How to write a business plan
A business plan is not merely a document required by your bank or investors when applying for finance. It is a research-intensive roadmap that can mean the difference between success and failure.
In following the step-by-step approach to creating the plan, aspirant entrepreneurs must get to grips with and take a realistic view of the market opportunities and driver, the pitfalls and challenges and the costs involved in starting your business.
Experts caution against hiring a third-party business consultant to draw up a plan on your behalf – taking this shortcut approach can doom the enterprise to failure from the start in that the entrepreneur does not develop a thorough understanding of the opportunities and challenges integral to the business.
The same can be said of sample business plans; however there are merits to starting with a template of sorts – so long as the business owner conducts their own research.
Why is writing the plan yourself so important
Once you have an idea, you need to do research in order to gather the information you need to prepare the business plan. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to write your own business plan. The reason for this is that the plan is your road map of how you will conduct your business from start-up to a successful operation.
Do thorough research
Begin the research process by writing an overview of the business you intend starting. Begin the field research once you have a good grasp of the go-kart fundamentals. You will need answers to the hard-to-find information, such as the cost of machinery, maintenance, fuel, spare parts, and rental for the premises and so on.
Research must include other key businesses, to the customers you are trying to attract, and what your product will be. Consolidate this information in your business plan.
Your research is in fact a SWOT analysis of your business (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Do all the basic financial research – understand VAT and tax requirements and decide if you will trade as a sole trader, partnership or company? Look into insurance cover, especially public liability cover, disclaimers and theft and fire cover.
Work out what unique selling point will truly make your business stand out. It could be anything – but it must be unique to you. This is what your customers will come back time and time again.
What you need to know before you begin writing your business plan
Everything you need to know on how to prepare an investor-ready business plan that will get your new venture off the ground.
Research & preparation for your plan
What you need to know about creating a business plan for your small business. Learn how to determine and describe your objectives, strategies, market, and financial forecasts.
Writing your plan: The contents of the business plan
There are ten basic elements that must be covered when writing a business plan. They include an overview, executive summary; general company description; the opportunity; industry and market; your strategy; the team; a marketing plan; operational plan; financial plan and an appendix.
Sample Business Plans
Learn from the experts. We provide examples of well constructed business plans that will help you to format your own, based on the requirements of your small business.
SME Mentoring & Support Services Directory
Putting you in touch with companies and organisations that can help you and your business grow. Including online, professional and free mentorship services
When drafting a business plan. Should all the information prescribed by business plan templates be included?
The key to deciding between using information as prescribed in a business plan template or writing your own depends on the complexity of the venture and the purpose of the plan.
Decide exactly what you need in the business plan
The first rule for drafting a successful business plan is deciding exactly what your business plans on doing. This could be a service or a product – whatever it is; it is the cornerstone of your enterprise and needs to be well defined. What need is it satisfying? Is it just a road map, a business model, or is it aimed at raising money to start the business? If you are starting something simple that does not contain many variables, you can get by with a standard plan outline and perhaps use a template quite successfully.
Choose a plan
There are two kinds of plans – informal business plan and a formal plan.
- An informal plan is a road map of the business and acts as a guide to the day-to-day operations, marketing and expansion plans for the business.
- A formal business plan on the other hand is a detailed document, prepared for the primary purpose of securing funding for the business.
If you have partners, factors such as how the partnership will work, payment terms, contract length, timing of payments and so on must be included.
Budgets are crucial
The budget process is a key part of running a business successfully and achieving a strategy. It gives business owners a current assessment of the business as well as a roadmap for the future. It is essential to have an up to date business plan in order to secure financing, ranging from an overdraft facility or bank loan to venture capital funding. The business budget is a living document that should be continuously updated and revised.
Appealing to investors
The financials can enhance or harm your business plan’s chances in the capital-raising process. By doing the research to develop realistic assumptions, based on actual results of your or other companies, the financials can bolster your firm’s chances of winning investors.
Can you use Business Plan Software to assist in writing a business plan?
Business Plan Pro is a leading international company that has been providing business plan software for 15 years. The package provides simple step-by-step advice to guide you through each section in preparing the document. The package comes with 500+ sample business plans, cash flow planning tools and a range of powerful other features.
Why do I need a business plan?
The process of developing your business plan allows you to focus on the business and how it’s going to operate.
I’m starting my own business and have downloaded business plan templates from your website. But it seems like a huge amount of information is required and it’s going to take me ages to complete. Exactly why do I need a business plan?
Starting, and developing, a sustainable business takes more than just a good idea, a superior product or great trade skills. Being the very best electrician, fashion designer, or website developer may cause you to be an excellent employee in a company, but it will not guarantee that you will be able to grow a successful business of your own.
An employee only needs to focus on his specialised role in the company, but a business owner needs to focus on every single aspect of the entire business.
You need a map to success
Building a business is like building a house. Can you imagine building a house without any designs or drawings? Or starting to build without first raising sufficient money to complete the house?
This is no less foolish than trying to build a viable and sustainable business without first sitting down and planning every aspect of your business. How many people could successfully build a house if all they had were some building materials and a picture in their mind of what they wanted their house to look like?
Sadly, this is exactly what happens to so many small businesses in South Africa. They start out with a good idea, some resources and practical skills, and they begin their businesses without any further planning or research. A recent survey revealed that only one in five small businesses manage to survive beyond three years.
There are many reasons why businesses fail, but in most cases, these failures could have been avoided if they had developed a comprehensive business plan before starting their business.
As with building a house, you will need to plan and develop beyond the scope of just your area of skill or expertise. Being a great bricklayer will help you to build the walls, but you will need more than just bricklaying skills to successfully complete the entire project. Similarly, having a skill, or a thorough knowledge of your products and services, will help you to build your business, but you will need more than just this to be successful.
Things to think about
- You will need to research your industry, market and competition.
- You must consider your marketing strategy, target market, ideal location
- Know your potential customers “needs” and “wants”
- What are your operational and management structures?
- You must consider the financial components of running your business. This includes properly costing your products and services, preparing a realistic cash flow forecast and sourcing any required start-up finances.
How many financing institutions would give you a loan to build a house if you were unable to produce proper building plans, architectural drawings and a detailed cost analysis? Similarly, financiers will not give financial aid to your business if you are unable to present a detailed business plan.
A DIY plan is best
It is important that you write your own business plan, and not just pay someone to draw one up for you. Successfully running your own business requires you to know the very fabric and heartbeat of your business, being personally familiar with every aspect of it.
Take the time, effort and energy to personally research, plan and develop the best possible business plan for your new venture.
This is probably one of the most important things you could ever do for yourself and your business!
A business plan is not as difficult as it sounds. There are many great resources out there to help you to draw up a good business plan. If you are going to take the risks, and make the sacrifices, of running your own company, then you cannot afford not to develop a thorough business plan.
Start by breaking it down into its various components and focus on one at a time. Do it yourself, but seek advice and mentorship from others who have experience. Keep working on it, and keep reworking it, until you have developed the best possible business plan for your business. This will be one of the greatest factors in ensuring the success and sustainability of your business.
Do I need a business plan for my one-man business?
All businesses, regardless of size, will benefit from having a business plan.
I have a small business in which I am the only employee. Do I still need to write a business plan?
In my experience (as a business mentor) my answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!”
- One Person Business: As a one-person business, you might feel that you have all the knowledge and information needed to run the business and to steer it in the right direction in your mind. However, a business plan can be used as a working document that can be moulded and adjusted over time as things progress. Michael Gerber in the E-Myth book points out that as an entrepreneur you need to know your primary aim because it provides you with purpose and energy for your daily activities. You should consider asking yourself questions that will help you to understand your primary aim.
By having an official business plan that has been designed by you to steer your course, you can assess any potential opportunities as they arise and make a decision about whether or not they stray from or affect the original vision of your business.
If so, how far does it stray? And if it strays from it too much, will you be able to get back on course after the detour by making a lateral move? Or will it mean that you would have to backtrack after the detour to get back on to the original road.
It’s very important that your business plan is aligned to your life vision because it becomes product of your life.
- Future Growth: You should also look at future growth in the business and the possibility of needing investment such as financial investment at a later stage. Without a decent business plan it will be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to attract any assistance. Ask yourself, “Would you get on board a ship which has no compass and simply trust the captain who says he knows where he is going?” I don’t believe you would. A solid business plan will provide some assurance to potential investors that you do have a plan and know where you’re headed!
- Review: As previously mentioned, your business plan is a working document that should be reviewed every year. Add information where necessary and take out information which has become obsolete or irrelevant. This will allow you to look at opportunities which were perhaps not capitalised on during the year and others that could be put in to the plan for the upcoming year – all the while keeping the vision of the business in mind when making any decisions.
Every business, including the ‘one-person-owned business’, should view a current, relevant and company specific business plan as a powerful tool to assist them in ensuring that the business stays on course and ultimately reaches its full potential.
What information should my business plan include?
Your business plan should capture who you are.
I’m in the process of doing a business plan but am swamped by information overload. Which information and how much detail should I include in the business plan?
The most critical information for any business plan is your vision and mission – the heart of who you are. Take time and effort over this part of your plan because this speaks to the core of everything your business is about and why you started it.
Your passion for your business becomes clear to the reader through the key words of your vision and your motivation behind starting your business is reflected in your mission statement.
This is what makes you, you, and why your business stands out from the crowd. These elements tell the reader this is where your business is headed.
- It can excite a potential investor particularly where there is a “connect” with your dream.
- It allows a marketing agency to properly understand your dreams and put together a package to successfully push your business into your target market.
- It will speak to the heart of a potential employee, creating a desire to work for you and be a part of your team.
Your business plan also serves as a reminder to you the business owner of who and what you are about and in the tough times, it’s your bench mark, for things past, present and future.
6 important elements of a business plan
The guidelines below give you an overview of what the business is about, and demonstrate your research, planning and understanding.
Bear in mind that even if the reader knew nothing about you or your business, that after they have read your business plan, they should have a good idea and enough information to begin making some informed decisions.
Broadly, cover the following:
- Business and industry information
- Type of legal entity
- Where you fit into the related industry
- Your product or service offering and what makes it unique
- Your target market – ie who is your customer
- Marketing – how you plan to reach your target market
- Broad operations and structure of your company
- Financial projections and requirements
- Personal investment into business
- Start-up requirements
- Expected returns
Each business plan is unique and specific to that business, so these are just some guiding principles. And, remember that your business plan should be viewed as a living document that you need to keep up to date and relevant.
You’ll find a free business plan template here.