Semalt – How To Identify And Fight Ghost Spam Using Google

Spam takes place when unsolicited data is received. This type of spam is in two categories. Crawler spam and Ghost spam. Getting rid of Ghost spam traffic is prudent, but you need to identify which type of malware is present, first and foremost.

Crawlers are a type of spam that actually visits your site by sending bots that utterly ignore rules like those in robots.txt. When they exit the site, a trail of a legitimate visit in Google Analytics data is left behind, but unfortunately, it’s fake. They are extremely difficult to identify because they hide behind referrals akin to genuine websites and with a similar URL.

Frank Abagnale, the Customer Success Manager of Semalt, shares his experience on how to fight Ghost spam successfully.

Ghosts are the most common spam. Unlike crawlers, they do not have any contact with your site, instead, they worm into your Google analytics server via a Trojan passage through your Google Analytics tracking codes. They ingress through your codes by acquiring them from a third party or incidentally generated tracking codes (UA-XXXXXX-Y). Since they do not access your site, they use a Measurement Protocol to alter your Google Analytics data.

Most people often ask why you should do away with ghost spam. Spam has catastrophic effects in the analytics of users’ websites. They degrade a user’s internet speed by increasing the load of a server. Though they do not interfere precisely with Search Engine Optimization, manipulated data does not depict a user’s real online behavior. Eventually, your Search Engine Optimization will be affected in that your search rankings will fall due to improper decision making and imprecise judgments.

Despite this, harm to crucial metrics like engagements, sessions and conversion rates whose data is transfixed to opposite ends of the spectrum, will not upset the Search Engine Research Page (SERP). Simply, though Google Analytics is a popular analytical service, not every site uses Google Analytics. This explains why any data from Google analytics will not affect the rankings from a Google site.

There are ways to deal with ghost spam using Google Analytics. These ways involve steps that use a single filter against ghost spam. It is highly recommended because the user only updates and adds new tracking code. Otherwise, little maintenance from the user is required. Finally, identifying suspicious hostnames aids in keeping ghost spam from entry into Google Analytics data.

The steps are:

First, go to Google Analytics (where you view website traffic) and identify the reporting tab. In the left-hand panel, locate ‘Audience’ and click on it. Scroll through the left-hand panel and identify ‘Technology’ and click on it. Expand on technology and select ‘Network’. A Network Report will appear and on top of it, click on ‘Hostname’. After this, a list of hostnames will appear including those used by spam. You can then list the valid hostnames. For example, or

Second, include all hostnames and create a regular expression. For example, seosydney\.com|

Third, create a custom filter. Click on the ‘Admin’ tab on the left-hand panel right at the bottom (ensure you have a view without filters). Click on ‘All Filters’ and then press ‘+Add Filter’ button. Under ‘Filter type’ click ‘Custom’. This creates a new custom filter. Create a Filter Name. Select to include ‘Hostname’ after checking the ‘Include’ bubble. Copy your regular expression into the ‘Filter Pattern’ box.

Lastly, go to Apply Filters and select ‘Master’ and then “Add” to the selected view. Select ‘Save’ and apply your results.

It is, however, advisable that every time you add a tracking code to any service, it is best to add this code at the end of the filter. This assists in ridding off any future occurrence of ghost spam.

4 Sure Ways to Reduce Credit Card Chargebacks

All e-commerce merchants are prone to Credit card Chargebacks. Such Chargebacks result from situations in which shoppers make purchases or pay for services using a credit card only to come disputing the charges from the credit card issuer later.

Such instances can be so devastating especially if you take no steps in dealing with the ever-increasing Chargebacks.

  1. Prioritize customer service

Nearly all merchants are setting up Shopping cart platforms. And to thrive amid such competition, you need to stand out. That’s why it’s essential to improve on customer service.

Gone are the days when automated voicemail systems or a long list of FAQs could solve all problems for clients on your e-commerce site. Visitors need a quick, direct and comprehensive response from a live person. Also note that the more support you give to a shopper, the lesser the mistakes which may later lead to Chargebacks.

  1. Restructure your shipping operations

Fast and efficient shipping is imperative for all merchants especially if you are an infomercial, network, multilevel or a direct marketer.

Such companies are known for attractive ads which often push customers into impulse-driven purchases. That’s why you need to streamline your shipment process. Make it fast and efficient. Delays will only make you susceptible to Chargebacks.

On the other hand, same-day, next- or two-day shipment will leave little or no room for Chargebacks. It’s important to note that customers only order products when the need to use it arises. Shipping it a week later may not be useful to them.

  1. Make simpler your cancellations and returns

While this may seem like going against yourself, providing a clear-cut cancellation and return procedure will help you avoid Chargebacks and the extra fines that come with them. In a nutshell, returns are less costly than Chargebacks.

Here are tips you can use to minimize returns and cancellations:

  • Have a precise and easy-to-follow procedure for what can be canceled (or returned
  • Be polite. Avoid harassing customers who wish to return products. Have a courteous customer service that can handle all return cases.
  • Display your cancellation and return policy on your website as well as on the invoice

that is shipped along with the item.

  1. Use scam prevention tech

Fraudulent transactions are a common cause of Chargebacks. Scammers illegally get hold of credit card data which they can use to make a purchase. For that reason, you should guard against deceitful Chargebacks by employing the use of customized security tools.

The market has provided a variety of fraud prevention tools for merchants to use. You can also consult with your payment processor, e.g., eMerchantBroker who specialize in Chargeback Prevention to get the perfect combination of tech you can use for your business.

Examples of such tools could include:

• Anti-fraud databases

• Chargeback notification

• Card security codes

Stop Sweating a Business Plan


Writing a business plan becomes a major stumbling block for many new entrepreneurs. They read all the articles, books, blogs, and other drivel about importance, formats, contents, “do this–don’t do that” stuff, and then stress out about writing a formal business plan.

If you are someone worried about writing a formal document…consider this:

“I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower

The point I want to make here is that for the great majority of the 6+ million new businesses that will startup this year…a planning “document” is not necessary and is a waste of resources. At the same time, however, “planning” is absolutely necessary for every single one of them.

Having said that, I am well aware that if you are expecting to start a high-tech company to knock off Google or Facebook, you will need lots of venture capital, and VCs require a very formal and expansive business plan, as well as a top-notch presentation (should you get that far).

But these “darlings” of the startup world are only a small percentage of all the businesses that will be created this year (and every year). If you are reading this article, and hoping to start a business, it is highly unlikely you will need to write a formal business plan.

You will, however, need to do some pretty detailed, “planning.” The purpose of this planning is to develop a fairly detailed strategy that you will continually modify as you move ahead.

Here is what you need to include in your strategy planning:

1.) A Strategic Outline. You need to understand what your strategy is going to be to build your business. This outline only needs to be complete enough to manage your business–no one else (other than your advisors) is likely to every see it.

2.) Work Out the Basics. You will need to clearly understand your market, and do whatever market research is necessary to accomplish that. You will also need to develop forecasted revenues, and detailed expense estimates…both to start your business and to operate it. And, of course, the most important of all-you will need to determine how much money you will need to start your business.

3.) Use Your Resources. You should have an advisory board, or group, assembled to assist you through this planning process. A good advisory board can mean the difference between success and failure of your business–so use them, especially when planning your startup.

4.) Never Stop Planning. The less formal you make your planning, the easier it will be to make frequent changes to it, based on your on-going experience with the business. Updating your planning frequently also provides the opportunity for you to review your thinking and see how that has changed since you first started.

So, in essence, don’t sweat the thought of writing a mighty tome about your business idea (unless you are looking for venture capital), but be sure to do a thorough job of “planning” your business. Remember, you are always planning, and how you record your business planning is strictly up to you. Cocktail napkins, whiteboards, butcher paper, etc., are all fine.

Writing a Business Plan

If you are in the process of starting a business or considering expanding an existing business, most advisors, and books written on the subject, say you must have a Business Plan. You may be doubtful given that it means you need to take precious time out of your busy schedule to put your plans on paper.

But do you really need a Business Plan?

A survey carried out on 400 UK entrepreneurs by SimplyBusiness revealed that 54% of business owners don’t have a Business Plan. Shocked? I was. Based on my experience when dealing with both start ups and seasoned business owners I thought the figure was on the low side! Only 54%?? Come on. I can count on one hand the number of business owners who have a Business Plan.

So, is a Business Plan as essential as we’re led to believe? Can you build a business without one?

What’s the Answer?

The simple answer to these two questions is… yes.

Yes, a Business Plan is essential; and yes, you could still build a successful business without one, but the unknown aspect is, could you have been even more successful if you had written a Business Plan?

You’ll never know but perhaps now is the time to think again.

Perhaps you are not sold on the idea that all the effort required to prepare a plan is worthwhile. If this is you let’s consider 5 key benefits for you and your business.

Feasibility and Viability

Taking time out to write a Business Plan will assist you in assessing the feasibility and viability of your idea. You may assume that sitting back and planning your future empire in your head is going to cover all the aspects of your business. Maybe, but the process of writing your thoughts down on paper will bring to the fore all the risks and potential pitfalls you hadn’t thought of. A Business Plan forces you to put your ideas down in writing and in an orderly manner. The result of this could be you going in the opposite direction or even dropping your idea altogether. Not a pleasant thought, but which would you prefer? Losing your capital or the chance to re-consider your idea?

A Measuring Tool

A Business Plan is an ideal means of monitoring your progress against the objectives you set yourself. By checking the progress you are making against your Plan you’ll be able to quickly identify if you are drifting from your original vision; know this and you will be able to take corrective action.

Consider if you didn’t have this check in place; a slight change in direction, if not spotted or left uncorrected for too long, could be damaging to your business. On the other hand, it may be that a swing from your original vision would be a more profitable alternative, one which may not have come to mind before. At least with a Business Plan you have given yourself the choice.

Get the Numbers Right

Do you really know with 100% certainty how much money you’ll need? Have you covered all the possible financial eventualities? It’s difficult to answer yes to this question if you don’t have a Business Plan.

A Plan will challenge you to consider whether you have the correct amount of funding needed to make your idea work. You may have a rough estimate of the funding you require, but until you prepare your Financial Forecasts you may not realise that a few extra thousand is needed.

Helping to Get the Bank on Your Side

One of the key reasons why banks don’t support requests for finance is lack of information. If your manager doesn’t have a good enough ‘feel’ for your idea or business then you are giving the bank every reason to say no.

A Business Plan will make the bank feel much more comfortable about the risks they are being asked to take. Without information to balance out the pros and the cons it would be easier for the bank to say ‘no’ and move onto the next request. By investing time in preparing a plan you are improving your chances of success of getting support from your bank.

A Business Plan Can Say it Better Than You Can

Not everyone has a smooth way with words and sometimes even the best communicator’s need the back up of the written word. No matter how good a presenter you are, it’s unlikely you will be able to convey your vision as clearly as a Business Plan. Too often a business owner will try to sell their idea to their bank or a potential investor and at the end of the session the manager is none the wiser than he was at the start. A Business Plan leaves little or no room for misunderstandings.

You should now realise that it’s essential to have a Business Plan; it may be the difference between success and failure! It’s all about understanding the importance of planning ahead. Invest time putting your plans on paper because it will pay you dividends in securing the funding you need and the future success of your business

Writing a Small Business Plan

For many first-time entrepreneurs, writing a small business plan has enabled them to effectively manage the business time. Entrepreneurs running small businesses are usually overwhelmed by the processes since they have total responsibility for the running of the business. Therefore, a mechanism to organize the tasks will increase productivity and allow you as the entrepreneur to stay cool and collected.

Writing a small business plan is not exactly the ‘time-management mechanism’, but it will ensure that the components of the business are run systematically. These components include, among others, business operation plan, management plans. As a concept of its own, time management is considered a myth. The idea behind time management is the concept of effective planning. Therefore, to manage the business time, you need to plan how the business will be run. The easiest way then, is by writing a plan for a small business.

As a rule, the plan should reflect on the main focus of the business. A good business plan can be obtained by contracting a variety of business plan writing services. The business writing services usually provide a guideline for the plan and will ensure that it will define all the sub-systems that form the business structure. Therefore the problems that will arise at any section will therefore have their solutions, and these solutions will be reflected in the plan.

The solutions are the tasks that will be carried out so that a particular goal is reached. Therefore, writing a small business plan is essentially a way of listing down all the tasks that will be involved in the day to day running of the business. In the process of writing a small business plan, business policies will be developed in the operations section (which describes the operational activities involved). The policies will then determine the daily schedule of the business. If a business consultant was the business plan writing service provider, then they will provide vast information on how a particular business can be effectively run and the best ways to have the tasks carried out.

Writing a small plan for a business will also help in the structuring of an effective management system through management planning. Effective management involves an effective human resource planning system. This therefore will determine the delegation of these tasks. By evaluating the way the tasks are delegated, you will be able to assess which tasks you can accomplish as the entrepreneur, and which tasks will involve hiring help. Depending on the budget, the hired personnel could be full-time, part-time of freelance workers.

The types of hired personnel will depend on whether the tasks are general, technical, repetitive or periodic. By being able to decide on which tasks can be accomplished by which personnel, it is possible to effectively acquire the people skilled in these tasks. Therefore, each task will be effectively sorted as long as the business is running as planned, and any unseen problems will be much easier to deal with.

Seven Step Business Plan

To be successful in business, you need to conduct research and write your business plan. Attempting to start a business without a (well-composed) business plan through feasibility study is like a stranger going to an unfamiliar terrain without prior direction. Or better still, it is like a ship without a rudder (which controls its direction). It is in the light of this that the publication of this text entitled “Seven Step Business Plan”, written by Ms. Sheila Holm, a respected business-management expert is a welcome addition to business management literature.

Holm says before preparing this text, she had cycled and recycled clients to every bookstore to work through every business-planning book option. She adds that the clients purchased many books but still wanted more help. Holm discloses that to make it easy and affordable for more business owners to receive help, she started conducting a series of seminars to help owners and their management teams develop their business plans within a seven-step format based upon their dreams and goals.

Holm says the outline of the seminars developed rapidly into a seven-step, one-page form for quick and easy review while updating the business plan according to each change and adjustment to the goals.

The author educates that having a business plan adds value to the bottom line of a business. She adds that this text removes the learning-curve requirement, stressing that she knows you can increase the productivity and profitability of your business when you write your own business plan.

Holm says whether you have not yet written a plan, you have paid a consultant to write a plan, or you have proceeded with your business idea before writing a plan, you are absolutely in the majority. She submits that the truth however is that no other owner, director or team leader can articulate your business idea better than you can, stressing that planning is the key to success and profitability.

Structurally, this text is segmented into seven chapters. Chapter one is entitled “structure”. This author educates here that immediately in your own words, you should begin writing a statement about “how it is around here” according to how you are going to proceed with your business. Holm says many owners, even after they open the doors and operate their business, proceed without a clear statement about their business: how it will meet the needs of customers or how their business relates to the industry. The author adds that their dreams and goals are not in writing or in focus yet.

She stresses that clarity is helpful and has a positive impact upon your bottom line. This author adds that if you want more profit, then you need to gain clarity and if you want more clarity, then you need to schedule a little more time to walk and/or work through the planning process with her.

According to Holm, businesses develop in phases, so it is important to begin the planning process by identifying the part of one or more phases, or stages of development, of the business process your business represents. The author discloses that your business may be at a point where you want to add a phase to your existing plans or it may be an idea that you want to sell to someone else. You may want to purchase a developed product in order to market and distribute it, or you may be starting a business that will include all phases of the business process, expatiates Holm.

She says this stop is a major decision point since it will match your expertise and passion with the type of business you should pursue. In her words, “So, take a moment to get comfortable and get a firm picture in your head of yourself as the owner of the concept or product in one or more of the key phases of the business.” Holm also discusses idea; development; location; production; marketing and sales; distribution; and repairs or redevelopment in this chapter.

Chapter two is based on the subject matter of placement. Here, the author says the biggest mistake owners make is to think they have the most unusual business idea. Holm stresses that she is always concerned when a client says she should hurry up and develop a business plan before someone else steals the idea.

She reveals that ideas are out there and we do not have the market cornered on any idea. The author adds that only very few people with ideas will proceed and develop the ideas into a tangible entity, a business that will become part of the marketplace. She stresses that you are the exception to the rule.

The expert submits that now that you have set out to pursue your idea, it is important that you continue to follow and recognise the needs of the market that initially inspired you. She explains that if you understand the placement of your business within the industry, it is as important today as it will be that every day you are in business.

In Holm’s words, “Too many businesses forget to stay current regarding the trends within the industry and the business, market in general. The business process is a fluid process, so do not plan on making a decision regarding placement and then setting your business idea into a concrete base and forcing it to hold up to this statement for more than a few weeks. This is why I absolutely recommend reviewing the Seven Step Business Plan form each month.”

She illuminates that this phase of planning your business is a good time to meet and interview experts. On the aspect of customers, Holm says if you think everyone is your customer, take a second look at the facts about your business and what it will provide to the community. The author educates that defining your customers will assist you in the process of matching your business with the top competitors in your industry She adds that you have to know your competitors and how they are doing business within your industry.

“Begin with the title ‘Competitors’ on a page of your notepad. Add names to your list each time you identify a business in your industry. Expand your list and add all related businesses, increasing the scope and parameter of your search. This list will also help you gain an objective view of how the various businesses affect your business and your industry,” educates this expert.

Chapter three is on the concept of leadership. Holm says the most important statement you can make about your business is the statement you make about yourself and your involvement within each phase of the business. She adds that the statement you make about each member of your leadership team closely follows the importance of the statement you make about yourself.

According to this author, your leadership ability is critical as it is your ability to inspire others. Holm emphasises that leadership skills and abilities develop into the team strengths that are going to be evident in the business structure and help sell the business to each customer, vendor, employee, and business. “Remember, you are not able to be all things to people within the team. Each leader plays a specific role, and the team’s strengths and support in areas of weakness will define the overall strengths of the business,” guides the author.

The business management expert educates that when you detail your involvement, you should ensure that you align your statements with the phrases you have written to describe your business today and your plans for the future of this phase of the process. She adds that this statement will need to remain flexible in order to complement the plans for each aspect of the business as you continue to refine them.

In chapters four to seven, Holm analytically X-rays concepts such as purpose and highlights; vision and mission statements; operational and marketing plans; and financial and profit plans.

As regards stylistic assessment, the report card of this text is in blue. For instance, a lot of textual and graphical illustrations are used to reinforce the understanding of readers. The book is also very educative in that the chapters are further broken down into many sub-segments to achieve simplicity and easy comprehension on readers’ part. Holm includes one-page fill-in-the-blanks form representing a prototype for a typical business plan to guide readers. What’s more, the language is simple.

However, a technical error is noticed in the text. This is the omission of a hyphen in-between the first two words of the title of the text “Seven Step Business Plan”. Omission of the natural hyphen has grammatically deprived “Seven” and “Step” from becoming a nominal compound modifier to the phrase “Business Plan”. It is structurally supposed to be “Seven-Step Business Plan”. Without a hyphen, one will also be grammatically compelled to add an “S” to “Step” because of the cardinal word “Seven”.

On the whole, the text is a necessary companion for (prospective) entrepreneurs, business managers, etc. What else would you expect me to say if not that “it is highly recommended”? Get a copy of this book today and learn how to write a business plan so that you can achieve business can succeed.

Advantages Of A Good Business

Planning is a vital ingredient in the success of any business. Developing a business plan is not just a requirement, but a basic necessity for building one’s business nowadays. It is an honest truth that every business needs a plan, starting from large corporations to entrepreneurs. Developing a business plan will help one build a framework that would push his business to his actual destination. The business plan helps one develop work guidelines, map out strategies, understand one’s target market, measure performance, monitor progress, make future plans and raise additional capital either for expansion or to boost operations.

Quite often, the thought on the mind of most business owners or investors is failure. The only way to overcome this failure is to address the common reasons why businesses fail up front. Presently, the world is facing though economic challenges, global economic meltdown, high cost of commodities, high rate of foreclosure and difficulties in obtaining credit from banks, stiff competition, complicated tax laws and high operational costs, etc.. All these challenges faced by businesses today, even make it more challenging for start-up businesses to survive. In today’s world, both small and large-scale businesses have come to realize the need to evaluate their business potentials and formulate strategies for the future.

However, inadequate planning has been the reason so many businesses fail, and the rate at which they fail is overwhelming. It is usually believed that most businesses fail in their first year of operation and among those that fail, 80% of them do not have a well researched plan. It has been observed that business failure is not only connected with small businesses alone which I chose not mention here, go down too. Though the rate of failure is highly significant in small businesses, and it is the main reason why a good business plan is needed. Probably for raising additional cash and to provide potential investors and lenders with the information required to make investment decisions. This makes developing a business plan extremely important. One’s business plan has to stand out and his projection has to be firm due to higher competition in attracting funding for his business. Investors no longer risk their money on businesses that do not prove to have great potentials for them.

A business plan is like a road map, it shows one the route to take, the pitfalls to avoid in order to reach his destination, For instance, if one decides to travel by road from one place to another, he would first need a road map that shows him the route to take. He will need to determine the distance and how much gas his car will need to take him to his destination. Moreover, he will need to calculate how much the journey will cost him, if he intends to raise money, if he’s borrowing, how he intends to refund the money. Putting all this into consideration, he now has a traveling plan that will take him to his destination. In the same vein, that’s what a business plan provides one with, the strategies, the route, and a road map to success.

Incidentally, the idea of working with a business plan is for one to keep focus on his set goals. Statistics has it that many businesses fail due to inadequate planning. If one doesn’t know where he’s heading to, any route seems to be the right one. Most people make great mistakes by jumping into business without adequate preparation and planning. A good business plan helps one maintain focus on his goals and execute the strategies that the plan assisted him in creating. Just like a road, one’s business plan has to be consulted to make maintain his focus and not running business in a layman’s way.

Working with a business plan, it will prevent one from entering unfamiliar territory. The plan becomes a working map for him and his organization. I t spells out the things to do and things not to do, the functions and how everyone and every department should operate. It helps one become more efficient, reduce waste and redundancy, channeling one’s resources to rightful place and being a guide to the successful running of his business.

As a performance tool, it measures the progression of goals in one’s business by tracking, monitoring, as well as evaluating, and can also be used as checkpoints in measuring performance. The world today, is so dynamic that what applied today might not apply tomorrow, and as a result of this dynamism, a good business plan needs to be setup in order to protect one against risks associated with business.

In addition to a performance tool, perfect business plan should contain other necessary tools in its system, which really make it a perfect plan. It must have a human resource tool, a marketing and strategy tool, financial tool, communication tool, and most importantly, an investor’s guide. A well-defined business plan attracts others to be part of the vision. It has to have a well-defined goal and objective that will set the stage to bring others into the business. It should inspire teamwork and creativity among its people and ensures everyone understands the goals and objectives.

However, a good business plan defines one’s target market, the class of people he intends to sell his products to, how to reach them, promote his products, in addition, defines one’s market mix- people, place, product and price. People- this defines the people involved in the promotion one’s goods and services. Product- this defines what one’s goods and services are. Place- defines the location which also includes the means of delivering the goods and services. Price- defines how much one’s products and services are worth in the market which will enable him analyze and evaluate his return on investment (ROI). A marketing and strategy tool defines one’s business strength, his weakness, his opportunities and threats. It plots a graph that helps one reduce cost while maximizing profit.

A financial tool in a good business plan enables one understand his business financial position, develops his budget and determine how his finances will be allocated. It also calculates one’s return on return on investment, analyzes his income statement, cash-flow, balance sheet, break-even point i.e. the analysis that tells one how much sales needed in order to cover expenses, which gives the basis for pricing his products and services, and at the same time calculates how much that is needed to finance one’s business which helps in making his financial needs clear.

A good business plan communicates one’s ideas to people, communicates his mission, objectives, management approach, responsibilities and demonstrates how one’s strategy will increase profitability and performance, identifying his audience without overreacting his aims and objectives of his business plan. A business communicates in two ways- Internal communication and External communication. Internal communication includes communication of corporate vision, shared value, strategies, guiding principles and employee motivation. External communication includes branding, customer relation, marketing, advertising, media and public relations etc..

A good business plan is used to attract funding from investors. Most investors will look at a business plan as a decision-making tool. There are certain things investors look out for in a business. These include one’s management team, every investor will want to know a business owner’s managerial skills, passion, and his dedication to his business. A comprehensive description of how one’s products or services should be discharged, his customer base, his market and financial analysis. A business plan should have a realistic financial forecast. Every investor will always like to see his business associate’s return of investment, cash-flow and break-even analysis. Hence, a well prepared business plan is the key to attracting investors.

Are Business Plans a Waste of Time?

I recently attended a national entrepreneurship conference along with a number of other college instructors and well-known entrepreneurs. I found it interesting that two concurrent sessions offered conflicting points of view on business plans. One session featured a panel of successful entrepreneurs questioning the real world relevance of business plans. The other session focused on teaching students to quickly and correctly develop business plans.

I was intrigued by the panel discussion so that’s the session I attended. None of the entrepreneurs on the panel had ever written a business plan-at least to launch a business-yet they were all extremely successful. The revelation that they did not use written plans is not surprising, most entrepreneurs don’t. One reason given by the panel for forgoing a formal business plan is the natural tendency for entrepreneurs to cling to a business plan they wrote due to the investment in time and effort. The reality, they said, is that things change so much in the real world of business that the assumptions underpinning a business plan must often be altered or even abandoned to allow the business the flexibility necessary to survive. In addition, the entrepreneurs were adamant that a good plan will not make a bad idea work and a great idea probably will not be hampered by a poorly written plan-or no plan. Another concept discussed in the session was that what the entrepreneur is really selling to the venture capitalist or angel investor is the entrepreneur. One of the panelist remarked that, “If the investors believe in you, they will invest in your business.” The consensus from the panelists was that investors look for passion and vision in addition to the idea. They must be convinced that the entrepreneur is capable of persevering and making good decisions and adjustments to keep the business moving forward. Since there were college instructors in attendance, and most entrepreneurship programs require written plans, all entrepreneurs on the panel diplomatically agreed that requiring a business plan as part of a course or program of study was not a waste of time. They concurred that the process itself could offer valuable insight.

As a college entrepreneurship instructor I try to convey as realistically as I can the realities that entrepreneurs face. After attending this conference I realized that students may have difficulty reconciling the two seemingly conflicting points of view presented in the workshops. Certainly my students are aware of the statistics which suggest that most entrepreneurs enter a business without a written plan. To attempt to convince them otherwise would be disingenuous. If the panel was right why bother with a business plan at all? I believe that the answer can be found in the last nugget offered by the panel of entrepreneurs; it is the process that is most beneficial.

The planning process does not begin with the business plan. In fact, it is a mistake to write a plan too early. A feasibility analysis should be conducted prior to writing the plan so that the key assumptions underlying the plan are properly vetted. The research conducted as part of a feasibility analysis can also lead the entrepreneur to better understand their business. For example, if a focus group is used to better understand the target market, new insights can be gained which can lead to the development of a more competitive business model. The results of the feasibility study and the articulation of a compelling and competitive business model are the most critical components of a business plan. Coupled with a cash flow analysis these facts can be critical when procuring the necessary resources to launch a new enterprise.

Another point I like to make with my students is that the importance of a business plan depends on the type of business. A retail store with large capital requirement, inventory, payroll, etc. is completely different than a new venture in a technology driven industry that is rapidly changing and evolving. A business similar to Facebook, for example, has much less need for a formal business plan than the owner of a new sporting goods store.

In addition, the amount of borrowed capital required to launch a business will impact the need for a formal plan. Venture capitalist typically will want to review at least certain sections of a formal plan as part of their due diligence.

I believe that the entrepreneurs had a valid point regarding the tendency for business owners to become too attached to a formal plan. A critical time occurs when the business is launched and the entrepreneur begins receiving real feedback from customers. The decisions made at this juncture can make the difference between the success and failure of the venture. Should the entrepreneur hold to the assumptions of the plan or should minor or major adjustments be made? The entrepreneur needs to remember that the business is not on autopilot just because a polished business plan is in place. Adjustments must be made as conditions warrant.

The panel was not wrong when questioning the necessity of a formal business plan, but the planning process is distinct from the plan. A business plan, whether required or not, will enable the entrepreneur to better articulate their vision which may make writing a plan well worthwhile.

Business Plan Writing

A business plan is a crucial piece of documentation that will give your clients and potential investors a clear indication of what you are planning to achieve with your business, and how you intend to reach this level of success. In the event that some aspects of your business are unknown due to your current start up status, it is important to ensure that only clear and confident aspects of your business plan are included in your write up. However, when it comes to writing your first business plan, the most important thing to remember is to stick to the ‘basics’.

Basics for Getting Started:
The main purpose of a plan is to clearly and concisely display your vision for your business. The clearer your initial plan, the easier it will be to convey your vision to the reader. You should then provide an overview of the resources you have assembled in order to help you in achieving this goal. The fundamentals of your plan should also include details regarding your experience and skills and how these will help you in making your plan work. It is also extremely advantageous to link in your resume and/or portfolio to reconfirm the details included in your initial plan.

Mentioning the Economic Prospects:
It is always beneficial to state any short term goals you have for your business clearly. By doing this, you will be able to eliminate the need for any high cash requirements etc. which is vital as you must be clear in judgments of economic requirements and prospects. This way, your plan will be less likely to be written off as an over-confident endeavor. Being positive is one thing, but being prepared for every potential outcome with a contingency plan is another. The latter is valued highly when proposing a business plan. The level of confidence and trust in you and your business plan will increase when you are able to effectively present yourself to be well prepared, knowledgeable in your plan and niche market and other aspects of your prospective business.

Why Will Your Proposed Business Work?
This is a question which you will need to be able to answer clearly and concisely to any investor and so forth who reads your business plan. In order to do this effectively, you will need to possess a clear understanding of your targeted market and be able to confirm any facts you include within your plan with research materials, etc. You must also be able to display how capable your management skills are, as well as how you plan to organize the overall managerial side of your business in terms of employees you plan to hire and how you will identify the ideal candidates.

Before you submit your final business plan, it is extremely advantageous to have your business plan reviewed. It is much easier to identify weak areas of your plan or missed sections if you have this read through by your peers or others who are involved in business. Above all, it is important that you are realistic in writing your business plan. Whether you are just starting your first business or already have an established business under your wing, realism is what will be expected by any investor when they come to read your plan. By following the above guidelines, not only will your businesses plan be clear, concise and thorough, but will also be the right first step to starting up your business.

Writing a Business Plan

Lots of people want to start their own business. One of the first things that stops these would-be entrepreneurs from realizing their ambitions is the seemingly daunting task of writing a business plan. Writing a business plan, though, is a rather easy task if you understand your business, so let’s take a look at what a business plan entails.

Before we jump into drafting our business plan, we should think about why we are writing a business plan in the first place. Most business plans are used to secure financing for a business – whether it be a start-up or an existing company looking for additional capital. This financing could come from a bank, an equity or venture capital fund, friends, family or just about any other potential investor you could think of.

Another reason to write a business plan is to organize yourself, make sure you have thought through all the components of your business and make sure that it makes sense. A great idea for a product or service may not amount to a great business unless you can turn a profit through effective marketing, management of expenses, management of accounting and information systems, etc.

Things to Keep in Mind

As you write your business plan, keep in mind that your audience – whether you’re currently looking for financing or not – is likely to be a potential investor. You need to communicate to investors that your company understands its business and has thought through all the risks, challenges and opportunities involved in its industry.

To communicate this understanding to investors, you should try to provide sufficient detail about your business to demonstrate your knowledge. For example, you could write something like this: “According to the ABC Trade Association, profit margins for our industry average around 25%. With the procedures we have put in place, our business can achieve 30% margins due to the increase in our operational efficiency.”

There is no hard and fast rule for where or how you should add these kind of details, but using them will improve your credibility as a company.

You should also pay attention to your writing style. There is nothing to be gained by using fancy vocabulary or flowery language. In fact, such writing may cause your audience to lose sight of your business. Instead, you should write clearly and to the point so potential investors have a clear understanding of how you run your business.

The Outline

So with these ideas in mind, how should we structure our business plan? Below is one example of how a business plan can be structured. This outline contains the most commonly-used sections of a business plan but is by no means exhaustive of the areas that a particular business might need to cover.

Executive Summary
Business Highlights
Operational Overview
Market Overview
Management & Personnel

The executive summary of your business plan should be a two to four page summary of your business plan. It should touch briefly on each area that is contained in the rest of plan and give the reader a good sense of your business even if they don’t have time to read the rest of the document. You may also want to touch briefly on the history of your company and its mission and values in this section.

Hitting the Highlights

Next it’s good to jump into the business highlights section. This section discusses what sets your business apart and what will lead to its success. You may want to highlight the experience of your management team, discuss the strength of your position in the market or any other factors that make your business competitive.

You may want to follow this section with a discussion of risk factors coupled with how your business mitigates or addresses these risks. Discussing risks is another opportunity to demonstrate that you understand the business and industry that you’re in.

Getting Down to Business

The next section is a discussion of the operations of your company. The operational overview is usually the longest section of a business plan and usually covers the business strategy, marketing strategy, the product or service offering, management and information systems and any other components that are important to the operations of the business.

An industry or market overview is also a helpful section to have. It will give potential investors who are not familiar with your particular industry or market a better sense of the environment in which you operate.

This section may include demographic information for the market where you sell your products or services. It may include a discussion of the regulatory or legal environment for your industry. You can also include some general statistics on the industry from a credible source such as a trade association. This will lend credibility to some of the assumptions in your financial projections in the next section.

The Bottom Line

One of the last sections in a business plan is usually the financial projections. Ironically, this section might be the section you want to start with when writing your business plan. Building a financial model for your business is one of the best ways to make sure that you’ve thought through all the basic components of your business and that it will eventually make money.

You’ll have to ask yourself several questions in the process: What are my start-up costs? How will my marketing strategy translate into revenue growth? What are my gross margins? What are my fixed costs and overhead? When will I break even? How much money will I need to raise to get started? What will my interest expenses be?

Your financial projects should consist of income statements and balance sheets. A good rule of thumb for a start-up is to show monthly income statements and balance sheets for the first two years of operations and then full-year projections for at least the first five years of operations. Depending on how long it takes your business to reach a break-even point, you may want to go out to ten years.

In addition to these financial projections, your financial section should include a discussion of your assumptions, an estimate of when your business will begin to turn a profit, key margins that you believe your business will achieve, etc. If your business is already up and running, you should include the past three years of financials instead of projections. If you have less than three years of data, you may want to forecast a few years out as well.

Finally, you may want to include an appendix where you can share additional data. You may want to add a few news articles here that highlight how quickly the economy in your market is growing. You may have some news articles on your business itself. Perhaps you have financial statements for multiple business locations that would provide more detail about your business.

How Long Should It Be?

The length of a business plan may vary depending on the type of business that it is, whether or not the business is already operating and what the business plan is to be used for. Some businesses may need a lot of technical description in order to effectively communicate how they will operate – and others are more simple.

Businesses that are already operating will be expected to provide a lot more details about their business such as the kind of accounting software they use, where their company is physically located, pictures of products or facilities, actual financial results, etc.

If a company is simply trying to organize its business and is not looking for investors, they may be able to get away with less details in their plan – although they may seek to dive into greater detail than investors might need.

A typical start-up business plan should probably run about 15-20 pages, though depending on the circumstances mentioned above, it could run a little shorter or quite a bit longer.

Setting Yourself Apart

On a final note, if you’re going to start your own business, you are going pro – and you should act like it. By all means, make your business plan looks professional. It should go without saying, but carefully read and edit your plan several times before sharing it with outside parties.

You may want to consider developing a logo for your company if you don’t have one already. Use pictures of your company or the products that it sells to break up the text of the document and engage the reader.

Again, these may seem like minor details, but sometimes a business plan may be the primary document a bank underwriter might have to go on as he or she is evaluating the credit quality of a loan application.

Having these details in place helps to communicate that you are serious about your business and that your business plan was not just something that you threw together a few days before because you needed it for a loan application. Know your business (or research it well), be as detailed as possible and present your company professionally, and you will have a solid business plan.