Business Planning Roadblocks

Kicking & Screaming

Most business owners and department managers know they “should” have a plan. Yet in all my 25 years of helping business owners and managers grow their businesses, just four of my clients possessed a written plan, and only one was actually using it. Why do so many business owners skip this crucial step? Some common explanations I’ve heard go something like:

  • “I don’t need funding, so I don’t need a business plan.”
  • “My plan is going to change anyway, so why should I waste my time creating it?”
  • “It will take too much time.”
  • “I started to and found it overwhelming.”
  • “I didn’t start a business to do the types of things I did when I worked for someone else.”
  • “I don’t want a big company. I don’t want employees.” (I just created a J.O.B. for myself.)
  • “I don’t know which planning program to use; there are so many out there.”
  • “It’s expensive to plan and I need to spend my money on other things.”
  • “I don’t need to plan; I just want to work in my business.”

Does any of that sound familiar? For the most part, “winging it” from day to day works-until it doesn’t. Many business owners learn this the hard way. Whether at the $60,000 per year income level or at the $30 million level, without a plan, a business or its owner will eventually crash. Owners or managers will often agree to use a plan if someone else creates it for them. That’s a BIG no-no in my book. It’s important for business owners to gain the experience of the planning process. At least once, they must tackle the questions they’ve put off answering. Otherwise they run the risk of never gaining real clarity regarding the direction of their business.

The Care and Feeding of Business Owners & Managers

As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Clients who come to me for help with their strategic plan are often feeling a “pain”. It is a common experience, often necessary to compel them to take a “drink” from the strategic planning process. Here are a few common “pains” my clients have reported:

  • They’re not attracting their ideal clients and are sick and tired of working with jerks.
  • They need to be making more money.
  • Their spouse informed them that if they don’t spend more time together, they’ll file for a divorce.
  • Their spouse wants them to get a “real job”.
  • They’re retiring from a job in “x” years and want to have an immediate income at that time.
  • They’re retiring in “x” years and want all the work, time, and money they invested in their business to be their nest egg.
  • They’ve discovered that a business isn’t just a place to work, but an entity to grow.
  • “Someone” told them they had to create a plan.
  • “Someone” told them that their marketing is “all over the place”.
  • They need help managing their company or department.
  • They became an “accidental” business owner or were promoted suddenly, and need help fast.
  • They’re turning 50 and want to examine the next 30 years of their business with someone who isn’t as vested in the business as they are.
  • They want to work one day per month because they want to start a non-profit.

These and many other possible “pains” or problems will hopefully lead a business owner to re-evaluate the need for planning. But where to begin? The task of planning can seem monumental. Luckily, there is a one-page process which makes planning not only exciting, but simple and straightforward.

When the Light Bulb Flickers

When someone seeks my services, they often need more clients, better clients, or more money. In determining what is hindering their growth, we find they have no vision, mission, objectives, or strategies written down. They usually have no action plan, marketing plan, or financial plan, either. Here are some reasons they’ve given for finally taking the planning plunge:

  • “My original business vision was thrown to the wind and all I’ve been doing is looking at ‘today’.”
  • “I realized that the business I envisioned is not what I have, and I don’t like the business I have.”
  • “I read Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited and realized I need systems.”
  • “I’m getting older. I want to get top dollar for my business in (5, 10, or 20) years, and I know I need to have a turn-key business. My business is anything but turn-key.”
  • “I’m getting bored of running my company, and want to get it ready to sell/hire a CEO.”
  • “I have tried to grow my business for the last two years and what I’ve done isn’t working.”
  • “I want to start my business right; I know I need a plan.”
  • “I want to earn more money.”
  • “I’m frazzled. I network and market all the time and am not seeing the results I once saw.”
  • “I am creating a new position within the company. I need to bring the concept to my boss in an organized way.”
  • “Although I work for a company, I’m paid on commission, and I need a plan to expand.”
  • “I want to open a branch office, but I can’t see having two unorganized offices. I need the first office organized, and systems created before I start the second.”
  • “I don’t like my business model but don’t know what to change or how to do it.”
  • “My business does not have an inner brand, niche, or focus.”

Back in 2000, with a year-old business of my own, I had the opportunity to attend a one-day planning program which helped me to create a plan on a single page. This plan would encompass all of the plans mentioned above. As a participant, I realized the importance of planning strategically before attempting execution or implementation. Today, my clients use that same methodology to bring greater success to their businesses. And when someone wants me to create the plan for them, I do it with them. My clients are present during the process, learning a system that can be reused in the future to make their lives easier-and more profitable-in the long run.

Preparing a Brief Catering Company Business

Similar to any other business, a catering business also works on a business plan and having one ready before you begin a catering business will make sure that you start well and go in the right direction as planned. As with any business, a catering business will also have goals and tools to measure progress as a part of the catering plan. In short, having a solid plan will make sure that you remain focused on your objectives.

A business plan, not only to keep track of your business but also helps when you look for help from outside, especially financing. If you are looking for investors in your business, the first thing that an investor would like to see is a very solid plan – be it your future business partners or financial institutions (banks).

Writing a plan for your business is not as easy as it sounds, it does need a fair amount of research and a good bit of thinking. In fact, you can get a sample business plan from a well-run catering company and use it to write your own by inducting your own parameters. The business should consist of the following components:

a. Executive summary: This part of the business plan should explain your business and consist of a brief outline to the reader.

b. Objectives: this part of the business plan should describe the short to long term goals of your catering business (ideally for the next 4 to 5 years) in financial terms. These goals should outline the objectives to be achieved with a time-line.

c. Mission statement: This part of the business plan should define and explain the catering company’s values and ideals (in short, business ethics and ambitions).

d. Ownership: this section go the business catering plan deals with ownership structure of the catering company, whether it is a proprietorship, partnership or a limited company and the details thereof.

e. Start-up requirements: This section should contain information about the catering company’s start up needs. What is the cost of start-up? What is the working capital required? What is the equipment required? Etc.

f. Market Information: A catering business also has competition and it is necessary to include the information pertaining to the same in this section of the business plan. This would contain a brief summary of the competition along with analysis and the plans that would be followed to get ahead of the competition along with details of new markets to be explored and services to be offered.

g. Strategy: This part of the catering plan should contain the marketing strategy that is to be followed to achieve the objectives. This section would also include forecasted financials for sales.
h. Management: For your catering company to succeed, it would need a highly skilled management with hierarchical control. This strategy and working needs to be integrated into the business plan in this section.

i. People: Hiring would be a key factor in the catering business and therefore the plans for hiring and man power costs need to be estimated well in advance and put forth into the business plan in this section.

j. Finances: Last but the most important, the financials of your catering business needs to be put on as per in this section of the plan for your catering business. Projected profit and loss statements need to be prepared depending on estimated costs and revenues for the nest 4 to 5 years. Understood that the market is never consistent, however having some optimistic as well optimistic estimates would help plan your business better. Once this is done successfully, it is easier for you to understand and underline the break-even point for your catering business. Once you know this, the objectives are frozen and all you need to do here is to put your best foot forward.

A lot of generic business plans are available; you can always grab one and customize it to suit your catering business. Although this is easier, it is always good to begin from the scratch and make your own catering company business plan since it would help you to understand your business better and will surely put you on the right path to success.

Writing a Business Plan

Writing a business plan can be a daunting activity if it is the first time you’ve tackled such a detailed, thorough project. Too often, entrepreneurs rely upon templates or a sample business plan as an example for their own proposal, and in the process lose the creativity and energy that they have about their idea. There are many options for writing a persuasive and effective business plan without spending a lot of money on a writing coach, proposal writer, or additional resources.

Web Resources

Chances are, you’re already relied on the internet to gain guidance about projects you’ve never done before, or looked up instructions for a complicated process. There’s a lot of information online about writing a business plan and you can easily find a sample plan, but not all of that information is quality, or worth your time. So how do you effectively search for web resources that will actually help you instead of wasting your time? Much like any kind of internet research, the tip is to begin by using only credible resources. In addition to searching for “writing a business plan”, or “sample business plan”, type in “business school” as well. Many business schools around the nation have free, available information for the public on how to write a business plan. They may include links to area-specific resources, or provide tutorials or downloads for a sample business plan.

Another great resource for writing a business plan is your local Small Business Administration center. Most major cities have these types of small-business assistance resources, either in a brick-and-mortar office or online. These SBA websites almost always offer comprehensive resources for start-ups like a sample business plan, business plan development ideas, events, counseling and training services, and local resources. Check to see if your SBA website has free, online planning webinars. Even if you local chapter doesn’t offer them, you can easily find a website in another region that does. These online seminars are typically self-paced, 30-minute long resources that help you understand the components of writing a business plan (which provide much more insight than a simple sample business plan), and may be offered in a variety of languages.

Podcasts are another web resource that not many people think of when they think “business plan”. True, you don’t get the same visual education from a podcast as you do from a webinar, but listening to someone describe the process might be just what you need to motivate you while on a long commute, at the gym, or sitting at home. And with a lack of visual information, they might seem less overwhelming than looking at an online presentation or sample business plan.

Books and Printed Material

The internet is a fantastic resource for writing a business plan, but for some people, nothing beats a good old-fashioned book. Your local library has entire sections dedicated to the multiple aspects of business development, and you can be sure to find several books about how to write a business plan. Best of all – these are free! If your local branch does not have the book you’re looking for, check the catalog and request a book transfer. Sometimes, the perfect books about writing an effective business plan or ideas for a sample business plan are just an inter-library loan away.

Be sure to check out your local college library as well. Often, academic libraries will have more comprehensive business books than local libraries, and may offer a wider selection of in-depth materials regarding not only writing a business plan, but strategizing how to continue with your business development afterward. Keep in mind that many university libraries are open only to students, so call the resource desk before you make a special trip onto the campus.

Seminars

If you do have a SBA resource center in your area, check their calendar of events to see if they offer periodic classes or workshops, or can help you rework a sample business plan. Often, an SBA will offer a class dedicated to writing a plan – at no cost! The advantage of attending a live seminar as opposed to an online seminar is that you can often ask the facilitator questions at the end which you can’t do online. Typically, the person leading the course is a professional with years or decades of business experience. They’ll likely be able to assist you with tips, tricks, and shortcuts to develop a plan.

Finally, it’s important to consider that when you’re writing a business plan, you don’t want to cut corners or rely on a sample plan from a book or website. The business plan is a representation of your professionalism and your desire to succeed, and the quality of your content should reflect this. So while tips and tricks are good for making the most out of your time and resources, it’s never a good idea to gloss over important aspects of your plan – namely, the quality of your writing. While writing a business plan necessitates the inclusion of facts, figures, numbers, graphs, financials, etc., the narrative surrounding the why of your proposal is what will likely draw people into helping you achieve your vision. Do you sound passionate about your product? Do you sound knowledgeable? Does it sound like you have what it takes to not only start your business but develop it and work through anticipated and unseen challenges? No? Does it sound like you relied on a sample plan instead? Well it may be a good idea to check out some of the writing seminars available for assistance with writing your plan. Many of these seminars do cost some money, although others can be attended for a very nominal fee. Courses like these can help you find your “voice” and deliver a more compelling proposal.

The most important thing to consider when writing a plan is to take your time, be thorough, be accurate, and above all, believe in yourself and your product. Don’t just rely on a sample plan, create a proposal that you’re proud of, and that you are convinced will compel others to help you realize your dream.

Writing A Business Plan

All businesses, of whatever size or stage in its development, need to have formal business plans in place, prepared by the management and not their accountants, and fortunately there are many now many free business plan templates available on the web to help you in business planning.

Why Prepare A Business Plan?

There are four main reasons why you should prepare a business plan. These are not mutually exclusive, and as the business changes and grows the business plan should be regularly revisited and reviewed since these issues will apply equally well to an established business as to a start up.

The first is to plan in the widest sense. In preparing a business plan you are preparing first and foremost a plan and the process is one of thinking through what you are going to do in the business, how you are going to do it, what are the separate projects that will have to be completed to reach the end goal and when by, what resources you will need to have in place and when, what the risks are and how these are to be managed, and so on.

The second is that from setting out your plan of action you can then assess and understand the likely financial performance and requirements of the business. You can examine the key sensitivities involved in your forecasts and take a view on the financial risks, and potential rewards involved.

This is critical as the third reason for preparing a business plan, which is often seen by some managers, mistakenly in my view, as the real point of the exercise, is to provide it to investors or lenders in support of a request to raise funding.

The fourth reason is that that plan provides an objective benchmark and milestones against which the progress and success of the business can be checked.

So, whatever the initial reason for carrying out a business planning exercise, management should always use the process as a chance to genuinely plan the business, and not just as an exercise to produce a document that is never looked at again.

What Should A Business Plan Contain?

You can now find many examples of business plan templates on the web which will vary in the content and headers they use as there is no definitive list of contents. In general however, a business plan should cover the following items, which will provide a pack in a format that prospective lenders or investors will generally find acceptable.

  • Company details including company number and logo;
  • Contents;
  • Executive Summary a brief summary of the plan covering all areas and being no longer than say 2 pages;
  • History and Current Position;
  • Products or Services;
  • The Market;
  • Operations;
  • Management and Staff including an organisation chart where appropriate;
  • Financial Analysis a summary of the financial projections;
  • Investor or Funder Deal and Exit Plan where the plan is being used to raise finance this is where you set out the proposed support you are seeking and what is in it for the funder; and
  • SWOT Analysis a summary of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the business.

The plan should also be backed up by appropriate appendices giving the financial information such as historical Statutory or Audited Accounts, up to date management accounts and three year financial forecasts, all of which should obviously tie in with the body of the plan itself. In addition there needs to be the non financial information required to support the plan which will normally include CV’s for each of the Directors and any other key personnel, examples of marketing material, details of the business’s professional advisors and any other supporting documentation that may be relevant such as significant new orders.

To What Extent Can Or Should You Vary The Format?

If you do use a business plan template, don’t hesitate to tailor it to your business’s particular circumstances. Every business has its own characteristics, and each writer will have their own style so every business plan will be different.

Whilst the headings given above are relevant for most businesses, the focus of attention will vary depending on the purpose of the plan and the intended recipients.

If the plan is being written for internal purposes then it may concentrate on tasks such as Marketing or Operations and be used to attribute tasks, set timescales, targets and rewards, and then used to help co-ordinate and monitor an agreed overall agenda.

If you are preparing the business plan to support an application for a loan then the financial and trading data, and in particular the cash flow analysis, will be critical parts of the document. Lenders will be particularly interested in the assets available as security, any other existing borrowing, and will closely scrutinise the detailed financial forecasts.

If the plan is to be shown to potential investors then you will need to be careful that you comply with the requirements of the Financial Promotions Order as failing to do so can lead to criminal penalties. Like lenders, potential investors will review the financial forecasts and proposal within the business plan, but they will also be looking to establish a potential valuation of the business at the time of the proposed exit.

What Makes A Good Business Plan?

As hopefully will be clear from the comment above, this will depends partly on what it is to be used for, however any business plan should be:

Concise – It should be short and to the point;

Comprehensive – a potential funder more likely to provide finance if they are able to clearly understand the product, market, funding requirement, opportunity, the skill sets of key personnel and the financial projections, then if they can’t;

Clear – it should be written in clear plain English, (and be properly spell checked and proof read), but the message or propositions should be clearly stated so that the target audience can understand what it is that you want from them, as well as the all important what’s in it for them;

Owned you must clearly be able to present it and answer questions on it, including on the financial projections and assumptions, from potential backers.

The last point is a critical one. All too often when potential financial backers speak to business owners about the numbers in a plan that has been presented, they receive the answer ‘Oh my accountant put the numbers together for me’, which immediately raises questions about how realistic the forecasts are.

After all, if you don’t understand what the projected financial performance of your business is, the how is a funder expected to believe that you can make it happen?