Do you want your business to succeed? Of course you do. Every business looking to succeed would be wise to take a little time to create a business plan. This important document will help you in any stage of business from start up to expansion to financing a new product or idea. Writing a business plan can help your business to increase its chances of success which is especially helpful during these difficult financial times.
Writing a business plan will be a lot of work. However, you will find that the process is not that difficult once you get started. One of the most difficult parts of writing a business plan is just getting started. Of course, having some tips and guidelines to follow can be especially useful. Here are some ideas to help you as you write your business plan.
What Do I Need To Include?
Your business plan needs to demonstrate that you know what you are doing and that you understand your business. Generally this knowledge and information is broken into distinct sections. This helps you to keep your business plan organized and easy to write. Lets look at each of the nine sections in a little more depth.
Since your executive summary leads your business plan, it is important that you carefully construct this first section. In fact, the executive summary is so important that it is placed directly after the title page, even before the table of contents. Many find that writing this key section works best when completed last. The executive summary serves as a synopsis of all the sections of the business plan. If you wait until the end, you will be better able to write a cohesive and complete executive summary.
Within the executive summary, you will include your company mission statement. This mission statement should not be long, probably about four sentences in length, but should be carefully instructed. Many say that the mission statement is the most important part of the overall business plan.
Since your mission statement is only a few pages long, your executive summary will allow you to further expand upon key points mentioned in the mission statement. Consider including your business history, biographies of key players, an overview of the business including locations, employees and available products and services. You can also discuss goals and future plans. Use this section to really draw in the readers.
Many find that a bulleted format is ideal for this section. This section should be easy to read and scan so that potential investors can easily get an overview of your business. The biggest mistake that many make is including too much information. Make sure that your information only encompasses one or two pages.
In the second section of your business plan, you will cover the analysis of your specific market. During this section you will showcase your business’ ability to succeed. Success is dependent upon accurate and complete market analysis. This section will show that you have done your research. Use this section to sell your business to potential investors. Show them how your business can succeed.
Thoroughly cover your business’ market. Talk about your industry and use specific details to support your statements. Details like industry size, growth rate and customer group will help you showcase your business. Include as many details as possible. Do not fill this section with generalized information. Make sure it is industry and business specific.
In this section you should also include the results of any market research studied that your company has completed. Also briefly discuss your competitors and their strengths and weaknesses. You may want to cover how your services will appeal to customers more than your competitors.
Detailed Description of the Company
After showcasing how your business can succeed in your specific market, it is time to illustrate a comprehensive picture of your business. Cover in detail your business including information regarding the type of business, the target market and how you can meet their needs and distinguishing factors that make your business unique.
Remember that each section in your business plan will overlap. This means that you may cover information more than once as you move from section to section. This is okay. Your business plan may be considered as a whole or may be viewed as individual sections. This means that each section must include all key information. Don’t neglect including important information simply because you feel it has been covered in other sections.
This section will detail specific information regarding your staff and executive positions. Cover how your company will divide work. Who will do what jobs? How does your business management structure work? Include biographies of key business personnel including owners, board of directors, management and other company executives. You should also discuss employee compensation and benefits.
In this section you will demonstrate your company’s ability to succeed through your management plan. Additionally you will help investors to realize your company’s potential as far as an employer is concerned. Investors know that good, long lasting employees can help your business to succeed. Therefore they are looking for strong and effective management as well as the ability to retain and inspire employees.
How are you going to get the word out about your business? In this section, you will detail your plan. You can also discuss how your marketing strategy will lead to growth. Be complete and detailed in your plan.
Product and Service Offerings
This section may sound like a simple list of your available products or services. While this is one aspect, there is other information that needs to be included in this section. For each service detail the specific benefits of the products and services you offer. Discuss the advantages you have over your competitors with a specific focus on products and services. Also discuss how you can expand your product and services offering as time goes on.
A business plan is often a tool used to help your business secure needed funding. If this is the case, make sure you include a funding request in your business plan. Be specific. Remember that potential investors need a thorough understanding of your requests so that they can make a decision about whether or not to approve your request. Be sure that you include the following information:
• What you need immediately in terms of funding
• Funding needs over the next several years
• How the money will be spent (be specific)
• Do you want loans, investors, partners, etc?
• How you plan to repay the loan
This section is often carefully considered by potential investors. It helps investors to determine the financial solvency of your company. You will not just discuss your current financial state. In this section you will cover your financial past, your current state and your goals for the future. Include income statements over the last several years, balance sheets (both prior and projected), projections and available collateral.
It can be especially effective to include charts and graphs to better illustrate your financial plan. Including graphs and charts will help investors see the growth potential for your business and will make them more likely to approve your loan. Remember that the amount of funding desired must be in accordance with your financial projections. Investors want a return on their investment and will not invest more that they will get back.
At this point you may feel that you have covered everything. However, there is probably other information that you want to include that couldn’t fit into one of the previous sections. This is the place where you will include it. You may want to list specific details in this section and then reference them in the other sections. This will keep your business plan from being cluttered with extensive details and information. Many business plans include items such as: credit reports, letters of recommendation, licensing and patent information, legal documentation, executive resumes and a list of business associates including your lawyer, accountant and business consultant.
You may be feeling overwhelmed at this point by the wealth of information you need to include in your business plan. Make sure you use an easy to read format. This means that you should definitely utilize headings, bullets and lists. Focus your writing to your audience. If the purpose of the business plan is getting a business loan, make sure your writing conveys this message.
How Long Should My Business Plan Be?
Try to keep your business plan between 20 and 40 pages. This may sound like an unachievable task. However, much of the finished length will be encompassed by formatting. Using bullet points, lists, charts and pictures will not only make your business plan more effective, they will help your business plan to be longer as well.
As you create your business plan, tailor your presentation to a busy professional. Assume that they will only spend 10-20 minutes perusing your plan. Make sure that you thoroughly sell your idea, needs and business during this brief time period. Further attract your audience using clear formatting, easy to read content, well thought out wording and correct spelling and grammar.