The vast majority of business owners develop a business plan because they are told to do so. The instruction will generally come from a bank, lawyer or business advisor; and once the much thought out plan has fulfilled its purpose, it is often left to decay in a bottom drawer next to those articles one always intends to read… one day.
The importance and advantages of a business plan are rarely recognised and the strategic relevance such documents can play in directing a business is very much undervalued.
A good business plan should be an honest and extraordinary document, specific to the business, that can be used as a living action plan.
If planned, approached and executed correctly, it can serve as a vehicle to success. In a business plan the definition of “success” is of course open to anything at all! Any time is the right time to prepare a business plan. It is most effective at the innovation stage of a business, but can be used throughout the life cycle of a business.
A business has different needs, risks, rewards, possibilities and challenges at each stage of the lifecycle; hence the business plan should accommodate all of these and be used as a dynamic document that should be regularly maintained, updated and developed.
Download: Free Business Plan Template Download
Why do you need a business plan?
It’s always necessary to objectively evaluate your business – this is daunting to even the most profitable and successful of business owners.
Generating a business plan would assist to determine the feasibility of a business, or at innovation stage, a business idea. A business plan will give a new business the best possible chance of survival.
In most instances, financial institutions or investors will insist on seeing a business plan. Therefore, it becomes a requirement in order to secure external funding.
For the most part, the test of strength at this point is financial viability and, although that is certainly a major aspect of any business plan, it should also carefully detail goals and objectives for the business, as well as estimated growth rates and possible challenges in achieving the estimated growth rate.
A good business plan should direct the business and facilitate action through quantitatively measurable criteria, where possible.
Key employees can be measured according to the outcomes and achievements in terms of the business plan in order to ensure movement and to ensure that the strategic vision of the business is being achieved. It should turn thinking into doing.
How do I draft a business plan?
The first step is identifying what is to be achieved through the creation of a business plan.
It could be for any number of reasons, such as: to facilitate growth, evaluate and/or value the business, to identify a possible acquisition, to initiate a restructure, or even as part of an exit strategy. Often, as a business plan grows and develops, the strategic direction needs to be reassessed.
Therefore the initial plans should not be cast in stone. The business plan should become a tool, so where possible, big picture simplicity is key.
The second step is to decide on how the financial aspects of the business plan will be handled and what significant areas should be involved.
The third step is to stretch into the non-financial aspects of the business. It can be quite challenging to decide which non-financial aspects should have their own business plan within the overall business plan.
The fourth step is deciding which persons should be involved in which areas. From the very beginning, it is vital to include key employees in order to ensure that the specific individuals who will be making the action items happen, are involved and part of moving the business forward.
Where possible, meetings should be open to all employees on a voluntary basis in order to ensure that people who are interested in the future of the business, as well as their own futures within the business, can also contribute and feel like they are included in deciding on certain strategic initiatives.
Opening up the invitation for employees to volunteer as active participants in the process should assist in creating higher levels of commitment to the direction and ultimate goals of the business.
Lastly, once there is a framework of the above steps, it must be decided what timeframe will be used in order to measure the actions and outcomes identified as the business plan comes to life.
Finding the correct balance in the timing of the business plan is vital. If the timing is too fast, it creates undue pressure on employees and in some cases on finances. If the timing is too slow, the momentum is lost.
Content of a business plan
The executive summary should be the starting point for the development of a business plan.
The executive summary should focus on the reasons for preparing a business plan and contain detail on the background of the business in order to lay out the foundation for the starting point.
The current corporate structure will be an important aspect to consider in the executive summary, as it will have severe consequences in the future for new product development, significant growth, succession planning, exit strategies and the like.
Key products and market ownership percentage should be researched and documented in order to identify strengths and opportunities or threats to the business.
Planned future product development and their possible impact on the business should also be included in this analysis, as should major successes and disappointments.
The management team, the board of directors, the owners or shareholders and senior managers should be identified with details as to their involvement in the generation and facilitation of the business plan.
Begin with a rough draft to identify a few key action points that will be instrumental in achieving the plan as initially defined in the executive summary.
As the business plan evolves the executive summary should be assessed to ensure that the strategic goals the business should be heading towards are still viable; and whether the action points are really going to facilitate the planned outcome.
The marketing plan section of a business plan should evaluate products currently available on the market, the pricing and demand for such products the distribution and positioning of such products and the brand awareness.
Included in the marketing plan should be the possible development of future products and viability of such products. The business plan should contain a detailed layout of what is being sold, where it will be sold, how much of it is expected to be sold, and who is going to buy it.
The operational plan should specify the physical day to day running requirements of the business. In a service and manufacturing entity, employees are the single most important operational factor.
Management structures and a detailed organogram should therefore be created. In order to generate the management structures and organogram, every employee should have a job description, remuneration information must be available and the productive capacity of employees should be calculated to ensure maximum productivity.
In a manufacturing environment, capital expenditure requirements would be a focal point, together with product input needed, facility requirements and possibly warehousing and manufacturing facilities.
If variable cost is included in the business plan, the adoption of a cost allocation model is critical to ensure the correct gross profit and net profit percentage analysis can be done on all products’ profitability.
This will ensure profitable products are developed and promoted and that non profitable products are either further developed and promoted; or are ceased altogether. Information System Technology needs will be determined.
Identification of operational systems may be needed, as well as the support programs and the analysis between in house development and off the shelf purchasing.
Security and protection settings are one of the bigger risks in the operational plan and should receive adequate attention in order to mitigate risk.
Where relevant, a training plan should be set out to make sure employees will be updated with the latest developments and technology pertaining to the products of the business. Such training will result in a technological advantage in a rapidly developing and changing technological climate.
Each and every business has different financial needs during different stages of the business life cycle. During the innovation stage the business will need cash to start the business and maintain it for at least a year or longer.
If there is insufficient funding for this period, the business will fail before it has properly had a chance to get started.
During the growth phase, a cash flow forecast should be maintained and the capital requirements of the business must be considered. The source of financing must be set out in the business plan during the different stages.
As funding can come from a number of sources such as family, friends, financial institutions and investors; it is important to detail where the funding came from as well as the terms, obligations and costs of the different funding options.
Financial forecasts in the form of a Cash Flow Statement, Statement of Financial Position and Statement of Comprehensive Income for future periods should be prepared and included in the business plan. These should be based on projected sales and capital requirements and further product development and market establishment.
Risk, in various forms and ranges of significance, should be assessed throughout the business plan. The impact of the identified risks should be incorporated in every area of the business plan and controls must be implemented to mitigate such risks, where possible.
The business plan should be well drafted, dynamic, realistic, specific and measurable. It should clarify the mission and vision of the business; it will also facilitate growth, development of products, identification and mitigation of risks and many other factors that can benefit the business. Communication and involvement are key to receiving commitment from key employees and vital to ensuring that the strategic direction of the business is maintained.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Top 9 Business Plan Resources
Want to write a business plan but don’t know where to start? Find the top 10 business plan resources here.
A business plan is essential at every stage of your business. By writing a business plan you are giving potential funders a reason to invest in you and you are giving yourself a reference throughout your business journey.
You should be referring to your business plan at regular intervals to make sure that you are still on the right track or to update it in order to grow your business.
Writing a business plan need not be confusing or difficult because of all the available resources on the web. Entrepreneur lists the top nine business plan resources below to help you get started.
Entrepreneur Magazine SA offers advice on every area of writing a business plan
Entrepreneur Magazine being the ultimate “how to” guide for starting and growing a business offers a helping hand to anyone looking to create a business plan.
This section goes into detail on the format to follow and also offers sample plans for you to use as a template. You can also read through articles offering expert advice and do’s and don’t of business plans.
A creative, visual map for success.
The Right Brain Business Plan offers readers a fun and accessible way to creating their business plan and reaching their financial goals.
This book is ideal for the creative entrepreneur, designer, wellness professional, writer or photographer.
With the use of worksheets and step by step instructions, you will find that the business plan process is easier than you thought.
A visual guide to writing a business plan.
Entrepreneur Magazine has an in-depth business plan template that you can easily download and use as a detailed guideline when writing your business plan.
You can download this template for free and start creating the various sections of your business plan so that in the end you have a detailed business concept that is attractive to potential investors.
Practical advice from business plan experts.
BPlans was founded by Tim Berry, a renowned business planning authority, and their website caters to entrepreneurs and business owners who need sample business plans as well as advice for writing a business plan when starting or growing their companies.
This website offers free as well as paid for services for you to choose from depending on your needs.
Complete guide to business plan contents.
There are 10 elements or sections that need to be included in a business plan and this article from Entrepreneur Magazine goes into detail on each.
Related: Free Sample Business Plans
Their format guide will ensure that your business plan covers everything that it needs to for your own use as well as to present to potential financiers.
A useful handbook for building the ideal business model.
Alexander Osterwalder’s has created a guide to building a detailed business model that any start-up will find useful.
You can purchase the full book if your decide that you would like further information on his process and thinking around business models.
Top advice from finance institutions and entrepreneurial experts.
Renowned experts such as Martin Feinstein of Enablis, Allon Raiz of Raizcorp, Keet van Zyl of HBD Venture Capital and Andre Deiderichs of Old Mutual all give their opinions and top tips for writing a business plan by taking into account the do’s and don’t s and what potential investors will be looking out for.
Related: Free Business Plan Template Download
If you are working on a marketing plan for your company, MPlans can assist.
Because writing a marketing plan is just as important as your business plan, it’s important to take the time to understand the various elements.
MPlans offers a range of free marketing plans that you can use as a template to create yours. They also have marketing software that you can purchase if you want to create a totally unique plan.
Tim Berry is the owner of Palo Alto Software, a co-founder of Borland International, and a well known expert in business planning.
Entrepreneur Magazine’s website gives you free access to his articles and advice so that you have all the knowledge you need when writing or modifying your business plan.
Related: 21 Free Sample Business Plans
Apps To Help You Write A Business Plan
A number of apps simplify the often tedious, complicated process of crafting a thorough bank- and investor-ready business plan.
If you have a killer idea for a start-up, but lack the time, resources and budget to develop a business plan, a business plan-generating app can help you get your plan on paper and, ideally, off the ground.
A number of apps simplify the often tedious, complicated process of crafting a thorough bank- and investor-ready business plan.
You provide the information, they organise it into a plan, and hopefully soon you’ll be in business.
Here’s a look at three apps that can help get your business plan rolling:
This is an all-in-one web app that walks users through every step of creating a traditional business plan.
Here’s how it works: Based on the data you enter into the app, Enloop automatically generates sales, profit and loss, cash flow and balance sheet projections for you, complete with explanatory graphs and other compelling visual elements.
Enloop also provides standard, yet customisable business plan text for each section of your plan, including portions focused on key company information and financial data.
Enloop’s Free & Easy option includes a single custom business plan packaged in a clean, professionally formatted PDF file that you can download, print and share.
More fully featured paid versions range from $9.95 a month to $39.95 a month and allow you to make multiple business plans. Enloop is only web-based and not yet available for mobile devices.
Alex Glassey, who designed this iPad-only app, describes it as “a strategic-planning app that helps entrepreneurs with the thinking and decision-making process.”
StratPad can be a smart choice for people who are writing their first-ever business plan. It is packed with several free how-to tools for beginners, including a 58-page business strategy tutorial, view-on-demand training videos, email-based customer service, and more.
A free basic StratPad edition is available for students. Paid, one-time fee plans range from $9.99 to $54.99. The more you pay, the more advanced business plan options you get.
The easy-to-use app guides users through a series of simple questions and prompts. Your answers are used to develop a summary business plan, complete with revenue projections and full-colour graphs and charts.
3. Business Plan Premier
This $7.99 iPad app does double-duty for users who are eager to have their business plan backed fast.
Not only does Business Plan Premier help you organise and write your business plan at an extremely detailed level, it also enables you to present your finished plan to more than 3 000 high net worth potential investors, who are also members of investment research firm Ben Stein & Accredited Members Inc.
Business Plan Premier leads you through writing your prospective company’s vision and mission statements, product descriptions and marketing plans.
You can also use it to complete competitive and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, outline your management scheme, identify your start-up expenses, define your target market and more depending on your needs.
Your completed business plan is exported as a Microsoft Word document that you can edit, print, email or upload to Dropbox. Business Plan Lite is the free (but much less functional) version of the app.
Sample Business Plans: Still stuck? Click here to view over 100 industry-specific, free sample business plans.
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