Read this section about developing a business plan.
Developing the Business Plan
Once you have the basic concept for a product or service, you must develop a plan to create the business. This planning process, culminating in a sound business plan, is one of the most important steps in starting a business. It can help to attract appropriate loan financing, minimize the risks involved, and be a critical determinant in whether a firm succeeds or fails. Many people do not venture out on their own because they are overwhelmed with doubts and concerns. A comprehensive business plan lets you run various "what if" analyses and evaluate your business without any financial outlay or risk. You can also develop strategies to overcome problems well before starting the business.
Taking the time to develop a good business plan pays off. A venture that seems sound at the idea stage may not look so good on paper. A well-prepared, comprehensive, written business plan forces entrepreneurs to take an objective and critical look at their business venture and analyze their concept carefully; make decisions about marketing, sales, operations, production, staffing, budgeting, and financing; and set goals that will help them manage and monitor its growth and performance.
The business plan also serves as the initial operating plan for the business. Writing a good business plan takes time. But many businesspeople neglect this critical planning tool in their eagerness to begin doing business, getting caught up in the day-to-day operations instead.
The key features of a business plan are a general description of the company, the qualifications of the owner(s), a description of the products or services, an analysis of the market (demand, customers, competition), sales and distribution channels, and a financial plan. The sections should work together to demonstrate why the business will be successful, while focusing on the uniqueness of the business and why it will attract customers. Table 5.8 describes the essential elements of a business plan.
A common use of a business plan is to persuade lenders and investors to finance the venture. The detailed information in the plan helps them assess whether to invest. Even though a business plan may take months to write, it must capture potential investors' interest within minutes. For that reason, the basic business plan should be written with a particular reader in mind. Then you can fine-tune and tailor it to fit the investment goals of the investor(s) you plan to approach.
|Key Elements of a Business Plan|
|Executive summary provides an overview of the total business plan. Written after the other sections are completed, it highlights significant points and, ideally, creates enough excitement to motivate the reader to continue reading.|
|Vision and mission statement concisely describe the intended strategy and business philosophy for making the vision happen. Company values can also be included in this section.|
|Company overview explains the type of company, such as manufacturing, retail, or service; provides background information on the company if it already exists; and describes the proposed form of organization - sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation. This section should include company name and location, company objectives, nature and primary product or service of the business, current status (start-up, buyout, or expansion) and history (if applicable), and legal form of organization.|
|Product and/or service plan describes the product and/or service and points out any unique features, as well as explains why people will buy the product or service. This section should offer the following descriptions: product and/or service; features and benefits of the product or service that provide a competitive advantage; available legal protection - patents, copyrights, and trademarks.|
|Marketing plan shows who the firm's customers will be and what type of competition it will face; outlines the marketing strategy and specifies the firm's competitive edge; and describes the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the business. This section should offer the following descriptions: analysis of target market and profile of target customer; methods of identifying, attracting, and retaining customers; a concise description of the value proposition; selling approach, type of sales force, and distribution channels; types of marketing and sales promotions, advertising, and projected marketing budget; product and/or service pricing strategy; and credit and pricing policies.|
|Management plan identifies the key players - active investors, management team, board members, and advisors - citing the experience and competence they possess. This section should offer the following descriptions: management team, outside investors and/or directors and their qualifications, outside resource people and their qualifications, and plans for recruiting and training employees.|
|Operating plan explains the type of manufacturing or operating system to be used and describes the facilities, labor, raw materials, and product-processing requirements. This section should offer the following descriptions: operating or manufacturing methods, operating facilities (location, space, and equipment), quality-control methods, procedures to control inventory and operations, sources of supply, and purchasing procedures.|
|Financial plan specifies financial needs and contemplated sources of financing, as well as presents projections of revenues, costs, and profits. This section should offer the following descriptions: historical financial statements for the last 3–5 years or as available; pro forma financial statements for 3–5 years, including income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and cash budgets (monthly for first year and quarterly for second year); financial assumptions; breakeven analysis of profits and cash flows; and planned sources of financing.|
|Appendix of supporting documents provides materials supplementary to the plan. This section should offer the following descriptions: management team biographies; the company's values; information about the company culture (if it's unique and contributes to employee retention); and any other important data that support the information in the business plan, such as detailed competitive analysis, customer testimonials, and research summaries.|
But don't think you can set aside your business plan once you obtain financing and begin operating your company. Entrepreneurs who think their business plan is only for raising money make a big mistake. Business plans should be dynamic documents, reviewed and updated on a regular basis - monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on how the business progresses and the particular industry changes.
Owners should adjust their sales and profit projections up or down as they analyze their markets and operating results. Reviewing your plan on a constant basis will help you identify strengths and weaknesses in your marketing and management strategies and help you evaluate possible opportunities for expansion in light of both your original mission and goals, current market trends, and business results. The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers sample business plans and online guidance for business plan preparation under the "Business Guide" tab at https://www.sba.gov.