include applicable deadlines and note any related expenses. Estimate what you think the expense will be and write it down. Here is an example based on the steps to take for answer No. 5 above: The primary clients are boutique public-relations firms.

  1. Create a list of all boutique public-relation firms in JHB. 25/01/11
  2. Research contact information for each firm. 28/01/11
  3. Contact each prospective client to set up introductory meetings. 15/02/11
  4. Produce a company video reel for presentations. 15/02/11 (R2 000)
  5. During meetings with prospective clients offer a one-time discount of 50% of their first purchase.

3. Execute your start-up plan

Once you compose the checklists for each sentence in your draft plan, it’s time get to work. Execute each action step as completely as possible. Keep your checklists with you at all times – either on a mobile device or paper – and jot down notes whenever you learn something new.

Once each task is completed, evaluate your findings with these six questions:

  1. What worked and what didn’t?
  2. What was the result of each action step?
  3. Was the overall experience positive or negative? Why?
  4. What did you learn during the process?
  5. Which steps can be modified or improved for better results? How?
  6. Which need to be deleted all together?

Executing various action steps for my company opened my eyes to things I couldn’t have known before. For example, one step I added, cold-calling public-relations professionals, proved worthless. But search-engine optimization tactics that I added later raked in the dough. I also found hundreds of independent PR specialists – a new group of prospective clients that I wasn’t aware of previously. These and other discoveries allowed me to fine-tune and strengthen every aspect of my start-up. By doing so, my results improved week after week.

4. Revise your draft business plan

Based on the information gathered while executing your checklists, determine whether your original assumptions in your draft plan are true, false or incomplete. My original idea about how my business would work was incomplete. Not only did I miss an entire client category, I also failed to research the right decision makers.

Sometimes you’ll validate your hypothesis. In other cases, you’ll see that you were far off base.

Whatever the outcome, identify and plug the holes in your false or incomplete statements in your draft plan.

5. Continue to update your business plan

Scrap what failed and improve on minor successes to create home runs. Adjust your start-up plan accordingly, so you can begin transforming each of your flawed assumptions into true and complete statements. Use your findings to create new, more educated insights and craft more in-depth, specific checklists. Repeat this process on a regular basis.

Just because you prove all of your original premises, doesn’t mean you’re done and on your way to easy street. In fact, you’re only at the beginning. Always look for ways to improve your checklists. Doing so will keep you on top of your game and allow you to produce a series of well-defined blueprints for every part of your business.

Constantly questioning and improving my one-paragraph start-up plan has led me to building a profitable, scalable company poised for strong growth in various new markets. Your one-paragraph start-up plan is a living, breathing document that has a symbiotic relationship with your business. If it dies, your business may not be far behind.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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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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