How To Write A Business Plan
I have to admit: on several occasions I have really thought about starting my own business. And in fact, most people I know have had the same thoughts. The thought alone made me do some investigations about what to do in the initial stages, and how to approach setting up a company. And one topic I have consistently encountered is the business plan; a good business plan is absolutely mandatory prior to setting up a successfull business. Writing an excellent business plan serves two main purposes for the upcoming entrepreneur:
1. The business plan forces upcoming entrepreneurs to think over each and every aspect of their future busines; it forces entrepreneurs to dig into every detail of their idea, from the basic concept to the market and market developments, the name of the company, legal issues, financing, competion, personnel, and to put them on paper. A great amount of new businesses actually go bankrupt because of flaws in the business plan, or the complete inexistence of it.
2. The business plan is an important tool for convincing third parties to do business with you, be it banks, venture capitalists, friends and family, or investors. It is a marketing and presentation document, without which any company or person is unlikely to do business with you or lend you money.
The form of the business plan is quite irrelevant, it may be made using Excel, a word processing program, or another program specifically designed for creating business plans. Whichever method you choose, each business plan should be clearly structured, and should contain the following information:
The Management Summary
The Management Summary is the final summary of your business plan. It is usually at the very front of the plan, and it is intended to sum up the most important information for managers, who may not have the time to read through the entire document. The Management Summary is usually written at the end, when the rest of the document has been completed, and should contain the most important key facts of the business plan. Additionally, the Management Summary should convince the reader why the business will be so successful based on these key facts.
The business concept should provide the opportunity, that you have thought over all the aspects of your idea, its products and services, suppliers, and the market. What is it exactly what you want to sell? What makes it unique, or why is it going to be successful? How or where did you get the idea, and why are you so passionate about it? Explain the idea as detailed as you can.
Have you already identified your market? Who will be your customers? Where do they live, what are their living habits, and which age do they typically have? Are they individuals or corporations? And last but not least, how is your product going to serve your customers, what benefits will they have, and how will it make their life easier? Why should these people actually buy your product?
Additionally, find out who will be your suppliers, and include it also in the business plan. At what price will you be buying goods and equipment, where are the suppliers located? Will you be using only one supplier or multiple suppliers?
Company / Organisation
A company can have different legal structures. What will the legal entity of your company? For example, in the U.S. a Limited Company (Ltd.) is a legal entity, so is a sole trader. Legal entities differ strongly per country, the best source of information is your local chamber of commerce. What are the pro’s and con’s of that legal entity?
Also describe the future workflow in your future company. If you need personnel, how much do you need, and what tasks will there be for them? Who will be reporting to whom? Will they be full-time or part-time employees?
Your business will need a location, and often the location makes the difference between earnings or losses. Explain thoroughly why you have decided for a particular location. By doing so you should take into account the infrastructure, costs for telecommunication, heat, water, average salaries and wages, taxes, buying power, etc. Gather as much information as possible. Perhaps you have access to databases, which are able to provide this information.
Researching competition can be quite time consuming. As with the rest of the plan, be as specific as you can: who will be your competitors, and which are the most important ones? What is the market share of these competitors? What is their pricing policy, and their method for distribution? How will your competition probably respond to your market entry, and what differentiates you from your competitors, i.e. what do you intend to offer what they can not?
This section is a more detailed elaboration of the requirements of the future employees. What tasks will they be having, who will reporting to whom, and where will you get your employees? Additionally, which qualities do you find important, and which salaries will you pay to which employee? How about taxes? Where will you find your employees? Will you advertise in the local newspapers or perhaps online? How much do such advertisements cost?
How do you intend to make your potential customers aware of your product? Will you advertise, and if yes, where? How much does this cost? Be as specific as you can, you may even already design your future advertising campaign and attach it to the business plan. This will show others that you have truly thought about your concept in the greatest detail, and that you are serious about executing your plan.
Opportunities & Threats
Opportunities and threats are aspects of the business which are ‘out of control’ of the entrepreneur, and should not be confused with ‘strengths and weaknesses’. An opportunity of threat might be a specific trend, governmental developments, changes in buying power or tax, specific actions of your potential competition… anything that you can not control directly, but which should still be taken into account. A well written opportunities and threats analysis demonstrates that you are focussing long-term , and you are taking each and every possibility into account.
Here you can define the goals of your business. Where do you want to go after setting up the business? Where will you be in 1 year, in 3 years, 5 years and 10 years? Try to quantify your goals as much as you can, for example by stating:
In 5 years time, the business should have a market share of xx%
In 3 years time, the annual revenue should be xx US Dollars.
Last but not least, you will need to write down the projected initial investments, operative costs, and projected reveneues and taxes as detailed as possible. There are many factors to be considered here, and there are many templates available on the internet which you can download for free. Additionally, perhaps the best first point of contact would be your local chamber of commerce; they might have templates available which are specifically customized for your market, or they might know where to obtain such templates.
Writing a good business plan of high quality will take up much time, but it is essential for your future business to succeed. Perhaps, the business plan will in the end even demonstrate that your initial idea is not feasible at all, or that the company would not make any profits. In that case, be happy that you found out during the planning phase and that you had a chance to abort, rather than setting up the company without a plan.