The wise have said that “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”A business plan is a written description of your business's future. That's all there is to it--a document that desribes what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. If you jot down a paragraph on the back of an envelope describing your business strategy, you've written a plan, or at least the germ of a plan.
Business plans can help perform a number of tasks for those who write and read them. They're used by investment-seeking entrepreneurs to convey their vision to potential investors. They may also be used by firms that are trying to attract key employees, prospect for new business, deal with suppliers or simply to understand how to manage their companies better.
Sound impressive? It can be, if put together properly. A good business plan follows generally accepted guidelines for both form and content.
There are three primary parts to a business plan:
• Business concept where you discuss the industry, your business structure, your particular product or service, and how you plan to make your business a success.
• Marketplace section, in which you describe and analyze potential customers: who and where they are, what makes them buy and so on. Here, you also describe the competition and how you'll position yourself to beat it.
• Financial section contains your income and cash flow statement, balance sheet and other financial ratios, such as break-even analyses. This part may require help from your accountant and a good spreadsheet software program.
How Long Should Your Business Plan Be?
Depending on what you're using it for, a useful business plan can be any length, from a scrawl on the back of an envelope to, in the case of an especially detailed plan describing a complex enterprise, more than 100 pages. A typical business plan runs 15 to 20 pages, but there's room for wide variation from that norm.
Much will depend on the nature of your business. If you have a simple concept, you may be able to express it in very few words. On the other hand, if you're proposing a new kind of business or even a new industry, it may require quite a bit of explanation to get the message across.
Components of a Business Plan
A detailed business plan should consist of seven key components:
1. Executive summary
2. Business description
3. Market strategies
4. Competitive analysis
5. Design and development plan
6. Operations and management plan
7. Financial factors
Plan an Updating Checklist
Here are seven reasons to think about updating your business plan. If even just one applies to you, it's time for an update.
1. A new financial period is about to begin. You may update your plan annually, quarterly or even monthly if your industry is a fast-changing one.
2. You need financing, or additional financing. Lenders and other financiers need an updated plan to help them make financing decisions.
3. There's been a significant market change. Shifting client tastes, consolidation trends among customers and altered regulatory climates can trigger a need for plan updates.
4. Your firm develops or is about to develop a new product, technology, service or skill. If your business has changed a lot since you wrote your plan the first time around, it's time for an update.
5. You have had a change in management. New managers should get fresh information about your business and your goals.
6. Your company has crossed a threshold, such as moving out of your home office, crossing the $1 million sales mark or employing your 100th employee.
7. Your old plan doesn't seem to reflect reality any more. Maybe you did a poor job last time; maybe things have just changed faster than you expected. But if your plan seems irrelevant, redo it.
Finding the Right Plan for You
Business plans tend to have a lot of elements in common, like cash flow projections and marketing plans. And many of them share certain objectives as well, such as raising money or persuading a partner to join the firm. But business plans are not all the same any more than all businesses are.
Depending on your business and what you intend to use your plan for, you may need a very different type of business plan from another entrepreneur. Plans differ widely in their length, their appearance, the detail of their contents, and the varying emphases they place on different aspects of the business.
The reason that plan selection is so important is that it has a powerful effect on the overall impact of your plan. You want your plan to present you and your business in the best, most accurate light. That's true no matter what you intend to use your plan for, whether it's destined for presentation at a venture capital conference, or will never leave your own office or be seen outside internal strategy sessions.
When you select clothing for an important occasion, odds are you try to pick items that will play up your best features. Think about your plan the same way. You want to reveal any positives that your business may have and make sure they receive due consideration.