If I had to say in a few words what a business plan is, it would be “The blueprint for a successful business”.
Before a builder sets about building a house, he needs a set of architectural plans (blueprint), which guides and instructs him in the build. Without this, sooner or later he will most likely to run into problems such as; incorrect dimensions, unstable foundation to support the structure of the building, and delays. In other words, complete chaos!
The same thing goes for someone who starts a business without a business plan, this could lead to; insufficient understanding of the service/product market, insufficient funds to start and run the business, a lack of customers to sustain the business, and much more. These are issues that could been managed much better if adequately prepared with a tool such as a business plan.
Essentially a business plan is the detailed plan for your business that should be written to;
- Enable plan the start and growth of the business.
- Provide ongoing guidance and a benchmark that measures your efforts and keeps you on track to achieve set objectives.
- Raise finances from external sources.
- And attract successful partnerships and alliances.
Your business plan should be well thought through and contain pertinent information to enable you successfully kick-start and grow your business. When approaching external sources for the purpose of raising money, your business plan is your written sales pitch. It should show a good return on investment, show there is a market for the product or service, and inspire confidence in the lender that you capable of successfully manage the business.
When it comes to the question of who should write the business plan? You, your business partner or team should be part of the business plan writing process, as you essentially have more knowledge about the vision for the business. Also, through the process of writing the business plan you will learn the what, why, where, when and how of the business and market.
Some people find it difficult to set out their ideas on paper; hence the availability of business coaches and consultants who can work with YOU in writing an effective plan, as they usually have more knowledge and experience in with Business Plans.
The length of a business plan will vary depending on its purpose. Take for instance, if the business plan is for the intention of raising funds to finance the business, and the more money you need to raise, the more comprehensive your business plan should be to show a detailed plan, analysis and strategy to convince the potential financiers of the viability of the business. And the less money you need to raise or no money at all the shorter the length containing only foundational items. The average business plan will include all the sections mentioned below.
Prior to writing your business plan, take a stab at developing your business idea, and then do some preliminary research of your market (product/service and target audience). The output of this effort feed in heavily into writing your business plan.
Your business plan should include the following sections:
Executive Summary – This is typically included when writing a formal business plan for external audiences to review. It should be written last to summarise the entire business plan. It provides an overview of each section of the plan and contains key information at glance.
Management – States who will be managing the business, their related experience management responsibility. Include qualifications and experience, and where there is a skill or experience gap, mention how this will be filled.
Purpose or Background of Business – This is typically included when writing a formal business plan for external audiences to review For a new business, this section includes business purpose; is it going to be a profit or not-for-profit venture, why has it been set up, what need is it going to meet etc. If it is an existing business the section should be titled ‘Background’, and provide information on when it start trading and a brief summary of performance to date.
Business Objectives – These are the objectives of the business, what it will be working towards achieving. The objectives can be grouped into short, medium and long term. Always endeavour to apply the SMART rule; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-framed
Product/Service – Describe the products or services that will be offered in more detail. What is the USP (Unique Selling Point/Proposition)? Mention any patents or trademarks that exist or have been applied for. Also mention complementary products that could be offered.
Market – The past, present and future of the market you plan on entering or that you are already operating within. This section should contain a SWOT analysis (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats). As well as how the business will fit into the present or future market, and what the major drivers for its success in the market.
Competitor Analysis – This describes who your competitors are, both direct and indirect. What they offer and how you plan on competing against them or even working with them.
Marketing Plan – Having worked out your marketing strategy, this will describe your plan to market your business. It will include the 4Ps; Pricing, Promotion, Product/Packaging and Place (distribution). It includes your social media strategy.
Operational Plan – Where you will be operating from, machinery/equipment required (will it be bought or leased), staffing requirements and logistics.
Financial Analysis – Very important section for you or external reviewers. It should contain; financial model, cash flow forecast and profit & loss forecast. Assumptions that have been made in reaching figures and even the risks that could affect figures. This ensures and demonstrates that you have thoroughly worked out your figures and are prepared for any eventualities.
Above is a bird’s eye view of what your business plan should contain. Depending on the type of business and the purpose for which of the business plan is being written, the content and structure will differ.
Don’t write your business plan for only the sake of raising finances or other reason, and end up not utilising it for its main purpose; implementing and managing a successful business. Your business plan is to ensure you build a solid foundation for your business that is able to withstand threats, grows, is profitable and most importantly, is fulfilling.