Fail to plan and you plan to fail

One of the main reasons for writing a business plan is to secure finance. The story you are telling has to be convincing. You might have a wonderful idea but if you're not able to describe your potential market, your customers, the growth prospects, your competitors, your competitive advantage, and the risks involved, to name just a few things, then your business is unlikely to get off the ground. Everything has to be credible.

Once you've written your plan, take it to a trusted accountant/business adviser for review and analysis. This is one of the things I learnt from delivering the course. There are excellent accountants around who have direct experience of working with many small businesses. They know what works and what doesn't and they will be able to identify the holes in your plan and help you to plug them.

So how is a business plan laid out?

The body of the plan can be divided into four distinct sections preceded by an Executive Summary. The four sections are:

1) Description of the business
2) Marketing
3) Finances
4) Management

This is the most important part of the plan because it may be the only section that is read, and because it is usually the first section to be read it must engage readers and excite them about the potential of the business idea. It is a concise summary of the business plan aimed primarily at attracting finance, so you will need to concentrate on the factors that will make the business a success. Explain why you see the need for this type of business and the opportunity that it presents. You are the one with the vision. You need to articulate your vision and include a mission statement explaining how you are going to realise your vision. Set objectives which are SMART, that is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable within the stated timeframe
  • Relevant in the context of the vision
  • Time bound

In this section you describe the business and how it is going to operate. Necessary items include:

  • the name of the business and its legal structure
  • what sort of premises will you need
  • whether you will employ any staff, and the organisational structure
  • insurance
  • any government regulations which might affect the business

The three main headings in this area are:

  • Market Research & Analysis
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Marketing Plan

Even if you have a totally unique product or service, it is vital to conduct some form of market research to determine whether there is a need.If you have competitors, you should conduct a SWOT analysis of their operations. "SWOT" stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis of your own business would add further insight.

The success of your whole business could well depend on the marketing strategy. Do you need a website? What about a credit policy? Most important is the price you charge for your product or service.

Having made your decisions, you then outline all the actions required to reach your market, including timelines and total cost. Also consider how you will measure the success of each medium or campaign.

Many businesses fail in the first year because of a lack of funds. It's so easy to believe that income will start arriving once you open the doors, but it never works like that. It is well worth getting an accountant to help you with the important elements here which are:

  • projected profit and loss statement
  • projected cash flow statement
  • balance sheet

Who is going to run the business when you want a holiday? What happens if you fall sick? How many hours per week will you have to work to make a living? Who is going to do the day-to-day administration and bookkeeping? When will you do more marketing if your time is taken up with daily operations?

All of these are critical questions which you need to address. Perhaps the best question to have is, 'How am I going to handle too much business?'

The above represents a simple overview of the key elements of a business plan. It gives you a flavour for what you need to do. Now is the time to delve further into the subject by looking at some business planning websites where you will find samples and all the the relevant information you need to start writing your business plan.

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