Writing a Business Plan is far more than just stressing over meaningless figures and writing a dreary essay. It is your treasure map, the path to you future fulfilment, the safety net should you hit rough terrain (which you will) and the written knowledge confirming that you can succeed when others doubt you.
If you are excited about starting your new venture – and you really should be because if you’re not enthusiastic no one else will be – then consider writing your business plan as an opportunity to outline and show others all the great things you have planned and why.
The act of writing the business plan will help you focus on your end goals, your objectives along the way, and the details and tasks that you will undertake to make it all possible. You probably will also find items that were not previously considered and fine-tune your approach to running a successful organisation. It’s a tool for understanding how your business is put together. You can use it to monitor progress, hold yourself accountable and control the business’s fate. And of course, it’s a fundraising tool for when you need to raise investment and a recruiting tool for courting other stakeholders and key employees.
Writing out your business plan forces you to review everything at once: your value proposition, marketing assumptions, operations plan, financial plan and staffing plan. Taken as a whole that might seem daunting, but if you treat it like the well-used salami technique suggests and cut it into manageable slices, you will be able to work your way through, and even find it an agreeable and satisfying experience. Here are the first couple of slices.
Build your vision
If your business is important to you this part should be enjoyable and relatively straightforward. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, how will you know which direction to head in and if you’ve arrived? This should be fun. At this point you are not looking to write a scholarly paper that will be scrutinised by others. This is you, writing down your hopes and dreams for the future of your business. Start off by jotting notes if you find it easier and then expand upon them.
The next step, which should follow on quite easily from the vision is possibly the most important. Put simply:
Why are you starting this business?
At this stage you don’t have to write an essay, just the main points that you almost certainly have thought about before you got to this stage. What is your motivation? Is it a solution to a problem that you have experienced and believe you can do better? Perhaps your product will improve the life/work style/finances of other people? Or maybe it is a hobby or passion that you have that if you turn it into a successful business will develop into the dream job. Whatever the underlying reason if it is to move on from a hobby it will need to be financially viable too. If however, your answer is purely “to make money” then you might like to think of a different business to get involved in. Money is always important and there is no shame in wanting to be financially comfortable, but if you can find your passion and build your business around that, your daily tasks will be much more fun. You will also find your enthusiasm will attract more customers and high quality staff, making the whole process more successful and likely to survive.
- What business will you be in? Automotive, IT, financial services? Later you will need to know what your competitors are doing and if there is room for another player (you) on the field. But for now jot down as much detail about your sector as you can.
- What will the business do? What is its reason for being? This will outline not only what your products or services will be, but also how you will stand out from the crowd. i.e.: “Make good value meals using only locally sourced products” or “30% of all children in the area will come to our after school sports clubs and enjoy being fit” maybe “ We will provide the most reliable and cost effective delivery service.” Whatever your business this section should consist of:
- The main goal
- Objectives on the way – These might perhaps benefit the main goal or make the business more attractive to customers or more enjoyable to work in etc.
- Break down of the product or service – “produce healthy meals” is not going to say much about the wonderful locally resourced ingredients, the brilliant chef or how those meals will be delivered to the customers table.
- The main goal
What is important to you in business? Take time to identify and articulate the business’s core values and purpose. This will serve as your organisation’s compass for future decision making at all levels. Look at habits, beliefs, values and capability. Maybe you have strong opinions about working styles or using eco-friendly materials. Many people have experienced bosses and working environments that they want to avoid in the future – here is your opportunity to identify them and produce something better.
What are your main strengths and skills? What factors do you bring that will help to make the company grow strong and productive? This will include your own experience, skills, knowledge and character traits that you bring to the venture.
Who will buy your products or services? I cannot stress enough just how important this bit of the planning is. Just a brief description here of who your customers will be. Mums with school age kids? Single men aged between 16 and 25 years old? Where will they live? What do they look like? A more comprehensive customer profile will come later.
What you want your business to look like in 5 years time.
Later you will need to have a decent understanding and a reasonably detailed plan for what the organisation will be looking to achieve and how in the course of the next year or two. If you understand where the company is going in the longer term – say 5 years – it is likely that the content for the next 2 will almost write itself. Will it be supplying local, national, or international customers? Will it supply the bulk of your products on line or over the counter? In your own shop or via 3rd party outlets? Will you need to employ over 100 staff, a few specialist craftspeople or will you manage it all from a desk in your spare bedroom?
So for the moment let long term vision shine and write down what your end goal looks like in as much detail as you can manage.
You need to know what success will look like in your business so that you can recognise it when you arrive.
Carolyn George is a founder of Purpleceed and is a management consultant with over 25 years experience. Oreo consulting