Creating a business plan is a lot like forecasting the weather… those who are in charge of predicting a storm get blamed if they are not 100% accurate. The same logic applies to business planning in terms of timing, expediency, and execution. This can lead many business owners to abandon ship, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to change course. Always remember, business planning is a process.
Carl Schram, former head of the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship, recently wrote Burn the Business Plan, which echoes a similar strategy for a streamlining the planning process. Reis and Schram are mostly right to criticize excessively lengthy business plans. At Startup Connection, we argue that business plans are necessary, but that they need to flexible and dynamic (and meant primarily for yourself, not others.) As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Making plans for others (especially venture capital firms) and following specific rules almost guarantees the process will not be useful to you. In addition, venture capital firms account for a very small segment of business financing, especially in the beginning. A business plan is not just a document to be stored on a shelf; it should establish parameters and be developed, tested, and be continuously revised. Even with a “perfect” business plan, there will be failures along the way. In particular, failing and learning from failure are critical components of the ongoing planning process. Business planning is a process.
Some Planning Suggestions
There is no cookie-cutter approach to writing a business plan. Get your ideas on paper before stressing about the organization of information. Don’t stifle yourself. Write it in your own words, as simply and concisely as possible.
Focus on your passion. A successful business plan should express why you think your business is a good idea and why you will succeed. If you need to dress it up in a suit and tie to show to investors, do that later. A business plan should be YOUR vision.
Common Parts of a Business Plan
Every business plan is different because every business is different. However, there are some common elements to consider, such as:
- Mission statement
- A description of products and services
- Ideal customer
- Analysis of the industry and your competitors
- Marketing and sales tactics
- Operational plans
- Manufacturing and delivery logistics
- Resources necessary (this includes labor, equipment, and facilities)
- Financial budget
Also, focus on the components that are most important and challenging, rather than worrying about making every section perfect.
Some Further Tips
- Don’t be too verbose: A formal business plan must focus on the needs of the audience and the entrepreneur. Business plans must be on point and clear. Typically, plans should be 15-30 pages. If additional details are required, put them in a short appendix.
- Think it through: You might have a great idea, but have you carefully mapped out the steps you’ll need to make the business a reality? It’s worth investing your time in the planning phase to ensure you might make money in the long run.
- Do your research: Investigate everything you can about your proposed business. Google and Amazon are great and easy tools to understand the market and your competition.
- Be realistic about your competition: Is your product or service something people really want or need, or is it just “cool?” Why do you think people will buy your product or service?
- Get feedback: Obtain as much feedback as you can from trusted friends, colleagues, nonprofit organizations, and potential investors or lenders. You’ll know when you’re done when you’ve heard the same questions and criticisms again and again. The goal is to have a good answer to almost everything that can be thrown at you.
Completing the business planning process can be challenging, but it should also be interesting, productive, and satisfying. The hardest part is developing a clear picture of the business that makes sense, is appealing to others, and provides a reasonable road map for the future. Another challenging aspect is integrating your products, services, customers, marketing, operations, management, and financial projections seamlessly together. However, these pieces should not dilute your enthusiasm to succeed.
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